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Originally published Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 8:00 PM

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Alternative-minimum-tax change could delay refunds

IRS assumed old rules would stay in place.

Bloomberg News

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The AMT is the 2012 tax part of the fiscal cliff, so knowing this I intentionally... MORE

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WASHINGTON — Failure by Congress to act on the alternative minimum tax by year’s end will lead to “significant” delays in tax filing and a strain on taxpayers, said Steven Miller, the IRS’ acting commissioner.

Without action by Congress, the parallel tax system would affect 32.4 million households in 2013, up from 4 million in 2010, according to the Congressional Research Service. It would increase tax collections by $92 billion, shrinking or erasing many taxpayers’ expected refunds.

Also, the IRS’ computer systems have been programmed assuming that Congress will act this year to prevent the AMT’s expansion, leading to a delay in the agency’s ability to accept tax returns if lawmakers do nothing.

Because of the tax’s structure, which limits the benefit of the state and local tax deduction, it tends to have a disproportionate effect in high-tax states such as California, New York and New Jersey.

Congress created the forerunner to the AMT in 1969 in response to news that 155 high-income taxpayers owed no income taxes.

Taxpayers must calculate their liability under the AMT and the regular tax and pay whichever is greater. The AMT has an exemption that isn’t indexed for inflation permanently, leading Congress to enact so-called patches that prevent the full reach of the tax from taking effect.

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