Sure, Batman and Iron Man are out there working for the public good, but Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark are still filthy stinking rich and have been since birth. With that, they no doubt take advantage of every tax break, deduction and loophole they can get their hands on. As Batman and Iron Man spend their time stopping purse snatchers, pummeling the mentally ill and saving the city from rogue nuclear bombs, I want to know how they’re cheating the public via their accountants and tax lawyers. And so, I spoke to three tax experts to see what exactly these two are getting away with.
On the Tax Breaks Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark Might Get
Adam Ditsky CPA, owner of Ditsky Strategic: In general, I think it’s a misnomer that the wealthy don’t pay taxes. They do pay a lot of taxes, it’s just that they may pay a smaller percentage on certain kinds of income and they pay less than most people would like them to. If Bruce Wayne gets a salary at Wayne Enterprises, he’s going to be taxed at whatever tax bracket he’s in. The things he can do to give him tax advantages, though, are things like making investments. So when he buys or sells a company, he’s paying capital gains tax, which is 20 percent, whereas his income tax rate would be 37 percent. That’s how wealthier folks like Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark would likely spread their money out.
Adam E. Hirshfield, Esq., entertainment, intellectual property and tax lawyer: For Bruce Wayne, what he can deduct all depends upon what kind of businesses he’s involved in. For his real-estate dealings, there are lots of deductions he can take for depreciation. If there are losses, he can often carry those over into future years and deduct against future income. He can also make tax-free retirement contributions, depending upon how his retirement situation is set up.
Matt Brescia, CPA: If Robin is adopted by Bruce Wayne, then there would be adoption credits for that. Like, if he adopted him when he was 13 from the circus or whatever, then Bruce Wayne could deduct the costs for adoption, like the court cost and attorney fees — that’s all deductible. He could also claim him as a dependent after that.
Batman could get into legal problems, though, because he so regularly puts Robin in danger. If it came to a trial, Robin probably wouldn’t testify against Batman, but maybe others would. Like, if the Penguin claimed Batman was putting Robin in danger, he could testify to that, but even then, no one is going to believe him — he’s the fucking Penguin. Still, if it’s found that Batman is endangering a minor, he could get Robin taken away, and then he couldn’t claim him anymore.
Hirshfield: Some people can deduct for medical expenses, and that might come into play since both Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark are getting hurt all of the time. Additionally, Iron Man may have additional medical costs for his heart condition or if he decides to seek treatment for alcoholism, like rehab or counseling. But the issue there is that both of them make a lot of money and you can only expense for medical if it exceeds 10 percent of your income, which is unlikely for them. Maybe Batman could have done that the year he got his back broken by Bane, but that’s probably it.
On the Tax Breaks for Wayne Enterprises and Stark Industries
Matt Brescia, CPA: Most of their deductions would be on the business side. Both Stark Industries and Wayne Enterprises have defense contracts with the military, so all of the expenses that go into that stuff would be tax deductible because those are necessary costs for their business. I know Wayne Enterprises has some charities under its umbrella, and they would likely be not-for-profit companies with their own corporate structure. Both Wayne and Stark could also deduct for charitable contributions that they make.
For Stark and his clean energy stuff, everything with the development of that would be tax deductible, as there are lots of deductions for clean energy. He also might be able to deduct the expenses for the Avengers tower, but only if some of Stark Industries is housed within the tower as well. It depends upon whatever he uses that whole building for. If it were only dedicated to crime-fighting, he probably couldn’t deduct the expenses for the Avengers because there’s no income being generated by the Avengers. The IRS would likely count the Avengers as a pastime, and you can’t just deduct for that. To deduct, you have to have a business plan and generate money consistently.
Because the Avengers are working for the public good though, Stark might be able to set them up as a charitable organization. They would have to be established as a 501c3, and there are certain criteria that the Avengers would have to meet to be approved. That being said, the act of vigilantism might be illegal so they may not be approved.
On the Tax Breaks for Batman and Iron Man
Brescia: Bruce Wayne can’t just do whatever he wants because his name is on the building. You could make the case that he’s borrowing stuff like the Batmobile from Wayne Enterprises, but for something like ammunition that he’s using to fire at the Joker or the Penguin or whatever, he can’t return that, he’s keeping it for personal use. That becomes tricky because Wayne Enterprises has stockholders and a board and if it’s found out that Batman is getting all this stuff from them, he could get into trouble with Wayne Enterprises and the IRS, because all of those things that he gets from Wayne could also be considered taxable income, which means he’d have to declare them on his W2, which I doubt he’s doing because of the secret identity thing.
Hirshfield: Because he doesn’t have a secret identity, Tony Stark can probably expense the Iron Man research and experimental expenses if Iron Man is a subsidiary of Stark Industries. Of course, he loses out on the research and development of the original Iron Man suit, because it was built in a cave in Afghanistan, but with the second suit and for future suits, there are research and experimental costs to go along with that, all of which he’d be able to expense.
For Batman, it’s different because Batman is unaffiliated with Wayne Enterprises. The IRS frowns upon people taking deductions for businesses that don’t make money, but if Batman were to make money from being Batman, that would really open the door for him. Personally, I think he could do that from selling merch, and if he did that, all of his expenses as Batman would be deductible.
Is the Batcave a home office? It’s part of his house, isn’t it? So with that, he can deduct the square footage of the Batcave versus the entire square footage of Wayne Manor, and there are a whole plethora of things you can get with a home-office deduction, like insurance and maintenance and some real-estate tax breaks. Also, every time he takes the Batmobile out, he can deduct either 57.5 cents per every mile he drives the Batmobile or he can expense the actual expense of operating the Batmobile — he’d probably want to do the actual amount because I’m sure whatever fuel he uses for that thing costs more than gasoline. Batman must keep the receipts, though.
Now, that’s all plain, vanilla stuff for a business to deduct, but where it gets interesting is with his inventions. Batman is an inventor, and the Internal Revenue Code provides special treatment for research and experimentation costs. The Bat-Reactor, the Bat-Computer, the Batmobile and the Batsuit, anything that counts as expenses into the research and experimental expenses of those items can be written off.
All of this, though, is predicated on the idea that Batman is making money as Batman. So, really, he should seriously think about selling merch, as it would really open the door for him when it comes time for him to do his taxes.