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If you said those often demonized oil companies, you’re correct. According to Forbes, Conoco Phillips, Exxon, and Chevron top the list with tax rates of 51%, 47% and 43% respectively. Coming in at the bottom of the list with a 0% tax rate, yes ZERO percent, are General Electric (GE), Bank of America, Citigroup, and Valero.
How is it possible that you pay a higher tax rate than General Electric? Well according to a companion Forbes article:
Avoiding taxes is nothing new for General Electric. In 2008 its effective tax rate was 5.3%; in 2007 it was 15%. The marginal U.S. corporate rate is 35%.
How did this happen? It’s complicated. GE’s tax return is the largest the IRS deals with each year–some 24,000 pages if printed out. Its annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission weighs in at more than 700 pages.
Inside you’ll find that GE in effect consists of two divisions: General Electric Capital and everything else. The everything else–maker of engines, power plants, TV shows and the like–would have paid a 22% tax rate if it was a standalone company.
It’s GE Capital that keeps the overall tax bill so low. Over the last two years, GE Capital has displayed an uncanny ability to lose lots of money in the U.S. (posting a $6.5 billion loss in 2009), and make lots of money overseas (a $4.3 billion gain). Not only do the U.S. losses balance out the overseas gains, but GE can defer taxes on that overseas income indefinitely. The timing of big deductions for depreciation in GE Capital’s equipment leasing business also provides a tax benefit, as will loan losses left over from the credit crunch.
But it’s the tax benefit of overseas operations that is the biggest reason why multinationals end up with lower tax rates than the rest of us. It only makes sense that multinationals “put costs in high-tax countries and profits in low-tax countries,” says Scott Hodge, president of the Tax Foundation. Those low-tax countries are almost anywhere but the U.S. “When you add in state taxes, the U.S. has the highest tax burden among industrialized countries,” says Hodge. In contrast, China’s rate is just 25%; Ireland’s is 12.5%.
Other notable companies and their tax rates are: Walmart (34.2%), AT & T (32.4%), Berkshire Hathaway (30%), J.P. Morgan Chase (27.5%), CVS Caremark (37.3%0, Wells Fargo (30.3%), Kroger (35.8%), and Costco (36.7%).