What to know about the GOP tax plan if you have kids

By SARAH SKIDMORE SELL Markets Associated Press

American families may find themselves confused by the GOP tax proposal unveiled this week. Proponents say they win, critics say they lose and much of it may change when and if it becomes law.

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So what should you know if you have kids?

The exact impact on your tax bill is going to be highly variable based on your income, family size and where you live, much like current law.

There are provisions that may benefit some families: the standard deduction and the child tax credit are increased. The plan also creates a new family credit.

President Donald Trump and a number of Republican leaders say that the bill provides numerous family-focused benefits, especially for low and middle-income families.

But many tax experts say the gains for these families are offset by other proposed changes. For instance, key deductions for state income taxes, student loan interest and medical expenses would go away. And some perks are only temporary.

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"It's as if Houdini was in the room designing tax reform and took away with one hand and made it appear in another," said Elaine Maag, senior research associate at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

Among the most notable changes in the plan is the near doubling of the standard deduction to $24,000 for families from $12,700. That helps some middle class families whose personal deductions wouldn't be greater than that. But other deductions and exemptions that adjusted the burden for families facing other financial pressures are disappearing.

Another big selling point is that the plan increases the child tax credit from $1,000 to $1,600, which taxpayers can claim for children under the age of 17. The House says this increase was intended to help parents with the cost of raising children. More people will be eligible to claim the credit because the income level at which it phases out is being raised.

However, the first $1,000 is refundable but the extra $600 is not. If it's refundable, once your tax liability hits zero, you get a check for the balance. So that increase does little for low-income families because they have little to no tax liability.

The bill also establishes a $300 family credit for each parent and non-child dependent, such as an adult child with a disability or a family member under your care. This too has its limits — it's only effective for five years and it's not refundable.

But the biggest problem for many families could be the repeal of the personal exemption.

Currently, taxpayers can claim a $4,050 personal exemption for themselves, their spouse and each dependent. That will no longer exist if this proposal moves forward. So even with the new benefits for families, some larger families may end up paying more

The bill is long and its terms complex, so many are still reviewing the full impact. But most critics and tax experts agree any gains for low to middle income families pale in comparison to those for corporations and wealthy families.

A number of changes would ease the tax burden on high-income families, such as the removal of the alternative minimum tax and repeal of the estate tax, which allows them to better pass wealth from one generation to the next.

"This tax plan does not deliver any significant benefits to lower and middle-income families," Maag said. "High-income families win."

Democrats have vowed to fight the bill, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the bill is full of "hidden, devastating plans to raise taxes on families" and says millions of middle-class families will pay more.

Conservative proponents say the proposal provides long overdue relief for working families. But even some Republicans, like Senators Marco Rubio and Mike Lee said that the bill didn't go far enough to help working families. They want the child tax credit to be raised to $2,000 and made permanent.

Other changes that could hurt families include the repeal of a credit for child adoption expenses and the elimination of employer-provided dependent care assistance programs. These allow workers to save up to $5,000 of pretax income to pay for dependent care expenses, such as daycare, typically through a flexible spending account.

House Republican proponents say that middle-class families can expect a tax break under the proposal and expect a wage increase as well, forecasting average households will see an extra $4,000 in take-home pay thanks to a cut in the corporate tax rate.

But Joann Weiner, associate professor of economics at George Washington University, argues that it is unlikely these proposed tax cuts for business will cause economic growth that will benefit families. In fact, she worries if the bill were implemented as written, lawmakers would try to make up for the deficit down the road by making cuts to social program, such as food stamps, that do benefit many American families.

"Overall it's a big pulling the wool over working families' eyes that they are going to benefit," she said.

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This story has been corrected to fix the spelling of Weiner's first name. It's Joann, not Joanne.