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Old 03-20-2010, 07:47 AM   #41
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Originally Posted by Texas Proud View Post
With all the fraud they are showing on the Fleecing of America series on the news....
Yup, fraud is certainly an issue. But a relatively straight forward one to control if people prioritize it.

Funny that you didn't mention the main point of the Fleecing of America piece that aired the other night . . . that this administration has moved more aggressively against medicare fraud, closed down a bunch of front companies, and has put more stringent registration requirements on companies seeking medicare reimbursement. And that those efforts are having a positive effect.
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Old 03-20-2010, 08:15 AM   #42
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Originally Posted by ERD50 View Post
No, I used a specific case to help illustrate the point. In *any* case, inflation is a very real factor that isn't considered in the Cap Gains tax calculation. And since the 'norm' is positive inflation, I don't think the example is outside the norm in any way.

-ERD50
And it is equally easy to show that a married couple earning $100K in dividends or capital gains pays just $2K in federal taxes whereas a working couple will pay $12,700 in federal taxes, ~$7K in SS taxes, and another $3K in medicare taxes.

Or we can show that because of the tax deferral and favorable tax rate of gains someone earning 8% per year on a $100K investment will end up with $198.5K after 10 years if invested in an appreciating asset versus $166K if invested in bonds or taken as an annuity (wage).

Or how investment expenses are tax deductible but work expenses typically aren't

Or how losses can be opportunistically harvested and gains opportunistically deferred, whereas earned income is taxable "as earned"

Or how gains get a lower tax rate, while some losses can be deducted at the higher income rate

Or how the wash rule can be gamed to step up ones basis and avoid taxes altogether.

Or how losses can be carried forward pretty much indefinitely.

Or how asset basis gets stepped up for heirs.

But you're right. Earned income is really the place to be.
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Old 03-20-2010, 08:31 AM   #43
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Originally Posted by Gone4Good View Post
Yup, fraud is certainly an issue. But a relatively straight forward one to control if people prioritize it.

Funny that you didn't mention the main point of the Fleecing of America piece that aired the other night . . . that this administration has moved more aggressively against medicare fraud, closed down a bunch of front companies, and has put more stringent registration requirements on companies seeking medicare reimbursement. And that those efforts are having a positive effect.
I did not see that point in the ones I saw.... but I can see where someone might see it...

If they just changed the system to be more like private health insurance (yes... I said it).... and actually reviewed their payments.... and actually stopped paying when they suspect fraud (who in their right mind would continue to pay someone if they thought they were being ripped off)... then a lot of the fraud would go away...

What they are doing now is great... but does not address the root problem... if you stop paying out so much money so easily, then you do not have to spend a lot of money prosecuting them... and I did not hear if they got back any of the money....
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Old 03-20-2010, 08:52 AM   #44
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And it is equally easy to show that a married couple earning $100K in dividends or capital gains pays just $2K in federal taxes whereas a working couple will pay $12,700 in federal taxes, ~$7K in SS taxes, and another $3K in medicare taxes.
Still not a real comparison that allows one to call it "massively tax advantaged".

A) As stated before, that $100K in Cap Gains may represent a loss in buying power.

B) Taxes were paid when that person earned the money to invest.

You might be able make the case that some investment income is tax advantaged. It is the broad brush and the extreme adjectives you use that I object to. That doesn't really help us to learn anything at all, other than your 'feelings' on the subject.

-ERD50
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Old 03-20-2010, 10:28 AM   #45
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Still not a real comparison that allows one to call it "massively tax advantaged".

A) As stated before, that $100K in Cap Gains may represent a loss in buying power.

B) Taxes were paid when that person earned the money to invest.

You might be able make the case that some investment income is tax advantaged.
Don't forget the double taxation issue because of the corporate income tax. G4G has argued many times that the corporate income tax should be eliminated, and dividends and capital gains be taxed to the individual at ordinary income rates. I have no objection to this view. However, so long as there continues to be a corporate income tax, IMO it is not "unfair" that relief be given at the individual level. You can't have it both ways. Presumably, if there were no corporate income tax, dividends and capital gains would be higher, ceteras paribus, so the after-tax return in the aggregate would be approximately the same. Note that non-municipal interest income has always been taxed at ordinary rates because it is deductible to the corporation.

This issue was debated at length when formulating the Bush tax cuts, and Congress settled on giving relief at the individual level, because less tax revenue would be lost doing it this way (at least in the short-term), presumably because of the large amount of stock (over 50%) held in tax-free accounts (pension funds, 401k's, IRA's, foundations, etc.).
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Old 03-20-2010, 10:42 AM   #46
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Originally Posted by ERD50 View Post
You might be able make the case that some investment income is tax advantaged. It is the broad brush and the extreme adjectives you use that I object to. That doesn't really help us to learn anything at all, other than your 'feelings' on the subject.

