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Ranked: The Biggest U.S. Tax Breaks



This infographic is available as a poster.

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

What is the Success Rate of Actively Managed Funds?

For actively managed funds, the odds of beating the market over the long run are like finding a needle in a haystack.



Actively Managed Funds

What is the Success Rate of Actively Managed Funds?

Over a 20-year period, 95% of large-cap actively managed funds have underperformed their benchmark.

The above graphic shows the performance of actively managed funds across a range of fund types, using data from S&P Global via Charlie Bilello.

Missing the Mark: Actively Managed Funds

Several factors present headwinds to actively managed funds.

  • Trading costs: First, fund managers will trade more often than passive funds. These in turn incur costs, impacting returns.
  • Cash holdings: Additionally, many of these funds hold a cash allocation of about 5% or more to capture market opportunities. Unlike active funds, their passive counterparts are often fully invested. Cash holdings can have the opposite effect than intended—dragging on overall returns.
  • Fees: Active funds can charge up to 1-2% in investment manager fees while funds that tracked an index passively charged just 0.12% on average in 2022. These additional costs add up over time.

Below, we show how active funds increasingly underperform against their benchmark over each time period.

Fund Type1 Year
% Underperformed
5 Year
% Underperformed
10 Year
% Underperformed
20 Year
% Underperformed
All Large-Cap 51879195
All Small-Cap 57718994
Large-Cap Growth 74869698
Large-Cap Value 59698587
Small-Cap Growth 80598597
Small-Cap Value 41819192
Real Estate 88627487

As we can see, 51% of all large-cap active mutual funds underperformed in a one-year period. That compares to 41% of small-cap value funds, which had the best chance of outperforming the benchmark annually. Also, an eye-opening 88% of real estate funds underperformed.

For context, Warren Buffett’s firm Berkshire Hathaway has beat the S&P 500 two-thirds of the time. Even the world’s top stock pickers have a hard time beating the market’s returns.

2020 Market Crash: A Case Study

How about active funds’ performance during a crisis?

While the case for actively managed funds is often stronger during a market downturn, a 2020 study shows how they continued to underperform the index.

Overall, 74% of over 3,600 active funds with $4.9 trillion in assets did worse than the S&P 500 during the 2020 market plunge.

Stage of 2020 CycleTime Period% Underperforming S&P 500
CrisisFeb 20 - Apr 30, 202074.2
CrashFeb 20 - Mar 23, 202063.5
RecoveryMar 24 - Apr 30, 202055.8
Pre-CrisisOct 1 2019 - Jan 31, 202067.1

Source: NBER

In better news, roughly half underperformed through the recovery, the best out of any market condition that was studied.

The Bigger Impact

Of course, some actively managed funds outperform.

Still, choosing the top funds year after year can be challenging. Also note that active fund managers typically only run a portfolio for four and a half years on average before someone new takes over, making it difficult to stick with a star manager for very long.

As lower returns accumulate over time, the impact of investing in active mutual funds can be striking. If an investor had a $100,000 portfolio and paid 2% in costs every year for 25 years, they would lose about $170,000 to fees if it earned 6% annually.

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Markets in a Minute

Ranked: The Largest Bond Markets in the World

The global bond market stands at $133 trillion in value. Here are the major players in bond markets worldwide.



The Largest Bond Markets in the World

The Largest Bond Markets in the World

In 2022, the global bond market totaled $133 trillion.

As one of the world’s largest capital markets, debt securities have grown sevenfold over the last 40 years. Fueling this growth are government and corporate debt sales across major economies and emerging markets. Over the last three years, China’s bond market has grown 13% annually.

Based on estimates from the Bank for International Statements, this graphic shows the largest bond markets in the world.

ℹ️ Total debt numbers here include both domestic and international debt securities in each particular country or region. BIS notes that international debt securities are issued outside the local market of the country where the borrower resides and cover eurobonds as well as foreign bonds, but exclude negotiable loans.

Ranked: The World’s Top Bond Markets

Valued at over $51 trillion, the U.S. has the largest bond market globally.

Government bonds made up the majority of its debt market, with over $26 trillion in securities outstanding. In 2022, the Federal government paid $534 billion in interest on this debt.

China is second, at 16% of the global total. Local commercial banks hold the greatest share of its outstanding bonds, while foreign ownership remains fairly low. Foreign interest in China’s bonds slowed in 2022 amid geopolitical tensions in Ukraine and lower yields.

Bond Market RankCountry / RegionTotal Debt OutstandingShare of Total Bond Market
1🇺🇸 U.S.$51.3T39%
2🇨🇳 China$20.9T16%
3🇯🇵 Japan$11.0T8%
4🇫🇷 France$4.4T3%
5🇬🇧 United Kingdom$4.3T3%
6🇨🇦 Canada$4.0T3%
7🇩🇪 Germany$3.7T3%
8🇮🇹 Italy$2.9T2%
9🇰🇾 Cayman Islands*$2.7T2%
10🇧🇷 Brazil*$2.4T2%
11🇰🇷 South Korea*$2.2T2%
12🇦🇺 Australia$2.2T2%
13🇳🇱 Netherlands$1.9T1%
14🇪🇸 Spain$1.9T1%
15🇮🇳 India*$1.3T1%
16🇮🇪 Ireland$1.0T1%
17🇲🇽 Mexico*$1.0T1%
18🇱🇺 Luxembourg$0.9T1%
19🇧🇪 Belgium$0.7T>1%
20🇷🇺 Russia*$0.7T>1%

*Represent countries where total debt securities were not reported by national authorities. These figures are the sum of domestic debt securities reported by national authorities and/or international debt securities compiled by BIS.
Data as of Q3 2022.

As the above table shows, Japan has the third biggest debt market. Japan’s central bank owns a massive share of its government bonds. Central bank ownership hit a record 50% as it tweaked its yield curve control policy that was introduced in 2016. The policy was designed to help boost inflation and prevent interest rates from falling. As inflation began to rise in 2022 and bond investors began selling, it had to increase its yield to spur demand and liquidity. The adjustment sent shockwaves through financial markets.

In Europe, France is home to the largest bond market at $4.4 trillion in total debt, surpassing the United Kingdom by roughly $150 billion.

Banks: A Major Buyer in Bond Markets

Like central banks around the world, commercial banks are key players in bond markets.

In fact, commercial banks are among the top three buyers of U.S. government debt. This is because commercial banks will reinvest client deposits into interest-bearing securities. These often include U.S. Treasuries, which are highly liquid and one of the safest assets globally.

As we can see in the chart below, the banking sector often surpasses an economy’s total GDP.

Banking Sector

As interest rates have risen sharply since 2022, the price of bonds has been pushed down, given their inverse relationship. This has raised questions about what type of bonds banks hold.

In the U.S., commercial banks hold $4.2 trillion in Treasury bonds and other government securities. For large U.S. banks, these holdings account for almost 24% of assets on average. They make up an average 15% of assets for small banks in 2023. Since mid-2022, small banks have reduced their bond holdings due to interest rate increases.

As higher rates reverberate across the banking system and wider economy, it may expose further strains on global bond markets which have expanded rapidly in an era of dovish monetary policy and ultra-low interest rates.

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