On August 8th, 2022, the big news broke out: The United States Senate had passed a bill with some sweeping changes to the federal government’s fiscal policy. Officially called the “Inflation Reduction Act” (H.R. 5376), the bill reminds us of the expression “Christmas tree bill,” for a measure that has dozens of sub-measures hanging off it like Christmas tree ornaments. Yes, we linked it, that is a real expression.
The bill has major changes to climate policy, prescription drug policy, and budget reconciliation. But our big concern is the massive tax reform package. It’s pretty big, so let’s examine its potential impact.
New 15% Minimum Corporate Tax Levy
This only applies to LARGE corporations, so the LLCs registered to small business owners can relax. The 15% minimum levy is a “book tax,” which is figured from the company’s financial statement earnings. This means that before the accounting department can calculate taxes based on their usual deductions, this is a levy that says you’re paying 15% of your earnings no matter what. A corporation that received $100 billion for the year owes $15 billion in taxes, automatically, before anything else is calculated.
However: This still doesn’t guarantee that a company would have to pay 15% of its annual earnings. Companies have some flexibility in what they report as “income.”
Impact to our readers: We’re guessing “not much,” since it will be very rare that a company of this size will also need relief from not being able to afford their taxes. You can rest easy, but Elon Musk is going to need an Alka-Seltzer.
New 1% Stock Buyback Tax
This is a new 1% excise tax on corporate stock repurchases. It’s set to go into effect at the beginning of 2023, so there could be a flurry of stock play in the months until the end of 2022. Note that a stock buyback, aka a share repurchase, happens when a company buys back its own stock, which it previously issued, as a re-investment measure. This doesn’t apply to private investors and shareholders.
This new tax is more likely to reduce stock price manipulation and other Wall Street shenanigans, rather than generate substantial fiscal revenue.
Impact to our readers: Probably not much, since again, only large publicly traded companies ever engage in stock buybacks to begin with. The 1% is trivial compared to the profits companies can make with this move.
Expanded IRS Budget
This is the part of the bill that has the financial world sweating, but it may not be as ominous as it first seems. The Internal Revenue Service is getting $80 billion to hire new auditors, improve taxpayer service, and update their outdated equipment. Now, on paper, this means “more audits for everyone.” However, the IRS has just come out from a decade of having its staff and budget slashed, mostly under former president Donald Trump. This is less a “bigger meaner IRS” and more of a “return to the ~2015 IRS before it was wounded and bleeding.”
In the tax relief business, one always must assume that your account is under 100% scrutiny. In practice, the IRS only has the resources to scrutinize so many accounts per year, and then they have to let the rest go.
As for the equipment upgrade, the IRS is already using an IT system that is nearly 60 years old! That puts them back in the 1960s, running huge, hot mainframes programmed in long-obsolete languages. They’ve been in danger of a massive system failure. Every computer you have ever used in your life is likely newer than anything the IRS is running. Our banner image for this post shows a 1961 computer system, for comparison. So yeah, let them upgrade to Windows 98 at least.
Impact to our readers: Considerable. In recent years, the IRS has been so crippled that it carried a yearly backlog of unprocessed returns as high as 17 million. So we have all had a few years of a softened and weakened IRS, but it’s being given a pick-up. So count on more audits and activity than before, but far from unprecedented power.
Small Environmental Perks
If you’ve been holding back on installing solar energy panels or getting an electric vehicle, now might be a good time to make that move. There are new tax credits for lower-income taxpayers buying an EV, and up to a $7.5K tax credit for new EVs. There are $60 billion in incentives to secure clean energy manufacturing in the US, which will subsidize the manufacturing of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, as well as critical minerals processing. And there is another $9 billion for home energy rebate programs, and more tax credits for every homeowner who installs efficient heat pumps, rooftop solar, electric HVAC, and water heaters in their home.
Impact on our readers: Considerable but in a good way. Nearly every taxpayer will have some kind of incentive to reduce carbon emissions. We are not Greenpeace hippies around here, but yay environment anyway.
These Are Our Forecasts
Based on our experience and some cursory listening around the tax industry grapevine, we’re forecasting all of the above to the best of our insight. But take it with a grain of salt, and stand by the ready for a changed IRS climate. We are especially skeptical of the part about upgrading the IRS’ IT infrastructure. As any office manager can tell you, computer upgrades are expensive and the IRS has to do it with many experts on hand to replace the system a piece at a time while it’s still running. That could easily eat through the $80 billion budget boost right there.
Now, will the Inflation Reduction Act also help curb inflation? We certainly hope so, because we all lose money to inflation even before the IRS gets started taking any more.