There's more. The expiration of the Bush tax cuts would boost rates for everyone (not just the $250,000-plus crowd), the 10 percent tax bracket would vanish, the 35 percent tax bracket would jump to 39.6 percent, and some deduction limits would return. Capital gains and "qualified" dividend tax-rates would increase. The Social Security payroll tax reduction would expire, sending the rate from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent, and up to 30 million tax filers would find the dreaded Alternative Minimum Tax was back in their lives. And that's not all. We could be facing a Sandy-like perfect storm --- one that would send the economy into the second trough of a double dip recession for the new year -- which, among other things, could well mean the difference between having a job and not having one.
Now, there are things folks can't control, and storms are among them. What we can do is prepare. As Frankenstorm approached the East Coast, we all saw it coming, but we didn't really see it coming. Deep down, few of us believed it would be that bad. Some folks prepared; others really didn't. But prepared or not, many naively counted on a Divine intervention with limited damage and no fatalities. Man plans. God laughs. We're still tallying the losses.
The fiscal cliff is no different. But Grand Canyon or a molehill --- no one really knows. Based on the recent history of Congress, though, I'd say gridlock and chaos is more likely than calm and compromise. The sky may be brightening, but that's no reason to ignore the weather report --- and in the case of Congress, the forecast is "clueless with a chance of catastrophe."
If you agree that, here as elsewhere, Congress is likely to live up to its excruciatingly low approval ratings, you may also agree that your best choice as you eye the approaching storm is to celebrate the holidays with a big dose of financial literacy and restraint. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
The good news is that you can seize this opportunity to empower yourself and strengthen your financial and credit position --- no matter what our friends in Congress decide to do. While the credit world is still far from being paradise, consumers do have access to powerful tools that increase individual leverage and add to personal insight, while curbing at least some of the banks' worst excesses. And as I've written so many times before, we must prioritize financial literacy so consumers can take control of our financial lives and get the target off our backs --- whether it's put there by mortgage brokers, mega-banks or identity thieves.
[Related Article: The 5 Things You Must Know to Understand the Fiscal Cliff]
Your credit profile is either a carefully planned project, or something that happens to you. If you take the initiative to understand, shape and protect your credit portfolio, your credit report can serve as a resume, not a rap sheet. I mean that literally. In additional to all of the other things impacted by your report and scores, prospective employers in the overwhelming majority of states, are using an applicant's credit report (but not scores) as a guidepost, not just of competence as a personal financial manager, but of personal awareness and ability to manage one's life in a conscious and proactive way. If a job applicant hasn't demonstrated awareness of, or done what is necessary to build and protect, his or her credit portfolio, why should an employer expect better?