-ERD50
Yes, and you ignore dividends and all of the other advantages, in addition to tax rates as low as zero.

You also seem to ignore the fact that CPI has averaged something in the neighborhood of 3% whereas total returns on stocks have historically been around 10% . . . so real gains are very much the norm, not the exception. And those 10% gains are average. But for tax purposes I get to select when, where and how I pay taxes. I don't pay taxes on the average gain. I get to harvest the losses on my under performing investments to shield gains on my winners, possibly stepping up the basis by gaming the wash rules. Meanwhile, for those gains not offset by losses I can continue to defer them in perpetuity using it as a pseudo 401(k) until I'm in a lower tax bracket or possibly passing the assets on to heirs completely tax free.

When looked at in totality, its hard not to see how capital assets are massively tax advantaged unless you assume, as you want to do, that they only appreciate at the rate of inflation or less and ignore all of the other benefits.

This argument is pretty easy to settle. Based on your position you should be willing to accept the following deal:

1) Assets are indexed for inflation
2) Unearned income is taxed at the same rate as earned income (including social security and medicare taxes)
3) Real unrealized gains and losses are taxed annually "as earned", just like for zero coupon bonds and wages
4) The corporate tax rate is eliminated

Anybody want to take that deal? I doubt any sane person would. Why? Because it is a bad deal relative to the extremely sweet deal investors have currently.
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Old 03-20-2010, 11:05 AM   #47
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Yes, and you ignore dividends and all of the other advantages, in addition to tax rates as low as zero.
I'll have to get back to you on some of this, gotta run, but...

I'm not ignoring dividends, I have not fully thought that one through yet, so I have chosen not to comment on them. But since I have thought through Cap Gains (thanks to that previous thread with input from ziggy & haha), and they are included in your broad brush 'massively tax advantaged' statement, I think it is fair for me to speak specifically to those. Maybe later Ill tackle dividends/interest.

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You also seem to ignore the fact that CPI has averaged something in the neighborhood of 3% whereas total returns on stocks have historically been around 10% . . .
I don't think we should base investment taxes on 'historical rates of real return' any more than we should base someone's earned income tax rates on 'historical rates' of earnings. 'Historical rates of real return' tell me NOTHING about whether I made or lost money (inflation adjusted or not) on a specific investment, but I get taxed on specific investments.

I don't think you are making sense now.

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Old 03-20-2010, 11:22 AM   #48
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This argument is pretty easy to settle. Based on your position you should be willing to accept the following deal:

1) Assets are indexed for inflation
2) Unearned income is taxed at the same rate as earned income (including social security and medicare taxes)
3) Real unrealized gains and losses are taxed annually "as earned", just like for zero coupon bonds and wages
4) The corporate tax rate is eliminated

Anybody want to take that deal? I doubt any sane person would. Why? Because it is a bad deal relative to the extremely sweet deal investors have currently.
I would accept #1, #2, and #4. Practically, #3 would cause a logistical nightmare, and IMO would be unworkable. Assets would have to be marked-to-the-market at year-end. For example, it's hard to imagine how most taxpayers would be able to come up with the money to pay the taxes on unrealized gains on their houses, so housing would likely have to be exempted. Once you've exempted housing, there would be a cry for other exemptions. Also, the government would have to issue massive refundable tax credits in years that assets declined in value. This would cause too much volatility in the tax revenue stream to the government. So I think your proposal to tax unrealized gains, although perhaps theoretically sound, would be a bad idea

Your analogy with zero-coupon bonds breaks down because they are not marked-to-the-market. Only the the original discount is linearly imputed as interest income. Your analogy with wages breaks down, because they are actually received (and therefore not unrealized).
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Old 03-20-2010, 12:19 PM   #49
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I would accept #1, #2, and #4. Practically, #3 would cause a logistical nightmare, and IMO would be unworkable.
The point wasn't to come up with an easy system (indexing assets to inflation is a nightmare bookeeping exercise that everyone seems to want to take on). The point was to see who would want to give up their currently sweet deal on capital assets in favor of something that looks a lot more like how typical income is taxed.

The argument ERD50 is making is that capital assets deserve all of their perks because of inflation. Well if that is true, he should be willing to give up all of the perks for inflation indexing . . . any takers?

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Your analogy with wages breaks down, because they are actually received (and therefore not unrealized).
Not really. I can realize and spend my unrealized capital gains at any time. Just because I choose not to, doesn't make it any less real income to me at that moment in time.
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Old 03-20-2010, 12:31 PM   #50
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I don't think we should base investment taxes on 'historical rates of real return' any more than we should base someone's earned income tax rates on 'historical rates' of earnings. 'Historical rates of real return' tell me NOTHING about whether I made or lost money (inflation adjusted or not) on a specific investment, but I get taxed on specific investments.

