WASHINGTON — The banking industry’s biggest gains in the multibillion-dollar tax bill will not take effect for years, and could be short-lived.

The two provisions that most directly benefit financial services companies in the $1.35 trillion package, adopted by Congress Saturday and about to be signed by President Bush, are estate tax repeal and expanded retirement savings accounts.

But the entire measure, which is centered on individual income rate cuts and is roundly applauded by the industry, would expire at the end of 2010 because of budget concerns and Senate rules that prohibit certain tax cuts from lasting more than a decade.

As a result, estate taxes would be repealed for only one year, 2010, reverting to current levels at the start of 2011 unless renewed by Congress. In the interim, the bill would raise individual exemptions from estate taxes, from $657,000 now to $1 million in 2002, $1.5 million in 2004, $2 million in 2006, and $3.5 million in 2006.

A similar phase-in applies to the expansion of tax-deferred retirement savings accounts, the bulk of which are sold and managed by banking companies. It will take seven years for tax-deferred contributions to individual retirement accounts to climb from the current $2,000 per year to $5,000, and five years for corporate 401(k)s to grow from $10,500 to $15,000. The contribution limits will go back to current levels at the start of 2011 unless Congress extends them.

One industry concern is “how much of this ever becomes effective,” said Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association. “But the ultimate killer is that it sunsets” in nine years, he said.

Whether future Congresses will extend or make permanent the estate tax and retirement savings provisions “will be driven by budget projects and election results,” Mr. Yingling said.

The uncertainty over the status of estate tax repeal also will affect the estate planning business. “Just having the uncertainty in place whether estate taxes will or will not be there in 2011 is cause for concern for estate planners,” said Paul Merski, chief economist and director of federal tax policy for the Independent Community Bankers of America.

But overall, the industry “came out of the fight in great shape,” Mr. Yingling said.

Estate-tax phaseout and retirement savings expansion had been in danger at various points during the legislative process of being cut back or even removed from the final package. Additionally, bankers say that the decrease in individual income tax rates will not only help stimulate the economy, but also aid the roughly 1,400 banks operating under Subchapter S of the tax code, which allows the owners to pay individual rather than corporate taxes.

“I would rather have the cuts sooner than later, but I would rather have it phased in over a period of time than not have any relief at all,” said David Seim, president and chief executive officer of the $300 million-asset Lubbock National Bank in Texas.

The individual rate reductions, combined with rebates taxpayers are scheduled to get later this year, “will help whether they deposit it or spend it,” said Mr. Seim, who is chairman of the ICBA’s tax committee. “If they deposit it, it gives banks more liquidity to make loans. If they spend it, that’s going to have a positive effect on the local economy,” he said. “We do well when the economy does well.”

Industry lobbyists on Tuesday said they were confident that the sun will not set on their pet provisions.

“Given the fact that everything is going to expire in 2010, there’s time to make the case to make the estate tax repeal permanent,” Mr. Merski said.

Even if the political mood rules out permanent estate tax repeal, which Democrats and some moderate Republicans say benefits only the very wealthy, Mr. Yingling said, the industry at least should be able to count on Congress making the larger exemptions permanent, which would help many but not all community bankers who want to pass on the business to their heirs.

“While the overall provisions would help hundreds of banks primarily owned by families,” he said, there are still some banks for which the maximum exemption of $3.5 million for individuals and $7 million for couples in 2006 “would not be enough.”

The outlook is even better for making permanent the expanded retirement accounts, which have stronger bipartisan support than estate tax repeal.

The industry had lobbied lawmakers hard to include the retirement savings provisions in the tax bill. They were not in the tax package President Bush submitted to Congress earlier this year, and were on the verge of being negotiated away late Friday when lawmakers were finalizing the tax bill.

Mr. Merski estimates that the provision will infuse some $40 billion in deposits into banks over the next nine years.Similarly, the industry is expected to benefit from provisions to make student loans and education savings products more attractive.

Starting next year, taxpayers can annually put as much as $2,000 — up from $500 — in education savings accounts to pay for elementary, secondary, and higher education fees. Though the contributions are not tax-deferred, the earnings are tax-free.

Also staring in 2002, more taxpayers will be eligible to deduct up to $2,500 each year in interest paid on student loans. The income eligibility limit will be raised from $50,000 to $65,000 for individuals, and from $100,000 to $130,000 for couples.


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