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Ranked: The Biggest U.S. Tax Breaks

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The Biggest U.S. Tax Breaks

Tax Expenditures

This infographic is available as a poster.

Ranked: The Biggest U.S. Tax Breaks

When you go to file your taxes this year, you’ll likely be looking for ways to minimize your tax bill. Tax breaks like credits and deductions—also known as tax expenditures—could reduce what you owe. On the flip side, they also cost the government trillions of dollars in foregone revenue.

In this Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments, we rank the top 25 tax breaks by their forecast revenue impact over the next 10 years on the U.S. government.

What Are Tax Expenditures?

Tax expenditures are provisions within federal tax laws that result in government revenue losses. They can apply to individuals and/or corporations, and include a variety of things:

  • Special exclusions
  • Exemptions
  • Deductions
  • Special credits
  • Preferential tax rates
  • Tax deferrals

These expenditures are required by law to be included in the federal budget, and can be viewed as an alternative to other policy options such as direct spending. It’s important to note that when the budget is developed, revenue loss estimates are based on the assumption that all other parts of the tax code remain unchanged.

Tax Breaks, Ranked by Government Revenue Losses

With this in mind, let’s take a look at which tax expenditures are the biggest. We have ranked them by how much they are projected to cost the U.S. government in lost revenue over the next 10 fiscal years.

ProvisionProjected Revenue Losses 2022-2031
Exclusion of employer contributions for medical insurance and medical care$3.0T
Exclusion of net imputed rental income$1.7T
Lower tax rates on capital gains$1.4T
Tax benefits of defined contribution employer plans$1.4T
Deductions for charitable contributions (excl. education and health)$890B
Tax benefits of defined benefit employer plans$808B
Deductions for mortgage interest on owner-occupied homes$798B
Deductions for nonbusiness state and local taxes$761B
Step-up basis of capital gains at death$576B
Capital gains exclusion on home sales$542B
Child credit$446B
Tax benefits of self-employed plans$437B
Treatment of qualified dividends$421B
Deductions for state and local property tax on owner-occupied homes$384B
Reduced tax rate on active income of controlled foreign corporations$367B
Exclusion of untaxed Social Security benefits$357B
Exclusion of interest on public purpose state and local bonds$345B
Tax benefits of individual retirement accounts$288B
Credit for increasing research activities$272B
20% deduction to certain pass-through income$261B
Deductions for medical expenses$180B
Exclusion of life insurance death benefits$160B
Exclusion of benefits and allowances to armed forces personnel$157B
Deductions for charitable contributions (health)$153B
Exclusion of veterans' death benefits and disability compensation$141B

By a long shot, excluding an employer’s medical contributions from an employee’s taxable income is the biggest tax break. Family premiums for employer-sponsored coverage have jumped 47% over the last decade, outpacing both wage growth (31%) and inflation (23%).

The lower tax rates on capital gains is also forecast to cost the government trillions in lost revenue. In fact, the Biden Administration had proposed to significantly increase the capital gains tax in order to fund their budget, though this change has not come to fruition.

Tax expenditures related to retirement plans are also costly for the government. Income exclusions and tax deferrals for defined contribution plans are expected to cost $1.4 trillion over the next decade, nearly double that of tax breaks for defined benefit plans. This reflects the long-term decline of defined benefit plans. In fact, only 20% of U.S. workers participate in a defined benefit plan, whereas 43% participate in a defined contribution plan.

The Perks of Home Ownership

Finally, many of the largest tax breaks benefit homeowners. The exclusion of net imputed rental income—the theoretical income a homeowner would receive if they rented their home—is the second largest tax break.

On their primary residence, homeowners also get a capital gains exclusion when they sell their home. However, this exclusion is capped and is not indexed to inflation. Home prices climbed 19% in 2021 according to the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, effectively lowering the benefit of this tax break.

Finding Opportunity in Tax Expenditures

From credits to deductions, there are a number of tax breaks available to Americans. You can consider them when you are structuring an investment portfolio. For instance, if you hold assets with capital appreciation potential—like stocks—for at least a year, they are typically subject to a lower tax rate on their capital gains. Making contributions to a retirement plan will allow you to reduce your taxable income and defer taxes, subject to certain limits.

