What is the purpose of a "repatriated tax break", and why is it so controversial?

By Albert Phung AAA
A:

In 2004, Congress passed the American Jobs Creation Act to create new jobs in an effort to boost the economy. One of the results of the act was the implementation of a repatriated tax break, which gave U.S. multinational corporations a one-time tax break on money earned in foreign countries.

The tax break allows foreign earnings to be taxed at a rate of 5.25%, which is significantly lower than the usual corporate tax rate of 35%. Previously, much of the earnings derived from foreign countries were not transferred back to the U.S. because multinationals can defer paying taxes on foreign earnings until they decided to send the earnings back in the form of a dividend.

Ultimately, the government's rationale is that the tax break would act as a good incentive for American multinationals to send their foreign earnings back to the U.S., and then use the earnings to create more American jobs and/or expand operations in the U.S.

Critics of the idea believe that because the companies aren't required to use the repatriated earnings for the sole purpose of American job creation (but the bill does prevent companies from using the money for executive compensation, dividends and stock investments), it is not assured that the tax break will increase job creation. Furthermore, the tax break can be seen as a reward for companies that are deferring regular repatriation of foreign earnings and a punishment for companies that regularly send money back. As a result of this, critics also worry that this act sets a bad precedent, as U.S. multinationals may see this tax break as an incentive to withhold future foreign earnings in the hope that another repatriated tax break will occur.

To learn more about taxes, see Common Tax Questions Answered and Using Tax Lots: A Way To Minimize Taxes.

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