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Big Companies Like FedEx and Nike Paid No Federal Taxes

Just as the Biden administration is pushing to raise taxes on corporations, a new study finds that at least 55 of America’s largest paid no taxes last year on billions of dollars in profits.The sweeping tax bill passed in 2017 by a Republican Congress and signed into law by President Donald J. Trump reduced the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent. But dozens of Fortune 500 companies were able to further shrink their tax bill — sometimes to zero — thanks to a range of legal deductions and exemptions that have become staples of the tax code, according to the analysis.Salesforce, …

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Biden’s Push for Electric Cars: $174 Billion, 10 Years and a Bit of Luck

But production is only one piece of the puzzle. The transition away from gas-powered vehicles rests on convincing consumers of the benefits of electric vehicles. That hasn’t been easy because the cars have higher sticker prices even though researchers say that they cost less to own. Electricity is cheaper on a per mile basis than gasoline, and E.V.s require less routine maintenance — there is no oil to change — than combustion-engine cars.The single biggest cost of an electric car comes from the battery, which can run about $15,000 for a midsize sedan. That cost has been dropping and …

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The Triple Tax Break You May Be Missing: A Health Savings Account

The federal government’s pandemic relief program expanded what H.S.A.s can pay for, including nonprescription medicine like pain relief and allergy pills, and menstrual products like tampons and pads. (The I.R.S. has a full list of eligible items.)Some employers match contributions to H.S.A.s as they do retirement savings. But self-employed people and contractors can open them, too.People often confuse H.S.A.s with other types of health accounts, such as flexible health spending accounts. But unlike F.S.A.s, health savings accounts are portable: If you change jobs …

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Biden Wants to Raise Taxes, Yet Many Trump Tax Cuts Are Here to Stay

During the presidential campaign, Mr. Biden proposed trillions of dollars in tax increases on corporations and the rich, but his plans stopped short of a full repeal of Mr. Trump’s tax law. He said he would raise income taxes to pre-Trump levels only at the top bracket, an increase to 39.6 percent from 37 percent. He called for raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent, where Mr. Trump set it — still short of the top rate of 35 percent that preceded the law.Even Mr. Biden’s international tax plan, which is meant to encourage domestic investment and job creation …

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How Biden’s Proposed Paid Leave Would Work

More Americans may soon be able to take more than three months of paid leave from work for sickness or to care for children and family members during the pandemic, if Congress approves a plan proposed by President-elect Biden.Last spring, the first coronavirus relief package included paid leave. But a limited group of workers was eligible, and it expired in December. Now, as part of a wide-ranging plan to respond to the pandemic, the incoming administration has proposed reinstating and significantly expanding it.What kind of reasons can it be used for?Mr. Biden proposed offering paid leave to …

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Tesla Might Finally Have Some Competition. From Ford.

The Mustang Mach-E and the Volkswagen ID.4, which is due in dealerships in March, go about 250 miles on a full charge — about the same as the cheapest version of Tesla’s Model Y — and start at about $43,000 and $40,000. The base Model Y starts at about $42,000, but the Ford and Volkswagen models are eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit that will lower the final cost to well under $40,000, or close to the average price of new cars sold in the United States. The tax credit no longer applies to purchases of Teslas.Start-up automakers will also put new cars on the …

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What’s in Biden’s $1.9 Trillion Stimulus Plan

The incoming Biden administration unveiled a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan on Thursday that offered a wish list of spending measures meant to help both people and the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic, from state and local aid and more generous unemployment benefits to mass vaccinations.Below, we run through a few of the biggest provisions, how they would work and what they might mean for the United States economy as it struggles through a winter of surging coronavirus cases and partial state and local lockdowns.Let’s put that headline number in context.That $1.9 trillion figure is a lot of …

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Despite Challenges, Opportunity Zones Provide Much-Needed Capital

