Story at a glance

  • More than two dozen of the wealthiest Americans reportedly paid a “true tax rate” of under 4 percent between 2014 and 2018, a ProPublica investigation revealed.
  • The nonprofit news outlet determined that the 25 richest people in the country, whose collective net worth rose by $400 billion over the five-year period, paid a tax rate of 3.4 percent.
  • The report does not level any accusations of illegal behavior.

More than two dozen of the wealthiest Americans reportedly paid a “true tax rate” of under 4 percent between 2014 and 2018, a ProPublica investigation revealed

Using IRS data, which it does not disclose how it obtained, the nonprofit news outlet determined that the 25 richest people in the United States, whose collective net worth rose by $400 billion over the five-year period, paid a rate of 3.4 percent. 

ProPublica’s so-called “true tax rate” compared federal income taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans to how much their net worth increased over the same time frame on the Forbes rich list. The richest paid a total of $13.6 billion over the period. The outlet reported that the median American household paid 14 percent in federal taxes, while the maximum is 37 percent.

The report does not level any accusations of illegal behavior. 


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“America’s billionaires avail themselves of tax-avoidance strategies beyond the reach of ordinary people,” ProPublica reported. “Their wealth derives from the skyrocketing value of their assets, like stock and property. Those gains are not defined by US laws as taxable income unless and until the billionaires sell.”

“The IRS records show that the wealthiest can — perfectly legally — pay income taxes that are only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions, if not billions, their fortunes grow each year,” the outlet continued. 

The report shows that in 2007 and 2011, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos paid no federal taxes. Bezos “declined to receive questions” from ProPublica.

Meanwhile, according to the investigation, Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s worth rose $13.9 billion between 2014 and 2018 while he paid $292 million in taxes. The outlet maintains Musk did not reply to detailed questions after initially responding to earlier inquiries with “?.”


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ProPublica reported that Berkshire Hathaway founder Warren Buffet paid slightly under $24 million in taxes from 2014 to 2018 on a reported earnings of $125 million. Yet the outlet’s calculations project Buffett’s wealth grew by 24.3 billion — placing the “true tax rate” at 0.10 percent. 

Buffet told the outlet in an email he continues to “believe that the tax code should be changed substantially,” adding that “huge dynastic wealth is not desirable for our society.”

“I believe the money will be of more use to society if disbursed philanthropically than if it is used to slightly reduce an ever-increasing U.S. debt,” Buffet wrote.


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Published on Jun 09, 2021