On January 1, Congress passed a bill to keep the government from leaping off the so-called "fiscal cliff" — a set of tax hikes so devastating that Washington insiders warned they would ricochet through the economy, plunge us back into recession, and possibly even send the earth spinning into the sun. That bill included raising the top marginal rate on taxable income over $400,000 ($450,000 for joint filers) from 35%, where it had stood for the last 12 years, to 39.6%.
39.6% may sound like a lot today. But it's still really quite low, as far as top rates are concerned. Back in 1935, the nation was mired in the depths of the Great Depression. Inflation was 3.71% and unemployment stood at a whopping 21.7%. As for taxes, the top rate reached 79% on income over $5 million (roughly $85,672,000 in today's dollars). But — and this is a pretty big but — according to tax historian Joseph Thorndike, just one person actually paid that rate: billionaire John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
So, lots of rich guys still had city mansions and country estates, even in the midst of the Depression. Lots of millionaires had yachts, jewels, and priceless art. But only Rockefeller was rich enough to have his own tax rate. And that got us thinking — what would some of today's rich and famous pay if they had their own tax rates?
- Mitt Romney ran for president on the strength of his business record. He took heat from progressives for using the "carried interest" rules to pay around 14% on his multimillion dollar income. But Romney made bigger headlines for a number he thought he was uttering in private — so we say his bespoke tax rate should be 47%.
- A year ago, British author E.L. James was just a former TV executive, wife and mom of two from the London suburbs. Since then, she's rocketed to fame with three books that some fans prefer to read on their Kindle (to avoid showing the cover). International tax planning leaves room for plenty of shades of grey, so we suggest she pay 50% on her U.S. income.
- Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco has had a big year. Last month, he led his underdog team to a Super Bowl victory over the favored San Francisco 49ers. Last week, he signed a $120.6 million contract making him the highest-paid player in NFL history. And it's only March! Flacco wears Number 5 for the Ravens, so we think it's only fair that he pay 5% of his income in tax. (Receiver Anquan Boldin, who wears Number 81, does not like where this discussion is going!)
- Reality "star" Kim Kardashian is back in the news again, this time for carrying rapper Kanye West's baby. Kardashian's previous relationship, a marriage to Brooklyn Nets power forward Kris Humphries, lasted 72 days — so we'll tax Kim at 72%.
- Kiefer Sutherland should pay 24%. Morley Safer should pay 60%. And Nick Lachey should pay 98%. (Not just because his band is named 98 Degrees, but because we should try and tax all "boy bands" out of existence.)
Who do you think should have their own tax rate, and what should they pay? Let us know! In the meantime, remember that you don't have to have your own tax rate to pay less. You just need a plan. That's what we're here for. And we're always here for your family, friends, and colleagues, too!
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