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The Impact of the 1986 Tax Reform Act on Personal Saving

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  • Jonathan Skinner
  • Daniel Feenberg

Abstract

Many critics believed that the Tax Reform Act of 1986 (TRA86) would discourage saving. Yet personal saving rates have rebounded since 1987. This rebound might have been caused by a general decline in marginal tax rates on household saving. And we estimate, at least for the 1980s, a positive elasticity of saving with respect to the after-tax rate of return. But the tax changes alone cannot account for the recent upswing in saving rates. Furthermore, the positive saving elasticity during the 1980s is fleeting and fragile; during the entire postwar period the correlation between the after-tax rate of return and personal saving is at most zero. We also consider three alternative ways by which the Tax Reform Act could have affected personal saving. First, the cutbacks in IRA eligibility were viewed by some as discouraging saving. But conventionally measured personal saving increased after IRA enrollment plummeted in 1987. We show that this anomalous finding may be an artifact of how personal saving is measured, since a different measure - - the real change in household wealth - - grew strongly during the mid-l98Os, before leveling off after 1987. Second, the phasing out of personal credit interest deductions in TRA86 could have discouraged borrowing and thereby stimulated national saving. We find that wealthier taxpayers simply shuffled their personal credit loans into tax-deductible housing mortgages with little net effect on aggregate saving. Finally, saving could have been reduced in 1986 if taxpayers, rushing to realize capital gains before TRA86, spent their proceeds on bit-ticket consumption goods. We also find little evidence in favor of this view, although we do find much of the capital gains ended up in interest-bearing accounts. In sum, TRAB6 had more impact on the composition than on the overall level of saving.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 3257.

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Date of creation: Feb 1990
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Publication status: published as Slemrod, Joel (ed.) Do Taxes Matter? The Impact of the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1990.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3257

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  22. Alan J. Auerbach, 1988. "Capital Gains Taxation in the United States: Realizations, Revenue, and Rhetoric," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 19(2), pages 595-638.
  23. Makin, John H & Couch, Kenneth A, 1989. "Saving, Pension Contributions, and the Real Interest Rate," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 71(3), pages 401-07, August.
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Cited by:
  1. Barry Bosworth & Gary Burtless, 1992. "Effects of Tax Reform on Labor Supply, Investment, and Saving," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 6(1), pages 3-25, Winter.
  2. Jonathan Skinner, 1990. "The Dynamic Efficiency Cost of Not taxing Housing," NBER Working Papers 3454, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Martin Gervais & Manish Pandey, 2005. "Who Cares about Mortgage Interest Deductibility?," University of Western Ontario, Economic Policy Research Institute Working Papers 20059, University of Western Ontario, Economic Policy Research Institute.
  4. Alan J. Auerbach & Joel Slemrod, 1997. "The Economic Effects of the Tax Reform Act of 1986," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 35(2), pages 589-632, June.
  5. Jappelli, Tullio & Pistaferri, Luigi, 2007. "Do people respond to tax incentives? An analysis of the Italian reform of the deductibility of home mortgage interests," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 51(2), pages 247-271, February.
  6. Uhlig, Harald & Yanagawa, Noriyuki, 1996. "Increasing the capital income tax may lead to faster growth," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(8), pages 1521-1540, November.
  7. Martin Gervais, 1998. "Housing Taxation and Capital Accumulation," UWO Department of Economics Working Papers, University of Western Ontario, Department of Economics 9807, University of Western Ontario, Department of Economics.
  8. Steven M. Fazzari & Benjamin Herzon, 1998. "Capital Gains Tax Cuts, Investment, and Growth," Macroeconomics, EconWPA 9811006, EconWPA.

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