Monday, November 21, 2011

Taxes Are For The Little People

Business Week on the dodges that allow billionaires to pay no taxes on incomes of hundreds of millions.

When billionaire Billy Joe “Red” McCombs, co-founder of Clear Channel Communications Inc., reported a $9.8 million loss on his tax return, he failed to include about $259 million from a lucrative stock transaction.

He wound up paying a little, but the tax laws include lots of dodges that make hundred million dollar paydays not even reportable.

McCombs’s fight with the IRS illustrates an overlooked facet in the debate over tax rates paid by the nation’s wealthiest. Billionaires -- from McCombs to Philip Anschutz to Ronald S. Lauder -- who derive the bulk of their wealth from stock appreciation are using strategies that reap hundreds of millions of dollars from those valuable shares in ways the IRS often doesn’t classify as taxable income, securities filings and tax court records show.
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While Warren Buffett has generated attention with his complaints that he and his fellow billionaires pay federal income taxes at a lower rate than his secretary -- about 17 percent -- the real figure is often smaller, said David S. Miller, former chair of the tax section of the New York State Bar Association and a partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP in New York.

“The problem is not that people like Warren Buffett pay tax at a 17 percent rate, it’s that they can use complex transactions not available to most Americans to get cash from their appreciated stock without paying any taxes at all,” Miller said.