2015 Inflation Adjustments to Tax Benefits

The IRS recently announced annual inflation adjustments for more than 40 tax provisions, including the tax rate schedules, and other tax changes. Revenue Procedure 2014-61 provides details about these 2015 inflation adjustments. In this writing, I would like to highlight main 2015 inflation adjustments.

1. 2015 inflation adjustments for income tax brackets. The tax rate of 39.6 percent affects singles whose income exceeds $413,200 ($464,850 for married taxpayers filing a joint return), up from $406,750 and $457,600, respectively. The other marginal rates – 10, 15, 25, 28, 33 and 35 percent – and the related income tax thresholds are described in the revenue procedure.

2. 2015 inflation adjustments for Standard Deduction. The standard deduction rises to $6,300 for singles and married persons filing separate returns and $12,600 for married couples filing jointly, up from $6,200 and $12,400, respectively, for tax year 2014. The standard deduction for heads of household rises to $9,250, up from $9,100.

3. 2015 inflation adjustments for Itemized Deduction Limitation. The limitation for itemized deductions to be claimed on tax year 2015 returns of individuals begins with incomes of $258,250 or more ($309,900 for married couples filing jointly).

4. 2015 inflation adjustments for Personal Exemption Amounts. The personal exemption for tax year 2015 rises to $4,000, up from the 2014 exemption of $3,950. However, the exemption is subject to a phase-out that begins with adjusted gross incomes of $258,250 ($309,900 for married couples filing jointly). It phases out completely at $380,750 ($432,400 for married couples filing jointly.)

5. 2015 inflation adjustments for Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT): AMT exemption amount for tax year 2015 is $53,600 ($83,400, for married couples filing jointly). The 2014 exemption amount was $52,800 ($82,100 for married couples filing jointly).

6. 2015 inflation adjustments for Earned Income Credit (EIC) amount. The maximum EIC amount is $6,242 for taxpayers filing jointly who have 3 or more qualifying children, up from a total of $6,143 for tax year 2014. The revenue procedure has a table providing maximum credit amounts for other categories, income thresholds and phaseouts.

7. 2015 inflation adjustments for Estate Basic Exclusion Amounts. Estates of decedents who die during 2015 have a basic exclusion amount of $5,430,000, up from a total of $5,340,000 for estates of decedents who died in 2014.

8. 2015 inflation adjustments for Foreign Spouse Gifts. The exclusion from tax on a gift to a spouse who is not a U.S. citizen is $147,000, up from $145,000 for 2014.

9. 2015 inflation adjustments for Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE). The 2015 FEIE breaks the six-figure mark, rising to $100,800, up from $99,200 for 2014.

10. 2015 inflation adjustments for Annual Gift Exclusion Amount. The annual exclusion for gifts remains at $14,000 for 2015.

Taxability of Grants and Fellowship Amounts

With the cost of higher education sky-rocketing, it may make financial sense for students and families to consider grants and fellowships.  But what about the tax consequences of receiving a grant or fellowship payment? Are grants and fellowship taxable?

The question depends upon whether the individual is a degree candidate.  A degree candidate can exclude from taxation grants and fellowships that pay for tuition and course-related fees, books, supplies and equipment necessary for courses (candidates must first meet the degree test under IRS rules).  Non-degree students, however, must report the entire amount of grants and fellowships as income received.

There are some limitations as well for degree candidates.  Degree candidates may not exclude any portion of a grant and/or fellowship received for purposes not described above, including room, board or similar expenses.  Additionally, in general, amounts received for grants or tuition reductions that pay for teaching, research or other services, required as a condition for receiving such amounts, may not be excluded from income.  This will be the case even if all degree candidates in a particular program are required to perform such services.

Finally, federal grants received by a candidate in return for the individual performing future work with the federal government, generally may not be excluded (however, there may be limited, specific exceptions under certain programs).