Following a slow rollout of rules governing opportunity zones, a program Congress approved three years ago to encourage investment in low-income neighborhoods, developers have pumped billions of dollars into the zones nationwide, even in the midst of the pandemic.The program has drawn myriad detractors, including critics who charge investors are using it simply to avoid paying taxes. Others point to a lack of transparency that makes it tough to gauge whether the investments are making a real impact on communities.The Trump administration has resisted providing much federal reporting or oversight, but some states and cities are using the …

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How a Century of Real-Estate Tax Breaks Enriched Donald Trump

Twenty-five years before he was elected president, Donald J. Trump went to Capitol Hill to complain that Congress had closed too many tax loopholes. He warned that one industry, in particular, had been severely harmed: real estate.

The recent demise of real-estate tax shelters, part of a landmark 1986 overhaul of the tax code, was “an absolute catastrophe for the country,” Mr. Trump testified to Congress that day in November 1991.

“Real estate really means so many jobs,” he said. “You create so many other things. They buy carpet. They buy furniture. They buy refrigerators. They buy other things that fuel the economy.”

Mr. Trump was sounding a theme that has made real estate perhaps the tax code’s most-favored industry.

Legislators lapped it up. Mr. Trump and his fellow real estate investors got much of what he wanted, including the ability to fully deduct losses — sometimes only on paper — against other income.

Mr. Trump’s low taxes over the years were largely a product of his businesses hemorrhaging money, according to federal tax records obtained by The New York Times. But the records also show that so-called depreciation losses and other benefits for the real estate industry have helped Mr. Trump reduce his federal income taxes. In 2016 and 2017, Mr. Trump paid $750.

From the beginning, the real estate industry, with its claim to be a bedrock of the American way of life and its formidable lobbying power and lavish campaign contributions, has held disproportionate sway over how tax laws are written.

Tax breaks for real estate have been embedded in the federal income tax law for a century. New benefits sprouted up every few years. Even when lawmakers cracked down on business-friendly tax treatment, they often made special exceptions for real estate.

“The real estate industry has enjoyed the most lucrative tax breaks for decades,” said Victor Fleischer, a tax law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and former chief tax counsel for the Senate Finance Committee. The industry “thinks of the tax code as a basket of goodies to feast on rather than a financial obligation of doing business.”

The perks come in many varieties. One allows real estate investors to avoid capital-gains taxes when they sell properties as long as they use the proceeds to quickly buy others. Another gives developers a big break on taxes when they spend money on historical preservation.

Foremost among them is a deduction for depreciation, a provision originally included in the federal tax code in response to lobbying by the railroad industry.

Taxpayers are allowed to deduct from their annual taxable income a portion of the cost of an asset such as a locomotive or a building, as well as money spent on improving that asset. If you buy a building for $270,000, you can deduct $10,000 a year from your taxable income for 27 years. A profitable business can actually report losses on its tax returns because of depreciation deductions.

The tax benefit was meant to reflect the deterioration in value over time of an asset. But for the real estate industry, it can be a boondoggle: Many buildings kept in reasonable repair increase in value over time, unlike, say, cars or computers.

Depreciation is the ultimate tax shelter, critics say, because it permits real estate investors to take deductions for spending other people’s money. If a bank lends an investor $70 million to buy a $100 million office building, and none of the principal gets repaid for a decade — a common structure for such loans — the investor still gets to deduct that $100 million over several years, even though only $30 million of that is his own money.

In 1962, Congress passed rules that made the depreciation tax break less lucrative when someone sold the asset on which they had been taking deductions. But Congress exempted real estate.

“The real estate lobby always had a stronghold,” recalled Donald Lubick, at the time a top tax official in President John F. Kennedy’s Treasury Department.

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Credit…Zach Gibson for The New York Times

Mr. Trump has taken hundreds of millions of dollars in depreciation deductions, his tax records show.

