Last week, America witnessed the conclusion of one of the most talked about elections in recent memory, as Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton and was elected to become the 45th President of the United States. Not only did Trump win the toss-up states he needed to in order to capture 270 electoral college votes, he even turned some states red that had historically been blue. While we await to see which promises made during Trump’s campaign become true, we wanted to share our initial thoughts on the election and the potential impact of those promises on America’s tax code and fiscal policy.
First, we must acknowledge that Trump is becoming President at an opportune time, with the economy and unemployment rates being in significantly better positions than when President Obama took office in 2008. In addition, Republicans have gained control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, providing a seemingly unobstructed pathway for his legislative initiatives to be passed into action. However, Trump does face some pushback within his own party and must deal with the Republicans not having 60 votes in the Senate. Although the “reconciliation” process (whereby most spending and tax legislation can be passed with a simple majority) can be utilized to pass some of his tax reform, he will have more difficulty passing non-budgetary items, which include the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate or altering the Dodd-Frank legislation.
Unfortunately, there is still tremendous uncertainty about the specifics of all of Trump’s proposals for tax reform. Some of these proposals are in alignment with the House Republicans’ plan while others are in misalignment. Trump’s Tax Plan website lists the following proposals:
- “Low-income Americans would have an effective income tax rate of 0%”
- Income tax brackets would be simplified and tax rates would be reduced
- Less than $75,000: 12%
- More than $75,000 but less than $225,000: 25%
- More than $225,000: 33%
- Carried interest would be taxed as ordinary income
- The Affordable Care Act would be repealed, including the 3.8% tax on net investment income
- The corporate and personal Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) would be repealed
- The standard deduction would be increased and personal exemptions would be eliminated
- The estate tax would be repealed, but capital gains on property held until death and valued over $10 million would be subject to tax
- Corporate tax rate would decrease from 35% to 15%
- Deemed repatriation of corporate profits held offshore at a one-time tax rate of 10%
- “Most corporate tax expenditures” would be eliminated (except for research and development)
In all likelihood, there is going to be some form of substantial tax reform during Trump’s presidency. The questions are how significant will the reform be and in what method will the reform take place. For example, the repeal of the estate tax has occurred a few times in the history of the United States, with it being reinstated in times of war or as part of a budget or tax reform. The last time there was a repeal of the estate tax was in 2010 as part of the Economic Growth and Tax Reconciliation Act of 2001. This Act called for a phase-out of the estate tax over a 10-year period. However, additional legislation in 2010 and 2012 led us to our current estate tax policy. Therefore, will Trump be able to repeal the estate tax or possibly reform it over a period of time? The answer will come down to a careful negotiation between Trump and Congress and the balancing act of tax reform, entitlement reform (which Trump has said he will not change), and managing the federal deficit.
For our insurance practice, the potential repeal or even reform of the estate tax may change why and how insurance policies are purchased in the future. However, even if the estate tax is repealed, Trump has proposed there would be capital gains taxes on assets held until death (with capital gains not applying to the first $10 million of assets). Even if the reason to own insurance to provide liquidity for estate taxes is minimized, there is still a need for liquidity. The death benefit could offset the capital gains tax incurred on the sale of the inherited property.
The other reasons for having life insurance remain valid, such as providing spousal security, income tax diversification, supplementing your retirement income, succession planning for a business, estate equalization, creating a family legacy or funding philanthropic objectives. Given Trump’s proposal to reduce income tax rates in the near future, we will likely see a surge of individuals purchasing insurance policies to serve as a cash accumulation vehicle to supplement their retirement planning. Generally, most qualified retirement plans only make economic sense when you defer paying taxes at a higher tax bracket and withdraw the funds at a lower tax bracket. However, if income tax rates are decreased, it may make more sense from a tax planning perspective to participate in more after-tax planning as opposed to continuing to promote and invest in qualified retirement plans. It really comes down to two questions; would you rather pay taxes at a higher or lower tax rate and would you rather pay taxes on a higher or lower amount? Utilizing insurance would result in investing after-tax dollars to purchase a policy, allowing those funds to grow tax-deferred and withdrawing those funds income tax-free.1
The concern of many, including Paul Ryan and other members of the Republican Party, is how much will these potential tax cuts add to the federal deficit. Trump has also discussed increasing military spending, which would further exacerbate the federal deficit problem. Some argue that his tax reform lowers tax rates but increases the tax base so there shouldn’t be any change in overall tax revenue. There were also discussions during the campaign of imposing tariffs to generate additional revenue for the government. Although monetarily this may work, trade agreements would have to be negotiated which could have severe political ramifications and strain our relationships with Allies across the globe. While it’s still unclear what impact these changes will have, most Americans agree there needs to be a defined path for how we are going to navigate our ever-increasing debt burden. Potentially decreasing tax revenue and increasing spending does not appear to be in alignment with reducing our country’s debt. In fact, while increasing our revenues or decreasing spending on their own would be a start, it will most likely take both actions to change our fiscal policy, make an impact on our national debt and put the U.S. on a path towards financial stability. It seems that any other path will compound the debt burden and lead us toward an unsustainable and uncertain financial future.
Perhaps more than we have seen in recent memory, there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty surrounding what the future will hold. The capital markets reflected this on election night, as we saw the futures market predict the market would be down 5% the day after the election. Anytime there is uncertainty and especially after a Presidential election, the markets usually act negatively. Throughout history, we have seen this occur, such as when the markets dropped by 5.27%, 4.61% and 4.42% the day after President Obama, President Truman and President Roosevelt were elected. However, maybe there is reason for optimism as the markets actually gained by 1.40% the day after Trump was elected and continued that upward trend the rest of the week.
Trump will also be the first President to have never served in a government position. However, Trump’s supporters showed they are less concerned about his lack of political qualifications and more concerned about challenging and changing the status quo. They were dissatisfied with Washington and felt alienated amongst all of the change that has been occurring around them. As Andy Friedman pointed out on his Washington Update blog, Trump supporters “see a political system that at best has ignored them and at worst is stacked against them.”
Whether you voted for Trump, Clinton or anyone else, we need to be reminded that our government was designed on a system of checks and balances to serve in the best interests for all Americans. It was structured this way to prevent one man or woman from making unilateral decisions. Trump must work closely with our elected representatives in the House of Representatives and Senate in order to pass legislation. Furthermore, he must work collaboratively with his Cabinet members to navigate the multitude of domestic and foreign issues he will face while in office. Regardless whether Trump or Clinton was elected the 45th President of the United States, we should look optimistically toward the future and remember that we live in a country where our opinions are heard and our votes can inspire change.
Should you have any questions about how President-elect Trump’s proposals may affect your individual, estate or corporate tax situation, please feel free to give us a call.
This information does not reflect the political views of WealthPoint, LLC or any of its employees or affiliates. WealthPoint, LLC does not provide any tax or legal advice. The discussion herein is general in nature and is provided for informational purposes only. There is no guarantee as to its accuracy or completeness. It is not intended as legal or tax advice and individuals may not rely upon it (including for purposes of avoiding tax penalties imposed by the IRS or state and local tax authorities). Individuals should consult their own legal and tax counsel as to matters discussed herein and before entering into any estate planning, trust, investment, retirement, or insurance arrangement.
1 Subject to policy performance and product specifications.
File #: 1861-2016