Donald Trump’s surprise victory likely means big tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Trump and Hillary Clinton differed starkly throughout the campaign on tax policy, with Trump promising the biggest tax cuts since Ronald Reagan and Clinton in turn calling the now president-elect’s tax plans, “trumped-up, trickle-down” economics.
Though he was vague on many policy matters throughout the campaign, Trump has promised to lower the individual tax rate for the highest earners, repeal the estate tax and lower the business tax rate. Members of Congress are already moving ahead with his promise to repeal part or all of Affordable Care Act and with it the 3.8% surcharge on investment income. “The rich will pay their fair share, but no one will pay so much that it destroys jobs, or undermines our ability to compete,” Trump said on his campaign website. He has promised to collapse the current seven tax brackets into three. The new brackets would be 12%, 25% and 33% tax rates. And Trump’s plan would tax carried interest as ordinary income. (For more, see: This Is How Donald Trump Actually Got Rich.)
Trump Tax Policy and Congress
Making good on those promises, even with Republican control of the House of Representatives and Senate, may not be so easy. “I see a high risk of continued gridlock,” Frances Lee, a professor at the University of Maryland, told Bloomberg. “It is easy to be for a big tax cut in theory and easy to be for Obamacare repeal in theory. It is much harder to do in practice.”
Republicans currently lack the supermajority needed to force a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Pushing through any legislative agenda also requires Trump to mend fences with House Speaker Paul Ryan. More recently, Trump has disagreed publicly with Republican lawmakers over their plans for a border adjustable business tax, which would essentially tax imports but not exports. If President Trump can easily find himself at odds with Congress over business taxes, wealthy taxpayers may worry he will also disagree with Republican proposals for individual income tax issues.
Future Tax Rates
Still, under Trump’s current proposals, tax rates on the highest-earning individuals would drop 39.6% to 33%. That highest tax rate applies to people who earn about $470,000 (married) or $418,000 (single). (For more, see: What Trump's Presidency Means for Advisors, Retirement.)
If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, Trump would effectively keep the top tax rate on capital gains at 20%. Single filers who make over $112,500 (or joint filers making over $225,000) would pay 33% on ordinary income and 20% on capital gains. Trump has said he will revise and update both the individual and the corporate tax codes. On the corporate side, Trump says he would cut the rate to 15% but eliminate most business deductions. He calls the current 35% rate the highest in the industrialized world.
By changing the rate on S corporations paying “pass through” taxes on income that was transferred to owners, individuals would pay the 15% business income rate, under Trump’s plan. That would be a huge improvement for top earners who are currently paid as employees and taxed at 39.6%. If they were paid as independent contractors, their rate would improve 18%.
Trump has said he would repeal the estate tax, currently at 40% for estate that are valued at more than $5.45 million. His plan would tax the appreciation of an estate valued at more than $10 million, when the beneficiary sells the assets. But he’s said he would disallow the contribution of appreciated assets into private charities established by descendants or descendant’s relatives, “to prevent abuse.”
The Bottom Line
Trump’s tax plan is expected to be a big win for high earners. Of the estimated $6.2 trillion cut in tax revenues over 10 years, 47% will go to the richest 1% of Americans, according to the Tax Policy Center. Depending on estimates of the size of gross domestic product, those figures would vary. The independent policy research group The Tax Foundation said the Trump plan would increase incomes for the top 1% of taxpayers by at least 10.2% and possibly as much as 16%. (For more, see: What Financial Advisors Think of Donald Trump.)