As the 2012 presidential campaign season swings into high gear, we're going to hear a lot about presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney's record on job creation.
Between his tenure at Bain Capital and his time as governor of Massachusetts, there'll be plenty for politicians and pundits alike to discuss.
Here are some of the highlights we can expect to hear from the campaign trail:
Bain Capital: The Good, the Bad and the Hard-to-Quantify.
In 1984, Romney left management consulting firm Bain & Company to co-found the spinoff private-equity investment firm, Bain Capital. For the next 15 years, Romney presided over Bain Capital's operations, which shifted focus over time from venture capitalism to leveraged buyouts. Make no mistake about it -- Bain Capital's purpose was to make money for its investors, and it did so hand over fist. From its 1986 success investing in what was then a small office supply store called Staples (Romney fondly recalls stocking store shelves himself) until Romney left in 1999, Bain made billions. Along the way, it purchased at least five companies that subsequently ended up in bankruptcy even as Bain walked away with eye-popping profits:
• American Pad & Paper: Bain invested $5 million in the small paper company in 1992, and reportedly collected $100 million in dividends on that investment. AMPAD went bankrupt in 2000, laying off 385 employees.
• Dade Behring: Bain Capital invested $415 million in a leveraged buyout in 1994, borrowed an additional $421 million, and ultimately walked away with $1.78 billion. Dade filed for bankruptcy in 2002, and 2,000 workers lost their jobs.
• DDI Corporation: Bain Capital reportedly invested $46.3 million in 1997, reaping $85.5 million in profits and an additional $10 million in management fees. When the company later went bankrupt, 2,100 workers were laid off.
• GS International: In a somewhat less profitable transaction, Bain Capital invested $60 million in 1993 and received $65 million in dividends. This company, too, went bankrupt in 2002, and 750 workers lost their jobs.
• Stage Stores: Bain invested $5 million to purchase the company and took it public in the mid-'90s, reaping $100 million from stock offerings. Stage filed for bankruptcy in 2000, and 5,795 workers reportedly were laid off.
Romney himself profited handsomely from his time running Bain Capital. Although the exact details of his personal finances are not available, news reports estimate his net worth at somewhere between $190 and $250 million, much of it derived from his Bain Capital days. Very rough math might suggest that Romney made as much as $20,000 per job lost.
In fairness to Romney, however, Bain Capital purchased more than 115 companies during his tenure, and Staples wasn't its only success. The Romney campaign points to household-name companies like Domino's Pizza and Sports Authority to support its claim that Bain Capital actually created approximately 120,000 jobs during the Romney era. But that number may also be misleading: Job creation at successful companies is usually more attributable to dedicated management than to investors or consultants.
Romney's job as head of Bain Capital was to make a handsome return for investors. His goal would have been to maximize efficiency and profits, not to ensure that people with steady jobs got to keep them. Consequently, although jobs were created, it's not clear how much of the credit should go to Bain and Romney.
The Massachusetts Miracle – or Not.
Romney proudly attempts to tout his success at creating jobs in Massachusetts, but the facts may not support him. According to MarketWatch, Massachusetts ranked 50th out of the 50 states in job growth during Romney's first year in office, and things improved very little thereafter. By the end of his term, Massachusetts was still 47th, ranking above only rustbelt states Michigan and Ohio and Hurricane Katrina-wracked Louisiana. While jobs were growing nationwide at more than 5%, Massachusetts limped along at a bare 0.9% growth rate. So yes, some jobs were created in Massachusetts during Romney's tenure, but not at a rate that unemployed American voters are likely to find reassuring.
So, who is the real Mitt Romney? It's clear that Romney will continue to portray himself as a savvy businessman who can put America back to work, and that President Obama will want to characterize him as a heartless corporate pirate who got filthy rich on other people's misery. The truth undoubtedly lies somewhere in between, but Romney's tendency to publicly stumble over his own wealth won't help him in the polls. The Internet is already full of awkward Romney quotes like:
• "Corporations are people, my friend."
• "I like being able to fire people."
• "I'm not concerned about the very poor."
All of those quotes have been taken out of context and stripped of whatever nuance Romney intended. Taken together, though, they form a fairly compelling -- if not necessarily accurate -- picture of a man with far more money than heart.
And why should investors care? If corporate America likes Romney's promise of a business-friendly White House, there should be plenty of concern about how Romney's job creation record plays on the campaign trail. Corporations may be able to donate big money to presidential candidates these days, but it's still individual human voters who'll decide whether to vote Romney in or not.
Perhaps, instead of essentially promising to create jobs himself, Romney should focus his message on how making companies profitable and encouraging economic growth will create the need for well-paid workers. It's an honest message, and one that might just appeal to voters. If Romney gets mired in his arguably ambiguous record, or continues to arm his critics with quotes suggesting that he's just too rich to care about ordinary Americans, President Obama is almost certain to win another four years in the White House.
Thanks Mitt and Newt: A Dozen Tax Tips for the Rest of Us
Romney's Profit from Bain's Buyouts: Up to $20,000 Per Laid-off Worker
If you think Romney and Gingrich disagree about undocumented immigrants, their tax returns suggest that they're polar opposites when it comes to investing in municipal bonds to earn tax-free interest.
The former speaker's 2010 return shows he earned $10,754 of tax-free interest, compared to $26,655 of the taxable variety. Romney's forms show just $557 of tax-free interest and $3,295,727 of taxable interest income.
Remember, to figure the taxable-equivalent yield of a tax-free bond, divide the tax-free yield by 1 minus your marginal tax rate. Since Gingrich's marginal rate is 35%, a 3.5% tax-free yield is worth the same as a 5.38% taxable yield (3.5/0.65). Romney was hit by the alternative minimum tax in 2010, so his marginal rate was 28%. Avoiding a 28% tax makes a 3.5% tax-free rate equal to a 4.86% taxable yield (3.5/0.72).
