The NY Times story on Trump’s taxes is a blatant mischaracterization to anyone with a basic understanding of corporate finance. And while everyone in the media is reporting that the NY Times has Trump’s tax returns, that claims renders suspect after a quick read with an independent mind. You see, the so-called media elite in our nation refuse to critically assess information that runs counter to their bias. It’s why independent news blogs attract larger audiences year after year. It’s up to the free thinkers to report the news and share the truth.
The NY Times does not have Trump’s tax returns. The authors describe the information they have as ‘tax return DATA’ or ‘tax return INFORMATION.’
Here are examples, directly quoted from the article:
• ‘The New York Times has obtained tax-return information‘
• ‘The New York Times has obtained tax-return data‘
• ‘The tax data examined by The Times’
‘Tax return data’ or ‘tax return information’ has a subtle, but important distinction from ‘tax returns’ per se. ‘Tax returns’ per se suggests the actual certified tax returns. The former could describe a broad spectrum of tax data. The former could describe a spreadsheet summarizing tax data, a tax software export, or a tax account summary from the IRS.
Ask yourself: Why would the NY Times use the phrase ‘tax return data’ and not just ‘tax returns’ at the most pivotal point of the article? Why not start their story with, ‘we secured his tax returns and here is what we found?’ It’s more powerful than their current introduction.
The most likely explanation is that they don’t have his actual IRS tax returns. The fact the NY Times refuses to produce the documents, or name their sources increases the likelihood of this explanation. We don’t know what tax data they have. This becomes obvious after with precise read of their so-called exposé. In order to accept their conclusions, we are left to trust the same newspaper that has pushed several discredited Trump narratives since 2016.
For the sake of argument, let’s say the NY Times has official tax transcripts from the IRS. These transcripts are high-level summaries and do not provide enough contextual data to support some of their conclusions. To develop their conclusions, they use 3rd party data sources to connect the dots. The most repugnant is ‘a trove’ of data on individuals other than Donald Trump. This data includes ‘thousands’ of tax returns from private citizens and businesses, sensitive ’employee compensation’ records, and other ‘confidential’ sources.
From the NY Times: ‘The trove included years of employee compensation information… dozens of interviews and previously unreported material from other sources, both public and confidential.’– NY Times. Buettner, R., Craig, S., & Mcintire, M.
This is shocking, reckless and a violation of privacy for hundreds of private citizens.
It also leaves their conclusions susceptible to conjecture. We do not know what conclusions in their ‘bombshell’ were based on tax return data, the dozens of interviews or other unspecified sources. For all we know, the claim that Trump only paid $750/year in taxes could be based on a subjective and incomplete interview. This isn’t far fetched. As we point out below, the NY Times appears to push conclusions that err on the side of making Trump look bad, instead of the explanation a tax expert would deem most likely.
But the article is worse than erring on on the side of making Trump look bad. They intentionally confound, confuse and obfuscate. The NY Times does not want the reader to understand the very technical and specific subtext used on tax forms and financial documents. Instead, they sloppily use industry terms, reducing their exact and specific meaning to the obscure vernacular. The result characterizes the entire narrative in a way that bares no resemblance to the reality a technical analysis would produce. While this type of ‘spin’ is expected from political campaigns, we generally look to the press to provide truth.
Here are just a few of the items the NY Times did not fully explain or pushed the worst possible interpretation for President Trump. (This is by no means a definitive or authoritative list of every item in the hitjob).
- The NY Times Implies Paper Losses are Real Losses
The NY Times uses ‘business losses’ on a tax transcript and ‘business failure’ as synonyms. These terms are not always synonyms. A company can be cash positive, self-sufficient, and still report a loss on a tax return.
They confuse these definitions to suggest that Trump is a business failure. But the NY Times isn’t interested in a full and accurate account. They want to make Trump look bad. So they imply and even argue that the losses must be the result of business failure and not depreciation of leveraged investments or some of the thousands of ways a business can deduct expenses.
