What is a Tax Loophole?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A tax loophole is an exploitation of a tax law that can reduce or eliminate the tax liabilities of the filer.  Quite often, the original wording of a tax break is used to justify the use of a loophole.  Several years ago, for example, a substantial break was offered to small companies that invested in SUVs and other heavy vehicles for their transportation fleets.  Because the law allowed for 50% personal use, small business owners could upgrade their own personal vehicles to SUVs and still receive a tax credit.  This exemplifies a tax loophole: the original intent is not illegal, but the definition can be exploited for personal gain.

A recent tax loophole involved small business owners upgrading their car to an SUV as long as they used it part time for business use and getting a valuable tax credit as a result.
A recent tax loophole involved small business owners upgrading their car to an SUV as long as they used it part time for business use and getting a valuable tax credit as a result.

Few legislators would ever define a tax code change as a loophole.  After the changes have been adopted, savvy tax professionals and lawyers may discover flaws in the wording of the new law.  Sometimes, an obvious or potentially costly problem is duly reported to lawmakers and the law is rewritten to close it.  Other times, one may exist for years until a federal overseer or IRS agent discovers the mistake or exploitation.

Lobbyists look to insert loopholes into the tax code.
Lobbyists look to insert loopholes into the tax code.

One of the earliest tax loophole situations involved the so-called "marriage penalty."  When it came to assets and income accumulated throughout a fiscal year, couples who claimed married status sometimes found themselves paying more taxes than an unmarried couple claiming the same income. Since the definition of marital status would only apply to the last day of the filing year, however, if the couple could obtain a quick legal divorce in a foreign country by December 31st, they would be considered single and avoid paying additional taxes.  The couple could then remarry legally in the United States during the following year and repeat the process.

Savvy tax professionals and lawyers can find ways to help clients personally gain through tax loopholes.
Savvy tax professionals and lawyers can find ways to help clients personally gain through tax loopholes.

A tax loophole is usually considered a murky legal maneuver.  Many legitimate business and personal deductions are already well-defined in the existing tax codes, but some individuals and corporations may feel comfortable claiming even more deductions based on the ambiguity of the language.  If the filer's tax records are selected for an audit, all of these deductions can be called into question.  Because of this yearly auditing process, most  loopholes rarely survive more than a few years before some corrective legislative action is taken.

Couples may base the decision on whether to get married due to tax loopholes.
Couples may base the decision on whether to get married due to tax loopholes.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


Every person on here who disagrees with a flat tax system and eagerly repeats the phantom theory that it would collapse our economy is sadly ill-informed. Two nations that have gradually increased their economy through a recession would be China and Russia. Both of the countries have a flat income tax (Russia 13 percent, China 14 percent) and a capital gains tax which is higher than the income tax level (around 20 percent)

China still operates. Russia still operates. These countries are taking advantage of deals like the Keystone Pipeline. They are making power moves through the Congo in Africa looking for gold or selling nuclear materials to Iran or North Korea. They have understood that a recession hurts everybody and every business. A flat tax is the way to go.


Let's go back to a truly progressive tax rate schedule, the one in 1962 that had a top rate of 91 percent. Adjusted for inflation, it would impose the rate of 91 percent on taxable income over 1.5 million for singles or three million for couples. Although I must admit that this would not cover the current federal deficits let alone touch the debt. We simply spend too much at the federal government level. The current debt is over fifty thousand dollars per person and rising.


Think of how many law people would be out of a job if we had a flat tax. Think it will happen?


What would you say that corporations would pay a tax equal to 10 percent of dividends? That way there would be no tax increase on the rich, and finally, 80 percent of corporations would pay some kind of tax.


There are ways to help the poor with a flat tax. Most food and necessities wouldn't be taxed and there are other ways like raising the income level to $40,000 where the taxing would start.


The reason the progressive tax exists is because the value of money increases when you have more of it. Think of compounding interest. If I were given $30 million dollars, I could just put it in a fund and live off the interest without working. The economy could not operate if everyone were a multi-millionaire.

In order to be fair, those with more pay more simply because their money is worth more. Also, there is a basic minimum standard of living. Those under that standard simply cannot afford to pay taxes if we expect them to remain productive individuals filling a needed but low wage job. We are subsidizing, with our taxes, those low paying jobs that we don't want to do.


Yes, the flat tax sounds good, but it actually is not a very good idea. I wish it were. Lots of information on the internet as to why this is so, so I won't repeat it here. But, the bottom line is that a flat tax is not good for our economy, based on reports by economists of all political bents and non-partisan think tanks.


The flat tax sounds good to me. I've always wondered why no one has seriously pursued it.

I do understand that a low income person would be hit harder (by that same percentage) than a wealthy person. But everyone would at least be paying their "fair share", as Pres. Obama puts it. I don't believe in charging the wealthy a higher tax percentage than people in lower income brackets.

If a wealthy person paid only 15 percent in taxes, I think that should be enough. The government shouldn't penalize someone for being rich, by charging them a higher percentage in taxes. I would like to be financially wealthy one day myself!


SauteePan - I think it could work, but the problem is that the poor would be hit harder because if the flat tax on goods was 15% then this is significant to a poor person, but to a wealthy person it is just a drop in the bucket.

There will always be an argument on this basis for a progressive tax which is why our federal income taxes will never go away.


Oasis11 - This is why I think that the tax code should be simplified dramatically. We should replace the IRS and just have a flat tax.

A flat tax would replace the income tax and we would all pay the same percentage.

This way we do not have a need for an income tax table because everyone knows what they will be paying. I am sure you can even make the argument that the flat tax could be strictly a consumption tax and not an income tax.

This way even tourists will pay into the tax and Americans will only pay taxes on things that they buy. They will get to keep their income and use it how they wish.

I know that the liberals will never let this happen because they feel entitled to our money and want to spend it how they please, but this would be a step in the right direction.


I think that the tax laws are complicated and a wealthy person can hire an expert accountant and tax attorney to find tax loopholes in the tax code.

For example, Theresa Heinz Kerry, the wife of Senator John Kerry disclosed that she only paid 15% income on a multimillion dollar salary.

Obviously people like this know the biggest tax loophole of all and exploit it for their gain. How else can you explain it?

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