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Fiscal Cliff Deal: What It Means for You

Maybe you were too busy ushering in the new year to master the fine points of the deal that averted the " fiscal cliff." Now you're wondering, what does it all mean for me?

We're glad you asked.

What will happen to my paycheck?

Let's start with income tax. Rates will stay the same for 99 percent of workers. If you earn $400,000 or more ($450,000 or more for couples), Uncle Sam will begin taking a bigger bite - at 2001 levels.

What about payroll taxes? Haven't I been paying less to Social Security the last couple of years?

All workers are taking a hit here. Since 2011, you've been paying 2 percentage points less of your earned income into Social Security - a move that was designed to help stimulate our troubled economy by giving more people more money to spend. But that so-called "payroll tax holiday" has expired. In 2013, you'll take home 2 percentage points less.

I'm on Medicare. What happens to my benefits?

Good news: No change in Medicare benefits, including Part D low-income premium and cost-sharing subsidies and catastrophic subsidy payments. But watch for proposals to change Medicare to resurface in negotiations about raising the debt ceiling in the coming weeks.

Will Medicare pay my doctor for my visit?

Yes, your doctor will still be paid at the same level this year, thanks to the agreement. Unfortunately, that's only a temporary "doc fix." A permanent arrangement could become part of broader Medicare negotiations.

Will anything happen to my Social Security benefits?

Not for now. Social Security retirement and disability payments were exempted from the budget cuts. But like Medicare, Social Security could soon be at the center of negotiations.

What about Medicaid, food stamps and Veterans Affairs compensation payments?

The same as for Social Security - no change.

I've been out of a job for more than a year. The federal emergency unemployment benefits have kept my family going. Will that stop?

No. The deal extended that help - for you and 2.1 million other unemployed Americans. Another 1 million people who don't have jobs and will exhaust their state benefits in early 2013, according to the advocacy group National Employment Law Project, will also be covered. And good luck with your job search.

Should I give my heirs a heads-up about changes in the estate tax?

Only if you've got lots of money for them to inherit. The first $5 million in inheritance is still tax exempt, but after that the rate rises to 40 percent, from 35 percent previously.

Will Meals on Wheels keep delivering to my home?

The agreement delays for two months cuts to the Meals on Wheels program and all of the other across-the-board cuts to the budgets of numerous domestic agencies and the Pentagon. But stay tuned.

Will I get snagged by the Alternative Minimum Tax?

That depends on your income. Middle-class Americans, who have been increasingly hit by a tax code initially aimed at making it harder for wealthy American to avoid taxes through loopholes and deductions, will now be spared from this tax. But Americans in the highest income brackets will have a harder time getting around it.


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