Which Households Own Municipal Bonds? Evidence From Tax Returns

Daniel R. Feenberg, James M. Poterba

NBER Working Paper No. 3900 (Also Reprint No. r1738)
Issued in November 1991
NBER Program(s):   PE

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.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w3900

Published: National Tax Journal, Volume XLIV, No. 4, Part 1, pp. 93-103, (December 1991). Available through NBER.

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