Breaking News Emails
WASHINGTON — The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act hands the biggest cuts to large companies, but there are major changes in the tax code elsewhere as well and, depending on where you live, how much you earn and how you make your money, you might pay more or less than you do now if the bill passes.
Here are some of the highlights from the legislation and who they might be affected most.
Individuals and families would pay income tax in four brackets: 12 percent, 25 percent, 35 percent and 39.6 percent.
While the top 39.6 rate would be unchanged from current law, it would kick in only at higher incomes — $1 million for married couples and $500,000 for individuals — which would lower tax bills for higher incomes.
The standard deduction would increase to $12,000 for individuals, from $6,500, and $24,000 for families, from $13,000. But the bill would also eliminate the personal exemption of $4,150 for each taxpayer and dependent, which could limit savings for some filers, especially if they have larger families and are affected by some of the changes to deductions.
"This bill has tax cuts across the board, but it also has increased taxes across the board," Thomas Cooke, a professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, told NBC News. "Every individual has to look at at their own situation separately to decide if they benefit."
To help make up for the loss of the personal exemption, the child tax credit is expanded to $1,600, from $1,000. Each taxpayer would also be able to take a "family flexibility credit" of $300. The bill would add a $300 credit for dependents who aren’t children, like aging parents or college students living at home, but only for the next five years.
Except for the first $1,000 of the child tax credit, which would rise with inflation, none of these provisions increase the amount of refundable credits available to families today. That means households that don’t make enough to pay income taxes today are unlikely to see much benefit from the individual changes.
This is going to be an issue within the GOP going forward: Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah are already pushing for a larger refundable credit.
The bill eliminates the deduction for state and local income taxes, drawing the ire of Democratic and Republican lawmakers from high-tax states. It preserves the deduction for state and local property taxes, but caps that deduction at $10,000.
It also reduces the mortgage interest tax deduction: While current mortgages are unaffected, homeowners going forward will only be able to claim deductions on the first $500,000 of principal.
These are two changes that are likely to affect middle-class and wealthier households in states like New York, New Jersey and California, which have higher tax burdens and expensive real estate markets. Expect some big fights with Republicans from those states and from homebuilders, who are already complaining the shift will depress demand for new houses.
The bill also eliminates a variety of smaller tax deductions for items like student loan interest, high medical costs and adoption expenses.
GOP leaders have boasted how their bill simplifies the tax code, but this is an area where things get complicated. It’s also a provision where ultra-rich taxpayers might see the biggest benefits.
Currently, business owners can organize their companies as pass-through entities, with their income taxed at rates similar to individuals. But the GOP plan would create a new top rate for pass-throughs of just 25 percent, a major drop from the current 39.6 percent.
Not everyone can use the rate, though, and there are some distinctions on how it's claimed, all of which sets up plenty of work for tax lawyers down the line.
For a passive business owner, who is not involved in their company's daily operation, the 25 percent rate applies to all their income. Active owners can split their income so that they pay the lower rate on 30 percent of their earnings, with the rest treated like personal income. But they can also make the case that a higher portion should be subject to the 25 percent rate based on an alternative federal formula.
The bill also restricts what types of businesses count, to discourage individual lawyers, accountants or entertainers (the House GOP's website mentions NBA star Steph Curry) from declaring themselves a business in order to get the lower rate.
“The most egregious cases of income shifting would seem to be ruled out,” said Bradley Heim, a professor at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University.
But given the strong incentive for people in the top tax bracket to qualify for the pass-through rate, it's likely there will be plenty who test the rules.
"I’m sure substantial litigation would result over whether particular businesses do or do not fall under the definition above," Heim said.
While pitched as a small-business provision, the nature of the pass-through cut means the main beneficiaries would be relatively large.
The vast majority of small businesses already pay 25 percent or less in taxes because they don't produce enough money to trigger higher rates. By contrast, someone like President Donald Trump, whose business is organized as a series of pass-throughs, might be able to benefit significantly.
Heirs to spectacular wealth get a huge tax benefit under the bill, which lowers and then eliminates the estate tax.
Currently, the 40 percent tax applies only to inheritances over $5.6 million for individuals and $11.2 million for couples. The GOP bill would start the individual threshold at $10 million and then drop the estate tax entirely in 2023. Heirs would still be eligible for a step-up in basis on investments, which means they would not have to pay taxes on earlier gains.
The centerpiece of the tax bill would permanently cut the corporate tax rate to 20 percent, from 35 percent.
When it comes to predicting how these cuts benefit the economy, there’s a big debate among policy experts. How you feel about the overall bill likely depends on which side you fall on.
Mainstream and center-left economists tend to argue that the benefits of corporate cuts are tilted more toward shareholders than workers, which would mean the gains skew more toward the wealthy. The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan federal agency that scores legislation, pegs the balance at 75 percent investors and 25 percent workers.
Proponents of deep rate cuts cite other studies to argue the opposite. The White House's Council of Economic Advisers, led by chairman Kevin Hassett, cites different studies to argue that the burden of corporate taxes overwhelmingly falls on workers and that wages will shoot up as a result.
The bill would also change how corporate profits are taxed overseas. After a one-time tax of 12 percent on cash held by foreign subsidiaries and a 5 percent tax on other assets, companies would pay a minimum 10 percent rate on their profits overseas. Currently, these earnings are only taxed when companies bring them back into the United States.
There was a lot of noise leading up to the bill's release about potentially reducing the amount that savers could contribute tax-free to 401(k) retirement accounts, but the GOP proposal didn't end up including any major changes.