The Tax Man
Mark Lazar’s August 2021 Newsletter
There is no such thing as government funded—it’s all taxpayer funded. Unknown
Domestic equity indices continued to mark new highs through July, which exemplified how dueling narratives can both be true while the forward-looking market produces a clearly positive result. In this case, optimism bolstered by economic data and sentiment—gross domestic product (GDP) growth, employment, earnings and reduced inflationary fears among them—has managed to, for now, allay delta variant concerns.
The S&P 500 and NASDAQ both set seven all-time highs in July, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average recorded five. Under those glossy headline numbers, however, lies a more complex situation with wide disparities in performance between firm sizes, sectors, growth versus value, and commodities.
|Dow Jones Ind Avg||14.14%|
|S&P 500 Index||17.02%|
|EAFE Foreign Index||8.08%|
|Barclays Agg Bond Index||-.50%|
|10-Year Inflation Forecast||2.40%|
|2021 GDP Growth Forecast||6.7%|
When it comes to compulsory government tithing, there are numerous idioms, such as you can never escape death and taxes, taxes are the penalty for financial success, and taxes are what we pay for civilized society. While personal income taxes garners most of the spotlight, let’s take a moment to review the various taxes we pay on a daily basis.
(Personal) Income taxes: Uncle Sam will collect ~$2 trillion in personal income taxes this year. The federal tax system is both layered and progressive. While the top marginal tax rate is currently 37%, the effective, or average, rate is 14.6%.
|Rate||Single Individuals||Married Individuals Filing Jointly|
|10%||Up to $9,950||Up to $19,900|
|12%||$9,951 to $40,525||$19,901 to $81,050|
|22%||$40,526 to $86,375||$81,051 to $172,750|
|24%||$86,376 to $164,925||$172,751 to $329,850|
|32%||$164,926 to $209,425||$329,851 to $418,850|
|35%||$209,426 to $523,600||$418,851 to $628,300|
|37%||$523,601 or more||$628,301 or more|
In addition to federal levies, there are also state income taxes, which range from 0% (AL, TN, WY, FL, NH, SD, TX, WA, and NV) to a high of 13.3% in California. Total net state income tax revenue in 2020 was $441 billion.
Corporate taxes: Business taxes are both complex and a political lightening rod. Prior to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, at 37%, the US had the highest corporate tax rate of any developed country in the world. The TCJA reduced the corporate tax rate to 21%, putting it on par with the European OECD countries at 21.7%. Like a tariff, a corporate tax is ultimately paid by the consumer. Taxes are simply a line item on a company’s P&L statement, no different than cost of goods, labor, or general and administrative costs. At the end of the day, a company must be profitable in order to remain in business, and all costs must be factored into the retail price. The higher the corporate tax, the higher the cost to the consumer. At the end of the day, the consumer pays the corporate taxes, not the Monopoly Man.
Property taxes: Property taxes are the penalty for owning stuff, and can be levied on items such as boats, automobiles, recreational vehicles, and business inventories. Rising home prices are great for the balance sheet, but the commensurate increase in property taxes can be painful.
Payroll taxes: Both employers and employees are responsible for payroll taxes. The current FICA tax rate for social security is 6.2% for the employer and 6.2% for the employee, totaling 12.4%. The Medicare tax is 1.45% for the employer, 1.45% for the employee, totaling 2.9%. This results in a combined employee/employer FICA tax rate of 15.3%. But wait, there’s more; for wage earners over $200K ($250K for joint filers) there’s an additional 0.9% Medicare surtax withheld, resulting in a top FICA tax rate of 16.2%.
Inheritance and gift taxes: AKA, the death tax, is a tax that arises from the death of a taxpayer, and is imposed on the transfer of any property or asset resulting from death. The current federal estate tax rate is 40%, and is imposed on estates exceeding $11.7M per person, $23.4M per couple. In addition to the federal estate tax, eighteen states also impose an inheritance tax, with a top rate of 16%.
Capital gains taxes: The capital gains tax is levied on profits from the sale or disposition of an asset purchased at a lower price, most commonly from the sale of stocks, bonds, and property. Current federal rates are generally 15–20%. In addition to federal taxes, most states tax gains as well, with California receiving the honors of being the highest at 13.3%.
Sales Taxes: Consumption taxes, also known as sales taxes, are levied at the point of purchase for specific goods and services. The combined state sales tax collected last year was over $513 billion.
Excise taxes: An excise tax is federal duty placed on specific goods or activities, such as gasoline, cigarettes, and gambling. The tax is applied to the cost of the associated product or service; meaning, the consumer pays it. Like Europe’s ubiquitous valued added tax (VAT), excise taxes lack the transparency of a sales tax.
Tariffs: A government-imposed tax on goods or services, which can be levied on either imports or exports. Policymakers use tariffs primarily to protect domestic industries and, secondarily, to raise revenues. Contrary to the previous Administration’s assertions, the consumer always pays the tax in the form of a higher prices.
While taxes are the price we pay for civilized society, Washington bureaucrats tend to fixate on one side of the budget; raising taxes, and never consider the other option; spending less. The Beatles’, George Harrison, had a few thoughts regarding compulsory government tithing; “If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street. If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat. If you get too cold, cold, I’ll tax the heat. If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet. Taxman.”
Mark Lazar, MBA
Senior Vice President-Investments
Certified Financial Planner™