Republican leaders in Congress rolled out their long-anticipated tax bill, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, on Thursday. At long last, we have some key details about what a tax reform package might look like. To put some numbers behind the rumors, here are 10 key facts we just learned about the tax bill as it stands now.
1. The corporate tax rate would drop to 20%
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The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act includes a permanent corporate tax rate of 20%, down from the current rate of 35%.
During and after his campaign, President Trump repeatedly called for a 15% corporate tax rate, but Republican leaders have proposed a slightly less aggressive cut to 20%. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, corporations would be allowed to take immediate depreciation deductions for expenses over the next five years.
In addition to a reduced corporate tax rate, the bill calls for dramatically reduced repatriation tax rates. Right now, U.S. corporations are currently holding trillions in foreign profits overseas in order to avoid the 35% tax they'd have to pay on those earnings to bring them back to the States. Apple alone has about a quarter-trillion dollars stashed abroad. This new tax bill would allow corporations to repatriate internationally held cash assets at a 12% tax rate and non-cash assets at a 5% rate.
2. Four individual tax brackets
The tax framework released by Republicans in September called for three tax brackets with rates of 12%, 25%, and 35%, down from the current seven-bracket structure. The plan also mentioned the possibility of retaining a fourth, higher bracket to ensure that the tax system stayed sufficiently progressive (i.e., kinder to lower-income taxpayers than to wealthy taxpayers).
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act does indeed include a fourth tax bracket with the same 39.6% rate as our current highest tax bracket. Here are the taxable income thresholds above which each marginal tax bracket would go into effect.
3. Standard deductions are up, personal exemptions are out
The GOP tax framework called for a near-doubling of the standard deduction to $24,000 per married couple and $12,000 for individual taxpayers. However, the personal exemption would be eliminated, which could result in a lower overall deduction and possible tax increase for families, especially those with several children.
4. Child tax benefits would improve
For families, greater tax breaks for parents may offset the loss of personal exemptions. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act calls for raising the Child Tax Credit from $1,000 to $1,600 and also adds a $300 credit for Americans with non-child dependents.
5. The estate tax will be phased out
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act calls for doubling the exemption amount for the estate tax from $5.6 million (the 2018 threshold) to $11.2 million and will eliminate it completely after six years. Republicans have been trying to get rid of what they call the "death tax" for a long time. Now it appears they may finally get their way.
6. The Alternative Minimum Tax will be repealed
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act calls for a repeal of the alternative minimum tax (AMT), a parallel income tax system designed to make sure wealthier Americans pay their fair share in taxes. Because taxpayers with many income streams tend to qualify for many tax deductions, some wealthy Americans could reduce their tax burden to little or nothing -- if not for the AMT. The AMT allows far fewer exemptions and deductions than the standard income tax system, and taxpayers whose income exceeds a certain threshold are required to calculate their taxes using both methods and pay the higher of the two resulting amounts.
Republicans have been trying to eliminate the alternative minimum tax, at least in its current form, for years. Not only is it seen as a complication in an already-complicated tax system, but it has increasingly begun to affect middle-class taxpayers, which it was not intended to do.
7. 401(k) and other retirement account tax breaks remain
President Trump recently assured the American public that no changes would be made to their 401(k)s in the tax bill, although there have been some reports that the maximum annual 401(k) deduction could be dramatically reduced.
Fortunately for retirement savers, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act retains the current 401(k) deduction and contribution limits, as well as the limits for other deductible forms of retirement savings like IRAs.
8. The state and local tax deduction will go away
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would eliminate the state and local tax deduction. This has been perhaps the most contentious part of the GOP's tax reform plan so far. After all, tens of millions of Americans claim the SALT deduction each year, deducting state and local taxes on sales, income, property, and more. Though eliminating this popular deduction would help pay for the tremendous tax cuts elsewhere in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, it could cost Republicans valuable support in high-tax states like New York and New Jersey.
9. Mortgage interest, charitable contributions, and property taxes remain deductible
These three expenses will remain deductible under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, though the higher standard deduction would make them less useful to millions of Americans. The deductions for mortgage interest and charitable contributions were never on the chopping block, but the ability to deduct property taxes up to $10,000 is likely a compromise to appeal to lawmakers in high-tax states. And it's worth noting that for newly purchased homes, the mortgage interest deduction will be limited to homeowners with mortgage balances of $500,000 or less.
10. Small businesses, "pass-through" income
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act cuts the maximum rate on small businesses to 25%. While there would be several rules in place designed to prevent abuse of this rule -- after all, there is some ambiguity to what exactly qualifies as small business income -- this could be a big tax break for small business owners.
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