Most but not all of his depreciation expenses since 2010 stemmed from money he spent improving his golf courses and on transforming the Old Post Office building in Washington into a luxury hotel. Some of that spending was done with nearly $300 million that he borrowed from Deutsche Bank.

“That’s Trump’s story,” said Michael Graetz, a top tax official in the first Bush administration and now a professor at Columbia Law School. “His losses are somebody else’s money.”

Mr. Trump has publicly credited depreciation with lowering his tax bills. “I love depreciation,” he said during a presidential debate in 2016.

In reality, the fact that his businesses were losing money was a major factor in reducing his taxes.

For example, for Mr. Trump’s commercial real estate properties that reported losses between 2010 and 2018, about half of the losses — $54 million — came from depreciation, his tax records show.

Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, also has benefited from depreciation. The Times reported in 2018 that he likely didn’t pay federal income taxes for years, largely because he took deductions from depreciation.

In 1986, Congress reined in depreciation benefits and capped the amount of losses that real estate investors could use to offset other income.

The changes were meant to combat a proliferation of tax shelters in which investors put money into real estate partnerships that, thanks to depreciation, generated enormous only-on-paper losses that then canceled out income from other sources.

“The tax shelters were out of control,” said Daniel Shaviro, a tax professor at the New York University School of Law who worked on the Joint Congressional Committee on Taxation and helped draft the 1986 law. “Every lawyer and dentist had one.”

Knowing the real estate industry would mobilize, the congressional tax committee kept the proposed changes under wraps as long as possible. The industry “was caught flat-footed,” Mr. Shaviro said. Even so, “I knew they’d get it back thanks to their raw political power.”

It didn’t take long.

Mr. Trump, who blamed the 1986 law for a subsequent fall in real estate prices and a deep recession, was one of several developers who urged lawmakers to restore the breaks in full.

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Credit…Marcy Nighswander/Associated Press

In 1993 Congress restored those breaks. At the same time, it carved out another advantage for the real estate industry. For most businesses, canceled or forgiven debts had to be recognized as income. Real estate investors for the most part got a pass, though they had to relinquish some future deductions. Mr. Trump has benefited from those rules, such as when his lenders canceled about $270 million of debt on his Chicago skyscraper, his tax records show.

Then Mr. Trump ran for president. On the campaign trail, he acknowledged that he had been a big winner from the tax code’s favoritism toward the real estate industry. He said his expertise on the subject would help him close loopholes and make the tax code fairer.

“The unfairness of the tax laws is unbelievable,” Mr. Trump said in 2016. “It’s something I’ve been talking about for a long time, despite, frankly, being a big beneficiary of the laws. But I’m working for you now. I’m not working for Trump.”

But Republicans’ 2017 tax overhaul, which remains Mr. Trump’s signature legislative achievement, expanded and enhanced several lucrative tax breaks for real estate developers. For example, while the law barred people and companies from avoiding capital-gains taxes by selling one property and buying another, one industry was exempted: real estate.

The law was a boon to people, like Mr. Trump, who owned golf courses. It permitted real estate investors to immediately write off the full cost of various expenses, including improvements to golf courses.

In recent years Mr. Trump has also taken advantage of a tax credit that covered 20 percent of developers’ costs of rehabilitating historical structures, which is meant to encourage the preservation of old buildings.

Mr. Trump has said that he spent $200 million transforming the Old Post Office Building in Washington, a designated landmark, into a luxury hotel. That could translate into a tax credit of as much as $40 million, which Mr. Trump could use to offset his taxes for up to 20 years. (The caveat is that such tax credits reduce a developer’s ability to take other tax deductions in the future.)

Mr. Trump’s tax records show that in 2017 he used at least $1.5 million in historical preservation tax credits. That was one of the reasons his federal income tax bill that year was only $750.

The 2017 law made that tax benefit less generous, reducing it to 4 percent from 20 percent of the rehabilitation costs. But properties opened before 2017 were exempted. Mr. Trump’s hotel opened in 2016.

Russ Buettner contributed reporting.