“A little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular…. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration – and a very effective form of promotion.” – Donald Trump, The Art of the Deal.
One of Trump’s campaign promises is a massive revamp of the tax code. It’s a huge (or is that yuge, as Trump might say?) undertaking that will be the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular tax code overhaul ever. Maybe that’s a little truthful hyperbole.
The last time the Code was overhauled was in 1986; before that, it was revamped in 1954. The Code undergoes a fairly major overhaul every 30 or so years; we’re due.
Trump’s proposals are certainly some of the most ambitious proposals in recent memory. From a business perspective or a wealthy individual’s perspective, this may be best taxation scheme that the nation has seen since just before the introduction of income tax in 1913. For everyone else, it depends on a number of factors, one of the most significant being whether you believe in supply-side economics (you might know this better as “trickle down” economics or “Reaganomics”). However, I’m not here to discuss politics or debate the merits of different economic schools of thought. We’re here to look at what Trump has proposed. I should point out, this is all speculation and campaign promises should be taken with a block of salt.
Let’s start with the aspect that will affect the greatest number of taxpayers, the proposed tax rates and brackets. Trump would like to cut down the current seven brackets to just three. Right now, the brackets range from 10% for those with income less than $9,275 to 39.6% for with income over $415,050. There is also a 3.8% tax for those with adjusted gross incomes, or net investment income in excess of the statutory threshholds. I should also note that I’m just focusing on the single rates, not head of household or married filing jointly rates (however, a general rule of thumb with Trump’s proposal is the married amount is double the single amount, e.g., the single limit is $37,500, the married is $75,000).
Under Trump’s proposal there would only be three brackets, 12%, 25% and 33%. The 12% bracket would include those with income less than $37,499 and the 33% bracket includes those with income over $112,500; the 25% bracket captures everyone else.
The standard deduction would be increased to $15,000 for individuals, which was a reduction from Trump’s original proposal of a $25,000 standard deduction. Trump also proposes to cap individual itemized deductions at $100,000; a move that won’t affect most Americans (the average itemized deduction for 2011 was $25,230, according to IRS data).
An analysis by the Tax Policy Center found that the bottom 80% of households would see effective tax cuts between 0.6% and 1.7%. Whereas, the top 1% will see a tax reduction of 6.5% and the top 0.1% will see a reduction of 7.3%.
However, there are certain demographics who, because of the removal of head of household as well as the elimination of the $4,000 exemption for each individual in a household, would see their taxes increased. For example, a single parent who earns $75,000 and has two children could see a tax increase of over $2,400. In an attempt to offset the elimination of the $4,000 exemption, Trump proposed allowing parents to deduct child-care expenses for up to four children. The deduction would be capped at the average cost of care in the family’s geographic location. The child care deduction would not apply to individuals earning more than $250,000.
It’s also worth mentioning that Trump would like to repeal the estate tax. The estate tax currently exempts estates worth less than $5.45 million for individuals and $10.9 million for married couples. Currently, around 0.2% of the nation is subject to the estate tax. Further, though not mentioned by Trump, a repeal of the estate tax would almost axiomatically require the repeal of the gift tax due to the way the gift tax and the estate tax work together.
However, the real winners under the proposed tax plan are businesses. Trump would like to see a 15% tax rate on businesses. That would be a 20% cut from the current 35% corporate rate. As you may know, in general there are two ways to tax businesses, double taxation and pass-through. A traditional C corporation has what’s known as “double taxation” wherein the profits of the corporation are taxed at 35% and then any money taken out of the corporation, in the form of dividends, is taxed at a rate up to 20%. In pass-through entities, such as LLCs, partnerships, and S Corporations, profits are only taxed at the owner’s tax rate (i.e., a maximum of 43.4%). Trump’s proposal is to tax all business income at 15%, and that includes pass-through entities. Therefore, a member of an LLC, a partner in a partnership or a shareholder in an S corporation may only have to pay 15% in taxes. In other words, some business owners (including lawyers, accountants and doctors who are owners of their practices) will see their tax rates cut by up to almost two thirds.
Trump’s business tax rate proposal also raises an interesting point, not directly addressed by the proposed plan: Will partners and LLC members be subject to self-employment tax? As explained above, a partner or LLC member will pay taxes at their individual tax rate, however, they also pay the employee and employer share of employment taxes, about 15% (known as “self-employment tax”). Under the current Code, a partner or member could pay a total of 58.7% if he or she were in the highest tax bracket and paid the self-employment tax. If Trump’s plan converts partnership and LLC profit into “business income” that may lead to the elimination of the employment tax for partnership and LLC owners, which would effectively drop the tax rate by 75% for those partners and members in the highest tax brackets.
While all of that sounds great for business owners, there’s always a catch. Under Trump’s plan, businesses would lose most deductions, including interest on debt deductions. But, in a move that will please most businesses, Trump proposed that, instead of depreciating assets over the life of the asset, the entire expense of an asset could be deducted up-front.
Additionally, multinational companies will be celebrating a potential tax holiday in which a 10% deemed repatriation tax will be imposed on profits held overseas. That might not seem great on the surface, but that allows US companies to bring back those profits held overseas, valued around $2.5 trillion, with a 10% tax instead of the current 35%. Moreover, the 10% tax would be payable over 10 years. Trump claims that this would lead to mountains of money flowing back into the US, presumably to be spent by businesses to hire people and expand, instead of substantial shareholder dividends and bonuses to executives. But, as stated earlier, there’s always a catch. With this proposal, Trump would seek to tax foreign subsidiaries on their profits every year.
Trump’s proposal is that by lowering taxes for most Americans and further reducing taxes for the top 1% and drastically reducing the corporate tax rate, the entire nation will benefit. We can’t know, right now, whether his proposals will be enacted, and, if they are, what effect they will have on Americans and the economy, both domestic and global.
No matter your political beliefs, economic philosophies or personal feelings, Tom Hanks recently summed up a Trump presidency in the best light possible, “I hope the president-elect does such a great job that I vote for his re-election in four years.” That is a sentiment every American can support.