Of course, tax expenditures are in flux based on government policy at the time. By staying up to date on changes, investors can be poised to minimize their tax obligations and grow their wealth.

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Markets in a Minute

Visualizing Historical Oil Prices (1968-2022)

The real price of oil reached a seven year high amid the Russia-Ukraine war. How have other major events impacted historical oil prices?

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Historical Oil Prices (1968-2022)

Amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the inflation-adjusted price of oil reached a seven-year high. Russia is one of the world’s largest producers of crude oil, and many countries have announced a ban on Russian oil imports amid the war. This has led to supply uncertainties and, therefore, rising prices.

How does the price increase compare to previous political and economic events? In this Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments, we look at historical oil prices since 1968.

The Fundamentals Behind Oil Prices

Before diving into the data, it’s worth explaining why historical oil prices have seen so much volatility. This mainly stems from the fact that the supply and demand of oil tends to have a low responsiveness to price changes in the short term.

  • On the supply side, oil production capacity can be challenging to change quickly. Drilling a new oil well is a lengthy and complex process.
    • On the demand side, it can be quite difficult to change equipment that uses petroleum products. For instance, in the short term, people will keep driving their cars to work despite higher gas prices.

    For these reasons, in order to re-balance supply and demand, it takes a sufficiently large price change to occur. For example, if gas prices were to double, only then may enough commuters consider taking public transit or changing behavior in other ways.

    What kind of events can shock the system enough to drive big price changes?

    A large portion of the world’s oil is located in regions that are prone to political conflict. Political events can disrupt the actual or perceived supply of oil, and drive prices upwards. On the other hand, an economic downturn reduces energy demand and can depress prices.

    Looking Back at Historical Oil Prices

    To compare how events have influenced historical oil prices, we used data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It should be noted that the data extends to March 31, 2022, and does not reflect the recent price dips in response to Shanghai lockdowns and U.S. rate hikes.

    Here is the inflation-adjusted price of a barrel of crude oil during select events.

    DateEventCrude Oil Price per Barrel
    Real 2010 Dollars
    Q1 1971U.S. spare capacity exhausted$13.47
    Q1 1973Arab Oil Embargo$15.90
    Q1 1974Embargo lifted$42.00
    Q1 1978Iranian Revolution$39.65
    Q3 1980Official start of Iran-Iraq war$76.93
    Q1 1986Saudis abandon swing producer role$32.90
    Q2 1990Trough price prior to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait$26.72
    Q3 1990Iraq invades Kuwait$39.37
    Q4 1990Peak price during invasion$47.15
    Q2 1991Iraq accepts UN resolution to end conflict$30.18
    Q4 1996Peak price prior to Asian financial crisis$31.88
    Q3 1997Asian financial crisis begins$25.35
    Q1 1999OPEC cuts production target by 1.7M b/d$16.41
    Q4 2000Peak price prior to 9/11$38.73
    Q3 20019/11 attacks$31.76
    Q4 2001Trough price after 9/11$24.22
    Q1 2005Low spare capacity$54.71
    Q2 2008Peak price before global financial collapse$125.21
    Q1 2009OPEC cuts production targets by 4.2M b/d$42.89
    Q2 2014Peak price prior to supply gut price collapse$95.07
    Q1 2015OPEC production quota unchanged despite low prices$44.41
    Q4 2019Price immediately prior to global pandemic$50.38
    Q1 2020COVID-19 declared a pandemic$40.34
    Q2 2020Trough price during global pandemic$24.65
    Q1 2022Russia invades Ukraine$77.94

    From the first quarter of 1968 until the second quarter of 1986, data reflects the reporter refiner acquisition cost. From the third quarter of 1986 to the first quarter of 2022, data reflects the West Texas Intermediate cost.

    In 1973, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced an embargo (ban) on oil exports to the United States. The move was in response to the U.S. providing military aid to Israel. By the time the embargo ended in March 1974, the inflation-adjusted price of crude oil had risen 164%. The embargo also led to a selloff in the stock market, with the recovery taking almost six years.