When you buy your principal residence, points you pay to get your mortgage are fully deductible on your tax return for the year you close. When it comes to a second home (or a rental property or a refinancing), however, that cost must be amortized over the life of the loan -- 1/30th a year if you have a 30-year mortgage, for example. That can lead to relatively small -- and relatively easy-to-forget -- write offs.
But if you follow Gingrich's example, you won't miss this tax break. His return shows a $19 deduction for a portion of the $2,261 it cost him to refinance the mortgage on a rental property he owns in Whitehall, Wisc. Since the refi was in October, 2010, he got to write off one-fourth of 1/30th of the cost on that year's return.
Anyone planning a substantial charitable gift this year should take a page from Romney's playbook and consider donating appreciated securities rather than cash.
As long as you have owned the asset for more than a year, you get to deduct the full fair market value of the gift, not what you paid for it. (And neither you nor the charity ever has to pay tax on the appreciation that accrued while you owned the stock.)
Romney's 2010 return shows that he and his wife, Ann, donated $1,525,167 in cash and another $1,458,807 in non-cash gifts -- much of it appreciated stock in Domino's Pizza.
Even if you don't itemize deductions, you can write off alimony paid to an ex-spouse ... as long as you also include the ex's Social Security number so the IRScan make sure he or she reports the amount as taxable income. Gingrich fulfilled that requirement and deducted the $19,800 he paid his ex-wife in 2010.
Tax law allows you to deduct the loss on a stock that becomes worthless, treating it as though you sold it for $0 at the end of the year in which it lost all value. That appears to have happened to at least one of Mitt Romney's investments. His return shows a $63,511 loss on shares in an investment fund that were disposed of for $0.
The stock market meltdown of 2007-2009 was not kind to Mitt Romney. He suffered losses so serious that, even after wiping out all of his capital gains, he carried $4,844,089 of long-term losses over to his 2010 tax return.
Remember, losses are used to offset gains dollar for dollar, but then only $3,000 of excess loss can be deducted against other kinds of income such as salary or interest income. Any excess is carried over to the next year. On his 2010 return, Romney used nearly $5 million of such losses to offset gains that would have otherwise been taxed at 15%, saving him $726,613.
If you had carryover losses on your 2010 return (as the Gingriches did), be sure to revive them when you complete your Schedule D this spring.
Congress has created special rules for what it calls "passive activities," a group that includes most investments in real estate and limited-partnerships.
Basically, losses from such investments can only be deducted against gains from similar activities. There's an exception that allows up to $25,000 of loss from rental real estate to be deducted if you are "actively" involved in the rental.
We don't know if Gingrich is actively involved in the rental in Wisconsin, but even if he was, he would not have been permitted to deduct the $4,646 loss he reported. The $25,000 allowance gradually disappears as adjusted gross income moves between $100,000 and $150,000. With AGIof $3,142,066, Gingrich is out of luck. (He can stockpile the disallowed loss and deduct it when he sells the property.) By the way, the Romneys return shows that the passive loss rule blocked the deduction of over $2 million in losses from limited partnerships.
Plenty of politicians have gotten in trouble in the past for failing to pay Social Security taxes for their child-care providers and household help. For 2012, if you pay household help more than $1,800, you are required to file a Schedule H with your return and pay Social Security and Medicare taxes for your employee.
Both Romney and Gingrich included the form and paid the piper for their household help in 2010. Ann Romney reported that she paid four household employees a total of $20,603 in 2010 and paid $3,152 in taxes for them. Gingrich reported that he paid household help $14,774 and paid $2,260 in Social Security and Medicare tax.
The federal income tax is on a pay-as-you-earn system. If you don't pay in enough during the year -- via withholding from paychecks or estimated tax payments -- the IRSwill slap on an underpayment penalty. Generally, you avoid the penalty if your payments during the year are at least 90% of what you owe. Gingrich owed an extra $382,734 when he filed his $2010 return, 38% of his tax bill for the year. That triggered an underpayment penalty of $1,543.
The opposite side of the coin from the underpayment penalty is paying in too much doing the year. About 75% of all taxpayers are in this boat, and get tax refunds every spring. We think that's silly, and have a calculator to help you match withholding from your paychecks to what you'll owe for the year. Our calculator won't help Romney, though, since he has no wages from which to withhold. He overpays via quarterly estimated tax payments, and boy does he overpay! His 2010 return shows that he paid in $1,609,441 more than the $3,009,766 that he owed. He didn't ask for a refund, though. He let the IRSkeep the cash as a down payment on his 2011 tax bill.
For 2010, the 6.2% employee share of the Social Security tax applied to the first $106,800 of wages. (The wage base is $110,100 for 2012; the rate is 4.2% for January and February and will jump back to 6.2% if Congress fails to extend the payroll tax holiday.) If you work more than one job and your combined salary exceeds the wage base, too much tax will be withheld from your pay. That happened to one of the Gingriches in 2010, so they claimed a credit of $367 to reclaim the excess tax withheld.
A special rule allows qualifying self-employed workers to deduct 100% of their medical insurance premiums, even if they don't itemize deductions. That might have helped Romney, who reported that he paid $14,176 in self-employed health insurance premiums in 2010. But he didn't get the tax break. Rather than claim the special deduction, Romney reported the premiums as medical expense on Schedule A, where a deduction is allowed only to the extent such expenses exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income. Romney's $14,176 of premiums fell well short of $1,623,488 (7.5% of his AGI).