Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump unveiled an ambitious tax plan Monday that he says would eliminate income taxes for millions of households, lower the tax rate on all businesses to 15% and change tax treatment of companies’ overseas earnings.
Under the Trump plan, no federal income tax would be levied against individuals earning less than $25,000 and married couples earning less than $50,000. The Trump campaign estimates that would reduce taxes to zero for 31 million households that currently pay at least some income tax. The highest individual income-tax rate would be 25%, compared with the current 39.6% rate.
Many middle-income households would have a lower tax rate under Mr. Trump’s proposal, but because high-income households generally pay income tax at much higher rates, his proposed across-the-board rate cut could have a positive impact on them, too. For example, an analysis of Jeb Bush’s plan – taxing individuals’ incomes at no more than 28% – by the business-backed Tax Foundation found that the biggest percentage winners in after-tax income would be the top 1% of earners.
Mr. Trump’s plan appears designed to help him, as the GOP front-runner, cement his standing as a populist – though that message is complicated by the fact that the billionaire, like other Republican leaders, would eliminate the estate tax.
“My plan will bring sanity, common sense and simplification to our country’s catastrophic tax code,” Mr. Trump said in an interview. “It will create jobs and incentives of all kinds while simultaneously growing the economy.”
But Mr. Trump will face a challenge in convincing skeptics that his aggressive tax cuts can be implemented without adding to the federal deficit.
To pay for the proposed tax benefits, the Trump plan would eliminate or reduce deductions and loopholes to high-income taxpayers, and would curb some deductions and other breaks for middle-class taxpayers by capping the level of individual deductions, a politically dicey proposition. Mr. Trump also would end the “carried interest” tax break, which allows many investment-fund managers to pay lower taxes on much of their compensation.
A significant revenue gain would come from a one-time tax on overseas profits that could encourage U.S. multinational corporations to return an estimated $2.1 trillion in cash now sitting offshore, largely to avoid U.S. taxes. His proposal would impose a mandatory 10% tax on all of that money, even if the money stays overseas, but allow a few years for the tax to be paid. The Trump campaign estimates that many companies would choose to bring their money back home, boosting jobs and investment in the U.S.
Mr. Trump also would impose an immediate tax on overseas earnings of American corporations; currently, such tax payments can be deferred. All told, the campaign says the plan would be revenue neutral – neither raising nor lowering federal revenues – by the third year and then begin adding revenue.
With the tax plan’s release, Mr. Trump is moving to quell criticism that his campaign has been more style and less substance. This tax proposal follows his well-known immigration plan in the summer and one on gun rights last week.
Mr. Trump saves some money and fiscal headaches by skipping some of the big but complicated and costly changes that other candidates have embraced, such as business-expensing breaks and so-called territorial taxation for multinational corporations.
On the individual side, Mr. Trump would consolidate the current seven rates to four, of 0%, 10%, 20% and 25%. Those changes alone would exempt all married couples making $50,000 or less from the income tax, as well as singles making $25,000 or less.
The 10% bracket would apply to incomes from $50,000 to $100,000 for a married couple; the current 10% bracket has a ceiling of $18,450. The new 25% top bracket would apply to married couples’ incomes in excess of $300,000, which currently are subject to rates as high as 39.6%. Mr. Trump also would cut the top capital gains rate to 20%, from the current 23.8%. And he would eliminate the alternative minimum tax.
But the candidate doesn’t propose to end taxation of individuals’ investment income, as some other Republicans propose, nor would he expand the standard deduction, child-credit and other middle-class breaks as some other GOP candidates have suggested.
For businesses, Mr. Trump’s 15% rate is among the lowest that have been proposed so far. Rand Paul has proposed a 14.5% flat-tax rate for all types of income. Marco Rubio, another candidate with a detailed plan, would tax all business income at no more than 25%. Mr. Bush has proposed a 20% top corporate rate. The current top corporate tax rate is 35%, and small business income is subject to rates of as much as 39.6% (although many small businesses pay out a lot of their profits as lower-taxed dividends or capital gains). The campaign argues the rate would be among the lowest among industrialized nations, giving U.S. companies an edge to compete.
The lower corporate rates would provide “a tremendous stimulus for the economy,” the campaign’s plan argues. Mr. Trump would not, however, allow businesses to expense all their new equipment purchases, as some other Republicans do.
The plan proposes to simplify tax filing for many lower- to middle-income households. The plan says that some 42 million households that currently file tax forms to establish that they don’t owe any federal income tax now will be able to file their returns on a single page.
The 31 million households that have been paying some taxes but now won’t have any tax liability can use the same single-page, and keep an average of $1,000 in tax savings, the Trump campaign says. Today, 36% of American households today pay no income taxes, and that number would grow to 50%.
The Trump plan would raise revenues in at least a couple of significant ways. It would limit the value of individual deductions, with middle-class households keeping all or most of their deductions, higher-income taxpayers keeping around half of theirs, and the very wealthy losing a significant chunk of theirs. It also would wipe out many corporate deductions.
All taxpayers would keep their current deductions for mortgage-interest on their homes and charitable giving.
The plan also proposes capping the amount of interest payments that businesses can deduct now, a change phased in over a long period, and would impose a corporate tax on future foreign earnings of American multinationals.