Unlike Mitt Romney, most Americans who will pay their taxes today can’t afford fancy accountants. But Romney has reluctantly made public his tax returns, and thus shared valuable strategies to ensure that he pays a far lower rate than, say, Warren Buffett’s secretary. Citizens for Tax Justice recently waded through Romney’s 2010 return—in which his $22 million in income was miraculously taxed at just 13.9 percent—to come up with a handy primer for how you, too, can beat the IRS at its own game. To paraphrase:
1. Don’t work for a living
The tax rate on money earned actually working (“salaries and wages”) can be more than double the rate on money earned sitting around watching your investments go up in value (“capital gains”), thanks to the work of other people. Almost all of Romney’s income is taxed as capital gains.
2. If you work, disguise your compensation as capital gains
About half of the $15 million in capital gains and dividend income Romney reported in 2010 was actually compensation for his work at Bain Capital. But using a tax loophole favored by private-equity guys, he was able to get paid by taking equity stakes in deals that he put together (“carried interest,” in tax parlance) instead of in the proletarian form of a fully taxable salary. Bonus: This allowed Bain to avoid paying Medicare payroll taxes.
3. Give to charity—but not with cash, checks, or money orders
In 2010, Romney was able to write off $1.5 million worth of Domino’s Pizza stock he donated to a charity. It is likely that he originally received the stock as compensation from Bain, in which case the price he paid for it would have been close to zero. In this scenario, by donating the stock instead of selling it and donating the cash, Romney would have saved about $220,000 in taxes.
4. Give to charity—but not now
Romney’s return reports income from the W. Mitt Romney 1996 Charitable Remainder UniTrust. Not only is the trust tax exempt, but when Romney set it up 16 years ago, he got a tax deduction for making a charitable donation. Though the money in the trust is eventually supposed to go to charity, Romney can receive income from the trust for a number of years—quite possibly for the rest of his life.
5. Give to charity—your own
In 2010 Romney made a tax-deductible, $1.5 million donation to the Tyler Charitable Foundation, which he controls. Commanding your own foundation allows you to curry favor with political and business allies by donating money to their pet organizations and causes. For instance, in 2010 the Tyler Charitable Foundation donated $100,000 to to the George W. Bush Library.
6. Do not invest in America
Certain foreign investment vehicles allow you to avoid certain taxes. For example, Romney’s Individual Retirement Account could bypass the Unrelated Business Income Tax by investing through a foreign corporation. Though it’s hard to know whether Romney availed himself of those kinds of savings, he has invested substantially in foreign entities, including ones based in offshore tax havens such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and Luxembourg.
7. Invest in sexy financial instruments
Romney earned $415,000 from an investment that gets special tax treatment: Through an accounting loophole, 60 percent of the profits from the investment are treated as long-term capital gains, a designation that has tax benefits, no matter how long the investment is held.
8. Borrow money to invest
While you can’t deduct interest from car loans or credit cards, you can write off interest on the money you borrow to make certain types of investments—for instance, if you borrow from a broker to buy stock (a “margin loan”). Portfolio management fees are also write-offs. A fellow like Romney, who makes his millions mainly from investments, could probably deduct a fair sum.
9. Push the limits of the law
When you engage in a type of transaction that the IRS views as potentially abusive, you must disclose it in a separate form. In 2010, Romney filed six such forms.
10. Be part of the 1 percent
When it comes to taxes, it costs money to save money. You’ll need to hire lawyers to help you set up tax-exempt charities and trusts or exploit offshore tax havens—and a professional money manager if you plan to invest in sexy financial instruments. It probably won’t be cost effective if you aren’t already rich, but any hard-working son of a governor can land a job at a private-equity firm and start getting paid in carried interest. Bonus: You might make enough money to one day run for president.
By: Josh Harkinson, Mother Jones, April 17, 2012
CANTOR: We also know that over 45 percent of the people in this country don’t pay income taxes at all, and we have to question whether that’s fair. And should we broaden the base in a way that we can lower the rates for everybody that pays taxes. [...]
KARL: Just wondering, what do you do about that? Are you saying we need to have a tax increase on the 45 percent who right now pay no federal income tax?
CANTOR: I’m saying that, just in a macro way of looking at it, you’ve got to discuss that issue. [...] I’ve never believed that you go raise taxes on those that have been successful that are paying in, taking away from them, so that you just hand out and give to someone else.
Let’s just do this again, debunk that zombie lie. The more than 45 percent of people who “don’t pay income taxes” don’t pay federal income tax because they’re too poor!They pay federal payroll taxes. They pay sales taxes in most states. They pay a larger share of their income in taxes than rich people do. And they are students, and disabled people, and the elderly who don’t have income.
And you know who doesn’t pay income tax? Two dozen Fortune 500 companies that avoided corporate income taxes altogether in 2011.
And Eric Cantor says that we need to take even more money away from poor Americans and give it directly to “those that have been successful.” That’s the Republican version of redistribution of wealth.
10:57 AM PT: The Cantor NASCAR/NFL owners tax break just passed, 235-173. Ten Republicans voted no, one voted present, and 10 Democrats voted for it.
By: Joan McCarter, Daily Kos, April 19, 2012
Some politicians might believe that “corporations are people,” as former Gov. Mitt Romney declared last year.
At tax time, however, corporations enjoy better treatment than ordinary folks. While millions of individual Americans file last-minute income tax returns this month, some major corporations won’t pay a dime despite reaping record profits.
From 2008 to 2010, the 280 most profitable U.S. corporations sheltered half of their profits from taxes, thanks to tax subsidies totaling nearly $224 billion, according to a 2011 analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice. A dozen large companies, including Exxon-Mobil, Boeing, and General Electric, reaped $175 billion in profits, but their combined tax rate was negative 1.4 percent, thanks to $64 billion in subsidies from oil depletion allowances, write-offs from overseas profits, and other loopholes, according to the study.
