Even though the United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the world, many American companies pay little or nothing in taxes – and some even get refunds.
That doesn't mean that U.S. companies necessarily cheat Uncle Sam, but the steadily falling amount of corporate taxes paid has clearly helped boost profitability.
A recent analysis by The Washington Post showed that it was typical for companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average in the 1960s and 1970s to pay federal taxes that were between 25% and 50% of their global profits.
Today, most big U.S. companies pay half that.
A study by NerdWallet of the 500 biggest U.S. companies last fall showed that while the statutory corporate tax in the U.S. is 35%, the actual rate paid – not the amount companies set aside for taxes – is down to an average of 13%.
According to the NerdWallet data, 20% of the top 500 U.S. companies paid nothing in corporate taxes in 2011, and 42% paid between 0% and 15%.
The discrepancy has led some in Washington to call for corporate tax reform, which many U.S companies actually support – but mainly because they'd rather pay even less.
"We need to take steps to make our tax system more competitive and better aligned with the rest of the world by undertaking comprehensive tax reform that will reduce the corporate tax rate," Bob McDonald, CEO of The Procter & Gamble Co. (NYSE: PG), said in a statement released before a meeting of top U.S. CEOs with President Barack Obama in November.