Secret IRS Files Reveal How Little the Wealthiest Pay in Taxes

IRS Investigating How the Info Was Leaked

ProPublica, a non-profit newsroom that investigates abuses of power, released a report of IRS information that shows how little some of the wealthiest Americans pay in income taxes — sometimes even nothing.

ProPublica obtained a vast amount of data on the tax returns of thousands of the nation’s wealthiest people over the past 15 years — people like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Michael Bloomberg, Rupert Murdoch, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg and thousands of others.

While the median American household earned about $70,000 annually and paid 14% in federal taxes, the highest income tax rate, 37%, kicked in this year, for couples, on earnings above $628,300.

The report showed how the uber-rich side-stepped the system.

These billionaires’ wealth derives from the skyrocketing value of their assets, like stock and property. Those gains are not defined by U.S. laws as taxable income unless and until the billionaires sell.

The analysis showed the top 25 people saw their worth rise a collective $401 billion from 2014 to 2018. They paid a total of $13.6 billion in federal income taxes in those five years, the IRS data shows. That’s a staggering sum, but it amounts to a true tax rate of only 3.4%.

From 2014 to 2018, the four richest people paid the following true tax rate:

  • Warren Buffett — 0.10%
  • Jeff Bezos — 0.98%
  • Michael Bloomberg — 1.30%
  • Elon Musk — 3.27%

The full ProPublica report has some nifty, if maddening, graphs and graphics to illustrate.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to comment directly on the ProPublica report, calling it an inappropriate disclosure of confidential information. She said the Treasury Department and the IRS had referred the matter to at least two inspectors general, the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia.