Bank of America And GE Pay Zero Federal Taxes…Surprised?
After another money-losing year, Bank of America Corp. got the upper hand with Uncle Sam in 2010.
The Charlotte-based bank had no federal income tax expense for a second straight year and actually reported a tax “benefit” of nearly $1 billion. Also, the bank’s billions in accumulated losses could reduce its taxes in future years, a tax expert said.
The bank says the reason is simple: Corporations pay taxes on their profits, and Bank of America posted a pre-tax loss of $5.4 billion in the U.S. in 2010.
“Bank of America takes its role as a corporate citizen very seriously, and pays taxes in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations,” bank spokesman Jerry Dubrowski said.
That doesn’t satisfy a group that has been staging protests at Bank of America branches around the country and crashed the bank’s New York investor conference this month. The bank is an “aggressive tax dodger,” said Ryan Clayton, a Washington-based organizer of U.S. Uncut. “We pay our taxes. Why don’t they?”
Clayton’s group suggests Bank of America and other large U.S. companies are using subsidiaries in offshore tax havens to eliminate their taxes.
Bank of America and other companies do avoid paying taxes on profits they make in overseas operations by reinvesting these proceeds overseas, instead of bringing them back home. Some business leaders recently have called for a lower tax rate on these earnings, a move they contend would encourage companies to bring these profits to the U.S.
General Electric, the nation’s largest corporation, had a very good year in 2010.
The company reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States.
Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.
That may be hard to fathom for the millions of American business owners and households now preparing their own returns, but low taxes are nothing new for G.E. The company has been cutting the percentage of its American profits paid to the Internal Revenue Service for years, resulting in a far lower rate than at most multinational companies.
Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore. G.E.’s giant tax department, led by a bow-tied former Treasury official named John Samuels, is often referred to as the world’s best tax law firm. Indeed, the company’s slogan “Imagination at Work” fits this department well. The team includes former officials not just from the Treasury, but also from the I.R.S. and virtually all the tax-writing committees in Congress.
While General Electric is one of the most skilled at reducing its tax burden, many other companies have become better at this as well. Although the top corporate tax rate in the United States is 35 percent, one of the highest in the world, companies have been increasingly using a maze of shelters, tax credits and subsidies to pay far less.
In a regulatory filing just a week before the Japanese disaster put a spotlight on the company’s nuclear reactor business, G.E. reported that its tax burden was 7.4 percent of its American profits, about a third of the average reported by other American multinationals. Even those figures are overstated, because they include taxes that will be paid only if the company brings its overseas profits back to the United States. With those profits still offshore, G.E. is effectively getting money back.
Such strategies, as well as changes in tax laws that encouraged some businesses and professionals to file as individuals, have pushed down the corporate share of the nation’s tax receipts — from 30 percent of all federal revenue in the mid-1950s to 6.6 percent in 2009.
The assortment of tax breaks G.E. has won in Washington has provided a significant short-term gain for the company’s executives and shareholders. While the financial crisis led G.E. to post a loss in the United States in 2009, regulatory filings show that in the last five years, G.E. has accumulated $26 billion in American profits, and received a net tax benefit from the I.R.S. of $4.1 billion.
But critics say the use of so many shelters amounts to corporate welfare, allowing G.E. not just to avoid taxes on profitable overseas lending but also to amass tax credits and write-offs that can be used to reduce taxes on billions of dollars of profit from domestic manufacturing. They say that the assertive tax avoidance of multinationals like G.E. not only shortchanges the Treasury, but also harms the economy by discouraging investment and hiring in the United States.