Tesla’s Elon Musk responded to claims that he doesn’t pay income taxes, along with several other wealthy CEOs, in a report from ProPublica earlier this week. The report, which showed the wealth increases of several of the world’s richest people, including Musk, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Michael Bloomberg, along with their tax rates, claimed that these CEOs are not paying their fair share in taxes.
Interestingly, Musk’s wealth, which has been supplemented by Tesla’s meteoric rise in stock price over the past year, and not by a paid salary from his employer, is being accounted for as his “increase in wealth.” However, Musk hasn’t accepted a salary from Tesla, and his stock isn’t taxable unless he sells it due to the Capital Gains Tax.
Regarding his salary that he is legally required to collect, Musk told the New York Times:
“I don’t cash it. It just ends up accumulating in a Tesla bank account somewhere.”
Today, Musk added some more color to the entire subject, shedding more light on his situation that seems to be misconstrued and misunderstood by many of those who are reporting that he, along with other CEOs, is avoiding his income tax payments. First, it is important to note that Musk does receive performance-based incentives that were outlined in his contract. Known as tranches, Musk only collects these when Tesla reaches thresholds for deliveries, profitability, or another metric that proves the CEO is assisting or is complimenting the company’s growth. These are paid in stock options.
Musk also said:
It should be noted that taxes are only paid on realized gains, which cannot be attributed to increases in stock ownership. If this were the case, Musk would be forced to sell many of his shares to cover the taxes he would be required to pay. However, this would be detrimental, not only to Tesla stock but to basically any large companies’ stock, as CEOs would forfeit their majority ownership stakes to cover lofty tax rates. Furthermore, most of the wealth these CEOs have is in the stock they own and is not sitting in a lump sum of cash in their bank accounts. Unfortunately, these stories continue to be circulated through the media. Many people do not do their own due diligence to find out the real reasons why CEOs aren’t cutting substantial tax payment checks to the IRS.
In short, taxes are based on income and not wealth. This is why Musk and other wealthy CEOs are not paying tens of millions or even billions of dollars in taxes every year.