On a yearly basis the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) adjusts more than 60 tax provisions for inflation to prevent what is called “bracket creep.” Bracket creep occurs when people are pushed into higher income tax brackets or have reduced value from credits and deductions due to inflation, instead of any increase in real income.
The IRS used to use the Consumer Price Index (CPI) as a measure of inflation prior to 2018. However, with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA), the IRS now uses the Chained Consumer Price Index (C-CPI) to adjust income thresholds, deduction amounts, and credit values accordingly.
The new inflation adjustments are for tax year 2023, for which taxpayers will file tax returns in early 2024. Note that the Tax Foundation is a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit and cannot answer specific questions about your tax situation or assist in the tax filing process.
With record inflation now squeezing American household budgets, you can thank our Senior Fellow Emeritus Steve Entin for shielding U.S. workers from being pushed into higher tax brackets. If ever there was a paycheck protection program, defending people from bracket creep may be the most important one ever designed.
It all started some 40 years ago. After Ronald Reagan was elected President, Steve Entin, who had previously served as a staff economist on the Joint Economic Committee and studied under notable professors like Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago, was invited to work at the Department of the Treasury as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy.
As many at the Tax Foundation can attest, Steve’s stories about his time in the Reagan administration are legendary, but one stands out. Steve did something that every household in America should be grateful for—he convinced President Reagan to call for indexing the tax code to inflation.
At the time, American taxpayers were subject to bracket creep, which occurs when inflation pushes taxpayers into higher income tax brackets or reduces the value of credits, deductions, and exemptions. The bracket thresholds failed to keep pace with inflation, resulting in an increase in income taxes without an increase in real income.
Indeed, President Reagan used the chart that Steve drew for him during a televised address asking Americans to call their members of Congress and demand they index the tax code. People did. And it worked.
A lawmaker who helps shape federal tax legislation has indicated that he wants to keep wealthy families from using private placement life insurance to replace any federal tax loopholes that Congress closes.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, today announced that he has written to Prudential Financial, Zurich Insurance Group and the American Council of Life Insurers to get more information about the PPLI market, and the possibility that many PPLI policies may serve only to reduce the income taxes of families that rank in the wealthiest 1% of American families, not to provide genuine insurance.
“Is investment in PPLI products marketed to new or existing clients as a means to minimize or eliminate ordinary income, capital gains or estate taxes?” Wyden asks in the letters to Prudential and Zurich. “If so, please explain the legal basis for why these products help minimize or eliminate taxes.”
Business owners are likely saving more than $10 billion annually in federal taxes through state laws that circumvent the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of state data.
The state laws blunt the cap’s effect on owners of closely held businesses such as law firms, hedge funds, manufacturers and car dealerships, while workers earning wages generally can’t take advantage. The strategy, now available in 27 states, converts business owners’ personal income taxes into deductible business taxes that escape what is known as the SALT cap on state and local tax deductions.
Much of the money flows to high-income people in California, New York and New Jersey, while those in Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Connecticut are likely saving hundreds of millions of dollars as well. It isn’t just a phenomenon in high-tax Democratic states. The proliferating workarounds mark a rare case where a state-tax policy trend has been swift, national and bipartisan, and Utah, Georgia, Arizona, South Carolina and Kansas now have similar laws.
For states, approving the workarounds has been easy, because their residents benefit and state tax collections are barely altered. For business owners, the chance to lower federal tax bills is attractive, and industry groups are lobbying in the states that haven’t yet enacted workarounds.
Corporations too are projected to pay more, with payments predicted to grow by 6 percent, amid a projected 10 percent increase in profits.
Some companies’ tax bills are being pushed up by supply chain problems, CBO said. Normally, firms with big inventories are allowed to consider the last item they bought to be the one they just sold.
But when they dig deeply into or completely exhaust their inventories, they must recognize items bought long ago that may have cost them significantly less to purchase. Because the original price was lower, their profit looks bigger, and they owe more in taxes.
Also, provisions created as part of the 2017 tax overhaul targeting companies that stockpile profits in overseas tax havens are bringing in more revenue than forecasters anticipated.
“CBO continued to refine its treatment of income and deductions from foreign corporations and branches, including how it estimates taxes collected on global intangible low-taxed income (GILTI),” the agency said.
An unprecedented gush of income-tax revenue is flowing into the federal government, driven in part by investors and business owners, and the size and speed of the increase has surprised even the nation’s fiscal-policy experts.
Individual income tax collections are poised to reach $2.6 trillion, or 10.6% of the economy in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That is up from 9.1% in 2021 and would mark a record in the 109-year history of the tax, topping the war-tax receipts of 1944 and the dot-com boom of 2000.
The surge has been particularly notable in taxes outside paycheck withholding, a signal that capital gains and business income are driving the trend. The Penn Wharton Budget Model estimates collections of non-withheld taxes reached an inflation-adjusted $522 billion in April 2022, compared with just over $300 billion in 2018 and 2019, before the pandemic.
