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The Tax Foundation is the nation’s leading independent tax policy nonprofit. Since 1937, our principled research, insightful analysis, and engaged experts have informed smarter tax policy at the federal, state, and global levels. For over 80 years, our goal has remained the same: to improve lives through tax policies that lead to greater economic growth and opportunity.
The taxation of dividends and capital gains is one of the most controversial issues in public finance. Relatively high effective tax rates on capital income, particularly that emanating from the corporate sector, have the potential to discourage investment and impede economic growth. Corporations must pay corporate income taxes on profits before they distribute dividends to shareholders, and shareholders pay an additional, individual-level tax on those amounts. Imposing two layers of taxation on corporate income can result in a total tax rate on capital income from corporations that is substantially higher than the rate on other types of income. In recent years, policymakers have become concerned about the economic damage caused by relatively high effective tax rates on capital income, and in 2003 the tax rate on capital gains and dividend income was lowered to 15 percent.