10 Galling Tax Loopholes That Cost The US Government Billions Each Year

LearjetIt’s tax time, and most Americans are trying to figure how much they owe the IRS.

Still, many corporations and wealthy individuals have already prepared for the big day by assiduously spending money in deliberate ways to minimize their tax liability. 

The result is billions in lost revenue for the government every year. 

These are just some of the most galling tax deductions that are perfectly legal. 

Several major U.S. corporations dodge domestic taxes by moving profits internationally to tax havens.

For example, a company can utilise the 'double Irish' formula to minimize their U.S. taxes.

If the profits from the sale of a good stayed in the U.S. they would be taxed at the federal 35 per cent rate. However, some companies sell the intellectual property rights to an Irish subsidiary in order to minimize tax obligations.

The profits from that U.S. sale are paid overseas to the Irish subsidiary. As long as the Irish subsidiary is controlled by managers elsewhere -- for instance, a Caribbean tax haven -- the profits can move around the world without a dime of taxation.

At this point, the profits are moved to a nation with no tax, skirting around the U.S. 35 per cent rate.

Source: NYT

This is the 'Double' part of the Double Irish, and also entails a trip through the Netherlands.

When the same company's product is sold overseas, that profit is routed to a second Irish subsidiary, Since Ireland has treaties with the Netherlands to make inter-European transfers tax free, the profits are then routed through the Netherlands, and then back to the first Irish subsidiary, and then to the no-tax Caribbean Island.

As a result, the U.S. company never has to repatriate the money and they never has to pay taxes on the products.

Source: NYT

The carried interest loophole allows people who work in investing to skirt federal income tax rates.

Carried interest -- profits made by private equity investment managers, hedge funds, venture capitalists and real estate investment trusts -- constitutes a major source of income for many financial professionals.

However, carried interest isn't taxed as income. Instead, it's taxed at the capital gains rate, which at 15 per cent is considerably less than the top bracket tax rate of 39.6 per cent that many of the financial professionals would pay.

Facebook reported $1.1 billion in pre-tax profits in 2012, but paid zero federal and state taxes while receiving a federal tax refund of around $429 million.

The reason is that the company took a multi-billion dollar tax deduction for the cost of executive stock options and share awards following their IPO.

In essence, Facebook was able to write-off its entire federal tax obligation and more for paying its executives. This has raised the ire of a number of people in Washington, including Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin.

Source: CBS, Bloomberg Businessweek

People who own private jets have a special line in the tax code that saves them a fortune — and costs the government $300 million annually.

A line in the tax code allows a depreciation schedule of five years for private jets instead of seven, the standard for the rest of the airline industry.

Depreciation is an income tax deduction that allows taxpayers to recover the cost of buying the jet. This means that private jet owners can write off their expenses faster (in five years) and make back the money for the jet in less time.

This costs the U.S. government $300 million annually.

Source: CBS

Major corporations are saving a fortune through an old tax break originally designed for farmers.

Originally designed for small farmers trading assets like livestock or property, the Section 1031 tax break allowed two farmers to avoid capital gains taxes on those transactions.

Since then, major corporations have successfully lobbied for an expansion. Because of this, many companies can go about their business of buying and selling assets, but can escape the capital gains tax, as long as they use all the proceeds from a sale to buy a 'like-kind' asset.

For example, a real estate investment group can avoid taxation on a major land sale by invoking Section 1031, and using all proceeds from the sale on another land buy.

Wells Fargo, Cendant and General Electric were recently sued for abusing the practice, but as yet the law remains on the books.

Source: NYT

The SUV loophole lets some people who buy gas guzzling vehicles write off the full price, provided it is used for business.

In 2011 you could write-off the full cost of an SUV, provided it is used exclusively for business and weighs more than 6,000 pounds.

Since then the relevant section of the tax code -- Section 179 -- has been scaled back significantly, but the process still allows people to deduct the full purchase price of qualifying equipment or software provided it's used for business.

Today, acceptable write-offs include vans that can seat more than 9 passengers, no seating behind the drivers seat, a fully enclosed driver's compartment, a non-SUV vehicle with a cargo area at least 6 feet in length (like a pickup truck), and taxis.

Source: Section179.org, Forbes

The private yacht loophole lets the owners of extravagant vessels deduct the interest like homeowners.

The tax code permits yacht owners to claim a boat as a second home provided it has sleeping quarters, a kitchen, a bathroom and you sleep on the vessel at least twice per year.

This means that -- just as homeowners do -- yacht owners may deduct the interest from their mortgage on the yacht from their taxes.

Source: KMOV

When an executive flies private for business reasons, the company pays the bill and deducts the expense. However, if the flight is provided to the executive for personal reasons, the executives are required to pay income taxes on the amount the company paid for the flight, as the IRS considers travel as a form of compensation.

But if an outside security consultant says that the executives need a private jet for security reasons, the executive doesn't need to pay the tax.

According to Dealbook, it's 'a common corporate tax trick,' owing to the fact that many virtually anonymous executives -- Melvin J. Gordon of Tootsie Roll Industries, Terry Lundgren of Macy's, the heads of Cablevision, Time Warner, Kraft, Waste Management and Home Depot -- are enjoying the kind of 'security' that Apple didn't bother providing Steve Jobs.

Board members are also frequently rewarded with flights for 'security' purposes.

NASCAR track owners get a special tax break.

As part of the TARP bailout, NASCAR owners got a huge tax gift written into the tax code. It's still around today, as it was extended for another year as part of the fiscal cliff deal.

Much like the private jet depreciation advantage, NASCAR track owners are now allowed to write off the cost of building facilities in seven years, rather than the 39 years the government estimates it in fact takes for the tracks to depreciate.

This means that NASCAR track owners make their money back even faster, but the government loses $40 million each year.

That's not to say that the government uses money perfectly...

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