Donald Trump has 99 problems but using the tax code shouldn't be one that stops him from reaching the White House. Hillary Clinton has her own 99 problems as well. The "bombshell" revelation that Trump took over a $900 million loss on his 1995 tax return and could have used it to offset paying federal taxes for up to the next 18 years is a lot more shell than bomb.
A CPA friend commented, "Accountants laugh at the press’ characterization that he is ripping off the middle class." Trump did nothing illegal nor immoral. He also hasn't done anything different than what your tax advisor would have you do take advantage of the current tax code.
The tax code isn't just to raise revenues. The tax code is to shape social policy, and this is the single most important fact left out of the discussion. Tax policy is to incentivize taxpayers to behave as the government wants.
The government wants to encourage having families, and thus there is a child credit. The government wants us to own our homes because it’s good for the economy. This explains why real estate taxes and mortgage interest is deductible and rent is not.
As the U.S. was pulling out of an economic slow-down in the early 1990's, Congress and the president amended the code to increase revenue and incentivize specific activities, including real estate development. Among the portions of the tax code that Trump and his accountants utilized were sections 108 & 469. Both were amended as part of the 1993 tax package and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
Trump made investments in high-risk real estate development projects. These provided him with huge deductions, which his accountants correctly utilized. It’s not a ‘loophole’ but an incentive that Congress and the president wanted to stimulate real estate development.
Ironically, Hilary Clinton's 2015 return shows that she used the same parts of the tax code to take a $700,000 net operating loss. While nearly a million isn't the same as nearly a billion, Mrs. Clinton hasn't been running a multi-billion dollar business. She is, however, using the tax code to lower her tax bill exactly as Trump has done.
When she asks if that makes those of us who are paying taxes "chumps," it rings hollow. The Clintons also use the tax code to avoid paying every dollar of taxes possible. We all use whatever advantages we can to save money. When we buy cars today, we look online and find out the dealer's cost, incentives offered, rebates, and other information. If two people walk into a dealer, one with that knowledge and one without it, who gets the lowest price? Trump had the information to lower his bill.
My family shops at a popular national "Superstore." We use their app, which provides us with discounts on selected items. We have their store-brand credit card, which gives us 5 percent off our total purchase. Typically we save 10 percent off the entire price because we've done the homework.
Paying taxes is no different. There is nothing wrong with seeking the most information to legally lower our tax burden. That's why CPA's exist. Tax preparation services (such as H&R Block) and software (like TurboTax) center their advertising around guaranteeing the maximum refund. In fact, both make that exact claim.
In a press release announcing its 2015 advertising campaign, H&R Block included "Guarantees Consumers the Maximum Tax Refund Amount," in the headline. “Our tax professionals understand the increasingly complicated tax code, including confusing changes with the Affordable Care Act, and are focused on removing obstacles to ensure our clients get the most money back, guaranteed,” said the chief marketing officer at H&R Block. The advertising campaign was titled "Get Your Billions Back."
Similarly, TurboTax advertises, "Get your maximum refund, guaranteed. We search over 350 deductions and credits to get your taxes done right."
By taking advantage of the tax code as written Trump has done nothing wrong. By hiding his tax returns and operating under a veil of secrecy, Trump behaved in a Clintonian manner. He opened himself up to this criticism during the final month of the campaign. Trump should have made his returns available on the last day of the Democratic National Convention and stated why he knows the tax code is terrible. Citing the need for change, Senators like Hillary and Presidents like Bill wrote the tax code. Trump should have then promised to dismantle the whole thing, ideally with a flat tax.
Andy Bloom is a former communications director for Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio, and as operations manager oversaw content for Talk Radio 1210 WPHT, Philadelphia for eight years. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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