Thoughts on the Middle Class and this Shitbird of a Tax Framework

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Couple caveats:

One: I don’t think a tax bill that looks like the Admin’s Framework can get done.

Two: The Framework is missing income thresholds for new proposed rates and for the child tax credit, so some serious unknowns remain.

With those things out of the way:

Are you a married couple who do not itemize (if you don’t itemize, you’re probably not a homeowner)? Good news. The framework “doubles” the standard deduction from $12,800 to $24,000. Of course, at the same time, the framework removes altogether the personal deductions for you and your spouse. That’s a lost deduction of a bit over $8,000. This means that the “doubling” of the standard deduction is (net-net) actually an increase in deductions of about $4,000. Not nothing, true, but useful only to married filers with no dependents who do not itemize.

if you have dependents, you also lose the deductions for them (about $4,000 for each). So if you’re the married couple above and have one dependent, the doubling of the standard deduction is a wash for you. If you have more than one dependent, you’ll lose $4,000 in deductions for each additional child, making you worse off.

Now, the child tax credit plays a role here. Today, you can take both the dependent deduction and (if your income isn’t too high) up to a $1,000 credit for each qualifying child (if you don’t know or understand the difference between a deduction and a credit, ask me in the comments). This proposal suggests an increase in both the amount of the credit and the income threshold after which the credit would become unavailable, so it’s difficult to tell how that would interact with the loss of the dependent deduction. But (assuming a 25% tax rate), the credit would need to double to be a wash with losing the deduction. And if your household income is somewhat high ($130K today, but presumably somewhat higher under this framework), you don’t qualify for the credit at all. You would still lose the deduction though. Again, making you worse off.

In general (but subject to seeing income thresholds for rates), this Framework would be painful for our hypothetical family above. It’s worse, far worse, for the same family that would otherwise itemize. Why?

First and foremost, the framework appears to eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes (EDIT 11/2:  THE NEW PROPOSED BILL KEEPS SALT BUT CAPS AT 10K; THIS DOESN’T CHANGE THE ANALYSIS MATERIALLY). So no deduction for income tax paid to the state or property taxes. That would be a big, big loss for middle class homeowners (and this provision, above all, is why I think this bill never gets through in this form).

Second, currently an itemizing taxpayer does not take the standard deduction (itemizing instead) but can still take the personal and dependent exemptions. As noted above, under the framework those deductions are eliminated. For our hypothetical family, that’s a lost deduction of $8,000 for the filers, and $4,000 for each dependent. They’re much worse off.

So those who itemize today would be absolutely wrecked under this proposal. And while the mortgage interest deduction continues under this Framework, it would be mostly irrelevant, because you’d have to have a very large mortgage indeed, and at a very high rate, to make itemizing worthwhile relative to the standard deduction.

Essentially, most current itemizers would be pushed into taking the standard deduction because it’s the least bad of two very bad options. And in that case much more of their income would be taxable.

The only way most middle and upper middle class taxpayers (and basically all itemizers) would not see an actual tax increase under the Framework is if much more of their income was taxed at a lower rate. But we don’t know about that yet, because we don’t have income thresholds for the proposed new rates.

Long and short: This looks really bad. Be very skeptical when Admin officials are telling you how committed they are to a middle class tax cut.

NOTE: I’m not even speaking to the many proposals in this framework designed to give HUGE breaks to the very wealthy, or the likely increase on the very poor. I’m just focusing on the middle class.

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