- The Times Only Assumes The Slowest Depreciation Schedule, Ignores Faster Options
The NY Times says that ‘depreciation costs must be spread out as expenses and deducted over the useful life of the asset.’ While this is the standard rule, the NY Times doesn’t include special situations. There are common ‘bonus’ situations where you can deduct at a faster rate. It’s very common to depreciate a significant portion of a property’s value in 10 years, as opposed to the standard 39 years. In some cases, businesses can even deduct 100% of the depreciation in the first year.
Here again, they assume depreciation has only one set of rules. This is a convenient assumption. They apply the set of rules that pushes the worst possible narrative for the President. When they apply this narrow rule in the article, they are not applying the most likely rule Trump used. This renders the conclusion mostly false.
For example, his paper losses can be amplified significantly if he leverages his real estate assets, performs a cost segregation study, or applies a ‘bonus’ depreciation. This would extend his ‘losses’ far past the limits the NY Times article places. (Taxpayers can also extend these losses across DOUBLE the years, thanks to an Obama/Biden era loophole).
- The Times Neglects to Consider The Nuances Between Revenue, Income, Earnings & Profit for Compliance Purposes
The NY Times uses revenue and income as synonyms. They are not. They also use earnings and profit as synonyms. They are not.
The New York Times wants people to think Trump is reporting different numbers for his income — suggesting dishonesty. Here is one of their examples:
‘Mr. Trump announced in his disclosure that he had made at least $434.9 million. The tax records deliver a very different portrait of his bottom line: $47.4 million in losses.’
Here is the truth. Financial disclosure often only require a subset of information in a tax return. He’s complying with the specific documents and numbers required for both records. They don’t always include the same financial components. They are not incompatible. This is an issue of the compliance requirements for each form, which they conveniently ignore in their conclusions.
- The Times Implies They Have Full Tax Return Data, When They Likely Have Summaries
The NY Times is likely drawing their conclusions from a tax transcripts (but again, we don’t know). These transcripts are not Trump’s tax returns. A tax transcript is a very high level summary of all the forms submitted as part of a tax return. They are judging a book by it’s cover and making conclusions based off that cover.
Again, this is why the NY Times is careful to use the term ‘tax return data’ at pivotal points in their ‘bombshell.’ This point, in and of itself, renders the entire story suspect.
- The Times Assumes the Worst Possible Explanation for Debt Forgiven, Ignores Other Common Explanations
The NY Times assumes having debt forgiven is the same as not paying your bills. Businesses often employ experts to renegotiate the terms of a lease or lien. This could look like ‘forgiven debt’ on a tax return, but could just be a renegotiation of the original terms.
The New Your Times doesn’t want you to know about this common practice in business. Instead, they write the story as if Trump defaulted on his debt. And even if he did technically default, there are many reasons you can technically default on a loan, but still be in good standing with your lenders. These arrogant reporters simply assume the worst possible interpretation for Trump.
- The Times Neglects Estimated Tax Payments
@alexthechick highlighted that the NY Times did not review all tax payments Trump made in 2016 and 2017. ‘Trump PAID, as in transferred to the US Treasury, $1 million in 2016 and $4.2 million in 2017. The $750 figure is an ADDITIONAL $750. Thus every single story saying he paid $750 is a lie.’
7. The Times Ignores Expected Gains But Includes Expected Cost When Painting Trump’s Overall Financial Picture
The New York Times does not account for expected gains, only current costs and expected costs using debt schedules that are likely outdated.
There are actually so many more examples in the story, but you get the point. Other people will find more logical fallacies in this hitjob. It will be discredited. Then, once the news cycle ends, they manufacture the next bombshell.
Without a clear methodology to their conclusions — which includes the specifics on their sources — their conclusions are suspect. Since there is significant evidence of bias with the information we know, just imagine the liberties the NY Times took with the information they hold secret.
The NY Times Trump tax ‘bombshell’ is a fake news dud.
