President Joe Biden wants to increase taxes on some of the country’s highest earners to pay for affordable childcare, paid family leave, and free community college.
But how much will taxes actually go up? Morgan Stanley thinks Biden will only get some of what he’s asking for.
The investment bank cited comments from moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia in predicting that a 25% corporate tax rate – not 28%, as Biden proposed – is possible. And while the income rate increasing to 39.6% for those earning over $400,000 remains possible, it said, an increase to the capital gains rate would be 30% or below, not the 39.6% currently proposed.
Manchin has signaled he wants a corporate tax rate closer to 25%, while Axios reports that some Senate Democrats are also currently resistant to potential tax hikes.
The bank also said that extending a 3.8% Obamacare tax to high earners is likely possible, but eliminating the step-up basis, which allows valuable assets to be passed along without taxes on any of its gains, may not be.
Increased funding for ramped-up IRS enforcement – which would target the wealthiest Americans, and ensure they’re paying taxes owed – is possible, according to Morgan Stanley. That measure alone could bring in an additional $700 billion over the next decade, according to the Department of Treasury. But, as Insider’s Ayelet Sheffey reported, that boost in funding would likely mean the wealthiest would still be hiding hundreds of billions every year.
Since neither eventual bill is likely to garner GOP support, the bank said a package is likely headed for party-line reconciliation – and require some negotiation.
Still, Morgan Stanley’s base case sees Congress passing about $4 trillion in spending, whether it’s in one package or two, essentially the total that the White House wants.
“Look, I’m not out to punish anyone. But I will not add to the tax burden of the middle class of this country,” Biden said on Wednesday evening in his first joint address to Congress. “They’re already paying enough. What I’ve proposed is fair. It’s fiscally responsible.”
To help fund his American Families Plan, President Joe Biden has proposed going after wealthy Americans who evade taxes.
The administration has proposed sending $80 billion to the Internal Revenue Service over the next decade – a big boost compared to a current annual budget of about $12 billion.
This comes after years of disinvestment in the IRS and, as a result, vast underenforcement of tax laws. Between 2010 and 2020, the IRS reported that it eliminated more than 33,378 full-time positions, while IRS audits dropped by 42% between 2010 and 2017. Republicans have successfully pushed IRS budget cuts for years, slashing its funding by more than one-fifth in 10 years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The share of returns for taxpayers making at least $1 million that face an IRS audit has dramatically plummeted over the last several years, according to the IRS’ 2019 Data Book. The IRS noted in that report that audit rates from the last three years in the reported data are incomplete; those rates will very likely increase as new investigations are started in later years:
Wealthier Americans are much likelier to underpay or avoid taxes. That’s in part because their sources of income are treated differently than lower- and middle-income Americans, who tend to be taxed on wages. In addition, the rich can afford hefty charges to pay lawyers and advisers to find loopholes and battle the IRS.
In recent years, the IRS has begun conducting many more audits of the working poor and many fewer of wealthy Americans, largely because it’s much less complicated to audit a low-income individual. Americans who receive the Earned Income Tax Credit, who generally make under $20,000, are currently audited at about the same rate as millionaires, ProPublica recently reported. In 2019, almost half of the returns the IRS looked at were for individuals who qualified for the EITC.
The White House is placing IRS enforcement at the center of his efforts to raise revenue for Biden’s latest $1.8 trillion plan.
Administration officials project the government can collect $780 billion over a decade from the IRS cracking down on tax evasion. But that would still leave hundreds of billions of dollars on the table every year, as Insider’s Ayelet Sheffey reported. IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig recently told Congress that Americans are likely evading $1 trillion in taxes annually – or more. Senate Democrats are pressing to bulk up the IRS’ funding so it can gather taxes owed to the government.
“If you’re a nurse taking care of COVID patients, you can’t defer paying your taxes,” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said in a statement. “But if you’re high flier, you can defer, pay far lower tax rates than the nurse, or pay nothing at all.”
Former President Donald Trump, who’s facing multiple criminal investigations for tax fraud, has famously attacked the IRS for treating him “very unfairly” and “very badly.” While a candidate and as president, Trump repeatedly claimed that he couldn’t make his tax returns public because he was undergoing a decade-long audit, despite the fact that there is no law barring him from releasing his tax documents while under audit.
