Tax Day 2008

Tax day here in the US, and given that our overall income was up last year by a fair amount, we ended up owing a rather significant amount today, federal, state and local. Because I’m self-employed, we also have to file quarterly taxes today as well, again, federal, state and local. So — joy — I get taxed twice on the same day. To give you an idea of how much we’ve paid out today in taxes, the proverbial picture worth a thousand words:

This is where being apparently one of the few American families that actually puts a significant amount of its annual income into savings comes in handy; we’ve got it covered. And we knew it was coming, so it’s not like we weren’t ready for it. It’s still just wacky to have to pay out that much at one time, especially when we’ve already been paying out quarterly.

We pay a lot in taxes, but I don’t think we pay too much in taxes; we have quite a lot of deductions and we have a smart accountant, which is good (as opposed to a clever accountant, which can get you into trouble), and as a percentage of our overall income, our tax bite is not especially onerous. Sure, it doesn’t feel that way just this very second, but when I calculate it out it the percentage does not send me into paroxysms of rage.

Also, I have never been able to manage the sort of doublethink that allows some people to believe that answer to every possible problem is a tax cut, even as they spend more on government services of all sorts. Being as I am a real grown-up, I understand I need to pay in for services the government provides, rather than piling up debt for my child and her generation to deal with. Whether we need a government as big as we have is an open question, although I would suggest if one believes we don’t (and I may be one of these), the way to deal with it is shrink the government and then reduce taxes to fit, rather than reduce taxes and shrink the government to fit, since over the last 30 years it’s clear we don’t do a very good job of the latter.

Money is magical thinking in some respects, since none of it is actually tied to anything real anymore; its value is just a shared hallucination. That said, I prefer my magical thinking to be of a practical bent, which means paying a reasonable amount of taxes and not whining like a kicked dog about it. To repeat: We pay a lot in taxes. I don’t think we pay too much.

How is your tax day going? Get a return? Owe some money? Got the sum smack dab perfect and owe nothing? Share!

128 thoughts on “Tax Day 2008

  1. How is your tax day going?

    Mine is just fine, thank you. I got my refund back over a month ago, so I spent the morning wishing Jim Hines a happy birthday.

  2. We have a tax bill this year, along with paying a chunk every paycheck. I’m with you, though, and don’t think we pay too much of our income in tax, I just resent the way it is wasted.

    I have this fantasy that we could check off what we want our taxes to be spent on, kind of like the boxes for (small) political and environmental donations.

    If the majority of Americans who disagree with the way the country is be run just insisted that their tax dollars be spent for education, green energy development, health care……., there would not be money for the endless war and stupid pork barrel projects. Of course, this is a dream, and I know how impractical it would be.

    As a voter, I DO HAVE a way to say how I want the tax dollars spent, but the elected officials somehow don’t listen to just me.

  3. I did my taxes in February (single, few deductions, used Taxcut software) and banked the refund check.

    Ditto on the “tax cut for every problem” remark. (Rush Limbaugh vaguely humorous pun-like substance intentional.)

  4. Did them as soon as the W-2 came in, and as every year, torn between “yay, a check” and “dammit, we let the government have an interest-free loan AGAIN.”

  5. Agree with every word in Fiona’s comment. And I’m just aggravated that somehow we calculated wrong through the year, and have to pay in just about the same amount as that lovely “rebate” we’re scheduled to receive in June. Yay… or something. I’m grateful that I have the means to pay it, but it sure makes me wonder what I got that raise for, other than to put me into a higher tax bracket.

  6. I paid nearly five figures last week and have another quarterly payment going out tomorrow. Let’s just say I’m not a fan of the Senators from Mississippi and Alaska right now. Honestly, I think that 19% of GDP is too much for the government to take and spend. The government is too large in too many ways. Also, I have concerns w/ the idea that 51% pay income taxes and 49% don’t. [I understand that this doesn't include payroll taxes and fees.] It creates a level of division that the congresscritters can exploit. Us’n “rich” folks just seem to be whining to those that only pay 7.5% payroll taxes, and may get EIT refunds of that money. But when Uncle Sam demands 1 hour of every 4 I work, I get a little grumpy about it. 1 in 8 — 1 of every work day would seem far more reasonable.