From 1988 to 1993, the average federal income tax bill for American families increased by over $1,000 in 2019 dollars. Families in the top 1%, the middle class and elderly families had increases in their federal income tax bills. But for middle-class families with children, tax bills over that time decreased.
The payroll tax changes caused the average payroll tax liability for employers and employees combined to increase by nearly $400. Payroll tax policy hasn’t changed significantly since the 1993 law.
Senate Democrats say a proposal to raise the cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions, a top priority of Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), is likely to be cut from the revised Build Back Better Act.
Senate Democrats who were involved in negotiations over the bill before Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) blew it up last month say there’s simply not enough room for the expensive tax change, which Republicans argue would benefit wealthy suburban households in blue states.
Pulling the SALT fix out of the legislation also will make it tougher to pass the legislation through the House, where last week three Democrats from New York and New Jersey insisted they won’t support any bill that doesn’t raise the $10,000 cap former President Trump imposed on SALT deductions in 2017.
“The problem that the Democrats have here is not only does SALT relief cost a lot of money, but it is extremely regressive,” Gleckman said. “We looked at a number of versions of this. We looked at an $80,000 cap, we looked at a $25,000 cap, we looked at a $400,000 phaseout … and there are real significant differences, but all of them are extremely distributionally regressive. All of them largely benefit the highest-income people, no matter how you do it.”
Middle-income individuals and families hardly see any benefit because the vast majority of them do not itemize deductions.
In 2019, taxpayers filed 148.3 million tax returns, reported earning nearly $11.9 trillion in adjusted gross income, and paid $1.6 trillion in individual income taxes.
The top 1 percent of taxpayers paid a 25.6 percent average individual income tax rate, which is more than seven times higher than taxpayers in the bottom 50 percent (3.5 percent).
The share of reported income earned by the top 1 percent of taxpayers fell to 20.1 percent from 20.9 percent in 2018. The top 1 percent’s share of federal individual income taxes paid fell to 38.8 percent from 40.1 percent.
The top 50 percent of all taxpayers paid 97 percent of all individual income taxes, while the bottom 50 percent paid the remaining 3 percent.
The top 1 percent paid a greater share of individual income taxes (38.8 percent) than the bottom 90 percent combined (29.2 percent).
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced average tax rates across income groups.
The pushback from progressives is that this graph misses key components, including other taxes collected by the government (payroll taxes, Medicare taxes, estate taxes etc.), and that it is the tax rate that is paid, not dollar taxes, that better measures fairness. In 2018, for instance, the federal effective tax rates paid by different income groups were as follows: [above]
According to the Tax Foundation, just 13.7 percent of filers itemize their deductions — a prerequisite for deducting state and local taxes. Only at the top 10 percent of the income distribution do even a majority of taxpayers itemize. But among the top 1 percent of taxpayers, 92 percent do, and of course, their higher marginal tax rates make each deduction more valuable.
So it is these taxpayers whom the SALT deduction primarily benefits. According to Maya MacGuineas of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, households in the top 0.1 percent of earners would receive an average benefit of about $150,000, while those in the middle would get closer to $15. Repealing the caps would cost about $350 billion by 2026, and an estimated 85 percent of that revenue would end up in the pockets of the richest 5 percent of Americans.
You can probably think of many better uses of taxpayer money than giving a tax break to the most affluent people in the most affluent parts of the most affluent states in the country. Unless, of course, you are someone who would benefit from a larger SALT deduction. As, I admit, I would.
The Biden administration will need practically every Democratic representative in Congress to vote for its proposed $2 trillion package of tax increases, which would be the largest in 54 years. To gain that support, the president may have to season his legislation with some SALT. The bill, which raises corporate taxes and boosts capital-gains levies, among other things, doesn’t restore the full federal deduction for state and local taxes that Donald Trump’s 2017 tax-cut bill capped.
Democrats in key high-tax blue states, including New York representative Tom Suozzi and New Jersey representative Josh Gottheimer, have been complaining that Trump’s tax bill placed an undue burden on their states’ residents. Some have vowed not to support any tax legislation unless it reinstates the full SALT deduction. The problem: federal data show that restoring the deduction would overwhelmingly profit rich taxpayers—and lawmakers in many blue states have already raised their own levies on the rich.
Subsequent data have shown that the SALT changes fall heavily on the rich, while the vast majority of taxpayers in high-tax states have benefited from the Trump cuts. An analysis of 2018 New York tax returns found that the number of residents subject to the higher rates of the Alternative Minimum Tax declined to just 0.2 percent of all returns, down from 5.9 percent in 2017. Thanks to the doubling of the standard deduction, the number of New Yorkers itemizing their deductions shrank by nearly two-thirds that year, according to an Empire Center report. A recent report by the left-of-center Brookings Institution found that 57 percent of the benefits of restoring a full SALT deduction would go to the top 1 percent of households, providing them with an average tax cut of $33,000.