All the industries that profit from the present, soul-numbing U.S. Tax Code have combined to raise their voices against reform. None have been more strident than those claiming that the Treasury-proposed tax system would decimate investment. But many of their arguments are speculative or spurious. Sound investments should prosper under tax reform, and help make the entire economy more efficient. For example:
* Real Estate. From all the beating of breasts in the real estate business, you'd think the tax proposal was going to sink the ship. I've heard from advisers who seriously suggest that people put off buying their own homes because the tax plan, if passed, would lower their property values.
That's nuts. There is as much reason to assume the best from the tax reform proposals as to assume the worst.
For your personal residence, mortgage-interest payments would remain entirely deductible. You'd lose the deduction for property taxes. On the other hand, the value of your house would be indexed -- so ultimately, you would be taxed only on the appreciation that exceeded the inflation rate.
Other parts of the plan would cut individual taxes for the majority of people, especially those who take the standard deduction. That would give them more disposable income and make it easier for them to buy homes. So it's not impossible to imagine that tax reform would improve the demand for personal residences rather than flatten it.
A particularly silly complaint from tax-reform opponents runs like this: Because you'll be in a lower tax bracket, they say, your mortgage-interest deduction would be worth less, hence you will "lose money." But that's not true. Being in a lower bracket would save you money. Flipped around, that mindless argument would have to conclude that raising your tax rates would be a good thing, because your mortgage-interest deduction would then be worth more. Obviously, that's an argument to ignore.
Second-home investments are more problematical. You might lose a good deal of the mortgage-interest deduction. But if you rent out the property when you're not there, your rental income might more than cover the cost. If fewer second homes are built because people are spooked by the loss of deductibility, rents will rise for those who remain in the business and the profit in second-home ownership will improve.
But real estate tax shelters could definitely be hurt -- as would all other tax shelters that strive for big up-front tax deductions. Tax reform would wipe out most of these loopholes. That could not help but lower the value of existing commercial buildings and apartment houses, whose present sky-high prices rest chiefly on the mania for tax shelters under present law.
A better time to buy these properties might be after the loophole closing, when prices sagged. In time, rents would rise to cover the loss of the tax advantage, making these buildings highly profitable again.
One other thought is that under tax reform, fewer people might borrow money for speculating in garbage real estate deals, and interest rates might fall. Lower rates would improve demand -- and raise the price -- for genuinely good investment properties.
* Interest-Rate Investments. People who hold savings accounts or bond mutual funds would get a big break. The tax on your interest income would be indexed to inflation, so you wouldn't be taxed on interest earnings that equalled the inflation rate. Result: The net yield from your savings, at any rate of interest, would be greater than it is today.
* Stocks. You would lose the low capital-gains rate that makes stock profits worth more than profits from interest-rate investments. On the other hand, your stock profits would also be indexed to inflation, applied retroactively to 1965.
If tax reform lowered interest rates, it would give the stock market a boost overall, meaning that it would still be well worth your while to invest in equities rather than shift all your money to savings accounts. Proposed changes in corporate taxation should also raise dividend payouts, which would improve investment yields. The real reason for buying stocks isn't tax advantage, it's the hope of big profits on your money -- and that incentive would remain.
* Municipal Bonds. Here, too, reform cuts two ways. Lower tax rates for individuals would reduce demand for tax-free municipals, cutting prices and raising yields. On the other hand, states would be sharply limited in the type of tax-frees they could issue, so supply would fall as well as demand. There might be temporary turmoil in the market, but it's not implausible to argue that long-term holders wouldn't be much affected.
In short, tax reform would not be as shocking to savers and investors as the nay-sayers imply. So keep an open mind about the Treasury's proposals. They might be better for you than you think.