CORPORATIONS’ TAX AVOIDANCE

ABSTRACT: Large corporations are dodging taxes by using offshore tax havens. They use them to avoid paying about $90 billion a year in US income taxes. Of the 100 largest US corporations with publicly traded stock, 82 maintain subsidiaries in offshore tax havens and they are holding $1.2 trillion in them, on which they have avoided paying US income tax. If all 82 of these corporations reported their $1.2 trillion stashed offshore as US income and paid the 35% rate, the federal government would receive $420 billion, which would cut the deficit by more than half.

For the 2010 tax year, profitable US corporations that filed a US income tax return paid an average of only 13% of their worldwide profits in income tax, despite the stated US corporate income tax rate of 35%.

The loss of this revenue for the federal government hurts all of us. It means that we, as individual taxpayers, and small businesses either have to pay more taxes to make up the difference or that our federal government (and state governments too) have less to spend on things we count on government to do.

Closing this offshore tax haven loophole would be a step toward tax fairness. There are bills in Congress to do so. I urge you to contact your Senators and Representative to urge them to support closing the offshore tax haven loophole.

FULL POST: Large corporations are dodging taxes by using offshore tax havens. They use them to avoid paying about $90 billion a year in US income taxes. This costs the US government more than was saved ($85 billion a year) by the ill-conceived, across-the-board budget cuts in March (known as the sequester) and far more than the proposed cut in food stamps (known as SNAP) would save ($4 billion a year). (See posts of 9/16 and 9/19 for some of the effects of the sequester.)

Of the 100 largest US corporations with publicly traded stock, 82 maintain subsidiaries in offshore tax havens and they are holding $1.2 trillion in them, on which they have avoided paying US income tax. Fifteen corporations hold two-thirds of this cash in 1,900 subsidiaries. [1] Many of these subsidiaries are officially housed in the Cayman Islands where the corporations maintain a legal address but no other physical presence. Ironically, roughly half of this offshore money is invested in US securities or through US accounts. [2]

In part because of the use of these offshore tax havens and accounting tricks that shift income to them, for the 2010 tax year, profitable US corporations that filed a US income tax return paid an average of only 13% of their worldwide profits in income tax. Even when state, local, and foreign income taxes are included, they paid only around 17% of profits, despite the stated US corporate income tax rate of 35%. [3] (See post of 11/5/11 for more information on corporate income taxes.)

A few specific examples help to put this in perspective.

  • Pfizer, the world’s largest drug maker, has 40% of its sales in the US but reported no taxable income in the US over the last 5 years. It has $73 billion sitting untaxed in 172 subsidiaries in offshore tax havens.
  • Microsoft has an untaxed $61 billion in 5 offshore tax havens.
  • Citigroup, which US taxpayers bailed out during the 2008 financial collapse, has $43 billion sitting untaxed in 20 offshore subsidiaries. [4]
  • Apple Computer made $30 billion in supposedly offshore profits over the past 4 years on which it paid no taxes to any national government, largely by exploiting technicalities in US and Irish tax laws. [5]
  • The Bank of America, also bailed out by US taxpayers during the 2008 financial collapse, has $17 billion sitting untaxed in 316 offshore subsidiaries.
  • Oracle has an untaxed $21 billion in 5 offshore subsidiaries.
  • Google has $33 billion sitting untaxed in 25 offshore subsidiaries. [6]

If these 7 corporations reported this $278 billion as US income and paid the 35% tax rate on it, the federal government would receive $97 billion. This would be more than enough to reverse the sequester’s cuts and continue food stamp benefits. If all 82 of the largest corporations with offshore tax haven subsidiaries reported their $1.2 trillion stashed offshore as US income and paid the 35% rate, the federal government would receive $420 billion, which would cut the deficit by more than half.

The loss of this revenue for the federal government hurts all of us, including small and local businesses. It means that we, as individual taxpayers, and small businesses either have to pay more taxes to make up the difference or that our federal government (and state governments too) have less to spend on education and job training, transportation and other infrastructure, safety and security, and all the other things we count on government to do.

Closing this offshore tax haven loophole would be a step toward tax fairness. There are bills in Congress to do so: in the US Senate, the Cut Unjustified Tax (CUT) Loopholes Act (bill # S.268) and in the US House, the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act (bill # H.R. 1554). I urge you to contact your Senators and Representative to urge them to support closing the offshore tax haven loophole.

(You can find out who your Congress people are and get their contact information at: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm for your Senators and http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ for your Representative.)


[1]       US PIRG, 7/31/13, “Offshore shell games,” (http://www.uspirg.org/reports/usp/offshore-shell-games)

[2]       Clark, K., 10/4/13, “Crackdown on offshore tax havens,” Daily Times Chronicle

[3]       US General Accounting Office, May 2013, “Corporate income tax: Effective tax rates can differ significantly from the statutory rate,” (http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-13-520)

[4]       MASSPIRG, 4/4/13, “Picking up the tab,” (http://masspirg.org/reports/map/picking-tab-2013)

[5]       The Balance Sheet, 5/21/13, “Apple slips through $30 billion tax-code hole,” The American Prospect

[6]       US PIRG, 7/31/13, see above

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