After weeks of refusals and equivocation, Mitt Romney finally released his tax returns last night to a handful of media outlets, showing that he made $21.7 million in 2010 and $20.9 million last year. He only actually released one year of returns, 2010, and his estimated return for 2011, even though many have called on him to follow the precedent set by his father and release many more years of returns.
Nonetheless, there is much to learn from the astonishing 550 pages of returns Romney released:
1. Romney paid a lower tax rate than many middle-class Americans: Romney’s returns reveal that he paid an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent, lower even than the low rate of 15 percent he estimated he paid last week. While this is far less than what many middle-class Americans pay, it’s also well below what wealthy people pay. The average effective tax rate for someone in Romney’s income bracket is 25 percent.
2. Romney makes more in a day than the average American makes in a year, and becomes a 1 percenter every week: As Bloomberg News notes, “In 2008, according to the IRS, the median adjusted gross income was $33,048, which Romney made in less than a day. Reaching the top 1 percent of taxpayers required $380,354 in adjusted gross income, about Romney’s earnings in a week.”
3. Romney paid almost nothing in payroll taxes: Romney contributed just .1 percent of his income to Social Security and Medicare in 2010 via the payroll tax because the tax is only assessed on earned wages, but all of Romney’s income came from investments. Most working Americans pay 7.65 percent.
4. Romney has accounts in countries notorious for tax dodging: By now, it’s well known by now that Romney invests in funds based in the Cayman Islands, but Romney’s returns were “crammed with information about foreign holdings” and reveal that he held accounts in Switzerland and Luxembourg, countries famous for hiding money thanks their low taxes and strict banking secrecy laws. Aides said he closed his Swiss account in 2010 because it might have been “politically embarrassing.”
5. Romney and Gingrich’s tax plans would slash Romney’s taxes: Romney already pays less than many middle class Americans, but under his proposed tax plan, his rates would be slashed in half. Meanwhile, under challenger Newt Gingrich’s plan, Romney would pay almost nothing, since Gingrich has proposed cutting the capital gains tax rate to zero and Romney earns almost all of his money from investments.
6. Romney needs four lawyers, including the former IRS commissioner to defend his tax plan: Romney’s campaign held a conference call with reporters this morning to defend and explain his tax returns, and apparently felt the need to have former IRS Commissioner Fred Goldberg, along with three other top lawyers and his campaign communications director to explain the returns. At one point, the call had to be interrupted so officials could confer with mega accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Another small revelation from Romney’s returns is that while Romney said his speaking fees amounted to “not very much” in terms of income, he actually made $111,000 in speaking fees in 2011 and $529,000 in 2010, as Politico’s Ken Vogel points out.
An earlier version of this post speculated that Romney likely paid nothing in payroll taxes because he did not earn any wages, while his full returns show that he in fact paid the tax on a tiny fraction of his income from speaking fees.