Twenty of the nation's largest banks paid only a 2.7 percent tax rate on domestic income in 1981, according to a study by the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.
Six of the banks studied by the committee actually collected tax refunds or credits against future liabilities despite domestic income that year ranging from $8 million to $154 million. Bank America, the nation's second largest bank, for example, had U.S. income of $154 million but will either get an $18 million refund or an $18 million credit.
The analysis, performed at the request of Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is expected to be used as ammunition in a threatened effort to raise the effective tax rates paid by banks. Dole has used the threat of tax increases in an attempt to get the banks to back off from an intense lobbying campaign to kill legislation passed last year requiring 10 percent withholding on all interest and dividend income.
Dole said yesterday that he is "sure the average taxpayer who pays about 20 percent of his income in federal income tax will welcome" an inquiry into "this privileged, tax exempt status of the banks ." The statutory tax rate for corporations, before special tax rules are taken into consideration, is 46 percent.
Along with the finding that the 20 largest banks paid an effective rate of 2.7 percent, or $53 million in U.S. taxes on U.S. income of $1.9 billion, the study compared effective tax rates of different industries. Among the findings were that:
* The lowest rates were paid by paper and wood products companies, a depressed industry, which received $193 million in credits or refunds while having a U.S. income of $1.4 billion, and by railroads, which received refunds and credits of $129 million while having U.S. income of $1.7 billion. This translates into negative U.S. tax rates of 14.2 percent and 7.5 percent respectively.
* The banking industry had the third lowest tax rate on U.S. income, but it was almost matched by crude oil producers, who paid $31 million on $996 million of U.S. income.
* Among the highest U.S. effective tax rates on income earned within the United States were 47.7 percent for automobile manufacturers, 46.1 percent for the trucking industry, 29.3 percent for electronics and 28.8 percent for beverage producers.
In addition to calculating the U.S. effective rate on domestic income, the study also determined the worldwide tax rate on worldwide income and foreign rates on foreign income. The worldwide and foreign rates are all higher than the domestic rate. Corporations can get a U.S. credit for foreign taxes paid on foreign income.
Commercial banks, for example, paid foreign tax rates on foreign income of 38.1 percent. Crude oil producers faced foreign tax rates of 74.2 percent and the automobile industry had a foreign tax rate of 97.5 percent. A number of tax experts contend, however, that the key figure for government officials attempting to define policy is the U.S. rate on U.S. income. In calculating these figures, the Joint Committee treated provisions that allow companies to defer taxes, such as depreciation, as taxes that are not paid. A number of corporations object to this, contending that they will owe the taxes in future years.
In the study of the 20 large banks, the Joint Committee did not determine the U.S. rate on U.S. income for three banks, Citicorp, Manufacturers Hanover Trust, both of which had book losses, and Northwest Bankcorp, for which information was not available.
Six of the banks studied paid no U.S. tax on U.S. income, and received either refunds for credits against future liabilities. They were: Bank America, income of $154 million, and a credit or refund of $18 million; Bankers Trust New York, U.S. income of $45 million and a credit or refund of just under $1 million; Crocker National, income of $8 million and a refund or credit of $16 million; Mellon National, income of $103 million and a credit or refund of $40 million; First National Boston, income of $66 million and a credit or refund of $16 million and First Bank System, income of $69 million and a credit or refund of $24 million.
The remaining banks paid taxes at the following rates: Chase Manhatten, 14.9 percent; J. P. Morgan & Co., 19 percent; Continental Illinois, 14.3 percent; Chemical New York, 3.2 percent; First Interstate, 5.8 percent; First Chicago, 0.2 percent; Security Pacific, 2.3 percent; Wells Fargo, 5.3 percent; Marine Midland, 7.5 percent; Irving Bank, 1.6 percent; and Interfirst, 17.8 percent.