Profitable corporations are supposed to pay a 35 percent federal income tax rate on their U.S. profits. But many corporations pay far less, or nothing at all, because of the many tax loopholes and special breaks they enjoy. This report documents just how successful many Fortune 500 corporations have been at using these loopholes and special breaks over the past five years.
The report looks at the profits and U.S. federal income taxes of the 288 Fortune 500 companies that have been consistently profitable in each of the five years between 2008 and 2012, excluding companies that experienced even one unprofitable year during this period. Most of these companies were included in our November 2011 report, Corporate Taxpayers and Corporate Tax Dodgers, which looked at the years 2008 through 2010. Our new report is broader, in that it includes companies, such as Facebook, that have entered the Fortune 500 since 2011, and narrower, in that it excludes some companies that were profitable during 2008 to 2010 but lost money in 2011 or 2012.
Some Key Findings:
• As a group, the 288 corporations examined paid an effective federal income tax rate of just 19.4 percent over the five-year period — far less than the statutory 35 percent tax rate.
• Twenty-six of the corporations, including Boeing, General Electric, Priceline.com and Verizon, paid no federal income tax at all over the five year period. A third of the corporations (93) paid an effective tax rate of less than ten percent over that period.
• Of those corporations in our sample with significant offshore profits, two thirds paid higher corporate tax rates to foreign governments where they operate than they paid in the U.S. on their U.S. profits.
These findings refute the prevailing view inside the Washington, D.C. Beltway that America’s corporate income tax is more burdensome than the corporate income taxes levied by other countries, and that this purported (but false) excess burden somehow makes the U.S. “uncompetitive.”
• One hundred and eleven of the 288 companies (39 percent of them) paid zero or less in federal income taxes in at least one year from 2008 to 2012.
• The sectors with the lowest effective corporate tax rates over the five-year period were utilities (2.9 percent), industrial machinery (4.3 percent), telecommunications (9.8 percent), oil, gas and pipelines (14.4 percent), transportation (16.4 percent), aerospace and defense (16.7 percent) and financial (18.8 percent).
• The tax breaks claimed by these companies are highly concentrated in the hands of a few very large corporations. Just 25 companies claimed $174 billion in tax breaks over the five years between 2008 and 2012. That’s almost half the $364 billion in tax subsidies claimed by all of the 288 companies in our sample.
• Five companies — Wells Fargo, AT&T, IBM, General Electric, and Verizon — enjoyed over $77 billion in tax breaks during this five-year period.
Recommendations for Reform:
• Congress should repeal the rule allowing American multinational corporations to indefinitely “defer” their U.S. taxes on their offshore profits. This reform would effectively remove the tax incentive to shift profits and jobs overseas.
• Limit the ability of tech and other companies to use executive stock options to reduce their taxes by generating phantom “costs” these companies never actually incur.
• Having allowed “bonus depreciation” to expire at the end of 2013, Congress could take the next step and repeal the rest of accelerated depreciation, too.
• Reinstate a strong corporate Alternative Minimum Tax that really does the job it was originally designed to do.
• Require more complete and transparent geography-specific public disclosure of corporate income and tax payments than the Securities and Exchange Commission’s regulations currently mandate.
Citizens for Tax Reform.