I don't think you are making sense now.

-ERD50
I'm not suggesting we base taxes on historical rates of returns. But the only way your argument stands up is if capital gains are driven almost entirely by inflation. Historical rates of return and historical rates of inflation say that isn't the case. So their are plenty of real gains out their getting favorable tax treatment.
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Old 03-20-2010, 12:43 PM   #51
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What's the goal of taxing "unearned" income (love that loaded term! Somehow the guy that buys a run-down apartment building, renovates it, then searches for renters and keeps them satisfied through all kinds of circumstances is receiving "unearned income" when he sells. Love it!) at the same rate as wages? Every tax generates second and third order impacts, and taxing cap gains, interest, etc at higher rates has the effect of discouraging foreign investment in the US and discouraging domestic investment. This drives up the cost of capital for our businesses and makes them less competitive in the global economy. That reduces jobs (and income for US workers). Is there some offsetting benefit to "soaking" investors? Or is the hoped-for benefit some intangible feeling of goodness we hope to receive by taxing two entirely different things (wages and cap gains/interest/dividends) as though they were the same?
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Old 03-20-2010, 01:31 PM   #52
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The point wasn't to come up with an easy system (indexing assets to inflation is a nightmare bookeeping exercise that everyone seems to want to take on).
How hard would it be to have a table of year-end CPI's? The taxpayer would divide the number for the year he sold the asset by the number for the year he bought it, and multiply his purchase price by this ratio to get his inflation-adjusted basis. Seems pretty simple to me.

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The point was to see who would want to give up their currently sweet deal on capital assets in favor of something that looks a lot more like how typical income is taxed.
I said above (and I believe you have indirectly said it too), that in the case of equities the corporate income tax makes it much less of a "sweet deal" than you are implying.


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Not really. I can realize and spend my unrealized capital gains at any time. Just because I choose not to, doesn't make it any less real income to me at that moment in time.
I disagree. Unrealized capital gains can disappear. Unreceived wages, for the most part, can't.


While we're at it, in your attempt to treat all income equally why haven't you suggested taxing employer-provided health insurance for employees and retirees? Since corporations deduct those expenses, isn't that a "double non-taxation"? Why should some folks have to purchase health insurance with after-tax $, while others receive it free?
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Old 03-20-2010, 02:04 PM   #53
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While we're at it, in your attempt to treat all income equally why haven't you suggested taxing employer-provided health insurance for employees and retirees? Since corporations deduct those expenses, isn't that a "double non-taxation"? Why should some folks have to purchase health insurance with after-tax $, while others receive it free?
Well, I know you weren't asking me, but I'll give it a go anyway.......

I am in favor of taxing all non-cash compensation given by businesses to employees. Whether it is the limo, free use of the corp jet, free country club membership or free/subsidized health insurance, it should be taxed. The not-taxed items are simply a scam to avoid paying tax on the cash equivalent value of these items.
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Old 03-21-2010, 11:17 AM   #54
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The argument ERD50 is making is that capital assets deserve all of their perks because of inflation. Well if that is true, he should be willing to give up all of the perks for inflation indexing . . . any takers?
Taken. It is fine with me. It makes it consistent, puts it on a level playing field and that is what I was asking for. Next question?

As FIRE'd@51 points out:

Quote:
How hard would it be to have a table of year-end CPI's? The taxpayer would divide the number for the year he sold the asset by the number for the year he bought it, and multiply his purchase price by this ratio to get his inflation-adjusted basis. Seems pretty simple to me.
Yes, it would be a bit of extra work, but at least it is an objective calculation, not some subjective 'what does essentially the same' mean. And tax programs could do it automatically based on the buy/sell dates. Not really a problem.


Now, your idea on taxing paper gains is what seems unworkable. So say a $1M portfolio goes up 20% one year, and I owe taxes on $200,000 that year - but I don't have the cash to pay because I didn't sell it. And it pushes me into a higher bracket and makes deductions/credits get squashed and probably triggers AMT. Then next year, it goes down 16.67% and now I have a $200,000 paper loss. Do I get a credit to offset the extra taxes I paid the previous year? How is that going to work, since at a low 'income' I'm going to be in a low tax bracket?

And don't forget that currently, if I have a $100K Cap Gain, I pay on those gains in that year. If I have a $100K Cap Loss, I get to take that (wait for it....).... $3,000 per year! Gains paid in ONE year, Losses taken over 34 years! Yeah, that 'massive tax advantage' is just overwhelming me!


-ERD50
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Old 03-21-2010, 11:31 AM   #55
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The argument ERD50 is making is that capital assets deserve all of their perks because of inflation.
Sorry for the double post, but I realized I wanted to clarify one thing, outside of the other response.

