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Presidential candidate tax returns show how tax law has changed

Like almost all presidential candidates trying to be transparent to their voters, Jeb Bush recently released tax returns dating back to 1981 and going through 2013.

I could write the standard blog on how Mr. Bush’s income went from nothing in the 1980’s to topping $1,000,000 for many years in the 90’s, becoming in the low six figures in the 2000’s while he was governor to ballooning to over $2,000,000 for almost every year after 2007. How his income went above $6,000,000 for 2011 & 2013 while he was getting rich from speaking fees and consulting for banks. Or I could write about how his net worth has gone up 14 times since he left the governor’s mansion in Florida in 2007 or question how he got in excess of $1,000,000 consulting for Lehman Bros and over $10,000,000 in speaking fees since 2007.

But as a Reno CPA that wasn’t practicing during the 1980s & 1990s, I found it interesting how much the tax code has changed just from reviewing Mr. Bush’s return. For instance, when Mr. Bush sold his first home in 1981 he wasn’t allowed to exclude from income up to $500,000 from the sale of his primary residence as taxpayers can now. His gain of $34,980 decreased the basis in his new residence he purchased to give him a higher gain and tax in the future when that home was sold.

I also found it interesting how in the 1980s political contributions were allowed to be deducted and up until 1986 charitable contributions were deducted without having to itemize on Schedule A. This was the same in 1983 when employee business expenses were an above the line deduction; today they must be on Schedule A and less than 2% of adjusted gross income. There was also the deduction for married couples that both worked that was present in the tax code in 1982, which Mr. Bush and his wife did not utilize. In the 1980s it was also possible to deduct interest expense on credit cards and car loans as a personal interest expense. With the somewhat new tax regulations associated with the Affordable Care Act and constant bickering and promises by Congress about changing the tax code I’m sure in 20 years the tax code will again be drastically different.



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