Tax Law FAQs
Congress passed an overhaul of the tax code at the end of 2017, with no hearings and no transparency. Because of the extent of the changes to the tax code, people are still trying to figure out how the law, known colloquially as the TrumpTax, will affect them. Some people will see tax hikes, some will see tax cuts. Some of the changes to the code are permanent, while other changes disappear after a few years. Some deductions have been eliminated, while some have been extended. Here are the ten biggest things to know about the TrumpTax:
- 83 percent of the tax benefits in this law go to the top 1 percent of earners. The tax benefits in this law are significantly skewed to the top income earners in the country. According to the Tax Policy Center, once the law is fully in effect, 83 percent of the benefits will go to the top 1 percent of earners. Some specific provisions that were included in the law benefit just the richest Americans, like the estate tax provision. That provision doubles the exemption amount for people who pay the estate tax. Under the old law, only estates worth more than $11.2 million were subject to the estate tax – roughly 5,500 families. Under the new law, the exemption is doubled, and only estates worth more than $22.4 million will be subject to the estate tax. This provision only helped people with estates worth between $11.2 and $22.4 million – a miniscule number of people in America.
- 92 million middle-class families will see a tax increase due to this law. According to the Tax Policy Center, when the law is fully phased in, 92 million families that earn less than $200,000 annually will pay more in taxes, compared to what they would have paid had the tax overhaul not been enacted. Once the law is fully in effect, 53 percent of all families in the country – 100 million families – will face a tax increase.
- Corporations get a 40 percent tax cut. Under the new tax law, the top tax rate that corporations pay will be slashed from 35 percent to 21 percent. That’s a 40 percent cut for the richest corporations – most of which already don’t pay all the taxes they owe.
- The tax law will cause 13 million people to lose their health insurance. One of the only provisions in the individual tax code that was made permanent under the new law is the elimination of the individual mandate provision of the Affordable Care Act. That provision was in place to ensure that every American had health insurance. The tax law eliminates this provision, which will in turn mean that 13 million Americans will be uninsured within the decade.
- Changes to the individual code are temporary; changes to the corporate code are permanent. Most of the changes to the individual tax code are temporary and disappear after 2025. However, changes to the corporate code – including the 40 percent cut for giant corporations – will remain. This is due to the way the law was moved through the Senate. Republican Congressional leadership used a special budget process known as “reconciliation,” which allowed them to pass this major piece of legislation with just 51 votes, as opposed to the usual 60 votes. To use reconciliation, the law needed to match any permanent tax cuts with permanent tax increases. They chose to prioritize cuts for major corporations over help for normal people.
- The law costs over $1.5 trillion. By some estimates – including the Congressional Budget Office – this law will cost upward of $1.8 trillion. However, that doesn’t explain the full extent of the cost of the law. The CBO’s estimate calculates the net cost of the law – meaning that some provisions included in the law cost the government a considerable amount, while some cost regular Americans a considerable amount. The $1.8 trillion figure would be significantly larger if not for tax increases baked into the law.
For instance, cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent will cost the federal government $1.3 trillion, and expanding the estate tax exemption will mean the government misses out on $83 billion in revenue. But individual families will lose out on $1.2 trillion in savings because personal exemptions have been eliminated in the new law. So it would be more accurate to say that the tax law leaves us in a $1.8 trillion hole, a hole that would be bigger, save for the fact that some people are already bearing the cost burden.
- The law threatens people’s access to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Because of the high price tag for this new tax law, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are threatened. The large increase in the federal debt leaves funding for vital programs that help millions of Americans vulnerable to attack. In the past, when tax cuts this large have been passed, conservatives in Congress have proposed cutting services as a way to decrease the debt. In fact, those proposals are already evident in the President’s Budget, as well as in news reports from Congressional leaders.
- The law may encourage moving jobs offshore. Due to the new territorial tax system and the way that profits earned overseas are taxed, companies that already have operations overseas may be encouraged to shift more of their operations overseas, to be able to fully take advantage of a new, lower rate abroad. The new tax code offers a foreign tax rate that is half the corporate rate here at home. The lower foreign rate is meant to ensure that some companies that have been avoiding paying any taxes at all now pay at least 10.5 percent in taxes on profits earned overseas. However, the way the foreign tax was built may in fact encourage companies to locate more of the business operations overseas to maximize the amount of their profits subject to the 10.5 percent rate, instead of the 21 percent rate. As companies move their profits overseas, they will take their jobs with them.
- A lot of deductions that families relied on have been eliminated. The ability to fully deduct state and local taxes, as well as interest owed on mortgage payments, or job and moving expenses is gone under the new tax code. However, the biggest difference that most people will see as they file their tax returns is the elimination of personal exemptions. These roughly $4000 write-offs used to be available to every member of a family, regardless of whether a taxpayer took the standard deduction or itemized their returns. Under the new law, personal exemptions have been eliminated and the size of the standard deduction has been increased. However the larger standard deduction won’t offset the loss of personal exemptions for some families (especially those with more children), and those families will face tax increases.
- Small business owners do not get a leg up in the tax law. The tax law does not help small business owners get ahead. There is a provision in the law that offers a 20 percent deduction on “pass-through” income – meaning if you are eligible, you can reduce your taxable business income by 20 percent. Small businesses are often organized as pass-through businesses, where the income a business earns is passed through to the small business owner. However, a lot of larger companies are also organized as pass-through businesses, and most of the benefit of the 20 percent deduction will be funneled to those larger, and wealthier, companies. In fact, over half of all pass-through income is earned by the top 1 percent of earners. So this benefit that is nominally aimed at small businesses will actually go to larger firms, which may in turn force their small business competitors out of business.