Trump's Tax Plan and How It Affects You

What You Need to Know About the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

President Trump signing a bill at a desk
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 Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

President Donald Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) on Dec. 22, 2017. It cut individual income tax rates, doubled the standard deduction, and eliminated personal exemptions from the tax code. The top individual tax rate dropped from 39.6% to 37%, and numerous itemized deductions were eliminated or affected as well.

The TCJA also cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% effective in 2018. The corporate cuts are permanent. The individual changes expire at the end of 2025 unless Congress acts to renew some or all of the provisions of the TCJA.

How It Affects You

The TCJA is complex and its various terms affect each family differently depending on their personal situations:

High-income Earners

The Tax Foundation has indicated that those who earn more than 95% of the population will receive a 2.2% increase in after-tax income. Those in the 20% to 80% range would receive a 1.7% increase.

The Tax Policy Center said those in the bottom 20% would only receive a 0.8% increase.

Those With Valuable Estates

A larger exemption for the estate tax will benefit you if you leave an estate that's worth a lot of money. The TCJA doubled the estate tax exemption from $5.6 million in 2017 to $11.2 million in 2018.

Taxpayers Who Claim the Standard Deduction

You'll win on two levels if you claim the increased standard deduction because it's bigger than your itemized deductions. First, it will reduce your taxable income more than past years. Second, you can skip the complicated process of itemizing. That not only saves you time, but it will also save you money if you no longer have to pay a tax advisor.

Large Families

You might be hurt by the elimination of personal exemptions under the terms of the TCJA. The increased tax credits for children and adult dependents, and the doubled standard deductions might not be enough to offset this loss for families with multiple children.

The Self-employed

You might benefit from the 20% deduction qualified business income deduction if you're an independent contractor, own your own business, or are self-employed.

Young People

Since young people are generally healthier and less likely to need insurance, they benefit from the elimination of the Obamacare tax penalty.

Key Takeaways

  • Business tax cuts are permanent while the individual cuts expire in 2025. 
  • Individual tax rates have been lowered, the standard deduction raised, and personal exemptions were eliminated.
  • Many itemized deductions have been removed.
  • The maximum corporate tax rate has been lowered from 35% to 21%.
  • Passthrough companies receive a 20% deduction on qualified income.
  • The plan encourages corporations to repatriate foreign earnings.
  • The act will add $1 trillion to the debt over the 10 years it's in effect.

Individual Income Tax Rates

The TCJA lowered tax rates, but it kept seven income tax brackets. The brackets correspond with more favorable spans of income under the TCJA, however. Each bracket accommodates more income.

The highest tax bracket starts at just over $510,000 in taxable income for single people and $610,000 for married couples as of 2019. These taxpayers are subject to a 37% rate on incomes over these thresholds after exemptions and deductions.

2017 Income Tax Rate 2019 Income Tax Rate Income for Those Filing As Single Income for Those Filing Jointly 
10% 10% $0-$9,700 $0-$19,400
15% 12% $9,701-$39,475 $19,401-$78,950
25% 22% $39,476-$84,200 $78,951-$168,400
28% 24% $84,201-$160,725 $168,401-$321,450
33% 32% $160,726-$204,100 $321,451-$408,200
33%-35% 35% $204,101-$510,300 $408,201-$612,350
39.6% 37% More than $510,300 More than $612,350

These income levels are adjusted somewhat each year to keep pace with inflation.

The Standard Deduction vs. Itemized Deductions

A single filer's standard deduction increased from $6,350 in 2017 to $12,200 in 2019. The deduction for married joint filers increases from $12,700 in 2017 to $24,400 in 2019.

The Tax Foundation estimated in September 2019 that only about 13.7% of taxpayers would itemize on their 2018 returns due to these changes. That's less than half of the 31.1% who would have itemized before the TCJA.

That would save them time in preparing their taxes. It might also hurt the tax preparation industry and decrease charitable contributions, which are an itemized deduction.

Personal Exemptions

Before the TCJA, taxpayers could subtract $4,050 from their taxable incomes each for themselves and their dependents.

That works out to $20,250 for a married couple with three children. Combined with the standard deduction for married taxpayers filing joint returns ( $12,700 at that time) and the total deduction would be $32,950.

Now fast forward to 2019 after the passage of the TCJA. There are no more personal exemptions, so all that couple could claim would be the $24,400 standard deduction. That's $8,550 more income that they'll be paying taxes on, assuming in both scenarios that they're not claiming any other tax deductions or credits.

