TRUMPWATCH 2017: 100 days of uncertainty

trumpwatch2017-blueOver the last 100 days, we have seen our new President push for many things in any number of directions.  The repositioning of certain postures taken during the campaign has ranged from slight to drastic.  This in consideration, one word to best sum up the actions of the current administration might be “unpredictable.”

The Republican Party currently controls the executive and legislative branches of government and has long taken issue with current tax law.  With both the means and impetus to achieve meaningful tax reform, the stage was set for quick and sweeping changes to the U.S. tax code.  Many experts were predicting just that: a tax overhaul, effective January 1, 2017.

Last week, the Trump administration, through Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and National Economic Director Cohn, reaffirmed its intent to reform the U.S. tax code.  The stated purpose of the plan is to lighten the financial burden of U.S. taxpayers, promote economic growth, and simplify compliance… and not add to the deficit.  In a word: Huge.

The plan has been called many things by pundits and news organizations, ranging from “a disaster” to “the savior” of the administration.  The White House describes it as “the biggest cut ever” and “phenomenal.”  Many arguments have been presented over the potential fallout of such reform, as citizens try to predict:

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© Matthew Woltunski via Flickr
  • Will this increase the deficit?
  • Will the tax cuts make up for the difference in tax revenue on their own by stimulating economic growth?
  • Who will benefit most—the wealthy, the poor, me (one can only hope)?
  • Can’t we please forget about the AMT?
  • And of course, will the reform disproportionately help the President’s personal tax burden?

Unfortunately, those questions will continue to go largely unanswered.  The full nature and impact of Trump’s tax reform policy is still hard to ascertain.  Very little in the way of detail has been given to the major bullet points of the plan – in fact, the proposal presented last Wednesday was only one page in length and lacked any true elaboration.

To the administration’s credit, their position on tax reform has not changed drastically from what was put forth on the campaign trail (read about that here); however, the message needs to be clarified to sufficiently inform the American people.  Seeking that clarity, most have looked to the conservative tax blueprint drawn up by Kevin Brady and Paul Ryan, but we have already seen the President and others in the party sour to that plan, specifically the border adjustment tax proposed therein.

In spite of the 100-day timeframe, it is still impossible to gauge Trump’s tax reform policy with any degree of accuracy.  Perhaps the next 100 days will bring potential tax reform into better focus, but many of the experts I mentioned earlier are pushing expectation of anticipated tax reform back to 2018.  Additionally, in-fighting among factions of the GOP could delay new law for even longer than that.

For now, we will all have to deal with the Code as it is and wait anxiously to see if any changes are in store for the future.  Sad.


evan_2Evan Piccirillo, CPA is a Tax Supervisor in Raich Ende Malter & Co. LLP’s Long Island office. Evan specializes in high net worth individuals, as well as closely-held corporations, S-Corporations, and small businesses.
Contact Evan at epiccirillo@rem-co.com or (516) 228-9000.

TRUMPWATCH 2017: Border Patrol

trumpwatch2017-blueAlthough the attention has been on who will build the border between the U.S. and Mexico this past year, an even hotter topic in the coming months may be the potential border, both figurative and literal, between the Republican-led House of Representatives and Trump.

The Border Adjustment Tax is being discussed vehemently these days, both in Congress and in the White House. House Speaker Paul Ryan and the GOP are strong advocates for it, while President Trump has been outspoken against it (although, in recent weeks, has started to warm up to the idea. Tremendous!).

Before delving into the minutiae, let’s start with the basics: as touched on in prior TrumpWatch columns, the current U.S. corporation tax rate is 35%.

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Wikipedia

 

Under current law, corporations are taxed on their net profits, meaning the tax is based on the company’s gross income minus expenses. These expenses are made up of direct cost of goods sold, various operating costs (general administrative expenses, interest expense, advertising, etc.), as well as depreciation, which allows you to write off the cost of a fixed asset over several years, depending on the asset type. To quote Kramer from Seinfeld:

“Jerry, these big companies, they write off everything! … I don’t know what that means, but they do, and they’re the ones writing it off!”

As discussed in our most recent TrumpWatch on international taxation, U.S. corporations are taxed on profits earned overseas and repatriated back to the U.S.

The proposed GOP plan, backed by House Speaker Ryan and Kevin Brady, Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, would create a destination-based-cash-flow-tax-with-a-border-adjustment, aka DBCFT (maaaaaybe we’ll just stick with “Border Adjustment Tax” for short).

This proposal indicates that a U.S. company would pay tax on where the goods are sold (i.e., where they end up), not where they are produced. In other words, the proposal would push towards the “consumption tax” concept instead of the “income tax” concept. In addition, the proposal would look to reduce the corporate rate and tax domestic revenue minus domestic costs from 35% to 20% (although Trump’s still proposing a reduction to 15%).

As much as I love to bold and underline words, there actually is a reason for the emphasis on “domestic.” Current law allows for companies to be able to deduct the cost of imported costs and materials from their revenues. The proposal would eliminate this concept: since we’d be shifting to a “consumption tax” (again, taxation on where the goods are consumed), import costs would not be an allowable deduction. Contrarily, exports and other foreign sales would be made tax-free (remember, tax only on where the goods were consumed). The goal: keep businesses, production, and manufacturing within the U.S.

