The print edition of the Washington Post and the online Real Estate home page feature this headline:
Debunking rumors of a housing sales tax
The article begins:
Rumors are flying that the health-care legislation Congress passed this year will impose a sales tax on all real estate sales.
So I'm thinking, OK, more crazy Glenn Beck tea-party stories about mythical Obama tax hikes, and the Post is going to debunk them. Then I keep reading:
But the rumors are based only partly on fact. Although there is a new tax, it will not apply to everyone, and existing tax breaks for home sales will remain in place.
The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, which President Obama signed into law March 30, is comprehensive and complex. Section 1402, "Unearned Income Medicare Contribution," imposes a 3.8 percent tax on profits from the sale of real estate -- residential or investment.
But the levy is aimed at high-income taxpayers, leaving most people untouched. And it will not take effect until Jan. 1, 2013.
Let's look at the facts of this new law.
First, it is not a sales tax, nor does it impose any transfer or recordation tax. It is called a Medicare tax because the money received will be allocated to the Medicare Trust Fund, which is part of the Social Security system.
Next, if your adjusted gross income is less than $200,000, you are home free....
How is the tax calculated? Through a complex formula that could be called "the accountants' protection act." As a taxpayer, you (or your financial adviser) must determine which is less: the gain you have made on the sale of your house, or the amount by which your income exceeds the appropriate threshold.
So let's recap here. Post contributor Benny Kass promises to "debunk" the "rumors" that "the health-care legislation Congress passed this year will impose a sales tax on all real estate sales." And he concludes, "In the meantime, don't believe the rumors." But in fact the health-care law did include a new tax on real estate profits. It's not exactly a sales tax, and it won't apply to most people. But the only real inaccuracy in the "rumors" that he said "are flying" was the word "all." It's only a 3.8 percent tax on some real estate sales, no doubt only a minority of sales, though perhaps affecting more readers of the Washington Post Real Estate section than people in less-affluent regions where housing prices didn't soar and then remain high. Frankly, I've seen more effective debunkings.
This "rumored" real estate tax is also discussed on page 20 of Michael Tanner's new study "Bad Medicine: A Guide to the Real Costs and Consequences of the New Health Care Law." But if you're really going to try to understand the new health-care legislation, you may want to clip the Kass article to keep with your copy of the Tanner paper, as no one study can guide you through every detail of a 2000-page law. Journalists and HR experts will be kept busy for years tracking down every sub-reference and interaction in the bill.