Expect smaller paychecks after payroll tax cut lapses

The holidays indeed are over, including one that lasted for two years and boosted the typical Sonoma County household's income by about $1,200 a year.

While the tax consequences of plunging over the "fiscal cliff" would have been far greater, a 2 percent increase in the employee's share of the Social Security payroll tax -- effective now -- restores the total tax rate to 6.4 percent, where it was in 2010 before the tax holiday cut it to 4.2 percent.

The increase will divert about $100 billion from household income nationwide, pinching families as well as the nation's economy, experts say.

For the typical Sonoma County household earning about $60,000 a year, the payroll tax bite will amount to about $100 a month.

"It's going to hurt," said Nicholas Stameroff, a Santa Rosa accountant. "Most people in this economy are living paycheck to paycheck, and they're stretched pretty thin."

Because Congress quietly let the payroll tax cut applied to 2011 and 2012 expire this year, many wage earners may be taken by surprise when they notice their smaller paychecks, he said.

"There aren't people in the streets complaining about this," Stameroff said.

Scott Hemmingsen of Santa Rosa, browsing the magazine rack at a downtown bookstore, said he was aware of the tax increase and shrugged it off.

"Taxes are a necessary evil," he said. "Nobody's happy about sending more money out of their pocket."

But diverting $100 billion a year from the Social Security system is unsustainable, he said.

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