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With Corporate Tax Reform Under Consideration, a Look at Businesses’ Treasured Loopholes

The country's official corporate tax rate may be one of the world's highest, but many businesses invest in finding loopholes to pay far less.

When President Obama said in his State of the Union speech that the U.S. has “one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world” and called for reform of the corporate tax code, he had GOP lawmakers and business leaders nodding in agreement. Politifact rated Obama’s statement to be true—topping out at 35 percent, the official tax rate on corporations does sound high.

But as the New York Times reports, the actual tax rate is often far lower, thanks to deductions and loopholes that companies spent time and money to find. These loopholes were also a target in Obama's speech.

Nearly a quarter of the 500 big companies in the Standard and Poor’s stock index paid less than 20 percent in taxes over the last five years, according to analysis commissioned by the Times. In his latest column, David Leonhard cited the example of cruise company Carnival Corporation, which pays 1.1 percent of its profits in taxes. Additional examples include:

Boeing paid a total tax rate of just 4.5 percent, according to Capital IQ. Southwest Airlines paid 6.3 percent. And the list goes on: Yahoo paid 7 percent; Prudential Financial, 7.6 percent; General Electric, 14.3 percent.

Federal tax rates for individuals, by comparison, range from single digits for the poorest Americans to a little more than 30 percent for the wealthiest.

The Business Roundtable, a business lobbying group, has voiced support for lowering the tax code and leaving overseas profits from U.S. multinational companies untaxed. The Times points out, however, that the group refused to say whether it would support getting rid of the loopholes as well—a question that lawmakers will have to decide as they discuss behind the scenes how to rewrite the rules.

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