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These 8 profitable tech giants paid less in federal taxes than you did last year

The Trump tax law reduced the corporate income tax rate to 21%, but new loopholes provided by the law allowed many U.S. companies to pay far less.

These 8 profitable tech giants paid less in federal taxes than you did last year
[Photos: U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith/U.S. Secretary of Defense/Flickr; axonite/Pixabay]

A number of well-known tech companies have the dubious honor of paying zero (or less than zero) corporate income taxes in the first year after the passage of the Trump tax law. That’s according to a new review by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, which looked at taxes paid in 2018—the first full year with the tax breaks in effect—by America’s biggest (profitable) companies.

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Here’s a breakdown of the tech companies on the list:

  • Amazon, after doubling its income to $10.8 billion in 2018, paid -1.2% in income tax due to tax breaks totaling $2.4 billion, related to executive stock options and a number of unspecified credits.
  • Netflix paid -2.5% on $899 million in income.
  • IBM paid -68.4% on $500 million in income.
  • Activision Blizzard paid -54.4% on $447 million in income.
  • First Data paid -21% on $559 million in income.
  • Pitney Bowes paid -21% on $125 million in income.
  • Sanmina paid -0.8% on $16 million in income.
  • Salesforce.com paid less than 0% on $800 million in income, but ITIF wasn’t able to derive a specific amount from the company’s 10-K filings.

A total of 91 companies paid less than zero in income taxes during 2018. Another 56 companies paid between zero and 5%.

Collectively, however, tech companies paid among the highest corporate tax rates. The “Internet Services & Retailing” sector paid at a 20.2% rate, while the “Computers, office equip, software, data” sector paid 20.4%.

Overall, the 379 Fortune 500 companies in the ITEP report paid an effective federal income tax rate of just 11.3%—roughly half the statutory 21% rate prescribed by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).

The law was intended to stoke the economy by lessening the tax burden on U.S. companies, freeing them to hire more people. But it also provided a widened set of loopholes by which companies could pay far less than the new 21% rate prescribed by the law.

Corporate tax cuts can provide a brief sugar high for the economy. But with all the promises from Trump and the GOP, the economy didn’t grow that much. It grew 2.4% in fiscal 2017 and grew 2.9% in 2018, the first full fiscal year with the cuts in place.

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And that meager gain comes at a heavy cost. The tax cuts have caused the federal deficit to grow to $984 billion, as of the end of September. That’s more than double the deficit in 2015.

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About the author

Fast Company Senior Writer Mark Sullivan covers emerging technology, politics, artificial intelligence, large tech companies, and misinformation. An award-winning San Francisco-based journalist, Sullivan's work has appeared in Wired, Al Jazeera, CNN, ABC News, CNET, and many others.

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