Get PolitiFact in your inbox.
If Your Time is short
This claim is premature. It’s possible he paid what he owed and it’s possible he owes money. Only audits, not returns, can prove whether the proper amount of tax was paid.
Because of a lack of IRS auditing, questions persist about Trump’s returns, including whether he claimed proper deductions for charitable donations and business expenses.
Only full auditing will answer those questions.
A conservative group proclaimed that six years of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns proved he had followed the law and fulfilled his tax obligations.
"Trump tax returns have been released and shows he paid exactly what he owed, no crimes committed," said a Jan. 1 Facebook post from Red Wave News.
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)
Without audits, we don’t know whether Trump paid what he legally owed. Neither does Red Wave News.
"No one’s tax return proves what they owe," said University of Iowa income tax law professor Amandeep Grewal. "That depends on the law. The return might be correct, or it might be wrong."
Steven Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, agreed, saying returns alone can’t prove whether Trump paid what he legally owed. Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation, which reviewed the newly released returns, cited deductions and losses Trump claimed that Rosenthal said "looked suspicious."
It’s premature to draw conclusions until the returns have been audited.
Here’s a look at questions that Trump’s filings raised.
The returns, spanning 2015 to 2020, included personal returns and returns for some of Trump’s businesses. They were made public by the Democratic-led House Ways and Means and Committee on Dec. 30, days before Republicans took control of the House after gaining seats in the November midterm elections.
Trump issued a statement condemning the returns’ release and saying they "show how proudly successful I have been and how I have been able to use depreciation and various other tax deductions as an incentive for creating thousands of jobs and magnificent structures and enterprises."
The Ways and Means Committee also released a report in December on the IRS’ program of mandatory audits for sitting presidents’ and vice presidents’ individual tax returns. The report said that during Trump’s presidency, the IRS began an audit only of his 2016 return, and didn’t finish it.
Rosenthal and tax law expert Edward McCaffrey, a law, economics and political science professor at the University of Southern California, told PolitiFact that the lack of complete IRS auditing raises questions only full audits will answer. Among them:
Did Trump inflate deductions? For example, Trump took a $21 million deduction in 2015 for woodlands from his Seven Springs estate in Westchester County, New York, that were put in a conservation easement. These easements are agreements that let landowners take tax deductions if they promise not to develop the land.
The IRS flagged the deduction for auditing, but no final decision had been made on whether any penalty would be imposed, a December report by the joint committee said.
Large cash donations by Trump, including $1 million in 2016 and nearly $2 million in 2017, also were among numerous issues in the six years of returns that "warranted examination," according to the report.
Did Trump claim appropriate business losses? Rosenthal cited $105 million in losses claimed on Trump’s 2015 return that were carried over from previous years but may not have been claimed properly. That could affect how much Trump owed in future years.
The joint committee said verifying the carryovers "will ensure that the proper amount of net operating loss is utilized in future years."
The joint committee also said that for 2018, an IRS agent noted "large, unusual questionable" items, including a $12.1 million loss from the Trump Corp. and a $55.2 million loss from a Trump holding company, that needed further investigation.
Were business deductions appropriate? The joint committee said business expense deductions claimed for some Trump sole proprietorships should be examined to see whether they "derived from personal activities or hobbies."
Claiming business deductions for personal expenses is not allowed, Rosenthal said.
The report also said the amounts of expenses claimed were often the same or nearly the same as gross income; for example, one business in 2016 reported gross income of $680,886 and total expenses of $680,886.
If a business’s expenses matched its income, there would be nothing to tax.
The right-leaning National Taxpayers Union Foundation told PolitiFact it is "entirely possible for anyone, both wealthy and low-income, to legally owe $0 in taxes or even claim a refund, due to the complexity of the tax code."
Trump paid no tax in 2017, $5.3 million in 2018, $558,000 in 2019 and nothing in 2020, according to the joint committee.
In 2020, The New York Times reported on Trump tax data extending over two decades. Tax experts told PolitiFact then that Trump’s losses seemed exceptionally persistent and his tax avoidance was aggressive.
Trump often pays little in taxes mainly because he reports losses on his returns, Rosenthal and McCaffrey said.
We received no reply to messages sent to Red Wave News. The group’s Facebook profile lists the group’s web address as RagingAmericans.com.
That website includes a disclaimer that says Raging Americans "does not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability and accuracy" of the information on its site.
PolitiFact, "Experts say Trump tax report shows aggressive tax avoidance, unusually persistent losses," Sept. 30, 2020
Interview, Tax Policy Center senior fellow Steven Rosenthal, Jan. 6, 2023
Wall Street Journal, House Ways and Means Committee, "Report on the Internal Revenue Service’s Mandatory Audit Program Under the Prior Administration, 2017-2020," Dec. 20, 2022
New York Times, "Key Takeaways From Trump’s Tax Returns," Dec. 30, 2022
CNN, "Key takeaways from six years of Donald Trump’s federal tax returns," Dec. 30, 2022
CNN, "Opinion: Trump’s tax returns are much to do about nothings," Dec. 30, 2022
DonaldJTrump.com, "Statement by Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America," Dec. 30, 2022
Wall Street Journal, "Donald Trump’s Taxes Show Wide Use of Real-Estate Losses," Dec. 30, 2022
Wall Street Journal, Joint Committee on Taxation, "Report To The House Committee On Ways And Means Chairman Richard Neal," Dec. 15, 2022
The Hill, "Five things we’ve learned through the release of Trump’s tax records," Dec. 21, 2022
Email, Edward McCaffrey, Robert C. Packard trustee chair in law and professor of law, economics and political science at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, Jan. 5, 2023
Email, Amandeep Grewal, University of Iowa Orville L. and Ermina D. Dykstra professor in income tax law, Jan. 5, 2023
Email, Loyola Marymount University law professor and tax expert Theodore Seto, Jan. 6, 2023
Email, National Taxpayers Union Foundation spokesperson Kevin Glass, Jan. 5, 2023
Washington Post, "Trump got a $21 million tax break for saving the forest outside his N.Y. mansion. Now the deal is under investigation," Oct. 9, 2020
Washington Post, "Opinion: Trump’s taxes are Exhibit A in the case for why the IRS needs a big upgrade," Jan. 3, 2023