Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Federal Income Taxes On Middle-Income Families at Historically Low Levels

/PRNewswire/ -- The following release by Chuck Marr and Gillian Brunet was released today by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

Middle-income Americans are now paying federal taxes at or near historically low levels, according to the latest available data. That's true whether it comes to their federal income taxes or their total federal taxes.

-- Income taxes: A family of four in the exact middle of the income
spectrum will pay only 4.6 percent of its income in federal income
taxes this year, according to a new analysis by the Urban
Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center. This is the
second-lowest percentage in the past 50 years.
-- Overall federal taxes: Middle-income households are paying overall
federal taxes -- which include income as well as payroll and excise
taxes -- at or near their lowest levels in decades, according to the
latest data from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Federal Income Taxes Have Declined Significantly in Recent Decades

Federal income taxes on middle-income families have declined significantly in recent decades.

In 2000, the year before the 2001 tax cut that President Bush and Congress enacted, the median-income family of four paid 8.0 percent of its income in individual income taxes, according to Tax Policy Center estimates -- a smaller share than in any year since 1967 (except for 1998 and 1999).(1) The Bush tax cuts further reduced middle-income tax obligations.

This year, the Making Work Pay tax credit, which President Obama and Congress enacted as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is providing a credit of $800 to married joint filers ($400 to single filers). A median-income family with two children thus will receive an $800 tax cut in the return it files this year.

With the new tax cut, the median family's federal income taxes will equal just 4.6 percent of its income in 2009. That is lower than in any year since 1955 (the first year for which these data are available) except for 2008, when another stimulus-related tax cut was in effect.

The 4.6 percent effective tax rate -- the percentage of its income that a family pays in taxes -- is well below the 15 percent marginal tax rate that a family of four in the exact middle of the income spectrum faces. Typically, such a family reduces its effective tax rate by taking the standard deduction (or, in some cases, itemized deductions), personal exemptions, and tax credits such as the child tax credit. The Making Work Pay tax credit further reduces that family's effective tax rate.

Overall Federal Taxes Also at Low Levels

The decline in income taxes on middle-class households in recent years has driven a decline in these households' overall federal taxes.

Households in the middle fifth of the income spectrum paid an average of 14.2 percent of their income in overall federal taxes in 2006, the latest year for which data are available, according to CBO.(2) This is just slightly above this group's effective tax rate of 13.8 percent in 2003, which was the lowest level since at least 1979.

Most Americans pay more in payroll taxes, which support Social Security and Medicare, than they do in income taxes. Thus, the 14.2 percent figure reflects the impact of payroll taxes far more than income taxes.

Due to the impact of the recession and the temporary tax cuts in the Recovery Act, particularly the Making Work Pay tax credit, CBO data for 2009 (when they become available) will likely show that middle-income families faced significantly lower effective overall federal tax rates than in 2006.

This analysis, and other reports that provide a greater understanding of trends in taxation, are posted to:

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization and policy institute that conducts research and analysis on a range of government policies and programs. It is supported primarily by foundation grants.


(1) Tax Policy Center, "Historical Federal Income Tax Rates for a Family of Four," April 12, 2010. The Tax Policy Center's estimates were derived by updating (using Treasury's methodology) a 1998 Treasury Department analysis that examined changes since 1955 in the percentage of income that the median-income family of four pays in federal income taxes.

(2) The CBO study covers the 1979-2006 period and includes federal income, payroll, and excise taxes. Congressional Budget Office, "Historical Effective Federal Tax Rates, 1979-2006," April 2009.

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Consumers Union Urges Fed to Require Banks to Roll Back Recent Unfair Credit Card Interest Rate Hikes

/PRNewswire/ -- After Congress passed legislation last year reining in some of the worst credit card lending practices, many banks responded by hiking interest rates before the new rules went into effect, including on customers with perfect bill paying records. Now Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, is calling on the Federal Reserve Board to require banks to roll back those unfair interest rate hikes and to put stronger limits on the size of penalty fees and interest charges.

The Fed has already proposed new regulations that would limit penalty fees and require banks to reconsider interest rate hikes imposed during the year leading up to the enactment of key CARD Act protections on February 22, 2010. But the proposed regulations don't go far enough according to Consumers Union and should be strengthened to ensure consumers are more likely to see their old interest rates reinstated and don't face unfair penalty fees and charges in the future.

"Last year's shameful frenzy of credit card interest rate spikes has saddled millions of Americans with high cost debt, including many consumers who always paid their bills on time," said Lauren Bowne, staff attorney for Consumers Union. "The Fed should undo that damage by requiring banks to lower interest rates for customers who were treated unfairly before the new credit card protections went into effect."

The Fed's proposed regulations would require banks to review interest rate hikes made on customers between January 2009 and February 22, 2010 and to reduce those rates "as appropriate." But under the proposal, banks are allowed to keep secret their review process with no oversight by the Fed.

Banks could keep the higher interest rate if the reason for the old rate hike still exists, or if the bank decides to come up with a new reason for the higher rate. Banks would not be required to start this "look back" process until six months after the regulations go into effect - in other words, starting in late February 2011.

