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State and Local Tax (SALT): Definition and How It's Deducted

What Is State and Local Tax (SALT)?

The acronym SALT refers to the state and local tax deduction that taxpayers who itemize their federal returns are allowed to take. This deduction was unlimited until 2018 when it was capped at a maximum of $10,000 per year, or $5,000 for married people filing separately.

The legislation that authorized this change expires at the end of 2025. Predictably, there is considerable debate over whether the cap should be lifted or made permanent at that time. High-income individuals and states with high tax rates lead the opposition to the cap. 

Key Takeaways

  • A $10,000 ceiling on the previously unlimited SALT deduction was enacted and made applicable for the tax years 2018 through 2025.
  • Individual taxpayers who itemize their personal deductions can deduct up to $10,000 of their aggregated state and local taxes per return annually ($5,000 for married people filing separately).
  • There has been a continuous debate over the fairness of the deduction before and after the cap was put in place.
  • That debate can be expected to heat up as the 2025 expiration debate draws nearer.

Understanding State and Local Tax (SALT)

Individual taxpayers who itemize their personal deductions can deduct up to $10,000 of their total state and local taxes per return annually ($5,000 for married people filing separately).

The limitation does not apply to taxes paid or accrued in carrying on a trade or business or incurred as expenses in an income-producing activity.

Deductible taxes include state, local, and foreign taxes on income, war profits, and excess profits; and state and local (but not foreign) taxes on personal property and real property, including amounts paid by tenant-stockholders to cooperative housing corporations with respect to such corporations’ real estate taxes.

Taxpayers can elect to deduct state and local general sales taxes in lieu of claiming a deduction of income taxes. Deductible state and local sales taxes include taxes on retail sales, similar “compensating use” taxes for the use, storage, or consumption of items, and taxes on motor vehicles.

Taxes imposed on certain income distributions related to generation-skipping transfers by trusts and estates are deductible if the distribution is included in the taxpayer's income.

Impact of the SALT Cap

A study of the impact of the SALT cap by the nonprofit Tax Foundation found that higher-income taxpayers and taxpayers from higher-tax counties benefited most from the unlimited SALT deduction.
Not surprisingly, the same people were hit hardest by the imposition of the $10,000 cap on the deduction that began in 2018.

The report concludes that any effort to repeal or increase the deduction would disproportionately benefit high earners.

The Brookings Institution has argued against the repeal of the SALT cap on the grounds that it would give a massive tax cut to the wealthy but little or no tax cut for everyone else. It estimates that the top 1% would get an average annual tax cut of $35,000 while the middle class would see an average cut of $37.

Efforts to Alleviate or Eliminate SALT Ceiling

States reacted quickly to the imposition of a ceiling on SALT deductions and undertook various steps to reduce its impact on their residents

Initial efforts by several states to allow their residents to contribute to a state charitable fund instead of paying income taxes were thwarted by final regulations issued by the U.S. Treasury Department to countermand this approach.

Litigation

Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York filed a lawsuit challenging the SALT ceiling as unconstitutional. The case was dismissed by a federal district court, and in 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court also found against the states.  

$103,575

The average SALT deduction for residents of New York State before the cap was put in place. At the opposite end of the scale, Alaskans averaged a SALT deduction of $11,305.

Special Relief for Pass-Throughs

Owners of pass-through entities (also known as flow-through entities)—principally partnerships and S corporations—received indirect relief from the SALT ceiling in Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Notice 2020-75, issued on Nov. 9, 2020.

The notice stated that forthcoming regulations would allow partnerships and S corporations to claim SALT deductions at the entity level without applying the SALT ceiling. This will allow income to pass through to partners and shareholders on an after-tax basis, without having to take into account their share of the SALT deductions previously claimed by the entity, in determining the SALT cap for their tax returns. Tax professionals continue to seek clarification of the pass-through rules.

Legislative Repeal

Some members of both parties favor repeal of the SALT cap though most are Democrats representing states with higher state and local taxes. Republicans—who more commonly represent lower-tax states—generally do not support repeal.
In November 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a partial repeal of the SALT cap by a vote of 218–206, with five Republicans voting for the bill and 16 Democrats—mainly progressives who considered it inadequate—voting against it. The measure was later rejected by the Senate.

The bill would have raised the cap to $20,000 for joint returns for 2019 and eliminated it for 2020 and 2021 for taxpayers with incomes below $100 million. It would have left the $10,000 cap in place for 2023 through 2025.

In early 2021, bills to eliminate the SALT cap were introduced in both houses of Congress. In the House of Representatives, proposed legislation already had more than 106 co-sponsors before March. In the Senate, Majority Leader Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced a total-repeal bill, while Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced legislation to increase the limit to $20,000 for joint returns. Additional bills were introduced in the 117th and 118th Congresses without success.  

Because the present law about the ceiling on SALT deductions expires after Dec. 31, 2025, the SALT cap will disappear in 2026 unless it is extended by legislation in the interim.

What State and Local Taxes Can Be Deducted?

The SALT deductions allow for deductions on income taxes and property taxes, or sales tax in lieu of income tax. Certain taxes, such as those on gasoline, car inspections, and property improvements cannot be deducted.

How Much Can I Deduct for State and Local Taxes?

The total amount that a taxpayer can deduct for state and local taxes if they itemize their deductions is $10,000. The ceiling is $5,000 for married couples filing separately.

What Is the SALT Cap Workaround?

The SALT cap workaround only works for S corporations and some other types of business partnerships.Enacted in 2021 in California, it allows for businesses taxed as S corporations or partnerships to choose to pay a 9.3% state income tax. The owners of the businesses can claim a credit on their income tax equal to the amount the business paid.

Approximately 30 states currently provide a version of that SALT cap workaround for passthrough entities.

The Bottom Line

The $10,000 cap on local and state tax deductions is due to expire at the end of 2025. If no action is taken, an unlimited deduction for state and local taxes will be restored.
Before then, we can look forward to a steadily growing debate over the fairness of the deduction, before and after the cap was imposed. The main participants in the debate will be state and local officials, particularly those in high-tax states who benefited most from the unlimited deduction, and members of Congress, who have the ultimate say on the matter.
Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
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