Paul L. Caron

Thursday, February 18, 2010

IRS Releases 2007 Tax Return Data on Wealthiest 400 Americans: Income Soared 31% (to $345m), Tax Rate Fell 3.2% (to 16.6%)

The IRS has released Individual Income Tax Data of Taxpayers with the Top 400 Adjusted Gross Income:

This release contains four tables which contain information from the Top 400 Individual Income Tax Returns for each of Tax Years 1992 through 2007. Table 1 contains frequencies, money amounts, and average dollar amounts for the major income, deduction, and tax credits reported as part of the Form 1040 (U.S. Individual Income Tax Return). Table 2 shows ranges of marginal tax rate for the various statutory rates (including the alternative minimum tax rates) that were in effect for Tax Years 1992 through 2007 while Table 3 shows the range of average tax rates up to 35 percent and over, computed as total income tax divided by adjusted gross income.

The data in Tables 1 - 3 are based on the individual returns with the largest adjusted gross income reported each specific year shown and do not necessarily reflect the same taxpayers over the 16-year time period reflected. Therefore, Table 4 is available to present the number of times an individual return appeared among the 400 largest adjusted gross incomes for each of tax years 1992 through 2007.



AGI of

Top 400

Tax Rate of

Top 400

% of

Total AGI

































































The 400 Individual Income Tax Returns Reporting the Highest Adjusted Gross Income Each Year, 1992-2000, by Michael Parisi & Michael Strudler

David Cay Johnston examines the data in Tax Rates for Top 400 Earners Fall as Income Soars, IRS Data Show:

The incomes of the top 400 American households soared to a new record high in dollars and as a share of all income in 2007, while the income tax rates they paid fell to a record low, newly disclosed tax data show.

In 2007 the top 400 taxpayers had an average income of $344.8 million, up 31% from their average $263.3 million income in 2006, according to figures in a report that the IRS posted to its Web site....

Their effective income tax rate fell to 16.62%, down more than half a percentage point from 17.17% in 2006, the new data show. ...

Since 1992, the bottom 90% of Americans have seen their incomes rise by 13% in 2009 dollars, compared with an increase of 399% for the top 400.

The annual top 400 report was first made public by the Clinton administration, but the George W. Bush administration shut down access to the report. Its release was resumed a year ago when President Obama took office. The Statistics of Income Division at the IRS created the top 400 reports at the urging of Joel Slemrod, a business professor at the University of Michigan. ...

Most of the income going to the top 400 tax returns is from capital. Salaries and wages accounted for only 6.5% of the top 400's income in 2007, down from 7.4% in 2006 and 26.2% in 1992. The average salary rose from 2006 to 2007, however, just at a slower rate than overall income growth.

The biggest source of income was capital gains, which are taxed at a maximum rate of 15%. Gains accounted for 66.3% of 2007 income for the top 400, up from 62.8% in 2006 and 36.1% in 1992.

Only 7 of the top 400 have shown up in the report every year, the IRS data showed. Of the 6,400 returns covered by the 16 years of the report, the IRS said that 2,515, or almost 40%, appeared one time.

See this chart for the 1992-2007 data.

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The rich pay more than a fair share. Roughly 40% of people pay no tax at all. The reason the marginal rate is so low is because of the type of income involved, capital gains. They pay no less on a capital gain than anyone else. In fact, last year those in brackets 15% and below paid 0% on long-term gains.

The story below sums it up.

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay $1.
The sixth would pay $3.
The seventh would pay $7.
The eighth would pay $12.
The ninth would pay $18.
The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

So, that’s what they decided to do.

The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day the owner threw them a curve. “Since you are all such good customers,” he said, “I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20.” Drinks for the ten now cost just $80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men — the paying customers? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his “fair share”? They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer. So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay. And so:

The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).
The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33%savings).
The seventh now pay $5 instead of $7 (28%savings).
The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings).
The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings).
The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).

Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But once outside the bar, the men began to compare their savings.

“I only got a dollar out of the $20,” declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man, “but he got $10!”

“Yeah, that’s right,” exclaimed the fifth man. “I only saved a dollar, too. It’s unfair that he got ten times more than I!”

“That’s true!” shouted the seventh man. “Why should he get $10 back when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks!”

“Wait a minute,” yelled the first four men in unison. “We didn’t get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!”

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next night the tenth man didn’t show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn’t have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

Posted by: enrolled agent exam | Mar 7, 2010 6:07:53 PM

The incomes of the top 400 American households soared to a new record high in dollars and as a share of all income in 2007

That could be due to the numerator (AGI of the top 400) or the denominator (reported AGI). Given the growing numbers of workers freed from paying taxes, the denominator should not be forgotten.

Posted by: guy in the veal calf office | Feb 18, 2010 4:11:40 PM

These are some enlightening numbers and seeing the tax rate of the rich fall slightly may concern some but I think is an okay thing. This country is the "land of opportunity" and you shouldn't be penalized with higher taxes simply because you're more financially prosperous.

When that kind of thing happens it only encourages mediocrity and a welfare mentality.

Posted by: Linda Sorenson | Feb 18, 2010 3:45:46 PM