The voices of Tax Policy Center's researchers and staff
The White House released Barack Obama’s 2014 tax return last week. It showed that the President and First Lady paid $93,362 in federal taxes on a total income of $477,383—an effective tax rate of 19.6 percent. But those are only the top-line numbers—their return contains lots of interesting information that shows how the income tax affects people whose income falls just below the top 1 percent.
The Obamas didn’t quite make it into that vaunted 1 percent last year—the Tax Policy Center estimates that their adjusted gross income (AGI) would have had to exceed $500,000 to get them into that group. But they didn’t miss by much. And they were very much in the group that the President has targeted for tax increases ever since he began running for president back in 2007.
What did having that much income mean for the First Family’s 1040? For openers, they had to pay two taxes created by the Affordable Care Act: the 0.9 percent additional Medicare tax on earnings above $250,000 ($200,000 for unmarried filers) and the 3.8 percent net investment income tax on high investment earnings. The first added $1,752 to the President’s tax bill and the latter tacked on another $498.
The Obamas’ high income also zeroed out their personal and dependent exemptions and knocked $5,170 off their itemized deductions. That was the result of two provisions resurrected by the 2012 American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA). The Personal Exemption Phaseout (PEP) cuts exemptions by 2 percent for each $2,500 (or part thereof) of AGI over indexed thresholds—$305,050 for couples in 2014. Result: the Obamas lost all of the $15,800 of exemptions for their four-person family. The Limitation on Itemized Deductions sliced their deductions for state and local taxes, mortgage interest, and charitable donations by 3 percent of their AGI in excess of the same $305,050 threshold. Combined, the two provisions boosted the Obama’s taxable income by nearly $21,000.
In the end, that increase in taxable income didn’t affect the Obamas’ tax bill because they got hit by the feared alternative minimum tax (AMT). Originally intended to ensure that high-income people pay at least some income tax, the AMT actually targets people like the Obamas. Fully two-thirds of taxpayers who paid AMT in 2012 had AGI between $200,000 and $500,000 and more than two-thirds of people in that income range paid an average of $6,000 in AMT that year. The Obamas’ AMT was even higher: They paid more than $10,000 of AMT for 2014, boosting their effective tax rate by 2.2 percentage points.
Activists have repeatedly called for higher taxes on the rich—the “One Percent.” When it comes to the next one percent, the tax code already boosts their taxes a lot.
You can learn more details about the President’s tax return by playing with an interactive version put together by the Tax Policy Center.
Posts and Comments are solely the opinion of the author and not that of the Tax Policy Center, Urban Institute, or Brookings Institution.