There has been a great deal of discussion about adopting a "territorial" corporate tax system, much of it jaw-droppingly ignorant. It seemed to us that it would be much in order to explain corporate taxation for the layman interested in the policy debate.
First, a couple of warnings. The topic is infinitely complicated, so we will generalize in ways that will irritate tax and accounting professionals, and probably get too basic for most people who took business classes in college. We are, however, undeterred!
There are many ways to organize a business, including as a proprietorship, a partnership, or a limited liability company. We do not tax any of these structures separately -- the owners pay personal income tax on their share of the business's profits -- but each has disadvantages that drive most larger businesses to become corporations. We tax most corporations as separate entities. (Many small businesses in the United States organize as "S" corporations, which are "pass through" entities like partnerships, which is why people who favor low personal income taxes talk about the impact of high rates on small businesses, but that controversy is not the subject of this post.)
In general, corporations in the United States pay federal corporate tax at the rate of 35%. They also pay state corporate tax at varying rates. This is all fairly straightforward for individual American corporations with no foreign subsidiaries.
Of course, most larger American corporations own and control other corporations, often because they wish to do business in a foreign country and it is advantageous or even required to form a local corporation to do so. For our purposes, let's call the top corporation (the one you would buy shares of stock in if you were to invest) the "ultimate parent," American subsidiaries "domestic subsidiaries," and non-American subsidiaries "foreign subsidiaries."
Of course, the foreign subsidiaries often earn profits in foreign countries which levy corporate tax on those profits. These rates can vary enormously, but they are almost all lower than the US federal rate, and lower still than the blended federal-state rate.
A bit about "headline" tax rates and the difference between tax and accounting
In the American system, we keep separate books for accounting (financial reporting) and tax purposes. This is because financial reporting and tax have different purposes. The purpose of financial reporting is to reflect the financial results and position of the corporation as fairly as possible. "Profit" for financial reporting purposes, however, may have little to do with profit for tax purposes, in part because there are provisions in the tax code intended to change behavior. So, for example, the Congress might decree that a machine expected to last 10 years can be "depreciated" (expensed) over three years for tax purposes so that businesses can get larger and faster tax deductions and will therefore have an incentive to buy machines more quickly. We still require that the machine be depreciated over 10 years for financial reporting purposes, because we want accounting to be true to the underlying economics regardless of the machinations of Congress.
The result is that "reported" and "cash" tax rates are often different for entirely legitimate reasons, usually required by law. Journalists, even such experts as the editors of the New York Times, rarely understand this difference or deliberately obscure it to rally their readers to some policy view. (If you are a confused financial journalist, here is a somewhat more involved summary of the differences between "book" and tax income under American law.)
rest at http://thespiritofenterprise.blogspot.com/2012/12/corporate-taxation-for-layman-and-why.html