Joe and Jill Biden are doing quite fine, with a cozy income of $985,233 in 2019, according to tax returns released Tuesday. But that’s a big drop from what they earned in 2018, when the couple pulled in nearly $4.6 million. That’s a 79% pay cut from 2018 to 2019.
The big change: A sharp drop in income from paid speeches after Biden announced his presidential candidacy on April 25, 2019. In 2018, the Bidens reported $3.2 million in income from two entities known as S Corps that handle their income from book royalties and speaking fees. In 2019, those two entities generated just $228,703 in income, accounting for 82% of the foregone income.
Biden’s income from the University of Pennsylvania, where he’s a professor, dropped from $406,368 in 2018 to $135,116 in 2019 because he took an unpaid leave of absence after declaring his run for president. Other declines may have come from changes to investment income or year-to-year adjustments. Jill Biden earned $73,286 in 2019 from her job as a professor at Northern Virginia Community College, a drop of about $22,000 from her pay the year before at the school.
The Bidens paid $299,346 in federal taxes in 2019, for an effective tax rate of 30.4%. That’s a bit lower than the 32.9% tax rate they paid in 2018, which was a much bigger tax bill on much higher income.
Tax breaks for the Bidens and Trump
It’s certainly no accident the Biden campaign released returns for the Bidens (and for Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff) on the same day as the first presidential debate. President Donald Trump’s refusal to release any tax returns have been a political liability, which may have gotten worse following a New York Times expose citing tax returns showing Trump paid almost no tax for many of the last 20 years. It’s not known what portion of his income Trump pays in taxes, if he pays anything, averaged over time.
As a real-estate dealmaker for most of his career, Trump has been able to take advantage of tax laws especially generous to developers, allowing them to use business losses to offset future taxes and plow profits into new projects instead of paying taxes on them. Investigators in New York City and state are also investigating whether Trump committed tax fraud. The Bidens don’t enjoy the type of legal tax loopholes Trump does. They do, however, take advantage of tax breaks provided by funneling income through S Corps, rather than simply cashing the checks they earn.
The Bidens’ best year was 2017, when they earned more than $11 million. That came from nearly a full year of paid speechifying, plus proceeds from a bestseller Joe Biden published that year. When he gave speeches, however, Biden was careful not to fall into the trap Hillary Clinton did when she accepted millions of dollars in speaking fees from Wall Street banks, leading to charges she was too cozy with the industry. Biden took no money from Wall Street banks or corporations, instead doing gigs for civic groups, universities and theater audiences paying to attend. That’s one criticism Clinton had to bear in 2016 that Biden doesn’t.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. Confidential tip line: firstname.lastname@example.org. Encrypted communication available. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.