The AMT is a completely separate tax system with two brackets, 26 percent and 28 percent, which apply to a broader definition of taxable income than is calculated on the regular tax form. In particular, taxpayers lose several deductions, such as that for state and local taxes. This tends to force people living in high-tax states, like New York and California, to pay higher taxes under the AMT. Taxpayers must pay the AMT if it is higher than their regular income tax. Table 2 shows the distribution of marginal tax brackets among tax filers in 2004, including the AMT.
Table 2 Marginal Rate ---- Percent of Total
0 percent ---- 18.3 percent
10 percent ---- 17.5 percent
15 percent ---- 39.5 percent
25 percent ---- 18.5 percent
26 percent (AMT) ---- 1.2 percent
28 percent (Regular) ---- 2.7 percent
28 percent(AMT) ---- 1.0 percent
33 percent ---- 0.6 percent
35 percent ---- 0.5 percent
Various types of business investments are also taxed differently because of provisions in the tax code. Those that are debt-financed bear a lower tax burden than those that are equity-financed due to the deductibility of interest, even with the lower tax rates on dividends and capital gains that now exist. For this same reason, when taxpayers invest in housing, the return is taxed much more lightly than if they were to invest in stocks or a business.
According to new calculations by the Treasury Department, the marginal effective tax rate on equity-financed investments is close to 40 percent, but there is actually a negative tax rate on those that are debt-financed. Tax rates also vary considerably depending on whether an investment is in land, buildings, inventories or equipment, and on whether the business is organized as a "C" corporation, "S" corporation, partnership or sole proprietorship.
The Treasury Department has also calculated that the 2001-2003 tax cuts sharply lowered the effective marginal tax rate on all new investments. The tax rate in the corporate sector has fallen from 33 percent to 27.9 percent, and from 20.6 percent to 17.5 percent among non-corporate businesses. Overall, the tax rate on new investment has fallen from 17.2 percent to 14.2 percent. In time, this will raise the amount of investment in the economy, which will increase productivity, economic growth and, ultimately, wages and living standards.
We may not like thinking about the taxes we pay or our tax rates. But they are important economically, and at least once a year we should take the time to become aware of them. It's important information that can help us make both financial and political decisions.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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