  7. I don’t care what you say. I’ve been self-employed for twenty years now and I still whine like a kicked dog whether I pay out $3000 or $30,000 on tax day. Pfffffft. Take away my sales tax, gasoline tax, luxury tax, and sin tax, etc., and maybe I’ll hrummmph, instead.

    Signed,
    Grouchy till midnight

  8. My quarterly estimated tax payments (as I’m ranked among the somewhat self employed) wouldn’t amount to a mustang, as John has here. However, if you stretched it, it might cover the cost of a Power Wheels that *resembled* a mustang.

    I do object to the tax shenanery that means that I have to pay up for my previous year’s under-run on my estimated tax burden on the same day that I’m making educated guesses on how much I’m going to owe next year–and make advance payments on that pound of flesh. Still, it’s the duty of a citizen to pay for the services that his or her government provides, even if he’d rather they didn’t.

    I’d vote for a senator or president who ran under Fiona’s recommendation of above. Actually, I *did* vote for the presidential candidate who ran on that platform (Gravel), but he unsurprisingly vanished without a trace in the brouhaha of the primaries.

  9. I’ve just barely started my taxes, which means I’ll almost certainly be filing an extension. It is a good excuse to clean up, though. I’ve already turned up three charitable contribution letters in piles of unfiled crap (most of which I dumped unceremoniously in the recycling bin).

    I pay a lot of money in taxes, but in return I get to live in the United States of America. That’s pretty fucking cool. I don’t get why people are perfectly happy to pay thirty or forty percent of their income to live in a cool neighborhood, but they don’t want to pay twenty or thirty percent to live in a great country. It seems like a bargain to me.

  10. State and Federal refunds showed up last month, and have been used for various and sundry necessaries, and some fun things, too.

    That said, getting married, paying down student loans and having a spouse taking grad school courses made this year’s taxes rather… interesting.

  11. No matter how prepared you are, it’s a sobering moment when you write out a cheque that would buy a rather nice car and send it off. Even if you are maintaining your perspective, as Scalzi is here, it can feel like you just withdrew a large number of $100 bills and burned them.

    “I could buy a car with this,” you think. “And not a clapped-out beater, either, a new car with leather that comes from another country, one that would make the upwardly mobile ubermoms at my kid’s school green-eyed with envy.”

    But it’s for the greater good. Really, it is.

  12. “Being as I am a real grown-up, I understand I need to pay in for services the government provides, rather than piling up debt for my child and her generation to deal with.”

    Quoted for TRUTH.

    I filed in February and received my return last month. Unfortunately, the IRS told me I had “overrepresented” and snatched some of it back. Irks me, because my father, who does my taxes (he has a math degree and I may in fact be learning disabled when it comes to numbers) used a PROGRAM and it was the program that did all the calculations. Stupid.

    I’m to be among the first to get my economic stimulus check in two weeks thanks to my SSN…I think it’s a crock, but I need the money. Sigh.

  13. Well, I’m a fulltime freelancer such as yourself, so I recently paid my taxes. Since my quarterly income–surprisingly–was slightly less than the pretty little car you’ve got up there, I shelled out a pretty big bundle in taxes.

    That said, we did our taxes in February as usual–within a week or so of getting all the 1099s, etc., in, and we got a little bit of money back–enough to pay bills with, but not so much that we were ticked the government used our money for no good reason. And, for just about the first time in forever we got a little bit of money back from the state of Michigan, so I guess I’ve more or less got all my deductions and estimated quarterly taxes organized properly.

    And for anyone who doesn’t really think this through, every time I get a check I calculate this:

    24% for federal
    4% for state

    So, am I HAPPY to immediately take slightly over a quarter of my income and give it to the government? Well, no.

    But I do believe that the government provides services and they have to be paid for. My particular problem isn’t really the amount of money I’m paying, but the type of services I’m getting.

    I’d really rather that my tax dollars went to bolstering education in the U.S., creating a workable energy policy, organizing universal healthcare (which, oddly enough, I believe would encourage entrepreneurship and help businesses, large and small, which would help the economy overall), and, you know, working on infrastructure because bridges seem to be falling down and the roads suck.

    As for fighting an interminable war in the Middle East, well, I’m not a big supporter of throwing money over there.

  14. Despite the fact that for the first time ever, I have to write a cheque to the federal government, I am still going to come out ahead on the state level. So whee!