I do not think that 'capital assets deserve all of their perks because of inflation.'. In my view, that is a screwed up way to try to make adjustments for other problems. Giving all LT Cap Gains a lower rate is some sort of wacky averaging thing that does not apply to a specific investment transaction. So I don't like it at all. If we are going to tax CG, then add in the inflation adjustment to level that aspect of the playing field. And let me claim all my losses.

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Old 03-21-2010, 01:28 PM   #56
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Very interesting, that changes the situation a lot. I hate sleazy reporting that misreports key facts. This drastically lowers my opinion of the WSJ, it really does look like they are becoming like Fox News (and Yahoo news).

The biggest concern then (for 99% of people), would be capital gains on their houses/property that exceed 250k for singles/500k for married, AND exceeds further exceeds their basis in the property.

I think people have been completely ignoring basis when discussing housing. In reality, taxable gains work like this Gain - Basis - Single/Married Exclusion = Taxable gain/Investment Income.

Take a $1M dollar house bought by a couple it was bought for $400K (basis), they then apply their $500K exclusion, and end up with only $100K (capital gain). This may be enough to push them up to the 250K mark, if they have 150K of other income, but this is only a maybe. We would have to be talking massive capital gains in order to trigger this tax. This tax could also be avoided (such as by those in California), by not selling the house and letting someone inherit it upon their death, which would result in their basis getting stepped up to its present worth.

The only major effect I can see from this, is a slight slow-down on the prices of homes in California/Manhattan, and some other highly inflationary real estate areas.
In other worlds, you do not expect to ever pay this tax so it's fine with you.

What became of the flat tax?

Ha
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Old 03-21-2010, 03:44 PM   #57
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What's the goal of taxing "unearned" income
In my opinion, there should be no goal of tax policy other than to raise revenue. It is when we start trying to use the tax code to do something else (subsidize one group, punish another) where we create market inefficiencies that result in a misallocation of capital. My position is that all income should be treated exactly the same. To the extent there is a goal in taxing "unearned" income, specifically, it is to eliminate the distortions created by treating different kinds of income differently.

It seems to me that the other side of this argument selectively sees adverse tax incentives only when it can be used as an argument for lowering certain people's taxes. What is the real goal there?
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Old 03-21-2010, 03:57 PM   #58
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How hard would it be to have a table of year-end CPI's? The taxpayer would divide the number for the year he sold the asset by the number for the year he bought it, and multiply his purchase price by this ratio to get his inflation-adjusted basis. Seems pretty simple to me.
Take a portfolio of 5 stock funds, with monthly DCA and reinvested dividends over 10 years, throw in a couple of partial liquidations and tell me at what point you want to start ripping your hair out. BTW, this approach would prevent using the "average cost" method of determining basis. Everyone would be forced to use the specific security method (because every purchase will have its own CPI calculation). There is a reason most people use average cost, because the other way is a royal PITA. Adjusting for inflation is specific security basis determination on steroids.
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Old 03-21-2010, 04:02 PM   #59
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My position is that all income should be treated exactly the same.
Okay, then I know you'll be in favor of a single tax rate for all income, and elimination of the standard deduction, the personal exemption, and all other deductions. That's certainly simple (which seems to be an objective), "treats all income the same," (a stated objective) and it avoids favoring certain taxpayers over others (another implied objective).

Well, it seems a little extreme to me, but I guess I'd go along with your idea. We could probably get away with a tax rate of somewhere between 10-15%, which would make the whole "favorable treatment of unearned income" question moot. As a very significant bonus, virtually all Americans would become taxpayers, which I'm confident would have an immediate and salutary influence in reducing government spending and limiting the size of government. When all voters get a tax bill, the demand for more government services will diminish.
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Old 03-21-2010, 04:17 PM   #60
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Taken. It is fine with me. It makes it consistent, puts it on a level playing field and that is what I was asking for. Next question?
Yes, it does all of those things.

The other thing it does is raise substantially the amount of taxes owed on any reasonably profitable investment.

Assuming a $100k investment, 3% inflation, 10 year holding period, and top marginal rates here is what your after tax investment would look like under current law and the "deal" you just said you'd agree to . . .

Real Return Current Law ERD50's "deal"
7% 235,468 207,064
5% 198,509 183,354
3% 167,222 162,115
0% 129,233 134,392
This deal will obviously look even worse in the brackets where the 0% gains rate applies.

Notwithstanding your professed desire to take a bad deal, this "thought experiment" and accompanying calculation does illustrate how good a deal the current tax code is giving to capital gains. At a historically normal 3% inflation rate and 10% nominal total return, the stock investor pays one third less taxes under current law than under the "deal" you accepted.
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