Hypothetical Depreciation Example
Here is one example of how a person or company can show massive losses through depreciation and other tax credits to reduce a tax liability. Trump has the resources, accountants and the lenders to significantly and legally amplify his tax losses. It’s not to say he is setup like this. This example is meant to point out that there are other common interpretations to the NY Times’ raw data.
Note: This is not advice. This is only general information and may or may not apply to you considering your entire picture. Please consult a professional if you want advice as it relates to your situation.
The IRS gives huge deductions to paper losses. These paper losses can directly reduce a tax bill. In fact, as the NY Times points out in their story, the Obama/Biden administration DOUBLED the number of years someone can request a refund from previous years’ tax payments, for paper losses in the current tax year.
In the world of real estate, the IRS has a depreciation deduction for the useful life of a building. A commercial property, according to the IRS, can last 39 years. The IRS permits the building’s owner to take a loss of 1/39th of the building every year.
If the owner orders a cost segregation study, he or she might be able to take a large portion of the depreciation over a 10 year period.
Lastly, some investors may be able to take a bonus depreciation and deduct 100% of the depreciation deduction of certain assets during the first year, although this option is not permanent and will expire in 2023.
In the 1/39th example, if a building’s cost is $10,000,000.00, the developer could take a loss of about $250,000.00 every single year for 39 years. This paper loss could offset his or her other income, even if the other income is not related to the building with losses. It appears the NY Times doesn’t realize these losses can offset unrelated income from some of the assumptions they made, but again, we don’t know what data they have.
The more debt a developer has, the more paper losses he or she can claim. Even if the developer uses other people’s money to finance the building, the developer, in this example, can take the depreciation of the entire $160,000,000.00.
In addition, the interest and mortgage on this debt is deductible. Oh, operating and countless of other costs associated with running a business can be deducted as well.
It’s no secret Trump uses other people’s money to finance his projects. When you leverage your position with debt, these paper losses can multiply exponentially on paper, relative to the current P&L profile. The new loans combined with one of the faster depreciation schedules, could amplify the paper losses, but keep the positive cash flow. Debt is used as a tool to offset taxes.
The ‘bombshell’ claims Trump has $400M in debt. However, the times offers no meaningful analysis of the associated properties with that debt. In fact, the NY Times leaves out expected gains in their analysis.
If the associated assets have an increase in value, Trump can restructure the loan with better terms. This is what Trump does. He negotiates. He buys properties, renovates them, attaches his brand name so that the asset’s value increases. Theoretically, if Trump does renegotiates debt terms, he may have a ‘forgiven debt’ line item because of savvy negotiation.
In addition, the excess paper losses in this hypothetical example could be used to obtain a refund for prior years’ tax payments. The NY Times’ claims that Trump is requesting a $70M refund from the IRS. But this also means he paid at least $70M in recent taxes to be eligible. Lastly, the number of eligible years for which a taxpayer can be refunded DOUBLED under the Obama/Biden administration.
Oh, the irony.
In addition to these real estate specific tax benefits, there are other tax incentives available to eligible Americans. Mitt Romney used a special IRA to avoid taxes. Joe Biden used an an S-Corp loophole to reduce his effective tax rate. And almost everyone knows about Amazon.com’s tax rate.
Therefore, If you are offended by the NY Times hitjob, ask yourself these questions:
- Is it logical to blame Trump for hiring good accountants?
- Is it logical to blame the IRS? For the most part, they are just following and enforcing the laws created by congress.
- Who created our tax system?
- Do you think congress will ever take responsibility for the tax code?
In the end, don’t hate the player, hate the game.
Other Voices, Same Conclusions
Other voices are arriving at the same conclusions. In this video, Tim Pool explains how the media falsely claimed that Trump only paid 750$ in 2016 and 2017. In reality the New York Time’s revealed Trump overpaid by millions, $1M in 2016 and 4.2M in 2017.
Thanks in advance for sharing!