Fewer Itemized Deductions

The TCJA eliminates most miscellaneous itemized deductions. That includes tax preparation fees, job expenses, and investment fees: 

  • The deductions for tax preparation fees and most unreimbursed employee expenses are gone under the TCJA.
  • The TCJA limits the deduction on mortgage interest to the first $750,000 of the loan. Mortgage holders who took out their loan before December 16, 2017, aren't affected. In addition, interest on home equity loans or lines of credit can no longer be deducted, unless the proceeds were used to buy, build, or substantially improve the home.
  • The state and local tax (SALT) deduction remain in place, but it's been capped at $10,000. Taxpayers can deduct property taxes, and either state income or sales taxes.
  • The deduction threshold for most charitable contributions got better. You can now claim a deduction for up to 60% of your adjusted gross income (AGI) rather than 50%.
  • Deductions for casualty losses are mostly limited under the TCJA to those that occur in federally-declared disaster areas.
  • The threshold for the medical expense deduction dropped from 10% to 7.5% of AGI. This change was set to expire at the end of 2019, but the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 has resurrected it. The 7.5% threshold remains in place until the end of 2020.

Another important change is that the TCJA did away with the Pease limitation on itemized deductions. This tax provision previously required that taxpayers had to reduce their itemized deductions by 3% for each dollar of taxable income over certain limits, up to a total of 80%. This is no longer the case while the TCJA is in effect.

Above-the-Line Adjustments to Income

The above-the-line deduction for moving expenses has been eliminated, except for active-duty members of the military.

Those paying alimony can no longer deduct it as an adjustment to income. This change is effective for divorces granted beginning Jan. 1, 2018. 

The TCJA keeps the deduction for retirement savings. It also allows those age 70½ or older to directly transfer up to $100,000 a year to qualified charities from their individual retirement accounts.

Changes to Tax Credits

The TCJA increased the Child Tax Credit from $1,000 up to $2,000. Even parents who don't earn enough to pay taxes can claim a refund of the credit up to $1,400.

The TCJA also introduced a $500 credit for other dependents, which helps families whose dependent children no longer meet the strict criteria of child dependents because they've aged out, as well as families caring for elderly parents.

These tax credits are fully available to taxpayers with modified AGIs of up to $200,000 for single filers and $400,000 for married taxpayers who file joint returns. They were phased out and eliminated at $75,000 and $110,000 respectively before the TCJA.

The Obamacare Tax

The TCJA repeals the Obamacare tax penalty that was charged to those without health insurance, effective 2019.

The Alternative Minimum Tax

The plan keeps the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). It increases the 2020 exemption from $54,300 to $72,900 for singles and from $84,500 to $113,400 for joint. The exemptions phase out at $518,400 for singles and $1,036,800 for joint.

Business Tax Rates

The tax plan lowers the maximum corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, the lowest since 1939.

Business Deductions

Pass-through businesses get a 20% standard deduction on qualified income. This deduction ends after 2025. Pass-through businesses include sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies, and S corporations. They also include real estate companies, hedge funds, and private equity funds. The deductions phase out for service professionals once their income reaches $157,500 for singles and $315,000 for joint filers.

The TCJA limits corporations' ability to deduct interest expense to 30% of income. For the first four years, income is based on EBITDA. This acronym refers to earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization. Starting in the fifth year, it's based on earnings before interest and taxes, which makes it more expensive for financial firms to borrow. Companies would be less likely to issue bonds and buy back their stock and stock prices could fall. But, the limit generates revenue to pay for other tax breaks.

Businesses can deduct the cost of depreciable assets in one year instead of amortizing them over several years. It does not apply to structures. To qualify, the equipment must be purchased after September 27, 2017, and before January 1, 2023.

The tax act stiffens the requirements on carried interest profits. Carried interest is taxed at 23.8% instead of the top 39.6% income rate. Previous to the TCJA, firms had to hold assets for a year to qualify for the lower rate. Now, the requirement extends to three years. That might hurt hedge funds that trade frequently. It would not affect private equity funds that hold on to assets for around five years.

The TCJA retains tax credits for electric vehicles and wind farms. 

It cuts deductions for client entertainment from 50% to zero. It retains the 50% deduction for client meals.

Other Changes to Corporate Taxes

The TCJA eliminates the corporate AMT.  The corporate AMT had a 20% tax rate that kicked in if tax credits pushed a firm's effective tax rate below 20%. Under the AMT, companies could not deduct research and development.

