Yes, everyone pays taxes, but you might be surprised by how much you can get out of if you have the right strategies! Find out some key tactics used by the rich to avoid paying high taxes this year!
For the 400 U.S. taxpayers with the highest adjusted gross income, the effective federal income tax rate—what they actually pay—fell from almost 30 percent in 1995 to just over 18 percent in 2008, according to the Internal Revenue Service. And for the approximately 1.4 million people who make up the top 1 percent of taxpayers, the effective federal income tax rate dropped from 29 percent to 23 percent in 2008. It may seem too fantastic to be true, but the top 400 end up paying a lower rate than the next 1,399,600 or so.
That’s not just good luck. It’s often the result of hard work, as suggested by some of the strategies below. Much of the income among the top 400 derives from dividends and capital gains, generated by everything from appreciated real estate—yes, there is some left—to stocks and the sale of family businesses. As Warren Buffett likes to point out, since most of his income is from dividends, his tax rate is less than that of the people who clean his office.
For those who can afford a shrewd accountant or attorney, our era is rife with opportunities to avoid—or at least defer—tax bills, according to tax specialists and public records. It’s limited only by the boundaries of taste, creativity, and the ability to understand some very complex shelters. Here’s a look at some of them:
The ‘No Sale’ Sale
Cashing in on stocks without triggering capital-gains taxes
An executive has $200 million of company shares. He wants cash but doesn’t want to trigger $30 million or so in capital-gains taxes.
1. The executive borrows about $200 million from an investment bank, with the shares as collateral. Now he has cash.
2. To freeze the value of the collateral shares, he buys and sells “puts” and “calls.” These are options granting him the right to buy and sell them later at a fixed price, insuring against a crash.
3. He eventually can return the cash, or he can keep it. If he keeps it, he has to hand over the shares. The tax bill comes years after the initial borrowing. His money has been working for him all the while.
Seller beware: The IRS challenged versions of these deals used by billionaire Philip Anschutz and Clear Channel Communications (CCMO) co-founder Red McCombs. A U.S. Tax Court judge in 2010 ruled that Anschutz owed $94 million in taxes on transactions entered into in 2000 and 2001. He lost an appeal last December. McCombs settled his case in 2011. Despite the court cases, such strategies “are alive and well,” says Robert Willens, who runs an independent firm that advises investors on tax issues.
The Skyscraper Shuffle
Partnerships that let property owners liquidate without liability
Two people are 50-50 owners, through a partnership, of an office tower worth $100 million. One of the owners—let’s call him McDuck—wants to cash out, which would mean a $50 million gain and $7.5 million in capital-gains taxes.
1. McDuck needs to turn his ownership of the property into a loan. So the partnership borrows $50 million and puts it into a new subsidiary partnership, which contributes the cash to yet another new partnership.
2. The newest partnership lends that $50 million to a finance company for three years, in exchange for a three-year note. (The finance company takes the money and invests it or lends it out at a higher rate.)
3. The original partnership distributes its interest in the lower-tier subsidiary to McDuck. Now, McDuck owns a loan note worth $50 million instead of the property, effectively liquidating his 50 percent interest.
4. Three years later, the note is repaid. McDuck now owns 100 percent of a partnership sitting on a $50 million pile of cash—the amount McDuck would have received from selling his stake in the real estate—without triggering any capital-gains tax.
5. While this cash remains in the partnership, it can be invested or borrowed against. When McDuck dies, it can be passed along to heirs and liquidated or sold tax-free. The deferred tax liability disappears upon McDuck’s death, under a provision that eliminates such taxable gains for heirs.
The Estate Tax Eliminator
How to leave future stock earnings to the kids and escape the estate tax
A wealthy parent with millions invested in the stock market wants to leave future earnings to his kids while avoiding the estate tax on those earnings.
1. The parent sets up a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust, or GRAT, listing the kids as beneficiaries.
2. The parent contributes, say, $100 million to the GRAT. Under the terms of the GRAT, the amount contributed to the trust, plus interest, must be fully returned to the parent over a predetermined period.
3. Whatever return the money earns in excess of the interest rate—the IRS currently requires 3 percent—remains in the trust and gets passed on to the heirs, forever free of estate and gift taxes.
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