The Republican tax reform framework released this week says it will provide “tax relief for middle-class families” among other benefits, but analyses by the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation and liberal-leaning Tax Policy Center dispute that promise.
The two analyses agree that taxpayers in the 90th to 95th income percentile — equivalent to incomes between $133,000 and $189,000, using the latest (2014) IRS figures — will pay more in taxes. These taxpayers, which many would consider upper middle class especially in major metro areas, along with wealthier taxpayers, are among those most likely to be the clients of financial advisors.
The Tax Foundation finds that taxpayers in the top 90th to 99th percentiles for income would experience a modest tax increase while those in the top 1% would see a small tax reduction over the next 10 years. That translates into a modest increase for taxpayers with adjustable gross incomes between $133,000 and $465,000 and a tax cut for those with incomes above $465,000.
The Tax Policy Center reaches a slightly different conclusion: that taxpayers in the 80th to 95th income percentiles would experience a tax increase while those in the top 4% would see their taxes fall.
Higher income taxpayers below the very top are expected to pay more, not less, in federal income taxes because many itemize their tax deductions and those deductions will be limited under the framework. The personal tax exemption, for example, is eliminated in favor of an increase in the standard deduction, child tax credit and non-child dependent credit, but because they itemize, these taxpayers would not benefit from an increase in the standard deduction.
The framework doesn’t specify what itemized deductions will be eliminated but “envisions the repeal of many of these provisions to make the system simpler and fairer for all families and individuals, and allow for lower tax rates.” It does note, however, the deductions that won’t be erased — the tax incentives for home mortgage interest and charitable contributions — leading to speculation that the deduction of state and local income taxes, among others, will be eliminated.
On the positive side for many clients of financial advisors are the proposed elimination of the alternative minimum tax, estate tax and gift tax.
The analyses from the Tax Foundation and Tax Policy Center both make assumptions about the tax framework, which is vague. It proposes three federal income tax brackets — 12%, 25% and 35% — down from seven, for example, but doesn’t specify the income thresholds for each.
“Without key details such as what income levels would fall into what brackets, it’s difficult to predict the distribution outcomes,” according to a statement from the Tax Foundation.
Based on its model, which analyzes the changes only on the individual tax side, the Tax Foundation concludes that the bottom 80% of households would experience a tax cut, while the top 20% would experience a slight tax increase. The greatest gains would be shared with households between the 60th and 80th percentiles, whose after-tax income would rise by 0.54%.
The Tax Policy Center finds the top 20% would experience a a much larger after-tax increase, up 3%. The biggest beneficiaries, however, would be taxpayers in the top 1%. Their after-tax income would rise 8.7%, according to the Tax Policy Center.
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