Tax & Accounting Blog

Trump Administration’s Principles for Tax Reform

Blog, Business Tax, Federal Tax, Individual Tax May 16, 2017

Tax reform has been a hot topic and a high priority for the Trump administration. It recently released a one-pager outlining its priorities for reforming individual and business taxes to help grow the economy, simplify tax rules, provide relief to middle-income families, and enhance global competiveness. Although the “proposal” is short on details, it offers insights into the direction that tax reform may be headed. The administration indicated it will hold listening sessions with stakeholders during May and continue working with Congress to craft a bill that would achieve its goals.

Key drivers of 2017 tax reform: 60K page of tax-related case law, 2.4M words of federal tax code, 7.7M words of tax regulation, 8.9B hours spent on compliance

Proposals affecting individuals

On the individual side the focus is on expanding the tax base and lowering the tax rates to support the expressed goals of tax simplification and tax relief. These would be accomplished primarily by eliminating deductions currently available and reducing the top tax rate and number of brackets.

Lower tax rates on ordinary income. The proposal calls for reducing the number of tax brackets on ordinary income from seven (ranging from 10% to 39.6%) to three tax brackets of 10%, 25% and 35%. The range of income subject to tax in each bracket was not specified.

Observation: The proposal did not indicate if the Head of Household filing status would remain (it would have been eliminated in a prior proposal).

Tax rate on capital gains and dividends. The proposal did not specify the tax rate for capital gains and dividends. In the press briefing National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn commented that it would be 20%.

Increased standard deduction. The standard deduction would be increased to $12,700 for single filers and $25,400 for married filing jointly. This would reduce the number of taxpayers who would currently itemize their deductions.

Eliminate targeted tax breaks. The proposal would eliminate “targeted tax breaks that mainly benefit the wealthiest taxpayers”. It did not provide any specifics on which breaks would survive. However, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Cohn provided the following insights in the press briefing.

  • Itemized deductions. The proposal would eliminate all itemized deductions except those for home mortgage interest and charitable contributions.

    Observation: There was no mention of capping total itemized deductions at $200,000 for married filing jointly and $100,000 for single filers (as in a prior proposal). Cohn indicated that the deduction for state and local income taxes would be eliminated.

  • Retirement savings. Although not addressed in the proposal, Cohn indicated support for continuing deductions for retirement savings.

Repeal the alternative minimum tax (AMT). The Trump proposal would repeal the alternative minimum tax. Originally designed to ensure wealthy individuals do not avoid paying tax, it creates a dual tax system that adds significant complexity to complying with the tax rules.

Repeal the 3.8% tax on net investment income. The 3.8% tax on net investment income was enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act. It would be repealed under the Trump proposal.

Child and dependent care expenses. The proposal indicates there would be tax relief for families with child and dependent care expenses. No details were provided.

Observation: A prior Trump proposal would have provided an above-the-line deduction for children under age 13, a refundable credit of up to $1,200 a year for childcare expenses, and a savings account for child and dependent care and tuition.

Repeal the estate tax. The proposal calls for the repeal of the estate tax.

Observation: No mention is made of a prior provision that would tax unrealized appreciation on assets held at death to the extent the gains exceeded $10 million.

Proposals affecting businesses

The business tax proposals continue the approach of broadening the base and lowering tax rates in support of the goals to simplify the tax structure and grow the economy. They also call for a switch to a territorial tax system that would “level the playing field for American companies.”

15% tax rate on businesses. The proposal calls for lowering the corporate tax rate to 15% (the current maximum corporate rate is 35%). The 15% rate would also apply to passthrough businesses [i.e., partnerships, S corporations, and multi-owner limited liability companies (LLCs) that choose to be treated as partnerships (as most LLCs do)] and sole proprietorships (including single-owner LLCs treated as proprietorships). Currently income from these businesses is taxed to the owner at individual rates (maximum rate of 39.6%).

Eliminate tax breaks for special interests. The proposal calls for the elimination of special tax breaks. No details of specific deductions or credits targeted for elimination were provided.

Observation: Prior proposals would eliminate depreciation and allow immediate expensing of asset acquisitions. They also retained the Research and Development credit. In addition, prior proposals called for taxing income from carried interest arrangements (e.g., hedge fund manager participation) at ordinary income tax rates (as opposed to capital gain rates under current law).

Territorial tax system. One of the major shifts from prior proposals is the switch to a territorial tax system. Currently U.S. businesses are taxed on their worldwide income. Under the latest proposal, U.S. businesses would be taxed on their domestic U.S. income. Income earned abroad would be exempt.

One-time tax on repatriated earnings. The proposal calls for a one-time tax on untaxed earnings held abroad. The rate of this tax was not specified.

What’s the plan going forward?

Secretary Mnuchin stressed that they will continue to work closely with Congress to refine the proposal and develop a plan that will accomplish the stated goals. He stated “We are determined to move this as fast as we can and get this done this year.”

Stay tuned.

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