To Owe or Be Owned—Depends on How You Tax It

Corporate tax codes in the United States, most of Europe, Asia and elsewhere in the world, create a significant bias toward debt finance over equity. The crux of the issue is that interest paid on borrowing can be deducted from the corporate tax bill, while returns paid on equity—dividends and capital gains—cannot. This debt distortion is not new. What is new, however, is that we have come to realize that excessive debt (or leverage) is much more costly than we had. The global financial crisis was a stark lesson about the risks of excessive leverage ratios in financial institutions. Designing a better system will ultimately pay off. And now is the time for change. A recent IMF Staff Discussion Note offers two alternatives that reduce or eliminate the more favorable tax treatment of debt.