    Historical oil prices rose rapidly from 2004-2008. During that time, economic growth was fueling oil demand but there was little spare production capacity. By the second quarter of 2008, inflation-adjusted oil prices hit a high of $125 per barrel. They crashed by 66% shortly thereafter due to the global financial crisis.

    Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic and associated containment measures caused historical oil prices to drop by nearly 40% in three months. Oil prices have since risen 216% from their pandemic low, as of the first quarter of 2022. This is due to the economic recovery and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

    Oil as an Investment

    Investors’ interest in oil as an alternative investment has risen in recent years. Given the high volatility in historical oil prices, investors may want to consider their comfort with this level of risk. Of course, an investor’s sustainability goals may also be a factor when choosing whether to invest in oil.

    However, oil also presents opportunities. It has had low-to-negative correlation with U.S. bonds in recent years and may help investors diversify their portfolios. Not only that, it may help investors manage rising interest rates. An economic recovery typically leads to rising interest rates, but also more energy demand. Oil prices have historically climbed during these periods.

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Markets in a Minute

Mapped: Interest Rates by Country in 2022

For the vast majority of countries, interest rates are marching upward. Here’s how they break down in 2022.

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Interest Rates

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Mapped: Interest Rates by Country

Soaring inflation, the war in Ukraine, and strengthening economies are spurring interest rate increases around the world. At the same time, central banks are unwinding record monetary stimulus from COVID-19.

In this Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments, we show interest rates by country in 2022. Interest rates are based on short-term benchmark policy rates set out by central banks.

Interest Rates Around the World in 2022

While the vast majority of countries saw a decline in interest rates over recent years, this trend is reversing for many in 2022.

After hovering at 0.0%, the U.S. increased its short-term interest rate to 0.5%. Experts project up to seven interest rate hikes this year, with interest rates rising as high as 1.9% by year-end.

For many countries in Europe, interest rates climbed out of negative territory for the first time since 2014. Interest rates now sit at 0.0% across the European Union.

Country/ Region
Short-Term Interest Rate (%)
🇦🇱 Albania1.0
🇦🇲 Armenia9.3
🇦🇺 Australia 0.1
🇦🇹 Austria0.0
🇦🇿 Azerbaijan7.8
🇧🇸 Bahamas4.0
🇧🇩 Bangladesh4.8
🇧🇧 Barbados2.0
🇧🇾 Belarus12.0
🇧🇪 Belgium0.0
🇧🇿 Belize2.3
🇧🇴 Bolivia 3.9
🇧🇼 Botswana3.8
🇧🇷 Brazil11.8
🇨🇦 Canada0.5
🇹🇩 Chad3.5
🇨🇱 Chile7.0
🇨🇳 China3.7
🇨🇴 Colombia5.0
🇨🇬 Congo7.5
🇨🇷 Costa Rica2.5
🇨🇺 Cuba2.3
🇨🇿 Czech Republic5.0
🇩🇰 Denmark-0.6
🇩🇴 Dominican Republic5.5
🇪🇨 Ecuador7.2
🇪🇬 Egypt9.3
🇫🇯 Fiji0.3
🇫🇮 Finland0.0
🇫🇷 France0.0
🇬🇪 Georgia11.0
🇩🇪 Germany0.0
🇬🇷 Greece0.0
🇬🇾 Guyana5.0
🇭🇰 Hong Kong0.8
🇭🇺 Hungary4.4
🇮🇸 Iceland2.8
🇮🇳 India4.0
🇮🇩 Indonesia3.5
🇮🇪 Ireland0.0
🇮🇱 Israel0.1
🇮🇹 Italy0.0
🇯🇲 Jamaica4.5
🇯🇵 Japan-0.1
🇯🇴 Jordan2.8
🇰🇿 Kazakhstan13.5
🇰🇪 Kenya7.0
🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan10.0
🇱🇦 Laos3.0
🇱🇻 Latvia0.0
🇱🇧 Lebanon7.8
🇱🇸 Lesotho4.0
🇱🇾 Libya3.0
🇱🇹 Lithuania0.0
🇱🇺 Luxembourg0.0
🇲🇾 Malaysia1.8
🇲🇻 Maldives7.0
🇲🇱 Mali4.0
🇲🇽 Mexico6.5
🇲🇳 Mongolia9.0
🇲🇦 Morocco1.5
🇳🇵 Nepal7.0
🇳🇱 Netherlands0.0
🇳🇿 New Zealand1.0
🇳🇬 Nigeria11.5
🇳🇴 Norway0.8
🇵🇰 Pakistan12.3
🇵🇾 Paraguay6.3
🇵🇪 Peru4.5
🇵🇭 Philippines2.0
🇵🇱 Poland4.5
🇵🇹 Portugal0.0
🇶🇦 Qatar2.5
🇷🇴 Romania3.0
🇷🇼 Rwanda5.0
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia1.3
🇷🇸 Serbia1.5
🇸🇱 Sierra Leone14.3
🇸🇬 Singapore0.3
🇸🇰 Slovakia0.0
🇿🇦 South Africa4.3
🇰🇷 South Korea1.3
🇸🇸 South Sudan12.0
🇪🇸 Spain0.0
🇱🇰 Sri Lanka13.5
🇸🇿 Swaziland4.0
🇸🇪 Sweden0.0
🇨🇭 Switzerland-0.8
🇹🇼 Taiwan1.4
🇹🇭 Thailand0.5
🇹🇳 Tunisia6.3
🇹🇷 Turkey14.0
🇺🇬 Uganda6.5
🇺🇦 Ukraine10.0
🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates1.8
🇬🇧 United Kingdom0.8
🇺🇸 United States0.5
🇻🇳 Vietnam4.0
🇿🇲 Zambia9.0

