Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750.He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.As the president wages a re-election campaign that polls say he is in danger of losing, his finances are under stress, beset by losses and hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due that he has personally guaranteed. Also hanging over him is a decade-long audit battle with the Internal Revenue Service over the legitimacy of a $72.9 million tax refund that he claimed, and received, after declaring huge losses. An adverse ruling could cost him more than $100 million.The tax returns that Mr. Trump has long fought to keep private tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public. His reports to the I.R.S. portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes. Now, with his financial challenges mounting, the records show that he depends more and more on making money from businesses that put him in potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president.The New York Times has obtained tax-return data extending over more than two decades for Mr. Trump and the hundreds of companies that make up his business organization, including detailed information from his first two years in office. It does not include his personal returns for 2018 or 2019. This article offers an overview of The Times's findings; additional articles will be published in the coming weeks.
Among the key findings of The Times's investigation:
- Mr. Trump paid no federal income taxes in 11 of 18 years that The Times examined. In 2017, after he became president, his tax bill was only $750.
- He has reduced his tax bill with questionable measures, including a $72.9 million tax refund that is the subject of an audit by the Internal Revenue Service.
- Many of his signature businesses, including his golf courses, report losing large amounts of money — losses that have helped him to lower his taxes.
- The financial pressure on him is increasing as hundreds of millions of dollars in loans he personally guaranteed are soon coming due.
- Even while declaring losses, he has managed to enjoy a lavish lifestyle by taking tax deductions on what most people would consider personal expenses, including residences, aircraft and $70,000 in hairstyling for television.
- Ivanka Trump, while working as an employee of the Trump Organization, appears to have received "consulting fees" that also helped reduce the family's tax bill.
- As president, he has received more money from foreign sources and U.S. interest groups than previously known. The records do not reveal any previously unreported connections to Russia.
Below is a deeper look at the takeaways. . . .
The president's tax avoidanceMr. Trump has paid no federal income taxes for much of the past two decades.In addition to the 11 years in which he paid no taxes during the 18 years examined by The Times, he paid only $750 in each of the two most recent years — 2016 and 2017.He has managed to avoid taxes while enjoying the lifestyle of a billionaire — which he claims to be — while his companies cover the costs of what many would consider personal expenses.This tax avoidance sets him apart from most other affluent Americans.Taxes on wealthy Americans have declined sharply over the past few decades, and many use loopholes to reduce their taxes below the statutory rates. But most affluent people still pay a lot of federal income tax.In 2017, the average federal income rate for the highest-earning .001 percent of tax filers — that is, the most affluent 1/100,000th slice of the population — was 24.1 percent, according to the I.R.S.Over the past two decades, Mr. Trump has paid about $400 million less in combined federal income taxes than a very wealthy person who paid the average for that group each year. . . .The $72.9 million refund [in 2010] has since become the subject of a long-running battle with the I.R.S. . . .Mr. Trump classifies much of the spending on his personal lifestyle as the cost of business.His residences are part of the family business, as are the golf courses where he spends so much time. He has classified the cost of his aircraft, used to shuttle him among his homes, as a business expense as well. Haircuts — including more than $70,000 to style his hair during “The Apprentice” — have fallen into the same category. So did almost $100,000 paid to a favorite hair and makeup artist of Ivanka Trump. . . .Across nearly all of his projects, Mr. Trump's companies set aside about 20 percent of income for unexplained 'consulting fees.' . . .His daughter appears to have received some of these consulting fees, despite having been a top Trump Organization executive.The Times investigation discovered a striking match: Mr. Trump's private records show that his company once paid $747,622 in fees to an unnamed consultant for hotel projects in Hawaii and Vancouver, British Columbia. Ivanka Trump's public disclosure forms — which she filed when joining the White House staff in 2017 — show that she had received an identical amount through a consulting company she co-owned. . . .Large bills loomingWith the cash from 'The Apprentice,' Mr. Trump went on his biggest buying spree since the 1980s."The Apprentice," which debuted on NBC in 2004, was a huge hit. Mr. Trump received 50 percent of its profits, and he went on to buy more than 10 golf courses and multiple other properties. The losses at these properties reduced his tax bill.But the strategy ran into trouble as the money from "The Apprentice" began to decline. By 2015, his financial condition was worsening.His 2016 presidential campaign may have been partly an attempt to resuscitate his brand.The financial records do not answer this question definitively. But the timing is consistent: Mr. Trump announced a campaign that seemed a long shot to win, but was almost certain to bring him newfound attention, at the same time that his businesses were in need of a new approach.The presidency has helped his business.Since he became a leading presidential candidate, he has received large amounts of money from lobbyists, politicians and foreign officials who pay to stay at his properties or join his clubs. The Times investigation puts precise numbers on this spending for the first time. . . .In his first two years in the White House, Mr. Trump received millions of dollars from projects in foreign countries, including $3 million from the Philippines, $2.3 million from India and $1 million from Turkey.But the presidency has not resolved his core financial problem: Many of his businesses continue to lose money.. . . In 2012, he took out a $100 million mortgage on the commercial space in Trump Tower. He has also sold hundreds of millions worth of stock and bonds. But his financial records indicate that he may have as little as $873,000 left to sell.He will soon face several major bills that could put further pressure on his finances.He appears to have paid off none of the principal of the Trump Tower mortgage, and the full $100 million comes due in 2022. And if he loses his dispute with the I.R.S. over the 2010 refund, he could owe the government more than $100 million (including interest on the original amount).He is personally on the hook for some of these bills.In the 1990s, Mr. Trump nearly ruined himself by personally guaranteeing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans, and he has since said that he regretted doing so. But he has taken the same step again, his tax records show. He appears to be responsible for loans totaling $421 million, most of which is coming due within four years.
"It's fake news ... actually I paid tax ... it's under audit" -- Trump denies a New York Times report that he only paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and '17, but doesn't present any evidence to the contrary pic.twitter.com/RkosMUQpES— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 27, 2020
Listen to this pathetically weak pushback on the New York Times report about his tax returns. Trump is a con man. pic.twitter.com/be15BS005Z— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 27, 2020
Wait, so you're telling me that a man who bankrupted multiple casinos during economic booms is a shitty businessperson? #TrumpTaxReturns— Pé (@4everNeverTrump) September 27, 2020
So, basically... if you earned more than $20k last year in taxable income, you probably paid more federal income taxes than Donald Trump. And that doesn't even include FICA.#TrumpTaxReturns pic.twitter.com/SqjBOmLth8— Charlotte Clymer 🏳️🌈 (@cmclymer) September 27, 2020
As an undocumented immigrant, I can now say that I've paid more in taxes than the President. According to NYT, @realDonaldTrump paid only "$750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency."— Rodrigo P. Pimentel (@rdrigopimentel) September 27, 2020
Meanwhile, I paid $1,559.85 in *quarterly taxes* for Q4 '19.#TrumpTaxReturns pic.twitter.com/6D3m9qPhK0