While losing deductions for imported materials may be detrimental to several companies (like retailers, who derive a bulk of their goods from imports), several economists have noted that this shift in taxation may increase the value of the dollar; thus, if the dollar were to increase, those same imported goods would be less expensive. In simple terms: the increase of the dollar may offset the tax increase to importers. Importantly, consumers will most likely pay more for those products.

Just for comparison’s sake, most other countries use what’s referred to as the Value Added Tax (VAT) system. This is, for all intent and purpose, the same as the proposed Border Adjustment Tax, the only difference being under the VAT, a company cannot deduct wages, while under the proposed plan, wage-deduction would be fair game.

As things stand, there still is that figurative border between the House’s proposal and Trump’s own corporate tax reform proposal (despite Trump warming up to the concept). Either way, the months ahead should prove to be very interesting as to what ultimate corporate tax reform the U.S. will be adopting in the near future.

Stay tuned to the REM Cycle for further TrumpWatch updates.


roer_david-8-1David Roer is a Tax Manager in Raich Ende Malter & Co. LLP’s New York City office. David specializes in high net worth individuals, as well as closely-held corporations, S-Corporations, and small businesses.
Contact David at
droer@rem-co.com or (212) 944-4433.

TRUMPWATCH 2017: Re-Patriots Day

trumpwatch2017-blueWith inauguration day finally behind us, all of the political talk that’s taken over 2016 and 2017 can finally come to an end, right? Wrong. Sad.

Since President Trump has now officially taken office, further details regarding the (probable) tax reform are sure to emerge. One of the key terms you may hear a lot about in the next few weeks is ‘repatriation.’

While many may assume this has to do with the New England Patriots winning yet another Super Bowl title (as a lifelong Seattle Seahawk fan, I am not pleased about that!), it actually has to do with the upcoming proposal to repatriate money from overseas to the United States.

As alluded to in our first Trump Watch post, President Trump’s tax proposal is looking to offer a one-time amnesty to help bring business back from overseas.

repatriation2As a general rule, the US has a worldwide taxation system. Effectively, this means that if you’re a US citizen, you pay tax on your worldwide income. This concept is similar for corporations: multi-national corporations (think Apple, Microsoft, or GE) must first pay tax to the foreign country in which the foreign subsidiary does business and earns the profit and then to the IRS, once those profits have been properly repatriated back to the US.

Under current law, if these multi-national companies repatriated money back to the US, they would be subject to the top rate of 35%. To give an idea, based on a recent forecast study done by Capital Economics, there is approximately $2.5 trillion of profits from US multi-national companies currently abroad – at the 35% rate, that’s approximately $875 billion in tax dollars!

As you can imagine, major companies are leaving those profits overseas to avoid paying such a tax burden. That is, unless a proper incentive were put in place.

In the hope of increasing jobs (as well as general economic growth), President Trump is pushing for a repatriation ‘tax holiday:’ US firms could repatriate their overseas profits to the US and pay only a one-time 10% amnesty tax, instead of the current 35% rate. Important notes regarding repatriation:

  1. President Trump is proposing a reduction in tax rates from 35% to 15%. If both the tax reduction and amnesty tax proposals pass, the repatriation of profits would save 5% in taxes, not 25% (nonetheless, 5% savings would still be a significant draw).
  2. Per the proposal, this tax would be payable over a ten-year span. This, in addition to the potential low 10% rate, could act as significant incentive to bring cash from overseas.
  3. The Trump proposal also includes a revision to the current international taxation system. As mentioned above, US corporations with foreign subsidiaries do not pay US tax until the money has been repatriated. Under President Trump’s proposal, any future profits of foreign subsidiaries of US companies would be taxed each year as the profits are earned. This would effectively eliminate the repatriation tax concept prospectively, without affecting any of the prior accumulation of profits (that is, the aforementioned ‘tax holiday’ would also apply to prior profits).
  4. Finally, and this is more food-for-thought: it’s important to note that just because a company brings cash domestically, doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll use it towards job growth and/or domestic investments (domestic economic growth).

A similar repatriation ‘tax holiday’ was offered in 2004 under President Bush, which included specific language that prohibited the repurchase of stock with repatriated funds. Unfortunately, studies show that companies found loopholes to work around this, thereby allowing for corporate stock buybacks and dividends. With that in mind, I’m curious if the repatriate proposal would contain verbiage with caveats as to specifically how such money would need to be used.

With Trump’s presidency officially underway, we can surely expect to hear and see a push towards an ultimate tax proposal. While the above analysis is based only on President Trump’s proposal, it is likely that repatriation will be a hot-topic issue in the months to come.

Stay tuned to the REM Cycle for further Trump Watch updates.


roer_david-8-1David Roer is a Tax Manager in Raich Ende Malter & Co. LLP’s New York City office. David specializes in high net worth individuals, as well as closely-held corporations, S-Corporations, and small businesses.
Contact David at
droer@rem-co.com or (212) 944-4433.