Trump's tax plan incorporated elements of a territorial tax system in what was previously a "worldwide" taxation of companies operating abroad. Under the worldwide system, multinationals are taxed on foreign income earned. They don't pay the tax until they bring the profits home. As a result, many corporations leave their revenue parked overseas.

The adoption of elements of territorial taxation allows companies to repatriate the approximately $1 trillion they hold in foreign cash stockpiles. They pay a one-time tax rate of 15.5% on liquid assets and 8% on illiquid assets. The Federal Reserve found that U.S. firms repatriated $777 billion in 2018; that's 78% of offshore cash holdings. Instead of investing those funds, corporations increased buybacks of their stocks to improve share prices.

The TCJA also allows oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The drilling provision is estimated to add around $1.8 billion in revenue over 10 years. Half of that goes to the state of Alaska. But drilling in the refuge won't be profitable until oil prices are higher than 2020 levels because the cost to extract the oil is between $45 and $55 a barrel. 

Impacts on the Economy

The tax plan makes the U.S. progressive income tax more regressive. Tax rates are lowered for everyone, but they are lowered the most for the highest-income taxpayers.

The increase in the standard deduction could benefit millions of taxpayers. But for many income brackets, that won't offset lost deductions.

The Trump tax cuts could cost the government $1 trillion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT). The $1 trillion figure is the result of the overall $1.5 trillion the TCJA would cost minus the roughly $456 billion it would create via an annual 0.7% growth in gross domestic product.

The Tax Foundation made a slightly different estimate. The tax cuts themselves would cost $1.47 billion but savings from eliminating the ACA mandate and GDP growth would offset that figure by $700 billion. The plan would boost gross domestic product by 1.7% a year, create 339,000 jobs, and add 1.5% to wages.

The U.S. Treasury reported that the bill would bring in around $1.8 trillion in new revenue and projected economic growth of 2.9% a year, on average.

With the likely outcome of the tax cuts being increased debt, it's important to understand how that debt affects the GDP. The World Bank estimates that for every percentage point that a nation's debt-to-GDP ratio increases above 77%, that nation's GDP will decrease by 1.7%.

The U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio was 104% before the TCJA took effect.

Supply-side economics is a popular theory that's part of most discussions about overarching tax changes. The theory that says tax cuts increase growth. Two eras of big tax cuts are the Bush and Reagan administrations. The U.S. Treasury Department analyzed the impact of the Bush tax cuts and found that they provided a short-term boost in an economy that was already weak.

Supply-side economics worked during the Reagan administration, too, because the highest tax rate was 70%. While tax cuts may have worked back then via trickle-down economics, we likely won't see the same impact since the current highest tax rate is 37%.

Trump Versus Bush and Obama Tax Cuts

The biggest difference between the Trump and Bush or Obama tax cuts is the timing. The Trump tax cut occurred while the economy was solidly in the expansion phase of the business cycle. 

The Bush tax cuts occurred during the 2001 recession and the years immediately following. Congress was concerned that the recession would worsen without the cuts.

President Obama cut taxes in the 2009 economic stimulus package. Between that and the government spending, the recession ended that same year The 2010 Obama cuts occurred only two years after the 2008 financial crisis.

The Bush, Obama, and Trump tax cuts increased the deficit and debt.

Key Takeaways

  • The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act significantly changed personal and corporate taxes. Corporations benefit more since their cuts are permanent while the individual cuts expire in 2025. 
  • Individual tax rates have been lowered, the standard deduction raised, and personal exemptions were eliminated. Many itemized deductions are removed while the medical expense deduction is expanded. Families with several children and elderly dependents may pay more taxes. with the elimination of exemptions.
  • Healthy, young citizens who without health insurance would pay less with the elimination of the Affordable Care Act penalty. Those who earn more than 95% of the population will see an increase of over 2% in after-tax income while the bottom 20% will enjoy only a 0.4% increase.
  • The maximum corporate tax rate has been lowered from 35% to 21%. Passthrough companies receive a 20% deduction on qualified income. The corporate AMT has been eliminated. The plan encourages corporations to repatriate foreign earnings.
  • The TCJA may curtail economic growth in the long run. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, the tax act will add $1 trillion to the debt over the 10 years it exists. Since tax rates weren't prohibitive to start with, their benefits won't “trickle-down” to boost consumerism and economic growth. Since they occurred during the expansion phase, they won't generate many new jobs.
  • This article provides an overall summary. The act is so complex that it affects each taxpayer differently. Consult a tax expert to determine the act's impact on your personal situation. If you would like Congress to change the act, then contact your U.S. Representatives and Senators and tell them.

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