Consumers Union urged the Fed today to strengthen the rate review proposal by:

-- Requiring banks to reinstate the old interest rate if the reason for
the rate hike would not have been allowed under the new protections
afforded by the CARD Act.
-- Requiring banks to disclose the methodology they use to review rates
and to report to the Fed twice each year the number of rate increases
reviewed and the number of rate reductions that result.
-- Requiring banks to begin reviewing rate increases on August 22, 2010,
when the rate review provision goes into effect.

Thousands of consumers have contacted Consumers Union over the past year to complain that their credit card interest rates were raised unfairly. Many consumers reported that their banks acknowledged that interest rates were raised because of the economy or a change in market conditions and not because of anything wrong done by the consumer. Other consumers reported that their interest rates doubled or tripled after they were a day or two late making their payment or for other minor mistakes. Before the new credit card protections started on February 22, banks were allowed to raise interest rates on existing balances at any time for any reason.

Starting on February 22, banks were prohibited from raising interest rates on a credit card customer's existing balance unless the customer has a variable rate card, a promotional rate has expired, or if the customer is more than 60 days late making the minimum payment.

The Fed also has proposed regulations required by Congress under the CARD Act that are meant to ensure penalty fees and charges are "reasonable and proportional" to the customer's violation of the credit card contract. However, the Fed's proposed rule only applies to penalty fees such as those imposed for going over the limit or being late with a payment and not penalty interest rates.

Under the Fed's proposal, penalty fees would be allowed only if a bank can show the fee is a reasonable proportion of the total cost to the bank caused by the customer's violation of the credit card agreement or if the bank proves that the fee amount is necessary to deter the same kind of violations in the future. The rule also proposes a complicated "safe harbor" provision which allows a bank to pick a permissible fee amount without doing the cost or deterrence analysis.

Consumers Union urged the Fed to broaden its proposed regulation so it extends to the size of penalty interest rate hikes in addition to fees and to limit those rate increases to no more than seven percentage points above the non-penalty interest rate. Consumers Union called on the Fed to simplify and strengthen the "safe harbor" provision for penalty fees by setting it at five percent of the violation or no more than $10.

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Stimulus Programs Remain Untapped by Most Americans: AICPA Survey

/PRNewswire/ -- The overwhelming majority of Americans haven't taken advantage of the U.S. government's programs to stimulate the national economy, according to a survey conducted for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants by Harris Interactive.

Nine out of 10 Americans (91 percent) said they haven't capitalized on the job stimulus plan covered under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the housing stimulus tax credit of 2009 and Cash for Clunkers.

The AICPA commissioned the survey in recognition of April as Financial Literacy Month. In 2007 the Institute began conducting an annual survey of Americans to determine their attitudes toward their finances.

"The government's stimulus efforts and the hard financial challenges people have faced over the past year emphasize the essential role financial literacy plays in our lives," said Carl George, immediate past chairman of the AICPA's National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, which seeks to help Americans become financially astute and achieve financial well-being. "Individuals can't always control the events that affect their finances, but they can learn to control their finances. We want everyone to understand that financial literacy can and should be a major part of their lifestyle."

Four percent of the survey respondents said they've taken advantage of the housing tax credit to buy their first home. That figure represents 5.1 million Americans(1). The housing stimulus tax credit, which now includes homebuyers who've owned their previous residence for five years and are seeking a new principal home, expires on April 30.

Only 2 percent said they applied for jobs through the stimulus program, and another 2 percent received rebates when purchasing new cars through Cash for Clunkers, the 2009 legislation that encouraged citizens to replace their gas-guzzling cars with more fuel-efficient vehicles. The U.S. government reported creating 608,000 jobs in the fourth quarter of 2009. The government also reported that Cash for Clunkers resulted in the sales of 680,000 vehicles.

The CPA profession's financial literacy efforts encourage Americans to educate themselves and consider all financial decisions in the context of their individual circumstances, George said. "Americans potentially interested in a housing stimulus credit must consider basic questions: What does the program offer? How do the provisions relate to their own personal situations? Can they afford the mortgage payments even after the stimulus credit? What is the overall financial commitment? Does it make sense for them to apply?"

Sixty percent of Americans said they were delaying major decisions because of financial concerns. Interestingly, out of a list of nine, buying an automobile is the most common financial decision Americans are putting on hold (27 percent). Buying a home ranked fourth, behind "some other major purchase or decision" and medical procedures.

The National CPA Financial Literacy Commission oversees two programs to help Americans achieve financial well-being. The first, 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy (, educates Americans on how financial issues affect them at 10 life stages, from childhood to retirement. The free Web site, devoid of all marketing and advertising, includes tools and articles on homeownership and financial considerations of a job search.

A second campaign, Feed the Pig (, created with the Advertising Council, encourages Americans aged 25 to 34 to begin preparing for long-term financial security. Ad Council research has shown that individuals who have seen or heard a Feed the Pig public service announcement are more likely to change their financial behavior for the better.