These subsidies didn’t just come about by accident—at least 30 Fortune 500 firms pay their lobbyists more than they pay in taxes. Most small businesses can’t afford lobbyists, so it’s no surprise that the benefits of tax loopholes flow mainly to Wall Street, not Main Street.
Thanks to these loopholes, probably no major company pays the full federal corporate tax rate of 35 percent. The highest three-year average effective rate paid by any of the 12 large corporations in the Citizens for Tax Justice study was 14.2 percent—less than many middle class families.
That’s the kind of sweetheart deal most taxpayers—and most small businesses—can only dream about. We do, however, get to pick up the tab for these costly tax breaks. For starters, when corporations shirk billions of dollars in federal taxes, middle class taxpayers must bear more of the cost of national defense, healthcare, and other necessary programs.
Then there is the effect on state and local services, most notably education.
Most states mirror federal tax loopholes, and many states also provide tax subsidies for companies just to locate within their borders. Total state and local tax subsidies to business add up to about $70 billion a year. That windfall for big business comes at the expense of students. Over the past three years local school districts have cut 238,000 education jobs, which means more students crammed into larger classes and fewer opportunities for extra tutoring or after-school programs. Middle class families have also had to foot a larger share of the bill for higher education, as total state funding has declined 3.8 percent over the last five years.
Small businesses also pay a price for corporate handouts. Not only is the tax burden shifted to companies that can’t afford to game the system, but small businesses rely on public education to train skilled workers and teach them how to think critically. When Spencer Organ Company, Inc. was founded in 1995, many of the people who applied for jobs not only had basic reading and math skills—they also had been exposed to music education and had learned to use tools in shop classes, knowledge that is useful in the organ restoration business. Today, after years of curriculum cutbacks, most students have not had those opportunities, a shift that translates to higher training costs for this small business.
Our nation built the most prosperous economy in history during the 20th century, and public education was a foundation of that success. We all have a responsibility to provide similar opportunities for future generations to succeed, and our biggest corporations must do their fair share. After all, the same people who own stock in these companies also have a stake in America’s future.
By: Joseph Rotella and Dennis Van Roekel, U. S. News and World Report, April 5, 2012
“Territorial Tax System”: CEO’s Of Tax Dodging Corporations Push Congress To Cut Corporate Tax Rates
Several corporate CEOs representing the Business Roundtable, a lobbying group, were on Capitol Hill today to unveil a set of measures that they claim will boost the economy. Not surprisingly, some of the high-profile items are a cut in the corporate tax rateand shifting to what’s known as a territorial tax system:
Fresh out of a meeting with members of the Blue Dog Coalition, dozens of CEOs in town for a series of Business Roundtable policy and lobbying meetings today unveiled proposals to boost the economy.
The plan, billed as “Taking Action for America,” calls for a balanced federal budget, a reform of federal regulations and a lower corporate tax rate based on a territorial tax system, among others.
A territorial system, as well as cutting the corporate tax rate without raising more corporate tax revenue, are both misguided proposals. But the interesting thing about these particular CEOs pushing this particular policy prescription is that several of them already run corporations that pay little to nothing in taxes.
For instance, Boeing CEO Jim McNerny is part of the group calling for corporate tax cuts, despite the fact that his company has a negative federal tax rate for the last decade. Only twice in the last ten years has Boeing had federal tax liability in a given year, and between 2008 and 2010, the company made $9 billion in profits without paying any federal corporate income tax.
Andrew Liveris, president and CEO of the Dow Chemical, also joined the lobbying party, even though his company received nearly half a billion dollars in tax refunds in 2010. Proctor & Gamble’s CEO also participated, while heading a company very fond of exploiting loopholes to avoid taxes.
Corporate tax rates are already at a 40 year low. As billionaire investor Warren Buffett explained, “it is a myth that American corporations are paying 35 percent or anything like it…Corporate taxes are not strangling American competitiveness.” Yet corporate CEOs whose companies already pay literally nothing think driving rates down further is the answer to boosting the economy.
By: Pat Garofalo, Think Progress, March 7, 2012
What do Republican politicians do when they need to pick it up a step? You’ve got it: they propose more tax cuts.
So it’s no great surprise that Mitt Romney is signaling that he’s coming out with a new, “bold” tax proposal to coincide with his stretch drive towards primaries next week in Michigan and Arizona, not to mention the upcoming Super Tuesday (March 6).
The chosen herald for this news appears to be that intrepid supply-sider, Larry Kudlow of National Review, who reports, with barely restrained excitement, that Mitt’s new tax cuts will be “across-the-board with supply-side incentives from rate reduction, and that it will help small-business owners as well as everyone else.”
You may wonder why Romney didn’t find space for this stuff in his previously released 159-page economic plan. Looking at that beast for the first time in a while, it already includes making the Bush tax cuts permanent; abolishing estate taxes; a partial abolition of taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains; and lower corporate tax rates. Ah, but there it is, the placeholder for new goodies: “a conservative overhaul of the tax system over the long term that includes lower, flatter rates on a broader base.”
Now lots of folks in both parties think it might be possible to have lower income tax rates if the lost revenues are offset by aggressive elimination of tax expenditures, from fossil fuel subsidies to the mortgage interest deduction, all of them zealously defended by some powerful lobby. It will be interesting to see if Romney moves in that direction, or instead (as one might guess from Kudlow’s enthusiasm) relies on the old voodoo magic of supply-side economics, and pretends lower rates will pay for themselves. Since he’s in full primary pander mode, it’s unlikely he’ll propose anything a signfiicant number of GOP primary voters will find objectionable.
By: Ed Kilgore, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 21, 2012