Tax Reform Proposals:

3 Things to Keep Your Eye On


Finding money to pay for the things we need (or want) can be a challenge—even for the U.S. government. Recently, the White House released ideas on how to pay for some extensive programs supporting infrastructure, education and families. Here we break down what we know about the main tax proposals.

At the end of April, President Biden introduced the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan . It’s the third program his administration has put forward that seeks to boost the economy with government spending. The White House is seeking to pay for investments in education and childcare, tax relief for lower-income families and a reduction in child poverty through changes in the tax code for corporations and individuals.

How much revenue the tax proposals might raise is impossible to determine until legislation is drafted. However, the administration believes that stricter enforcement of tax laws, additional funding for the Internal Revenue Service and more stringent reporting requirements will narrow the tax gap—the difference between the amount of tax owed to the government and the amount paid—and net an additional $700 billion over 10 years.1

It Won’t Happen Overnight

A lot needs to happen for tax proposals to become tax law, including the actual writing of a formal bill and submission to Congress for debate and approval. But we know many people have questions about how the suggested changes could affect their finances and investments. Let’s look at the top three proposals getting the most attention. 

3 Potential Tax Changes to Watch

1. Increase top individual income tax rate from 37% to 39.6%.

This change would return the top marginal rate to its pre-2017 level. The 37% rate was a temporary reduction enacted through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and is set to expire in 2025. 

According to the White House, “no one making $400,000 per year or less will see their taxes go up” and the top rate would apply “only to those within the top one percent.”2


2. Increase taxes on capital gains and qualified dividends from 20% to 39.6%.

Raising many eyebrows is the proposed jump in the capital gains rate. Under President Biden’s plan, income from long-term capital gains and certain dividends would be taxed at the ordinary income rate of 39.6% for people earning more than $1 million. (It’s not clear if that threshold applies to individual taxpayers or per return.)

Additionally, the current net investment income surtax of 3.8% imposed on high-income taxpayers would be reworked to apply more consistently to taxpayers making more than $400,000 per year. That means, for some people, the new top federal tax rate on capital gains would total 43.4%.

3. Limit the “step-up” in basis at death on estate taxes.

The value of assets passed on to beneficiaries is usually higher than when the owner acquired it. Currently, the appreciation is not taxed, and beneficiaries get a step-up in basis. Under President Biden’s proposal, appreciation on assets in excess of $1 million per individual taxpayer/$2.5 million per couple would be taxed at death.

The proposal keeps the estate tax rate at 40% with an exemption amount adjusted for inflation, which is currently $11.7 million per taxpayer. However, the exemption is set to go back to its pre-2017 level of $5 million per taxpayer (adjusted for inflation) beginning in 2026. Family-owned farms and businesses passed down to family members who will continue to run the businesses are not included. And gains will not be taxed if the property is contributed to a charity.

What’s Next?

It’s important to remember that this is only the opening round of policy negotiations between Congress and the White House. It’s difficult to predict what will happen—but the final bill is likely to be very different than what we see sketched out today. As always, we are closely watching developments and how they could impact our clients. 

This is a good time to review your situation:

  • Your estate plan: Even with exemptions, limiting the step-up in basis may change estate planning as you think about lessening the tax burden on heirs. Keep in mind, however, that determining the original cost basis for assets held for decades is also one of the more complicated tax code changes to implement.

    Still, you may want to review your plans while you have time on your side. This includes looking at the different types of accounts you hold and their taxation as an inheritance.
  • Your risk tolerance: Any talk about raising taxes may move the markets. For example, some investors may sell holdings at a profit in anticipation of tax increases to pay taxes at a lower rate.

    It’s always wise to think through your long-term investment strategy and see if it’s still aligned with your time horizon and your willingness to accept short-term volatility.
  • Your current investment strategy: Review how you’re directing your dollars today and how it could be affected by the potential of higher tax rates.

    For instance, would more tax-efficient investments be beneficial? Or can retirement accounts and 529 education plans with tax-free withdrawal benefits play a bigger role? Also, Health Savings Account (HSA) owners have tax advantages when withdrawals are used to pay for qualified medical expenses. 

We caution against making any drastic moves to your financial plan based on current headlines. There are professionals available to discuss your specific situation and potential needs. 


1Tax News & Views, Capitol Hill briefing, Deloitte. April 30, 2021.

2Fact Sheet: The American Families Plan, The White House. April 28, 2021.  

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