(CNN)With just hours until the new year, Congress and the White House have yet to agree on a way to avert the fiscal cliff.
Practically speaking, they likely have a “grace period” of a couple of weeks to pass a bill that wards off the bulk of scheduled tax increases and spending cuts without causing too much damage. But there’s no guarantee that they’d be able to forge an agreement quickly.
That means Americans would be living with continued uncertainty about tax and spending policies for an indefinite period in 2013.
And that uncertainty is likely to create problems for tax filers, payroll processors, wage earners, doctors, federal contractors, federal agencies, federal workers and the unemployed — to name just a few. They are the ones who will pay an increasing price as lawmakers try to redeem themselves and come up with a deal in January or February.
Your paycheck: If you’ll be paid in the coming week, your company’s payroll processor probably already cut your check. And since the IRS hasn’t told the payroll companies yet how much tax to withhold for 2013, they used 2012 withholding rates.
So in that sense, your paycheck in early January won’t be much different than what it was in December.
But your paycheck still will be smaller, because the 2% payroll tax holiday is expiring. Starting in January, workers will once again have 6.2% of their wages up to $113,700 withheld to pay for Social Security, up from the 4.2% rate that’s been in effect for the past two years.
Effectively that means someone making $50,000 might get about $83 less a month in their paychecks. Someone making twice that would see their pay reduced by roughly $167 a month.
If you’re getting a bonus, you’ll have more withheld there, too, said Michael O’Toole, senior director of government relations for the American Payroll Association.
That’s because there’s one supplemental withholding rate that applies to bonuses. This year it’s 25%, but it’s set to rise to 28% on Jan. 1, unless Congress decides to change it.
For paychecks that will be cut during the second, third and fourth weeks of January, payroll processors will follow withholding guidance that the IRS has said it will issue by the end of the year.
If there is no fiscal cliff deal in the next day, and the IRS advises payroll processors to follow 2013 law, paychecks will get smaller because they will have more withheld.
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