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Americans Explain What the 2017 Tax Cuts Actually Did for Them

(Pawita Warasiri/EyeEm/Getty Images)

Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine surveyed 852 taxpayers in December about the tax cuts enacted in 2017, and how it affected their income taxes. The results will probably disappoint both fans and critics of the tax cuts. When asked how the 2017 tax changes affected their last return, 59 percent said, “my taxes remained the same,” 22 percent said they owed less, 19 percent said they owed more.

The magazine noted, “the tax overhaul lowered tax rates and expanded income thresholds, but employers also reduced withholding for many wage earners.” (In other words, the employer reduces the withholding, the take-home pay increases by a small amount, and when the taxes are done in spring, the overall tax bill or refund is about the same as it was before, so the changes may too small for the taxpayer to feel noticeable.) After paying their 2018 taxes, few respondents felt the need to change their withholding — 88 percent said they kept it as is, 8 percent said they had more taken out of their paycheck, and 4 percent said they had fewer taxes withheld.

Fifteen percent of respondents said they couldn’t deduct state and local taxes that exceeded $10,000. (This issue has turned into a crusade for House Democrats, who are now determined to reduce the tax burden on those in high-tax jurisdictions in New York and California.)

Perhaps the most troubling result was the 20 percent of respondents who said they decreased the amount they donate to charity, in part because the lower rates and larger standard deduction made it less worthwhile to itemize deductions. (Only 17 percent said they itemized their deductions on their last return. Another 38 percent said they used to itemize but now just claim the standard deduction.) But 66 percent said they gave regardless of tax breaks, 8 percent said they combined two or more years of charitable giving into a single year to qualify for the deduction, and 3 percent said they were over 70 and now give to a charity directly from their Individual Retirement Account.

I find this poll useful because none of the questions was about whether the respondent supported the tax cuts or thought they were a good idea, or how the respondent felt about President Trump or Congress. While it is possible that respondents underestimated or overestimated the changes to their tax bills, none of the questions would set off the cycle of motivated reasoning.

To hear a lot of Republicans tell it, the tax cuts put a lot more money in Americans’ wallets, and to hear a lot of Democrats tell it, the tax cuts were a disastrous giveaway to the rich that socked it to the middle class. Judging from these poll results, most Americans didn’t feel much of an impact either way.

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