We need real tax reform and we need it now. Previous attempts have been made at tax reform, but they have only provided band-aid solutions that have still left us with too many quirks, complication, and read tape. There are several things Congress could do to simply the tax system and benefit the taxpayers and federal budget at the same time.
First, I would institute a simple two-tiered tax on earnings and passive income (interest, dividends, capital gains, etc.) that are not in a tax-sheltered account. They would be treated equally and no distinction would be made between long-term and short-term capital gains. Individuals (whether married or not) who have taxable earnings and passive income of less than $30,000 would pay no federal taxes. Amounts equal to or greater than $30,000 but less than $200,000 would be taxed at 25%. Amounts equal to or greater than $200,000 would be taxed at 30%.
Second, I would get rid of the quarterly estimated tax requirements and associated penalties for everyone except those who are habitually late (after April 15) filing their return and/or paying their taxes. Few things in our tax system are more complicated than trying to figure whether or not you paid enough estimated taxes, whether they were paid on time, and/or the penalty for not doing so. Even the IRS acknowledges how complicated it is to figure out this penalty, as they offer to calculate it for you.
Third, I would eliminate the annual limits on capital losses as well as those special “wash sale” rules, which further restrict the writing off of capital losses. The reporting of capital gains has never been limited and neither should capital losses. “Wash sale” rules restrict the writing off of capital losses for stocks and mutual funds sold at loss but bought back again within 30 days. As I mentioned in a previous writing, these rules can get very complicated, with those for figuring the estimated tax penalty being the only ones that are more difficult to understand.
Fourth, I would keep personal exemptions and child tax credits intact but eliminate all deductions except for charitable contributions and mortgage interest on one’s primary dwelling. There would be no standard deduction or Earned Income Tax Credit.
Fifth, I would eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). This is probably the third most complicated item in the tax law. It was designed to make sure the rich pay at least some taxes, but the elimination of most deductions would accomplish this goal now by taking away most of their shelters.
Sixth, I would make some adjustments to inheritance and gift taxes. For the most part, they would not be treated any differently than ordinary income. However, there would be some exceptions. Inheritances and gifts passed from one spouse to another would be exempt from federal taxes. Inheritances of family farms and other legitimate businesses by any family member from another would not be taxable.
These changes would benefit individuals by making the tax system less complicated for everyone and taking a smaller percentage of income from most taxpayers (especially the middle class). The government would benefit from collecting more taxes because more people would be working and receiving higher incomes (as this system would encourage more investment in infrastructure). Also, more people would be encouraged to make more taxable passive income. The current system discourages taxable passive income. In addition, the extremely wealthy would have fewer options for sheltering their income.