In the US, Death Is More Certain Than Taxes

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2019-05-08

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WASHINGTON —In the U.S., there's an old saying that there are only two things that are certain in life: death and taxes.

But as it turns out, death is way more certain than taxes in the United States.

Corporations and some wealthy individuals, including President Donald Trump, are able to legally avoid any federal taxation in some years by deducting business expenses such as capital investments, charitable donations, interest on their home loans, health care costs and numerous other write-offs from their corporate or personal income.

In a report late Tuesday, The New York Times said from 1985 to 1994, Trump lost more than $1 billion in his real estate business operations and paid no federal income taxes in eight of those 10 years.

Trump called the report inaccurate but did not dispute any specific facts. He said it was "sport" for developers to game the U.S. tax code so they did not have to pay taxes.

Unlike U.S. presidents for the past four decades, Trump has balked at releasing his tax returns, although opposition Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives are seeking, so far unsuccessfully, to get him to divulge his returns for the last six years. A court fight over the dispute is possible.

The independent Tax Policy Center estimates that in 2018, 44% of Americans paid no federal income tax under the country's progressive sliding scale of taxation, where those making the most money, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, pay a higher percentage tax than those with way less annual income.

Various provisions of the U.S. tax code, such as the standard deduction to reduce taxable income or such allowable itemized deductions as for making donations to charities or for expenses to operate a business from home, can sharply reduce income subject to federal taxation.

But even those individuals not subject to any federal taxation, however, likely have paid payroll taxes, payments to cover mandatory withholding from their paychecks to fund the government's pension plan for older and retired workers, and health insurance for Americans over 65. About three-quarters of American households pay federal income taxes, the payroll taxes or both.

The median annual U.S. household income is $56,516, meaning half earn more, half less.

According to one recent survey of nearly 130,000 American consumers, the average American spends $10,489 each year in federal, state, and local income taxes, about 14% of the average survey respondent's gross income.

In the corporate world, however, with the tax overhaul pushed to passage by Trump and Republican lawmakers in 2017 that cut the basic federal corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, 60 of the biggest U.S. corporations avoided paying any taxes last year, according to the Washington-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

The research group said these companies should have paid a collective $16.4 billion in federal income taxes, but instead, with various legal deductions from their income, received a net tax rebate of $4.3 billion.

It reported that among the 60 profitable U.S. corporations paying no federal income taxes last year were some of the country's best known businesses, including General Motors, Amazon, Chevron, Netflix, Delta Air Lines, IBM, Goodyear Tire & Rubber, and Eli Lilly.