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Which Households Own Municipal Bonds? Evidence From Tax Returns


  • Daniel R. Feenberg
  • James M. Poterba


This paper uses data from 1988 federal income tax returns, which asked taxpayers to report their tax-exempt interest income as an information item, to analyze the distribution of tax-exempt asset holdings. More than three quarters of the tax-exempt debt held by households was held by those with marginal tax rates of 28% or more. The paper reports two measures of the average marginal tax rate on tax-exempt debt. The first measures the increase in taxes if a small fraction of each taxpayer's exempt interest income were converted to taxable interest. This weighted average of 'first-dollar" marginal tax rates was 25.8%. A second calculation finds that if all tax-exempt interest were reported as taxable interest, taxes would rise by 27.6% of the increase in taxable interest. Many taxpayers who have substantial tax-exempt interest receipts, but low first-dollar marginal tax rates, would be driven into higher tax brackets if the exemption were eliminated but their portfolios remained the same.

Suggested Citation

  • Daniel R. Feenberg & James M. Poterba, 1991. "Which Households Own Municipal Bonds? Evidence From Tax Returns," NBER Working Papers 3900, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3900
    Note: PE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Poterba, James M., 1989. "Tax reform and the market for tax-exempt debt," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(3), pages 537-562, August.
    2. Alan J. Auerbach & Mervyn A. King, 1983. "Taxation, Portfolio Choice, and Debt-Equity Ratios: A General Equilibrium Model," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 98(4), pages 587-609.
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    Cited by:

    1. James M. Poterba & Arturo Ramirez Verdugo, 2008. "Portfolio Substitution and the Revenue Cost of Exempting State and Local Government Interest Payments from Federal Income Tax," NBER Working Papers 14439, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Eijffinger, Sylvester C. W. & Huizinga, Harry P. & Lemmen, Jan J. G., 1998. "Short-term and long-term government debt and nonresident interest withholding taxes," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(3), pages 309-334, June.
    3. Poterba, James M. & Verdugo, Arturo Ramírez, 2011. "Portfolio Substitution and the Revenue Cost of the Federal Income Tax Exemption for State and Local Government Bonds," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 64(2), pages 591-613, June.
    4. Andrea Mattozzi, 2010. "Policy Uncertainty, Electoral Securities, And Redistribution," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 51(1), pages 45-71, February.
    5. Poterba, James M. & Samwick, Andrew A., 2003. "Taxation and household portfolio composition: US evidence from the 1980s and 1990s," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(1), pages 5-38, January.
    6. Daniel Garrett & Andrey Ordin & James W. Roberts & Juan Carlos Suárez Serrato, 2017. "Tax Advantages and Imperfect Competition in Auctions for Municipal Bonds," NBER Working Papers 23473, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Ayers, Benjamin C & Cloyd, C Bryan & Robinson, John R, 2005. ""Read My Lips . . .": Does the Tax Rhetoric of Presidential Candidates Affect Security Prices?," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 48(1), pages 125-148, April.
    8. Brooks, Robert, 1999. "Municipal bonds: a contingent claims perspective," Financial Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 8(2), pages 71-85.
    9. James M. Poterba, 2001. "Taxation and Portfolio Structure: Issues and Implications," NBER Working Papers 8223, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Francis A. Longstaff, 2009. "Municipal Debt and Marginal Tax Rates: Is there a Tax Premium in Asset Prices?," NBER Working Papers 14687, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Barber, Brad M. & Odean, Terrance, 2004. "Are individual investors tax savvy? Evidence from retail and discount brokerage accounts," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(1-2), pages 419-442, January.

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