Warren Buffett is the best of the best at transforming income into wealth. How did he do it? Wise investing, you say. Combine this with his reputation for having enormous integrity and his well publicized frugal lifestyle. When it comes to consumption he seems to possess traditional midwestern values. In spite of his substantial wealth he lives in a relatively modest home and drives American makes of cars. Ah , but there is something else. As I stated in The Millionaire Next Door,
Millionaires know that the more they spend, the more income they must realize. The more they realize, the more they must allocate for income taxes. So . . . adhere to an important rule: To build wealth, minimize your realized (taxable) income and maximize your unrealized income (wealth/capital appreciation without a cash flow).
You may recall from an earlier blog that the typical millionaire next door has a realized income that is equivalent to only 8.2% of his wealth [median]. But Mr. Buffett is much better at miniziming his income as a function of net worth. According to the 2012 Forbes 400 list, Mr. Buffett has a net worth of $46 billion. CNN Money reported that “his taxable income was $39,814,784” in 2010. That is the equivalent of only 0.087% of his net worth! Translated, the typical millionaire next door’s percentage of realized income to his net worth (8.2%) is nearly 95 times higher than Mr. Buffett’s (8.2%/0.087%).
Also consider something else in this equation: income tax as a function of net worth. The typical millionaire next door pays the equivalent of approximately 2% (median) of his net worth in income tax annually. But here again Mr. Buffett is far, far better in minimizing his income tax. According to Reuter’s, “[Warren Buffett] paid only $6.9 million in federal income taxes in 2010.”
In a nominal sense, $6.9 million in income tax might appear to be a significant amount of money. But look at Mr. Buffett’s tax bill as a function of his net worth, that is $6.9 million as a percentage of his $46 billion in wealth. At this rate he is paying the equivalent of only 0.015% of his net worth. Compare this with the 2% paid by the millionaire next door. This rate is more than 133 times greater than Mr. Buffett’s. In fact, if Mr. Buffett was taxed at the same rate (2%) he would owe the Treasury Department $920,000,000 or nearly $1 billion. You might say that it is unAmerican not to pay your fair share. But Mr. Buffett gets special dispensation regarding this topic. Why? He has pledged to leave the vast majority of his estate to noble causes. And according to Forbes, he has already demonstrated considerable generosity. “He gave $1.5 billion to the Gates Foundation in July, bringing his total giving to $17.5 billion. . . in August he pledged $3 billion of stock to his children’s foundations.
Who is more likely to do an efficient job distributing money from your estate, the government or enlightened eleemosynary organizations? You know the answer and apparently so does Mr. Buffett.