Which Households Own Municipal Bonds? Evidence From Tax Returns
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.