ThePresident Donald Trump touted at its official unveiling Wednesday has, like all changes in the tax code, winners and losers. It tilts toward corporations and wealthier Americans, but it offers something for less well-heeled taxpayers, as well.
If you own a business partnership, lucky you. If you live in a high-tax state like New York, sorry.
Because the nine-page framework document for the plan, crafted by the White House and GOP congressional leaders, is thus far scant on detail and revenue projections, analyzing it is hardly an exact science. In an appearance in Indianapolis to launch the plan, Mr. Trump said it was “focused on the middle-class, not high-income earners.” Other assessments, from the more liberal side of the spectrum, see it the other way around.
That’s a debate that will play out in coming months. The framework is intentionally bare-bones, with the details left to Capitol Hill. The last time a massive revamping of the tax code occurred, when Ronald Reagan was president in 1986, then-Treasury Secretary James Baker said the initial proposal was ‘written on a word processor,” and open to big changes.
Another dimension of the current debate will be cost. Goldman Sachs (GS) has put the tab at $4 trillion over 10 years.
Of course, getting any of this through Congress is a difficult task, especially by year-end as GOP leaders want.
“Health care involves around one-sixth of the U.S. economy, while taxes cover pretty much everything,” noted Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com, pointing to the failure Republicans had trying to repeal and replace Obamacare. “That makes the broader fight even larger and more complicated.”
The stock market liked what it saw, especially financial stocks and those for smaller companies, which rose smartly on Wednesday, pointed out Ryan Detrick, senior market strategist with LPL Financial.
Given what we now know, here are some of the potential winners and losers:
An increase in the standard deduction. Winners: lower-income taxpayers. This feature of the tax code is for people who don’t itemize, which means those of modest incomes. The Republican plan nearly doubles it to $24,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly and $12,000 for single filers.
Also aiding these taxpayers is lifting the income ceiling for the $1,000 child-care credit, which they get to subtract from their tax bills, rather than deduct it from their income, which doesn’t bring as much of a benefit. The $1,000 credit for each child under 17 currently phases out above $75,000 for single parents and $110,000 for couples. The Trump plan doesn’t say how much higher the phase-out ceiling would rise.
Offsetting this is a slight increase in the lowest tax rate, to 12 percent from 10 percent. (The plan shrinks the current seven tax brackets to three, with the new rates at 12, 25 and 35 percent.) Trouble is, the plan doesn’t say what income levels go into the new brackets, making an assessment of the impact on lower earners hard to do.
The decrease in the top rate. Winners: the 1 percent. At least the 1 percent by income, because that’s how many pay the top rate of 39.6 percent, by the reckoning of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank. They calculate that a married couple with $1 million in taxable income would get a cut of $24,000 under this provision.
Eliminating deductions for state and local taxes. Losers: high-tax state dwellers. And for the most part, these are blue states like California and New York. The GOP plan spares deductions for home mortgage interest and charitable donations, allowing taxpayers to continue taking them.
Like most deductions, the one for state and local taxes tends to benefits high-income folks, who itemize deductions. According to the Tax Policy Center, households with yearly incomes over $100,000 would get hit with 90 percent of the resulting tax boost, and those with more than $500,000 would shoulder 40 percent of it.
Since the affected states are mostly represented by Democrats, said Jeff Carbone of Cornerstone Financial Partnership, “I don’t see this getting a lot of their votes.”
Axing the alternative minimum tax. Winners: upper-middle-class and rich people. This is a tax created in the 1960s to capture multimillionaires who used loopholes to pay little or nothing to Uncle Sam. By shearing away a host of deductions, many of them commonplace like for state income taxes, many taxpayers who aren’t plutocrats nowadays find themselves paying more under this tougher method of calculations. The AMT, as it’s called, wasn’t indexed to inflation, so over the years, this tax swept in more and more Americans who don’t own private jets.
Doing away with the AMT could at least partly offset the loss of state and local tax deductions, provided you make $100,000 to $200,000 annually. That’s the level where the AMT starts to kick in these days, although only 2 percent of that income group pay this levy, figures from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center show. The wealthier you get, the more you are susceptible to the AMT. Almost a third of those making between $200,000 and $500,000 pay this tax.
Paring the corporate deduction for interest on borrowing. Losers: bond issuers and other lenders. Low interest rates have boosted corporate bond issuance: 2016 marked the sixth year in a row of record volumes, and thus far in 2017, new bonds sold have outpaced last year’s level. But one big plus to this exercise always has been the issuing company’s ability to deduct the interest paid on the bonds. With that gone, more companies might shift to floating stock when raising capital, suggested Jamie Cox, managing partner at Harris Financial Group.
Lowering the rate for partnership and other “pass-through” companies. Winners: mom-and-pop businesses and big-shot financiers. Some 95 percent of U.S. businesses, or about 27 million, are pass-throughs, which unlike standard C companies, aren’t taxed at the corporate level. In general, that means pass-through owners get taxed at higher rates. The GOP plan lowers the pass-through rate to 25 percent.
That brings quite a nice windfall to wealthy owners of real estate partnerships, like Mr. Trump, as well as to hedge fund and private equity fund operators. But people who own shops and run other small businesses benefit, too, although perhaps not quite as much as the rich crowd. Still, the Republican plan suggests a possible fourth tax bracket for the very wealthy — and that could “catch higher income people” and lessen their benefit, said Harris’ Cox.
The biggest fight on Capitol Hill, certainly, will be over who benefits the most. In gauging a preliminary plan from the Treasury Department in March, the Tax Policy Center figured that half its benefits would accrue to the wealthiest 1 percent. On average, they would bag a $175,000 tax cut. Less-well-off households would save just $760.