American taxpayers, workers, and businesses are getting a gift this Christmas — President Trump and the Congress delivered the long-awaited tax bill in time for Christmas and the New Year.
Unfortunately, it’s also a misunderstood and unjustly unpopular tax bill. The 91% negative-on-Trump media has been attacking the tax effort in between misleading stories about Russia collusion, while Republicans in Congress have done a poor job selling what should be an easy sell: It’s a pro-growth pro-jobs tax bill loaded with reform, simplification, and rate cuts for taxpaying families and businesses alike.
Let’s unwrap the 12 Gifts of TaxMas in this tax bill:
The partridge in this tax bill pear tree is economic growth. The slightly lower income tax rates and significantly lower corporate tax rates will induce American workers and businesses to work and produce more, which stimulates the economy and creates jobs and growth.
It’s an economic win when we keep more money out of the hands of Government and leave it in the pockets of workers, families and businesses. Some grinches are bleating about the loss of revenue to the Government, estimated at $1.5 trillion over 10 years, but more money in people’s pockets is a blessing, not a curse. We should keep in perspective that spending drives deficits; the deficit threat comes from the $40 trillion in spending projected over the next 10 years, not a tax bill that lowers revenue by less than 5%. Further, the ‘scored’ accounting that drives these estimates understates the economic benefits and likely overstates the actual deficit impact.
The standard deduction is nearly doubled, to $24,000 for married couples. This bigger standard deduction and the lower rates helps most those taxpayers not already itemizing and those taxpayers modest to moderate income. For example, a married couple with no kids and $75,000 income will be in a 12 percent tax bracket next year, compared with 15 percent under the current law, and will save about $1,200 in taxes, about a 20% tax reduction. Some families — for example, a family with one dependent making $40,000 a year — will go from paying taxes to pay zero in taxes and even getting a child tax credit rebate; you can’t get a better break than that.
One of the best features of the bill is the $10,000 deduction limit on state and local taxes. The bill smartly allows a break for the middle class and their payments while limiting an unfair tax break for upper income taxpayers in high tax states. A side-benefit is the blue-state political class needs to face the real cost of state-level tax-and-spend after losing this subsidy.
Mortgage deductions are now limited to $750,000 mortgages. This is well above an average home price, so the limit impacts upper income taxpayers. To complain about this lower limit is to suggest we should make renters subsidize wealthy homeowners and the thrifty should subsidize those with debt to the eyeballs.
This bill replaces the standard exemption with a child tax credit; it is limited to kids under the age of 17 and phases out for those earning above $400,000. By doubling the child tax credit to $2,000 and expanding the refundable portion to $1,400 a child, working low income families will enjoy a bigger break. A family with three children under 18 and household income of $80,000 could save an additional $3,000 on their taxes with the child tax credit.
It might not be as good as five golden rings, but expanding the standard deduction and limiting other deductions means that over 90% of Americans need not itemize at all and can file on a postcard. Having a standard deduction that is larger than the deduction caps on taxes and limits on mortgage debt means most people will forego itemizing. For example, using up $10,000 on state and local taxes means you still need $14,000 to benefit by itemizing, either in mortgage interest, student loan interest, or medical payments above 7.5% of income and donations. Most won’t meet that threshold.
The end of millions filling out Schedule A makes the entire income tax system both simpler and fairer for most. It’s not ideal, as a lot of the complexity is still in tax law and available to the few who need the deductions, but it puts the system in a better place for most taxpayers. They will spend less time filing, make fewer mistakes, and be involved in less red tape and frustration; a win for all except the tax preparers.
The corporate rate of 21% will no longer be the highest tax rate in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The U.S. was becoming seriously non-competitive versus other nations like Germany, Canada, and Great Britain, with tax rates even higher than France. Lower rates mean the sad legacy of tax avoidance by U.S. companies will end, and the trillions of dollars offshore — capital refugees from high taxes — will come home and be reinvested in America. It’s a major reason the stock market and economic activity has perked up this year, and the jobs and other economic benefits from that corporate reinvestment will help make this aspect of the bill pay for itself with long-term economic dividends.
This is the provision that saved TaxMas, a source of budgetary magic that made the individual tax cuts broader and better. Even if this was a stand-alone bill, its repeal is an unalloyed good thing. The Obamacare individual mandate was an unconstitutional and unjust imposition on the healthcare choices of Americans. Millions of individuals will not ‘lose’ health insurance; rather, they will flee insurance that is forced on them by mandates that are a raw deal for them.
One of the problems with a corporate tax rate lower than individual tax rates is that it starts to disfavor those who file as S Corps, or put income from LLCs on their individual tax forms. These income streams however are business income, and there were changes made by this bill to equalize the treatment somewhat. Rates on income earned by S corporation owners are reduced from 39.6% to 29.9%.
Drilling in ANWR is a win for American energy, Alaska, Government royalties, and the economy. Alaskans love oil drilling; they get a year-end check based on state royalties. The rest of us get lower oil prices and fewer oil imports.
Another gift is a change not made. There was a lot of hyperventilating when the House bill made tuition credits taxable. Fear not, those tax rules weren’t changed; Republicans won’t have to wear that ugly sweater in coming elections. Also in the ‘left alone’ category were 401K contribution limits, and medical expense deductions.
We have an educational stocking stuffer thanks to an amendment by Senator Ted Cruz. 529s are expanded from the original use for College expenses so they can now be used for education expenses for Kindergarten through 12th grade.
With wider exemption, AMT has practically been erased for most Americans. AMT is like a whole second tax code, ready to entrap a taxpayer who deducted ‘too much’ or managed to use regular code provisions to their advantage. It’s unfortunate it wasn’t removed entirely.
It is not perfect by any measure, but this tax reform bill improves significantly on the status quo — in tax rates, tax fairness, tax levels and tax simplification. The real gift of TaxMas is unshackling American business, with economic benefits in wages and income for American workers.
The stock market is encouraged by the bill, and so will be many Americans. We may not be ready to call Trump, Ryan, and McConnell the three wise men, but we can certainly take these TaxMas gifts and have a truly Happy New Year.