A blockbuster article in The New York Times claims that President Donald Trump “took part in suspect schemes to evade tax bills.” The article further claims that “[Trump] and his siblings set up sham corporations to disguise gifts.” And that Trump helped his father take “improper tax deductions.”
The article concludes that Trump is a fraud. The NYT claims Trump received much more from his father than the $1 million start-up loan that Trump claims. The NYT cites the $413 million Trump received from his father’s estate much later in life.
The article itself is a sham. The purpose seems to be to discredit the president and try to present Trump in an unfavorable manner. The truth is that Trump behaved exactly like every taxpayer in America.
Tax preparation services, like H&R Block, and tax preparation software, like TurboTax, have become very successful, having tens of millions of American customers.
Professional tax accountants have done well, too, by providing tax preparation services for households from low-income earners to the highest income earners.
The success of these tax preparation services is based on a single premise: Americans want to minimize their tax liability. Many advertise that they can show each taxpayer how to get the largest refund, meaning they pay the lowest amount of taxes possible.
That’s exactly what Trump and his family did.
The Trump organization utilized existing laws, searched for legal tax deductions and established new entities to minimize the tax liability. This is exactly what every profit–maximizing company does.
Recall the 2012 presidential election when millionaire Warren Buffet claimed that it is blatantly unfair that he pay a lower tax rate than his secretary.
In 2011, Buffet had taxable income of $42 million and paid $7 million in taxes — roughly a 17-percent rate. His secretary paid a higher rate. Why? Because Buffet employs a team of top-notch tax attorneys and tax accountants whose sole job is to minimize his tax liability. They figured out how Buffet can take his income as a capital gain which is taxed at a much lower rate than ordinary income.
Was Buffet a tax cheat? Is Buffet a fraud?
Every high-achieving individual who has earned substantial income and has acquired substantial assets wants to pass as much of that earned wealth onto the heirs as possible. The problem is that there are high estate taxes levied by the federal government and additional taxes levied by many states, like New York and New Jersey, where Trump resides.
Every tax professional will advise high-net-worth individuals to pass the assets to the heirs before death. This eliminates the estate taxes.
Had Trump’s father waited until death to pass on about $1 billion in wealth, the heirs would have had to pay $550 million in taxes. That means more than half of an individual’s life work would not go to the heirs but rather to the government.
By following the suggestions of tax professionals, the elder Trump passed on his estate and saved his heirs $500 million in taxes. The tax liability was minimized by cleverly utilizing the tax laws — exactly what most substantial Americans attempt to do.
The NYT also said Trump’s father, Fred Trump, used sham corporations to avoid paying gift taxes. They cite instances where invoices were padded so that higher than market prices were paid by sham corporations. The NYT claims this was done to pass along the wealth and avoid gift taxes.
Even if that is true, the gift tax rate is lower than the rate shareholders of a corporation would pay. At the time, the gift tax rate was 55 percent.
If Fred Trump padded invoices when selling from his corporation to corporations held by the heirs, the heirs’ corporation would have to pay 40 percent in corporate taxes. Then, when the heirs took the funds from the corporation as dividends, they would again be taxed at a 40-percent rate.
Since dividends are taxed twice, once at the corporate level and once at the personal level, the effective rate when Fred Trump passed the money was 64 percent, which is higher than the gift tax rate. (Taxing income at 40 percent and then taxing the remaining 60 percent at 40 percent again yields an effective rate of 64 percent.)
The article clearly shows why President Trump should never release his tax returns. Once released The NYT would examine every deduction, every charge-off and every instance of earned income. Even if they are all legal, Trump would be characterized as a tax fraud, a tax cheat and businessperson who hurts other businesspeople.
The president built a multibillion-dollar portfolio of assets. It is true he started with a $1 million loan; it is also true that his father willed him $413 million, much of it before his father died. Still, the president used the money to build his multibillion-dollar empire.
All Americans seek to minimize their tax liability. This includes President Trump. The NYT article is clearly a cheap shot designed to make a very successful president look as bad as possible.
Michael Busler, Ph.D. is a public policy analyst and a Professor of Finance at Stockton University where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Finance and Economics.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.