*Australia, China, India, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Serbia, Romania data as of April 2022.
Reflects data for March or February 2022 depending on latest available data.
Source: Trading Economics (Apr 2022)

In Latin America, several central banks are taking a hawkish stance as oil price shocks are causing inflation to accelerate.

Mexico raised its benchmark interest rate to 6.5% in March in response to inflation hitting 20-year highs. Even before the war in Ukraine, global factors such as rising oil and import prices were already having a greater impact on Latin American countries than advanced economies.

Unlike the U.S. and most countries located in Europe and Latin America, China is anticipated to potentially lower its interest rates.

A renewed COVID-19 wave has slowed growth, with the government requiring countless factories to close in order to combat the spread of the Omicron variant. Disruptions have cascaded across supply chains—from electric vehicles to iPhones— leaving goods in shorter supply. China is responsible for roughly one-third of global manufacturing.

High-Water Mark

Which countries have the highest interest rates in 2022?

Interest Rates

At an eye-watering 80%, Zimbabwe has the highest interest rate of any country.

In early April, the central bank raised rates by 20 percentage points to combat a 73% inflation rate. Small businesses, teachers, and analysts have been urging the government to adopt the U.S. dollar to boost economic and investor confidence amid currency woes.

With an interest rate of 44.5%, Argentina has the second-highest rate. To get closer to reaching the requirements for rescheduling its $40 billion loan to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the central bank raised interest rates for the second time this year. The IMF requires having interest rates above the rate of inflation. As of February, Argentina’s inflation exceeded 50%.

Meanwhile, oil-rich countries such as Angola (20%), Iran (18%), and Russia (17%) all made it into the top 10 for highest rates globally.

Treading Water

What is the outlook for interest rates in 2022 and beyond?

In the short term, experts believe interest rates will likely rise to fight inflation. They could also play a role in slower economic growth, especially if raised too quickly. Recently, the World Bank revised global growth to 3.2% due to the war in Ukraine and rising food and energy prices—about a percentage point lower than its previous forecast of 4.1%.

The longer-term view may look different.

Structural factors, such as an aging population, will likely lead to an increase in savings rates for retirement. In theory, higher savings rates increases the total supply of funds, depressing the interest rate. By 2100, people over 50 are projected to rise from 25% to 40% of the global population.

The end of ultra-low interest rates may be over for now, but broader factors, including growing global debt—which stands at 355% of the world’s GDP—suggests it may be a short to medium-term adjustment.

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