This comment was posted earlier this week on WalletPop, in response to a discussion about loans from 401(k) plans. I generally advise against taking loans from your 401(k) or other retirement plan, because before you know it, that loan could turn into a distribution. (Example: The company you work for shuts down. You have a short period of time in which to repay your 401(k) loan in full or it becomes a distribution.) Early distributions from 401(k)s are expensive. You generally lose about 50% of your money to income tax, interest and penalties. Ouch!
As part of our discussion on WalletPop, this commenter brought up the Fair Tax. I’ve become very interested in the concept of the Fair Tax recently and have been doing some reading on it. This gentleman provides good information and insight about it:
There are no penalties or taxes levied on retirement distributions under the FairTax plan now pending in Congress. In fact, there are no taxes on income whatsoever. The FairTax replaces all income taxes and payroll taxes (FICA) with a national consumption tax. The 23% rate is calculated to replace all income and payroll taxes now collected by the federal government.
There has been much misunderstanding-deliberately promoted by income tax system defenders recently-about the effects of the FairTax on different income segments of the taxpaying public. Let’s clear the air a bit.
The greatest benefits of tax reductions under the FairTax, according to respected economists, accrue to low income taxpayers (an average 14% reduction) then middle class taxpayers (an average 7% reduction) and then even to the wealthy (an average 5% reduction).
How can this be and still raise enough revenues to replace all taxes now collected under the income tax system? It’s because the taxpayers base is dramatically broadened under a consumption tax by bringing in illegal immigrants, as consumers, and the $1.5 trillion annual underground economy. In addition, the very wealthy pay the full 23% rate on spending, which is an increase over the typical 15% capital gains tax now paid on dividends and stock gains when redeemed (Warren Buffet’s recent complaint). In a nutshell, the more you spend under the FairTax, the more taxes you pay. Remember, too, that all the gimmicks that those with tax lobbyists and tax lawyers are able to exploit in the current 67,500 pages of income tax regulations also disappear (along with the role of tax lobbyists as there are no exemptions, loopholes or deductions).
The President’s Advisory Panel on Tax Reform declared that taxes would go up on the middle class under a consumption tax when they ignored the definitions in the actual pending FairTax legislation and created their own flawed consumption tax. They quietly loaded it with exemptions they felt more “realistic”, ignored the distributional effects of eliminating highly regressive FICA taxes (you know, the ones that represent the highest tax payments by low and moderate income taxpayers) and refused to examine the $22 million of FairTax research. They then declared a consumption tax (which many writers have wrongly assumed was the FairTax) as requiring a higher rate and punitive to the middle class.
The FairTax monthly prebate actually wipes out all federal taxes on the poor and a diminishing amount of taxes are reimbursed the further one is from the poverty line.
There is great resistance to the FairTax within the circles of those who profit from the complexities of the income tax code. Last year 53% of all lobby expenditures in Washington, DC were paid to tax lobbyists. It’s big business that includes not only lobbyists and tax related think tanks and tax reform groups (entirely devoted to tweaking the income tax code) but academicians who have built careers on understanding the arcane details of the code.
The center of resistance to a simple, transparent system without gimmicks–are the Congressional tax writing committees themselves. In truth, Congressional Members from both parties are addicted to using the tax code to reward friends and contributors, punish opponents and inept attempts to manipulate citizen behavior through the code. In other words, our tax writing process is driven by all the wrong reasons.
This is the single biggest reason that our tax code is so complex that it costs taxpayers $265 billion a year just to complete tax returns. It is so complex that the IRS can’t answer taxpayer questions right more than six of ten times. It is so complex, the IRS comes up $350 billion short of owed taxes every year (raising the average taxpayer bill by about $2,000 annually).
On the merits, the FairTax takes politics out of the tax code and the tax code out of business decisions. It is the politics that are tough because passage requires overcoming powerful institutional players. To this end, Mike Huckabee and a host of other candidates have joined 72 Congressional co-sponsors and a growing army of citizens who believe that the public can still drive public policy (a novel idea first suggested by the Founding Fathers). Otherwise, we are stuck with a system that makes debt more favorable than wealth, puts the “Made in America” label at a severe competitive disadvantage and punishes labor and investment. It’s a system driven by politics, power and profit instead of economics or fairness. It’s a lucrative gig for those in Washington and a destructive torture for everyone else.
Instead of borrowing money from the Chinese to pay out rebates to American taxpayers (as welcome as they will be) maybe we should think about what happens to the American economy when we make the USA the most desirable “tax haven” in the world. We have lost at least $12 trillion in American capital to offshore locations in recent years. Economists who have studied the FairTax agree that this wealth and a lot more in foreign investment will rush to our shores once the FairTax is enacted.
As FairTaxers say, “Dare to Be Fair”. The FairTax won’t be perfect and the transition will require adjustments but compared to the badly broken income tax system that so bedevils taxpayers and damages our economy, it’s well worth it.
The FairTax research-as well as a recent article on how the FairTax helps the middle class by brilliant Boston University economics chair, Larry Kotlikoff, can be found at FairTax.org