Sen. Josh Hawley introduced a plan for a “Parent Tax Credit” on Monday aimed at offsetting the high cost of raising a child. It reflects a push among some conservatives to increase federal spending on families.
The proposal would establish a new, fully refundable tax credit of $6,000 for singles and $12,000 for couples, meaning families with minuscule or no tax obligations would qualify for a payment.
“Millions of working people want to start a family and would like to care for their children at home, but current policies do not respect these preferences,” Hawley said in a press release. “American families should be supported, no matter how they choose to care for their kids.”
To get the money, households must report earnings of $7,540 for the prior year, an amount equal to 20 hours of work each week at the $7.25 federal minimum wage. The earnings floor is the same regardless of whether a person is married or not, and families do not receive more cash if they have more than one child. Families would sign up for the plan through the IRS.
A spokesperson for Sen. Hawley told Insider the program would be in addition to the existing child tax credit. The proposal did not include a cost estimate.
Other Republicans have put forward child allowance measures as well. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah introduced a plan in February to distribute even larger cash payments to parents, paid for with the elimination of some safety net programs.
Patrick Brown, a policy fellow at the conservative-leaning Institute of Family Studies, told Insider that Hawley’s plan appeared to be an attempt at a middle ground between competing GOP childcare plans.
“They’re trying to find a way to say, ‘We want to require work but not screw too many low-income single parents, ” Brown said, though adding “the structure of the CTC still makes more sense to me.”
Seth Hanlon, a tax expert at the liberal-tilting Center for American Progress, told Insider he believed the plan had major design flaws, starting with its earnings threshold.
“That would seem strange if you get nothing if you’re $1 short of that,” Hanlon said. If the Hawley plan was in effect during the pandemic, he said, millions of parents who lost jobs and thus saw their annual incomes fall below $7,540 would have gotten their government aid yanked.
“The number of families benefitting in 2020/2021 would be much lower than other years, which highlights the backwardness,” Hanlon said. He also pointed out parents under the plan need Social Security numbers to qualify, a move that would exclude undocumented families from receiving aid.
Other Republicans, including Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah, slammed the Romney plan as “welfare” after it was unveiled, torching its universal assistance to families as a step that discouraged work.
Brown said he thought the Hawley plan wouldn’t go far among Republicans. “But it does indicate there’s openness to actually not just talking the talk about being a pro-worker party, but actually being willing to invest in that,” he said.
Biden is set to introduce the second part of his infrastructure plan this week with an extension of the monthly child tax credit payments to 2025, The Washington Post reported. The IRS recently said it was on course to start monthly payments of the child tax credit in July.
Growing wealth inequality has been exacerbated by the pandemic, as the global middle class shrinks and millions fall into poverty. One question has lingered: What can be done to address both the economic scars of the pandemic, and the inequality that’s grown alongside them?
It’s a measure that could also be popular with voters. A new poll from Hill-HarrisX of 2,813 registered voters asked respondents, “Which comes closest to your view about the wealth tax proposed by Democrats for individuals with a net worth over $50 million?”
Of those respondents, 56% found wealth inequality to be a “significant problem facing the country,” with billionaires paying a wealth tax part of the solution. Conversely, 44% of respondents considered it unfair to impose an additional tax on people who already pay income taxes because because that would become “a penalty for being rich.”
There was a particularly stark partisan divide, as The Hill notes: 77% of Democrats answered that a wealth tax was part of the solution, compared to 35% of Republicans.
The current state of taxes in the US
Warren wants to tax the ultrawealthy, and campaigned on it during her 2020 presidential run. Her Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act targets households with net worths exceeding $50 million, proposing a 2% tax on those with a net worth between $50 million and $1 billion, and a 3% tax on those with over $1 billion.
She’s not the only politician looking to change up how American taxes work: Sen. Bernie Sanders, another wealth tax supporter, has introduced two pieces of legislation targeting the wealthy and corporation by reforming the estate tax and corporate tax.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden, who hasn’t explicitly backed a wealth tax, wants to hike taxes on corporations and American households making over $400,000.
Biden’s corporate tax hike is meant to finance his recently proposed American Jobs Plan. A Morning Consult/Politico poll found that 57% of voters said they would be more likely to support a $3 trillion plan funded by tax increases on Americans making over $400,000, compared to 47% of voters who said that they’d be more likely to support a $3 trillion funded by a corporate tax increase.
