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The official corporate tax rate is 35 percent, but that would be tough to tell by looking at the financial statements of some of the nation's largest companies.
A new study out Thursday found that 280 of the largest publicly traded U.S. companies faced federal income tax bills of 18.5 percent of their profits for the past three years, or a little more than half of the official rate. Furthermore, 30 of the companies faced an average annual tax bill of less than zero between 2008 and 2010, and 78 companies posted at least one no-tax year during that stretch, according to the report from the left-leaning Citizens for Tax Justice.
The study comes as some corporations argue for a lower tax rate, claiming that the current one puts American corporations at a disadvantage against foreign competitors, the New York Times notes. But, according to the study, U.S. corporations with significant foreign profits (defined here as more than 10 percent) faced tax rates in other countries that were one-third higher than they paid domestically.
Researchers based the study on the companies' own corporate filings. Still, some of the companies surveyed in the report dispute the findings, arguing that the research omits deferred taxes that they may pay down the road.
Other key findings from the study: The total tax subsidies for all 280 corporations surveyed from 2008-2010 was $222.7 billion; Wells Fargo received the most in tax subsidies of those studied, with $18 billion over the three years; and Amazon.com paid a 7.9 tax rate on $1.8 billion in profits from 2008-2010, while its retail and wholesale competitors paid an average 30 percent rate.
The Times and CBS News note that the study suggests some corporations are getting tax breaks and loopholes at the expense of other companies: While many corporations effectively paid the official tax rate of 35 percent, others paid little or nothing. And comparable companies do not always have comparable tax rates. CBS News with one example: "General Dynamics, on 3-year profits of $9.147 billion, paid an effective tax rate of 27 percent, while Boeing, on profits of $9.735 billion, paid -1.8 percent tax."
Companies paying no taxes for the three-year period of the study include: Pepco Holdings, General Electric, Wells Fargo, Verizon Communications, and Boeing.