Americans have over $30 trillion sitting in 401(k)’s and IRAs, and people are waking up to the fact that those accounts are in the crosshairs of the US government to solve their debt problems. In a recent interview with Maya MacGuineas, she said the fiscal condition of the US and what’s going to happen over the next 10 years is terrifying.
The Biden administration will likely try to kick the can down the road and that’s only going to make the fix more draconian. The political class is hyper focused on the top 1% of earners right now, but everyone needs to understand that when tax rates go up, they tend to go up for everyone.
In 1960, the highest marginal tax bracket was 89% with the lowest at 22%. The highest rate tends to be a harbinger of what all the other tax rates are doing. In Maya’s study, she found that the US government would have to tax the highest earners at a rate of 103% just to prevent the debt from continuing to grow. It’s not enough to tax the rich. There will come a time when everybody is going to fall under the scope of the IRS and will have to pay up.
The national debt that the government references is not the true national debt. If we did our books like every other country in the world, which includes unfunded liabilities, we would have a very different number. The true national debt is around $180 trillion and 8x-9x the GDP. You can’t control your payroll tax or your sales tax, but you can control the money you have in tax-deferred accounts.
The true purpose of a retirement account is not to give you a deduction, it’s to maximize your cash flow at a period of time in your life when you can least afford taxes. The way most people are planning for their retirement is backwards. Unless you can predict what tax rates are going to be in the year you take money out of your retirement account, you don’t really know how much money you have and that makes it very hard to plan.
We have an aging population in the US which is creating a demographic time bomb. As the Baby Boomer generation retires, later generations have to shoulder the brunt of that increased burden on social programs like Social Security. These programs only survive when subsequent generations are larger than the previous, which has not been the case for decades.
We are not having as many children as we have had in the past and that’s making those social programs more unsustainable. There will not be enough people in the future generating enough taxes to pay for everything we’ve already promised. When the programs were created, the variables were very different. People didn’t live as long and they had more children. That is not the reality of the situation now, but nothing about the programs has changed.
We have three possibilities for when tax rates are going to go up. The first is when the tax cuts expire in 2026. The second is the tax cuts get extended to 2030. The third, proposed by Ed Slott, is that the government will come to its senses and, starting next year, tax rates will go up for everyone.