Smart TaxesSmart Taxes

GE is not the only company that pays little in taxes

Big companies use all the legal tools at their disposal to cut the amount they pay the government.

By Kay Bell Apr 1, 2011 3:56PM

It's been a week since we all learned about General Electric's innovation in the corporate tax realm.


The company's vice president for communications and public affairs, Gary Sheffer, responded to The New York Times' story breaking the GE's tax saving situation via a letter in Thursday's newspaper:

It was significant losses at GE Capital in the financial crisis, not 'tax avoidance' strategies, that reduced General Electric's 2010 overall tax ratebelow historic levels.
Without these financial crisis losses at GE Capital, G.E.'s tax rate would have been near the average of other multinational corporations. Our tax rate will return to more normal levels this year as GE Capital recovers from the financial crisis. In short, when you lose money, you don't pay taxes, and that's what happened at GE Capital.
The Times points out that G.E.'s job numbers in the United States are down over the past decade, but does not provide the context: G.E.’s employment in the United States has increased in this period, apart from the sale of businesses. Those jobs weren't eliminated; they moved to other companies.

While the GE tax situation has highlighted the corporate tax reform debate, the company is not alone in finding ways to reduce, or eliminate, tax liabilities.


The Daily Beast has put together a gallery of 15 major corporate tax dodgers. The website focused on the largest American companies, as well as ones it says are "are notorious in accounting circles for consistency in doing whatever they can to minimize their U.S. tax liability."


They are, alphabetically: Altria (formerly Philip Morris), Boeing, Devon Energy, General Electric, Goodrich, Google, Hartford, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, News Corp, Oracle, Pfizer and Time Warner. (Note: Microsoft publishes MSN Money.)


Again, no one is accusing these companies of tax illegalities. Their tax experts are simply taking full advantage of the Internal Revenue Code.


The firms utilized not only popular foreign tax havens, but also implemented strategies over the years that involved transfer pricing, depreciation, earnings repatriation and, more recently, Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds.


I liken the corporate tax game to another global sport, auto racing. Each major motorsports series has a set of rules, but there are many gray areas in the guidelines. The teams that figure out how to best exploit those fuzzy parameters are usually the ones that end up in victory lane.


And when it comes to taxes, the tax crew chiefs who know the tax code and where it can be pushed are the ones who lead their corporate teams to the tax winners' podium.


More from Don't Mess with Taxes and MSN Money:


Apr 3, 2011 4:30PM

There should be no loop holes. GE doesn't pay any taxes and a small family trying to make it pays more taxes there is something wrong with this picture. The little person always get screwed the rich get richer and the poor get poorer now what is fair in that ?

 If there were no loop holes and everybody had to pay a % the same % like a tithe that is what is fair and no body gets any refunds back this is what is fair.!!!!!!!

Apr 6, 2011 12:03PM

Our Founding Fathers never intended that the citizenry should be taxed. By their being busy about their crafts, all the buying and selling at the local level  would be sufficient to take care of the economy. Incidentally, this principle was set forth by none other than Jesus Himself. Read Matthew 17:24 -27. Note especially His declaration: "Then are the children free."

As for the running of the country as a whole, and the nation's maintenance in general, the government can raise all the monies that will be needed easily and readily by the stroke of a pen. It has the connections and the clout (that few of us, individuals have). It can by simply oiling the wheels of industry rake in huge sums, in super quick time. Millions, billions, and yea, trillions of dollars can be realized just by managing its trade missions, and the nation's manufacturing capabilities, like GE and the many other megamillion corporations well. And should it require more, still more millions and billions could be added to its coffers by a fair levy of taxes on what trade that goes on at the local level without oppressing any of its citizens with a personal income tax. Each item involved in the transaction for example, could be taxed to provide the money that could be used in the daily operation of the state and local government. The taxation on consumers, really, need not be much for it to total up.

This country would be the happiest, and the most productive, plus the most envied if our leaders would grasp the first principles of blessings between any ruler and its subjects - that as was originally set forth by our Lord.

Apr 4, 2011 9:33PM
Apr 6, 2011 9:56AM

Why single out GE - or the group of large corporations?  Doesn't everyone take the maximum benefit of whatever tax deductions one can find?  When I do it, it is a legitimate tax deduction, when GE does it, it is a tax loophole - is that it?

Apr 28, 2011 8:24AM

I saw a statistical report that states The only developed countries that have a lower corporate tax rate than the United states are Mexico and Chile.

It does not matter if they raise corporate tax rates because the corporation will just include that increase in their pricing and the consumer will pay it, except for overseas sales.

Apr 2, 2011 12:37AM
Doesn't everybody try to maximize their deductions?  And seeing the way it gets used, can you blame any of them?
Apr 15, 2011 11:01PM
The owners of GE do pay income taxes.  The shareholders of GE are the owners of GE.  When GE distributes dividends to the shareholders the shareholders pay income tax on those dividend distributions.  GE wisely avoids double taxation by having its earnings taxed twice by paying the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world.
Apr 6, 2011 6:43PM
The simple answer is to reduce the corporate tax rate to a less confiscatory 20% to compete globally.  Having the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world only encourages responsible CEO's and CFO's to retain more of their earnings in a more tax friendly environment and expand overseas and conduct R&D in those environments that encourage investment.  It is the responsible thing to do for those people and mutual funds who invest in these companies hoping for a decent return often for their retirement.

I recieved a 1099C for the short sale of my primary residents last year.  Is there any way to avoid the miscellaneous income I received on the write off of the loan balance.


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