How do profitable corporations have a lower tax rate than you? The answer is surprising. Here are examples of large corporations that pay NO taxes or low taxes and reap in huge profits.
Last week, Forbes magazine published what the top U.S. corporations paid in taxes last year. “Most egregious,” Forbes notes, is General Electric, which “generated $10.3 billion in pretax income, but ended up owing nothing to Uncle Sam. In fact, it recorded a tax benefit of $1.1 billion.” Big Oil giant Exxon Mobil, which last year reported a record $45.2 billion profit, paid the most taxes of any corporation, but none of it went to the IRS:
Exxon tries to limit the tax pain with the help of 20 wholly owned subsidiaries domiciled in the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands that (legally) shelter the cash flow from operations in the likes of Angola, Azerbaijan and Abu Dhabi. No wonder that of $15 billion in income taxes last year, Exxon paid none of it to Uncle Sam, and has tens of billions in earnings permanently reinvested overseas.
Mother Jones’ Adam Weinstein notes that, despite benefiting from corporate welfare in the U.S., Exxon complains about paying high taxes, claiming that it threatens energy innovation research. Pat Garofalo at the Wonk Room notes that big corporations’ tax shelter practices similar to Exxon’s shift a $100 billion annual tax burden onto U.S. taxpayers. In fact, in 2008, the Government Accountability Office found that “two out of every three United States corporations paid no federal income taxes from 1998 through 2005.”
How can it be that you pay more to the IRS than General Electric?
As you work on your taxes this month, here's something to raise your hackles: Some of the world's biggest, most profitable corporations enjoy a far lower tax rate than you do--that is, if they pay taxes at all.
The most egregious example is General Electric ( GE - news - people ). Last year the conglomerate generated $10.3 billion in pretax income, but ended up owing nothing to Uncle Sam. In fact, it recorded a tax benefit of $1.1 billion.
Avoiding taxes is nothing new for General Electric. In 2008 its effective tax rate was 5.3%; in 2007 it was 15%. The marginal U.S. corporate rate is 35%.
It's GE Capital that keeps the overall tax bill so low. Over the last two years, GE Capital has displayed an uncanny ability to lose lots of money in the U.S. (posting a $6.5 billion loss in 2009), and make lots of money overseas (a $4.3 billion gain). Not only do the U.S. losses balance out the overseas gains, but GE can defer taxes on that overseas income indefinitely. The timing of big deductions for depreciation in GE Capital's equipment leasing business also provides a tax benefit, as will loan losses left over from the credit crunch.But it's the tax benefit of overseas operations that is the biggest reason why multinationals end up with lower tax rates than the rest of us.
What the Top U.S. Companies Pay in Taxes, In Pictures
Naturally the Obama administration wants to put an end to this. It has proposed doing away with tax deferrals on overseas income. If the plan passes, a U.S. company that pays a 25% tax on profits in China would have to pay an additional 10% income tax to Uncle Sam to bring it up to the 35% corporate rate.