Contrary to initial reports based on a leaked copy of President Donald Trump’s form 1040 from 2005, the president actually paid an effective tax rate of 79 percent on his income that year. In their zeal to disclose details from Trump’s leaked tax returns, many journalists improperly calculated the effective tax rate, which they claimed was 25 percent.
Numerous news outlets, including the New York Times, Bloomberg, and CNBC, inaccurately characterized both Trump’s adjusted gross income as well as his total effective tax rate. Other outlets correctly noted former president Barack Obama’s effective tax rate of 18.7 percent in 2016 (he paid $81,472 in federal taxes on an AGI of $436,065), but incorrectly compared that number to a different one they used to calculate Trump’s effective rate.
To properly calculate a taxpayer’s total effective tax rate, one must divide total tax liability by adjusted gross income, or AGI. Total tax liability can be found on line 63 of a form 1040, while AGI can be found on line 37 or 38. But instead of using AGI as the denominator in the effective tax rate calculation for Trump, many journalists added $103 million in losses (found on line 21) to Trump’s actual AGI of $48.6 million to produce an annual income figure of $151 million. They then divided Trump’s tax liability of $38.4 million over the $151 million figure to produce an effective tax rate of 25 percent.
That number is incorrect. The correct calculation of Trump’s total effective federal tax rate in 2015 is total tax liability of $38.4 million divided by AGI of $48.6 million, which produces an effective tax rate of 79 percent.
In fact, this correct calculation is how Obama’s most recent effective federal tax rate of 18.7 percent was calculated by both the media and the Obama White House.
The Trump White House, however, was also guilty of conflating “income,” which is not a line on a tax form, and adjusted gross income, which is a specific number used to calculate the effective tax rate. While Trump may well have earned $150 million on a cash basis in 2005, his reported adjusted gross income was actually $48.6 million.
You can view the full two pages of Trump’s leaked 2005 form 1040 here.