A recent study from IRS researchers and economists found that the wealthiest Americans may not even be paying the full amount of taxes they owe, with the top 1% of Americans not reporting about 21% of their income. At a Senate Finance Committee hearing last week, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said that that over $1 trillion in taxes could be going uncollected every year.
IRS chief Charles Rettig told lawmakers on Tuesday that the agency was on course to start monthly payments of the child tax credit within a few months.
Asked whether the organization was ready to issue monthly checks on July 1, Rettig responded: “We are.”
He also added the agency was gearing up to roll out a new portal to allow parents to sign up and get the cash in advance. Currently, people receive it in a lump sum after filing their taxes every year.
“We will launch by July 1 with the absolute best product we are able to put together,” Rettig said at a Senate Finance Committee hearing. “We are trying to get it as user-friendly as possible, but we will launch by July 1.”
However, Rettig said the agency was ready to delay the portal’s rollout if any technical issues emerged that could lead to fraud. “If we are not prepared, we will not launch. We’re not going to risk our systems,” he said.
Rettig also said the IRS was grappling with 1,500 calls per second, and it’s still trying to bring onboard more employees to shrink their backlog of tax returns.
The one-year child tax credit measure was authorized as part of President Joe Biden’s stimulus law in mid-March. It will provide a $3,600-per-child benefit to parents with children age 5 and under through “periodic payments.” It will be $3,000 for each child between 6 and 17.
But many GOP lawmakers oppose it. Some are starting to raise concerns over possible waste and fraud, such as Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, and Rep. Mike Kelly, another senior Republican.
“The new CTC and other provisions in ARP fail to learn from lessons of the past, are not targeted to pandemic relief, and risk the loss of billions of taxpayer dollars in fraudulent and improper payments,” the pair wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to the Biden administration.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will dole out $14 billion in tax refunds to corporations thanks to controversial provisions included in last year’s CARES Act, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said Wednesday.
The $2.2 trillion stimulus package signed by President Donald Trump in the early stages of the pandemic included a swath of measures aimed at reducing tax burdens for struggling businesses. Tenets included carrybacks for business losses and refunds linked to the Alternative Minimum Tax.
The IRS has already received more than 41,000 cases from businesses looking to access refunds through either, or both, of the two tax breaks, according to a GAO report. Roughly $14 billion in related refunds were approved by the end of last year. Of that, about $11 billion has already been distributed.
Yet while the tax breaks included in the CARES Act were touted as ways to keep small businesses afloat, many of the companies filing for relief are winning massive refunds. Nearly 3,000 companies filing for refunds received between $100,000 and $999,000, according to the report. And roughly 1,200 firms got refunds worth more than $1 million.
US tax law allows businesses to use net operating losses from unprofitable years to cancel out future tax bills in a carryover process. The CARES Act widened this provision to allow operating losses to be carried back as far as five years, effectively letting companies hit by the pandemic dodge some tax burdens.
The CARES Act passed in March 2020 on a nearly unanimous basis, but Democrats have since criticized some of its tax breaks for issuing relief to wealthy companies and Americans. Some lawmakers have even called for the measures to be repealed.
Republicans, however, have pointed out that Democrats backed the bill’s passage and that similar policies have been used in past downturns.
The GAO’s report suggests the $14 billion in approved refunds are the tip of the iceberg for CARES-related tax breaks. IRS officials said in late January they received more than 12,000 more applications for carrybacks and credit refunds, but that they aren’t yet sure how many are related to the CARES Act. A backlog of revised tax returns could also add to the total amount refunded to corporations, the GAO said.
Chuck Collins knows how rich people hide their money.
Collins was an heir to the Oscar Mayer wiener fortune, an inheritance that he gave away completely. But that meant he learned firsthand how the wealthy (even the very charitable) hold onto their fortunes. It’s one thing to give up your income, he learned, and another to compromise the principal – and deprive future generations of accrued wealth – completely.
He opted to give it all away. Today, he’s the director of the program on inequality and the common good at the Institute for Policy Studies, where he delves deep into billionaire gains, income inequality, and how the ultrawealthy dodge taxes in America.
