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While many Americans were grumbling over lower-than-expected tax refunds this year, 60 corporate tax dodgers – all of whom turned a profit in 2018 – paid zero in taxes. But that's not the worst of it…
Most of the following companies actually received millions of dollars in rebates.
According to the Internal Revenue Service, the total amount of tax refunds to individual citizens this year was $4.4 billion lower than it was last year.
Meanwhile, according to an analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), those 60 U.S. corporations collected tax rebates worth $4.3 billion – despite earning $79 billion in profits.
Does that sound unfair to you? How could this happen?
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It comes down to changes made in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Several groups of individual taxpayers lost big deductions. Residents of high-tax states got hit with the new $10,000 cap on deductions for state and local taxes.
The 2017 tax reform law also suspended deductions for unreimbursed employee expenses, an important deduction for workers such as telecommuters, traveling salespeople, and construction workers.
But tax breaks for corporations were mostly left untouched, while the corporate tax rate was chopped from 35% to 21%. That doubled the number of profit-making companies paying no taxes. And U.S. tax revenue from corporations plunged 31% from fiscal 2017 to fiscal 2018, a reduction of $92 billion to the U.S. Treasury.
Individual taxpayers, however, paid $97 billion more in FY2018.
Here's how the corporations are getting away with this…
Corporate Tax Avoidance 101
Corporations have many tax breaks and loopholes at their disposal.
Companies also use a variety of tax credits to lower their tax bill. Last year, Netflix Inc. (NASDAQ: NFLX) had $140 million worth of research and development credits. Video game company Activision Blizzard Inc. (NASDAQ: ATVI) claimed $46 million in R&D credits.
A change in the 2017 law allows companies to claim the full amount of a capital investment (typically equipment and facilities) in the same year in which it was made. Previously, companies claimed a tax break on capital expenditures by depreciating the item over a period of years.
Sectors with high levels of capex, such as energy companies and airlines, were only too happy to exploit this change in their 2018 taxes. Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) reduced its taxes by $290 million with this trick, while Halliburton Co. (NYSE: HAL) saved $320 million. In all, ITEP reports, companies shaved $8 billion from their taxes using this break.
Then there are the corporate tax breaks targeted at particular sectors. Again, energy is a prime beneficiary. Thanks to the enhanced oil recovery credit, Occidental Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: OXY) trimmed $158 million off its 2018 tax bill.
Alternative energy credits are just as lucrative. Duke Energy Corp. (NYSE: DUK) snagged $128 million worth of renewable energy credits. DTE Energy Co. (NYSE: DTE) managed a tax reduction of $223 million with production credits.
With so many ways to thwart the tax man, it's no wonder almost every one of the companies on ITEP's list got millions of dollars back from the government.
About half of the companies on the list made billions in U.S. profits and still got hefty rebates. EOG Resources Inc. (NYSE: EOG) had income in excess of $4 billion and yet earned a rebate of $304 million.
Here's the full chart, with all 60 companies, how much U.S. profit they earned in 2018, and how much they got back from the government: