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Why do I have a smaller paycheck this year?

Even with Congress and President Obama reaching an 11th-hour deal to prevent the country from going over the much-hyped “Fiscal Cliff,” the New Year has brought an increase in taxes for all American families — and for many that means an almost immediate reduction in take-home pay.

We checked in with experts to find out what tax issues and unresolved Fiscal Cliff problems are impacting our wallets now, and what’s on the horizon for the future.

1)  I’ve noticed a decrease in my paycheck — Why?

“The very first thing you’ll notice is the nearly 50-percent increase in thesocial security payroll tax. The tax reverted to its rate of 6.2 percent up from 4.2 percent last year,” says FOX Business Network anchor Gerri Willis, host of The Willis Report and author of "Home Rich," a guide to investing in real estate.

READ: Tax tip: Changes on this year's 1040

“This tax increase hits anybody who gets a paycheck. A middle class family making $50,000 would see a $1,000 increase in their tax obligation.”

With that said, Wills reminds that this wasn’t even part of the Fiscal Cliff negotiations. The payroll tax cut came two years ago as a way to spur consumer spending, she says.

2)  Is my paycheck going to be decreased all year?

“For many, yes. One big change that hasn’t been talked about much — but will impact everyone earning $250,000 and more for single filers and $300,000 and more for couples — is a phase-out of personal exemptions and itemized deductions.”

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In other words, the value of any mortgage deduction, charitable deduction or personal exemption you take on your taxes will drop with your income, Willis says.

“That means the tax bill you owe will be higher next year, even if your income doesn’t change.”

3)  Will expiring tax cuts ever come back into effect?

The tax cuts put into effect during George W. Bush’s presidency were always set to expire, says Willis. Originally, they ended Dec. 31, 2010, but Congress extended the expiration of the cuts to the end of last month.

Congress decided to continue the cuts for everyone making less than $400,000 if you are single or $450,000 if you are married, she says. In addition to the income tax rates that are expiring now, cuts in the estate tax also expire this year. For estates worth more than $5 million, taxes were raised from 35 to 40 percent.

4)  How exactly are families being affected?

Everyone’s post-holiday debt may have gotten harder to manage following the tax increases, says Lee Boggs, professor of political marketing at West Virginia University.

“Consider this: For two years, taxpayers have gotten used to a certain amount of take-home pay and planned for their children’s Christmases accordingly,” says Boggs. “How many people spent and charged during the holidays based on their 2012 take home pay, not considering that their take home pay would be $40-$80 a month less in January 2013?”

READ: Crisis Button: I just won the lottery, now what do I do?

Receiving more take home pay might have led some people to go out and sign up for a multi-year contract for a cellphone, a gym membership, a car loan or higher mortgage payments, Boggs says.

“Now they’re bringing home less but they are still responsible for those contracts. Couple that with holiday debt and some middle class people could be facing serious financial challenges right now.”

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a statement on how families might be impacted in their study, “Economic Effects of Reducing the Fiscal Restraint That Is Scheduled to Occur in 2013.”

“On the one hand, households generally respond to declines in income by reducing both spending and saving, thereby generating changes in spending that are smaller than the changes in income,” wrote the CBO. “And the effects on income of some of the tax increases — for example, the reductions in the refundable child tax credit — might not be recognized by households until they file their tax returns in 2014.”

 

Kathryn Elizabeth Tuggle is a seasoned New York-based personal finance editor and writer who adores saving, investing and thrift store shopping. After getting her start writing about small businesses for the Inc. 500 at Inc. Magazine, Kathryn learned her way around the NYSE and NASDAQ while working at the The Financial Times. In 2007, Kathryn joined the Fox Business Network before its inception and was instrumental in launching the company's small business and personal finance sites. Obsessed with all things spending, saving and social media, you can find Kathryn tweeting her latest adventures with Dimespring at @KathrynLizbeth. 
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