Every tax or financial professional I have heard from about the New York Times piece found this characterization rather bizarre. The Times could have just as truthfully written that the provision was “particularly prized by America’s small businesses, farmers and authors,” many of whom depend on the NOL to ensure that they do not end up paying extraordinary marginal tax rates — possibly exceeding 100 percent — on income that may not fit itself neatly into the regular rotation of the earth around the sun.
Take a simple example, offered to me by Joe Kristan, a CPA who writes one of my favorite tax blogs. A meatpacking business loses a million dollars in one year, and then the next year it makes a million and a half. Without the ability to carry forward the losses from year one, then over the two years, it would pay perhaps $600,000 worth of state and federal income taxes, on $500,000 worth of actual money that it could spend to pay those taxes.
And did this scenario correspond to real-world clients of his firm? Absolutely, he said; it’s common in commodity businesses, where prices can fluctuate wildly from year to year.
“If someone has a $20 million gain in one year and a $10 million loss in the second year, that person should be treated the same as someone who had $5 million in each of the two years,” says Alan Viard, a tax specialist at the American Enterprise Institute, who like all the other experts, seemed somewhat surprised that this was not obvious.