The situation is likely worse than widely appreciated. Recent research found that America’s highest earners may have been hiding billions from the IRS – far more than assumed. In fact, the report found that the top 1% of Americans don’t report 21% of their income, and the figure might be twice as high for the top 0.1%. That research comes from the government itself in the form of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), along with academic economists.
Sen. Bernie Sanders has introduced legislation that would increase taxes and cut loopholes, and The Wall Street Journal reported that Biden is looking into beefing up the IRS. (Sanders wrote a blurb fo Collins’ book.)
In his upcoming book, “The Wealth Hoarders,” Collins dives into what he calls the Wealth Defense Industry: The army of tax attorneys, family offices, accountants, and more who are devoted to protecting clients’ wealth – and circumventing taxes. His thesis implies that this industry is an inevitable outgrowth of financialization, in which the financial sector grows out of proportion to the rest of the economy. But he argues it’s not too late to reverse it.
Ahead of its publication, Insider spoke to Collins about his own history, the book, and what needs to come next.
The current state of the ‘Wealth Defense Industry’
Collins writes that the Wealth Defense Industry has “mushroomed” in size since his first introduction to it in 1983. For instance, there are now over 10,000 family offices worldwide, he writes.
Collins said that legislation like that introduced by Sanders, Biden’s election, and the blue wave of the 2020 election, led wealth advisors to urge clients to move their money into “new forms” that would be more difficult for tax collectors to find.
“I feel like we’re kind of in a moment where this industry has been growing and growing and accelerating really in the last 15 years – the number of family offices, the number of planners, the number of dynasty trusts,” Collins said. “And it’s reaching this pinnacle moment because, for the first time in a long time, there’s a meaningful discussion about taxing the very wealthy.”
What ordinary people may not understand about how wealth is hidden
Collins told Insider that there’s an outdated image of wealth hiding, where it’s all stored offshore. But the US is the number two destination for “global kleptocratic capital.” Instead of storing money offshore, he said, the wealthy can turn to places like South Dakota, Wyoming, or Delaware.
“The thing I think we don’t understand is we are now the tax haven,” Collins said.
In the book, Collins details the myriad, complex systems that the so-called “Wealth Defense Industry” uses to obscure money. One is “artports,” or art-storage facilities that could be in your neighborhood, full of incredibly valuable paintings.
While one of those facilities could be mere blocks away from you, these ports are technically in Free Trade Zones, and the art never actually enters US commerce.
Or take, for instance, those brand-new glass towers in your downtown, where the wealthy could be parking their wealth by buying up units. Collins uses the Millennium Tower in Boston as an example. Those empty apartments, with their panoramic views, function as “wealth storage units” – and, Collins writes, over 35% of the units there are owned by shell companies and trusts.
On his own decision to give up his wealth, and the pressure that the wealthy face
“I would say the overwhelming cultural message for someone growing up in my class was ‘protect and preserve. You can do quirky things with your income, but don’t touch the corpus. Don’t touch the asset, let it just keep growing,'” Collins said.
For him to think differently meant going up against the “whole universe of wealth management” – and others in his position face an industry that has a self-interest in holding onto their assets and growing them. But Collins contends that there’s a certain point where people don’t need to keep accumulating or stockpiling wealth.
“There’s probably people out there that fundamentally think that they should pay more taxes, but their advisors, just it’s unthinkable, right?” Collins said. He said that there’s a whole culture surrounding the urge to utilize every possible tool and loophole to reduce taxes.
But there’s momentum for change
Collins said he thinks the “reform train” is moving, pointing to potential tax increases being put forward by the Biden administration. But even with new laws, he said, the agenda could be undermined by the Wealth Defense Industry, which underscores the need to shut down this hidden wealth system and close up loopholes.
“it’s like we’ve had a wild party at this restaurant, and now the billionaires are going to slip out the kitchen door before the bill comes,” Collins said. “And we basically have to say, ‘Nope, everybody has to stay and we need you all to chip in from the bill here.'”
He later added: “This is totally fixable. Start with enforcement, outlaw the bad trusts, increase transparency in reporting and disclosure, and then join with our global partners to clean up the global system. We could reverse it in 10 years.”
Following a 24-hour ultimatum from Democratic lawmakers, the Social Security Administration provided information to the Internal Revenue Service on Thursday that will help more Americans get stimulus payments.
