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Obama's income fell in election year, paid 18.4 percent tax rate

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at a concert celebrating Memphis Soul music at the White House in Washington April 9, 2013. REU
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at a concert celebrating Memphis Soul music at the White House in Washington April 9, 2013. REU

By Jeff Mason and Kevin Drawbaugh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama paid an effective federal tax rate of 18.4 percent in 2012 and saw income from his best-selling books drop as he ran for re-election, according to his tax returns released by the White House on Friday.

Obama and his wife Michelle had adjusted gross income of $608,611 last year, down from $789,674 in 2011, and paid $112,214 in total taxes, compared to $162,074 in 2011.

Their total income came in at $662,076 - down almost 22 percent from $844,585 the previous year.

As president, Obama is entitled to a $400,000 annual salary. He reported salary income in 2011 and 2012 of $394,800, however, after deducting pre-tax amounts he paid for his health insurance premium, according to a White House official.

The Obamas' outside business income fell sharply as the president's book sales declined. In 2012, the couple had business income of $258,772, down from $441,369 in 2011.

Book sales have declined dramatically since the early days of his presidency. In 2009, his business income from book sales came in around $5.2 million.

"Dreams From My Father," an autobiographical look at his early life, was published in 1995, and "The Audacity of Hope," which sketched out his policy vision, was published in 2006.

The Obamas reported giving $150,034 to charities, representing roughly 25 percent of their adjusted gross income. The largest gift was $103,871 to the Fisher House Foundation, an organization that provides housing for military families near military hospitals.

Michelle Obama has made supporting the military one of her top public causes as first lady.

The couple also gave $1,000 to the Palm Beach County Law Enforcement Foundation. One of its police officers was killed in September 2012 while working in the presidential motorcade.

Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, reported adjusted gross income of $385,072 and paid $87,851 in total federal taxes last year. Their charitable contributions amounted to $7,190, including some $2,000 in donated clothing and other items.

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which tracks the non-profit world, Americans on average give about 4.7 percent of their income to charity. Those who make more than $200,000 annually give about 4.2 percent of their income away.

PAYING THEIR SHARE

Obama has pressed for wealthy people like himself to pay a greater share in taxes.

The issue was a sticking point in his campaign against Republican Mitt Romney, a wealthy former private equity executive who had an effective tax rate of 14.1 percent in 2011.

"Under the president's own tax proposals, including limitations on the value of tax preferences for high-income households, he would pay more in taxes while ensuring we cut taxes for the middle class and those trying to get in it," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

The president's effective tax rate in 2011 was 20.5 percent.

Effective tax rates vary wildly from one taxpayer to another because of the many tax breaks available, but counting all U.S. taxpayers, the average income tax rate in 2010 was 11.8 percent, according to the Tax Foundation, a business-oriented tax research group in Washington.

In 2011, about 46 percent of Americans paid no federal income tax, most of them because they were poor or elderly, according to the Tax Policy Center, a centrist tax think tank. Almost two-thirds of those who paid no federal income tax did pay federal employment taxes that support the Social Security pension system and the Medicare health program, the center said.

The Obamas were subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT) - a parallel tax system set up to ensure the affluent do not avoid tax altogether. They paid about $21,220 extra in tax because the president was subject to the AMT in 2012, up from about $12,500 in 2011.

The 2014 White House budget released this week proposed a new type of minimum tax for the wealthy known as the Buffett Rule, named for billionaire Warren Buffett, who has complained that his tax rate is lower than that paid by his secretary.

The wealthiest taxpayers get most of their income from investments - which are taxed at about half the rate of ordinary wages.

Nearly all of the Obamas' income was subject to the ordinary income tax rate, with some of it taxed at the top 2012 rate of 35 percent.

For 2012, the Obamas overpaid their taxes, which entitled them to a refund of $16,815. They chose to apply that total to their 2013 estimated tax. They made the same decision for 2011, applying their $24,515 refund for that year to their 2012 estimated tax.

In 2013, Obama plans to give back 5 percent of his pay in a gesture of solidarity with government workers who must take unpaid leave as a result of deep spending cuts that went into effect last month.

(This story corrects to say most of Obama's income taxed at ordinary income tax rate, and top tax rate in 2012 was 35 percent, not 39.6 percent, paragraph 22 in April 12 story)

(Additional reporting by Kim Dixon and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Eric Walsh and Jackie Frank)

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