Whether you're looking forward to the 2016 presidential election or you'd rather throw your television out the window than watch another political advertisement, the elections are nonetheless a platform for American voters to learn what might happen with their finances in the future. It's no secret that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have mile-wide differences when it comes to tax reform and how working Americans and businesses should pay into the system. And it's not uncommon to see major gaps within political parties as candidates attempt to differentiate their platforms from their peers'.
Through the first couple of months of what promises to be a long political campaign, a handful of candidates on both sides of the aisle have offered up their plans for reforming taxes and keeping the U.S. economy growing once they enter the oval office. Some have taken a fairly centrist approach, as expected. However, some tax-reform plans represent a radical shift from the six-tiered tax structure we're accustomed to.
With the understanding that not all of the candidates have weighed in with their tax-reform plans yet, let's examine three of the most revolutionary proposals thus far and how they could affect your pocketbook.
Chris Christie's business-friendly tax proposal
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has already made headlines for his call to dramatically overhaul the Social Security program, but in May, it was the release of his tax-reform plan that turned heads. Christie's proposal would cut the number of marginal tax tiers from six brackets -- which currently range from 10% to 39.6% -- to just three. The lowest tax bracket would be a single-digit percentage (as of yet unspecified), while the top marginal tax for upper-income earners would drop to 28%.
More importantly, Christie's proposal suggests reducing the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%, which would put the U.S. tax rate on a fairly level playing field with other developed countries. Christie's thinking is that a lower corporate tax rate would incentivize U.S. companies to innovate domestically and would spur foreign investment in the United States.
Christie's plan also calls for a one-time repatriation of overseas profits at a reasonably low 8.75% tax rate. According to Bloomberg, as of March, U.S. companies had $2.1 trillion in profits in overseas markets, and it could all come flooding back in if Christie's plan finds support.
The downside? Well, it's difficult to offer concrete criticisms without having specific numbers laid out, but making up the shortfall in tax revenue could be a problem. Christie's tax-reform plan would see a lot of deductions and credits expire or be repealed, and these tax deductions and credits have buoyed middle-class Americans since the Great Recession.
Rand Paul's investor-friendly tax-reform proposal
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) may not have a lot in common politically with his father, Ron Paul, but they do share a tendency to stand out from the crowd with their outside-the-box economic proposals. Rand Paul is already known for introducing the (unsuccessful) CARERS Act, which would have decriminalized medical marijuana at the federal level, opened up new pathways for researchers, and allowed banks to provide financial services to the marijuana industry without fear of prosecution.
The cornerstone of Rand Paul's tax reform is the institution of a truly flat tax.
According to Paul's proposal, the "Fair and Flat Tax," released in mid-June, the government would tax all forms of income -- wages, dividends, and capital gains -- at a flat 14.5%. This would go for individuals, as well as corporations via a business-activity tax. In other words, we're talking about a major tax reduction for long-term and short-term individual investors, as well as for corporations. This would be expected to spur domestic growth and foreign investment.
Another key aspect of Paul's plan is that the first $15,000 in income for individual filers, and $5,000 for dependents, would be completely exempt from taxation.
In order to make up for the revenue shortfall of a flat tax, Paul proposes that we eliminate practically all exemptions, deductions, and credits under the current tax code, save for two important ones: charitable giving and the mortgage interest deduction -- though both of these deductions would face modifications under Paul's plan.
The downside to Paul's plan? Principally, it's the business activity tax of 14.5%, which is passed on to consumers through product or service costs as something of a hidden tax. It would potentially hurt low-income and middle-class American families while also bolstering the wealth of rich Americans and corporations, which would benefit from lower taxes.
Marco Rubio's extremely investor-friendly tax reform proposal
Finally, the tax reform plan laid out by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) earlier this year is a major departure from our current tax system. Under Rubio's plan, we would kiss our six-bracket tax-tier system goodbye in favor of a two-tiered system: 15% and 35%.
Like many of his Republican candidates, he suggests lowering the corporate tax rate -- in his case, to 25%. Similar to Paul's plan, Rubio's would eliminate practically all deductions, credits, and exemptions (including the alternative minimum tax) with the exception of charitable deductions and the mortgage-interest deduction. The mortgage-interest deduction is important to middle-class homeowners.
What makes Rubio's plan unique is his call to eliminate taxes on capital gains and dividends. Let me restate that again in case you were skimming: Rubio's tax reform plan wants to eliminate your requirement to pay taxes on profits made from investments.
The idea is that, if Americans didn't have to give up part of their investment gains to the government in the form of taxes, more Americans would participate in the market. Based on a recent Bankrate survey, just 48% of American households own stock-based investments such as stocks or mutual funds.Given that the stock market is a proven builder of wealth over time, Rubio's plan is likely to appeal to investors and Wall Street.
So what's the catch? Eliminating capital gains and dividend taxes, and lowering taxes on upper-income individuals, could inflate the United States' growing debt, which is now well over $18 trillion. During a decade's time, depending on how robust U.S. economic growth is, Rubio's proposal would likely lead to a $2 trillion to $4 trillion cumulative budget deficit. Prior presidents have run a budget deficit before, but that's not a negligible number.
More tax-reform proposals to come
To use a metaphor, we've only hit the doormat to the 2016 presidential elections. In other words, we're going to see a variety of additional tax-reform proposals announced in the coming months.
When it involves your money, you should be interested to at least some degree. Politics may not always be exciting, but you need to understand how the leading lawmakers aim to shape how your wages and investments are taxed. Stay tuned, as I doubt this is the last time we'll be talking about tax reform before November 2016.