Nearly 30 million Social Security and Supplemental Security income beneficiaries were kept waiting on stimulus payments because, House Democrats said, the SSA hadn’t provided the Internal Revenue Service with necessary payment files for them.
On Wednesday, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Richard Neal, and the chair of the House Oversight Subcommittee, Bill Pascrell, Jr., sent a letter to the SSA requesting that information be sent over right away. “We are giving the trump-appointed heads of the Social Security Admin **24 Hours** to get off their backsides and stop delaying sending stimulus checks to 30,000,000 Americans,” Pascrell said on Twitter on Wednesday.
On Thursday, the SSA transferred the necessary files to the IRS, making it possible for the affected Americans to get the $1,400 stimulus checks that many others have already received.
“The delays imposed by Commissioner Saul defied congressional intent and imposed needless anxiety and pain on taxpayers,” the Democrats said in a statement on Thursday. “Now the IRS needs to do its job and get these overdue payments out to suffering Americans. Further delays will not be tolerated by this committee.”
Rep. John Larson of Connecticut and Rep. Danny Davis of Illinois had joined Neal and Pascrell in calling for action from the SSA and IRS.
Since President Joe Biden’s stimulus bill was signed into law, Americans across the country have encountered delays in receiving stimulus aid. Due to December and March stimulus changes, the IRS was behind in processing nearly 7 million tax returns, and customers of major online tax preparers, such as TurboTax and H&R Block, faced delays on the $10,200 tax break on unemployment benefits received during the pandemic.
As a result of the delays, along with calls from lawmakers, the IRS extended tax filing season to May 17, which Neal and Pascrell said would lift the “titanic strain” on taxpayers.
The Treasury Department, IRS, and Bureau of Fiscal Service announced on Wednesday that 127 million of the $1,400 stimulus checks have been sent out to date.
Out of the 21% of unreported tax, around 6 percentage points are linked to sophisticated tax evasion that is rarely detected in random audits, the paper, by researchers at the IRS as well as schools including the London School of Economics, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of California at Berkeley, said.
Under-reported income is almost twice as high among the top 0.1% of earners, largely because of tax evasion through foreign bank accounts and pass-through businesses, like partnerships and S-corporations, the report says. The research found offshore accounts made up about $15 billion of evaded taxes, with the top 0.1% accounting for most of that.
To be in the top 1% of earners in the US, a family must meet an annual income threshold of $421,926, according to 2018 data from the Economic Policy Institute. But the average annual earnings for these top earners is actually $1,316,985.
For a decade, audit rates and staffing at the IRS have declined because of budget cuts, but Democrats and President Joe Biden are seeking to change that by expanding the agency, the Journal said, noting that additional enforcement could increase tax revenue by $1 trillion over a decade.
Last week, Biden said he was considering a tax hike for the wealthiest Americans in order to fund an infrastructure and jobs package. Those making more than $400,000 could see taxes raised to nearly 40% under the plan.Earlier in March, Democrats including Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed an ultramillionaire tax on the top .05% of earners, which would raise $1.4 trillion over a decade, based on Forbes billionaire data.
Americans who don’t receive a $1,400 direct deposit by March 24 can expect either a mailed check or a prepaid debit card, according to the Treasury Department.
The cabinet agency said in a statement that a second round of stimulus checks were sent out on Friday with a pay date of Wednesday, March 24. People waiting for checks after that date will likely receive theirs by mail.
“Taxpayers who do not receive a direct deposit by March 24 should watch the mail carefully in the coming weeks for a paper check or a prepaid debit card, known as an Economic Impact Payment Card, or EIP Card,” Treasury said on Monday.
The Biden administration along with Congress approved $1,400 stimulus checks earlier this month, the third wave of federal payouts over the last year. The IRS started issuing the payments only a day after the rescue package was signed into law.
The Treasury Department said on Wednesday it had already deposited 90 million checks, amounting to $242 billion. It also said 150,000 paper checks were mailed.
Singles earning up to $75,000 in adjusted gross income qualify for the full amount, along with couples making up to $150,000. Each adult dependent is eligible for a check as well.
But the stimulus check amounts shrink much more quickly above those thresholds. Individuals earning more than $80,000 and couples making above $160,000 will receive zero.