In an effort to understand how the economic crisis has affected behaviors and attitudes among the general public, the AICPA participated in the Harris Interactive March 2010 Harris Poll Quorum telephone omnibus study. The interviewing took place from March 17 to 21, 2010. The Harris Poll Quorum is a bi-monthly survey among 1,009 U.S. adults ages 18 and older.

(1) Based on a total of 129,065,264 housing units as reported by the U.S. Census Annual Estimates of Housing Units as of J uly1, 2008.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

LPS' Mortgage Monitor Report Shows Total Delinquent Loans 21.3 Percent Higher Than Last Year; Foreclosure Rates At Record High

/PRNewswire/l/ -- The latest Mortgage Monitor report released by Lender Processing Services, Inc. (NYSE:LPS) , a leading provider of mortgage performance data and analytics, shows that the total number of delinquent loans was 21.3 percent higher than the same period last year. Although the data showed a small 1.45 percent seasonal decline in delinquencies from January 2010 to February 2010 month-end, the national delinquency rate still stood at 10.2 percent. The report is based on data as of February 2010 month-end.

The nation's foreclosure inventories reached record highs. February's foreclosure rate of 3.31 percent represented a 51.1 percent year-over-year increase. The percentage of new problem loans also remains at a five-year high. The total number of non-current first-lien mortgages and REO properties is now more than 7.9 million loans. Furthermore, the percentage of new problem loans is also at its highest level in five years. More than 1.1 million loans that were current at the beginning of January 2010 were already at least 30 days delinquent or in foreclosure by February 2010 month-end.

As a result of the federal government's Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), delinquent loans that were modified and that remained current through HAMP's three-month trial period - called "cures-to-current" - have increased. Advanced delinquency rolls, however, remain elevated from a historical perspective.

Other key results from LPS' latest Mortgage Monitor report include:

Total U.S. loan delinquency rate: 10.2 percent
Total U.S. foreclosure inventory
rate: 3.3 percent
Total U.S. non-current* loan rate: 13.5 percent
Florida, Nevada, Arizona,
Mississippi, California, New
Jersey, Georgia, Illinois, Ohio and
States with most non-current* loans: Indiana
North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska,
Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana,
States with fewest non-current* Vermont, Colorado, Washington and
loans: Minnesota

*Non-current totals combine foreclosures and delinquencies as a percent of active loans in that state.

Note: Totals based on LPS Applied Analytics' loan-level database of mortgage assets.

LPS manages the nation's leading repository of loan-level residential mortgage data and performance information from approximately 40 million loans across the spectrum of credit products. The company's research experts carefully analyze this data to produce dozens of charts and graphs that reflect trend and point-in-time observations for LPS' monthly Mortgage Monitor Report.

To review the full report, listen to a presentation of the report or access an executive summary, visit

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

With Tax Deadline Looming Remember the Newer Nastier IRS

/PRNewswire/ -- As taxpayers finish their 2009 returns, one tax resolution attorney has a warning: Today's IRS is nastier than ever.

"Those of us who fight the IRS every day know this is not true. The US Treasury is desperate for cash and the IRS has been told to get tougher in collecting old debts," says Anthony E. Parent, founder of IRS Medic, Wallingford, CT (

According to Atty. Parent, the IRS has three new scary tactics:

New Revenue Officers

The IRS has hired many new and forceful Revenue Officers who will come to people's home, businesses or even to a Rotary Club meeting to find delinquent tax payers. "These Revenue Officers tend to be overly aggressive because they think that this will impress their superiors and get them promoted," he cautions.

Seizures of Personal Residences

For the first time, taxpayers' primary residences are up for grabs by the IRS. "The IRS is now willing to seize a taxpayer's primary residence if they feel there is enough equity to satisfy the tax obligation. They can be convinced to back off if you offer a reasonable collection alternative. It's not easy, but it's possible," says Atty. Parent.

Seizures of Retirement Accounts

In the past, the IRS would not seize retirement accounts, but that too has changed. "The IRS is getting bolder," says Atty. Parent. "They can and will wipe out a taxpayer's entire retirement savings if they feel they can collect enough money. There are legitimate ways to prevent this, but you need to know what you're doing."

The moral is anyone owing money to the IRS needs to be proactive and not wait for the IRS to come to them. "We've had clients who came to us after the IRS has pursued them. That makes helping them a lot harder. If someone comes to us early in the game, we have more options. Don't ignore the IRS. They have to send you a certified letter before they levy or seize your property, but people refuse to pick up those letters. And when the IRS takes aggressive action against them -- like wiping out a bank account or levying wages -- they were surprised. You do not want to be surprised by the IRS. It won't be pleasant and the longer you wait, the more shocking it will be."

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Free Credit Report Ads Carry New Disclaimer

Must point out product is not the Annual Free Report from the government
From now on, print and Internet ads for will have a new look. Under a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, advertisers of commercial credit reporting services must point out to consumers they aren't the free service required by law.

Broadcast ads must carry the disclaimer later this year.

Read more: