Tax reform stands as a top priority for the White House and the Republicans in Congress. Although differences exist, some fundamental similarities appear to be on track if reform moves forward. If the parties can agree, taxpayers can expect major changes in terms of individual, business, and international taxation.
In its one-page release on tax reform, the White House listed simplification of the tax code and tax relief as its main goals. To that end, the White House has proposed to reduce the seven current tax brackets down to three with rates of 10%, 25% and 35%. The GOP plan termed "A Better Way" also aims to reduce the number of brackets to three, but with rates of 12%, 25% and 33%. Both plans also envision increasing the standard deduction to effectively create a 0% tax rate for individuals with lower income.
In regard to the tax rate on investment income (qualified dividends and capital gains), the Better Way plan proposes cutting the ordinary income rates in half for each of the three income brackets (i.e. 6%, 12% and 16.5%). The White House plan keeps the current investment income rates, but proposes an overall reduction of tax on that income by way of elimination of the 3.8% Net Investment Income tax, thereby reducing the cumulative rate for high earners from 23.8% to 20%.
A shared vision to simplify the tax code includes an elimination of all itemized-deductions except for the home mortgage interest deduction and the charitable deduction. Both plans also envision repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax and the Estate Tax.
In terms of business tax reform, the White House plan looks to slash business taxes for corporations and pass-through entities to 15%. The GOP plan will reduce the tax rate on pass-throughs (and sole proprietorships) to 25%, while reducing the tax on corporations to 20% to reduce the effect of doubletaxation on shareholders. The more fundamental change comes in the way businesses will be taxed on more of a cash flow basis.
Both the GOP and White House plans propose an immediate deduction for capital investments.
Rather than continuing the use of depreciation schedules to deduct the decline in an asset's value over time, the full cost of an investment will instead be deducted in the year of purchase. The immediate investment deduction is accompanied by an elimination of the business interest deduction. While an immediate deduction encourages business investment, the elimination of the interest deduction aims to equalize the tax treatment of different types of financing.
The White House and GOP plans aim to overhaul the way income is taxed across borders. The U.S. is currently one of the few countries that taxes its residents, including U.S.-based companies, on worldwide earnings, while giving a credit for foreign taxes paid on that income. If the current plans go through, the U.S. will join all of its major trading partners in assessing tax on a territorial basis and only tax residents and U.S.-based companies on the income earned inside its borders.
In order to bring home the estimated $2 trillion in foreign earnings companies have stashed overseas to avoid paying deferred tax liabilities upon repatriation, the GOP plan calls for a one-time 8.75% tax on all money brought back to the U.S. The White House plan supports a one-time tax, but fails to specify a rate. Both plans believe this one-time tax will encourage companies to bring back money to reinvest in the U.S.
Finally, both plans call for a border adjustment tax. The GOP plan terms this a "destination-based tax" since it will levy a 20% tax on imported goods, while exempting all exports from the tax. Although it was a primary issue in President Trump's election campaign, support within the Republican Party has fallen off to the point that House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., has recently conceded that the eventual tax reform package may not contain this tax.