    I could do without that stimulus cheque personally, although since it’s going out, it’s not like I’m going to turn my nose up at it. (Maybe I should give the thing to charity though–I don’t need it, it’s supposed to help the economy somehow, and I’d really like my tax money to go to helping others instead of this asstastic war we’ve got going.)

    Like Fiona, I often dream about ways my tax money could be directly alloted to various government programs.

  15. Scalzi

    We pay a lot in taxes, but I don’t think we pay too much in taxes;

    Does this mean you are paying just enough and don’t want to see an increase in taxes, or are you saying there is still room to move?

    If the latter, then you could support this bill

    California Republican John Campbell yesterday introduced in the House his “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is Act,” which would amend the tax code to allow individuals to make voluntary donations to the federal government above their normal tax liability. The bill would place a new line on IRS tax forms to make this easy.

    Then you could pay as much taxes over your assigned value that you want.

    While not bothering me at all.

    Fiona @ 2

    We have a tax bill this year, along with paying a chunk every paycheck. I’m with you, though, and don’t think we pay too much of our income in tax, I just resent the way it is wasted.

    Yeah, I hear you. If they would just spend the money on things I think are important and forget the rest.

    Unfortunately, we are unlikely to agree on what’s important.

    So what to do?

    I think they could amend the above bill such that when you donate, you get to say what it spent on.

    Kinda like a reverse “earmark”.

    Am I on to something or what?

  16. Well, our master plan of getting married on Dec 27th in order to beat the tax man worked, so rather than him paying out enough to buy a small car and me paying nothing, we’ve (jointly) gotten enough back to give us a 3-month cushion in the savings account against hard times.

    Glad we had that option; I know many don’t.

    (Also, we got married because we’re fabulous together and in love and just really, really *like* each other, and can’t imagine how much less cool life would be without the other person around, and all that jazz. You know. But the tax breaks were why we got married *when* we did, rather than waiting ’til spring or something.)

  17. I sent my taxes out yesterday and boy did I pay. That’s okay though, I don’t mind. The truth is paying taxes is the most patriotic thing most of us do.

    I always find it funny that those who consider themselves the most patriotic are the same people who whine the loudest about taxes.

  18. Ah, Frank. Don’t move to Canada, okay? Your righteous anger (which isn’t disguised very well) will throttle you the first time you have to pay GST.

  19. “the way to deal with it is shrink the government and then reduce taxes to fit, rather than reduce taxes and shrink the government to fit, since over the last 30 years it’s clear we don’t do a very good job of the latter.

    As a nominal Republican, I can’t believe my party has sqaundered the opportunity to truly establish a ‘permanent majority’ by actually doing this over the last 7.5 years.

    We work to get a Republican majority in the Senate and House AND get a Republican in the White House and what happens? They act just like every other incumbent ever has, buying your vote with my money.

    We should keep taxes at the level they are now and reduce government spending. Reducing the size of the government isn’t only good policy in the sense of ‘What our country should look like’, it is also good fiscal policy to at least attempt to reduce the national debt. I look at the federal budget and cry when I see the line for interest paid.

  20. We get taxed a lot, but we earn a lot, so we’re ok with it. As democrats we love taxation in general, after all. However, managing to have them withhold enough when you’re DINKs is tricky. This year we only had to pay $1500, which was good, since our version of “savings” is “putting money back into the home equity credit line.” We usually go to the accountant first thing in January so that we can get the bill and save up the needed money by April.

  21. Also, I have never been able to manage the sort of doublethink that allows some people to believe that answer to every possible problem is a tax cut, even as they spend more on government services of all sorts.

    The problem is that they – not I – are spending the money on gummint services, and that they – different they, but still not I – are receiving those services. The way I see it, I shell out a lot but not a lot is coming back at me. And don’t even get me started on the puny tax “credit” for raising children, a credit that doesn’t even begin to cover any of the costs…

  22. Julia @21

    Ah, Frank. Don’t move to Canada, okay?

    ‘Kay. I can tell you it was not on my “to do” list.

    Your righteous anger (which isn’t disguised very well) will throttle you the first time you have to pay GST.

    I’m not an angry guy (despite what Obama thinks). Though I have to agree with Eric

    We work to get a Republican majority in the Senate and House AND get a Republican in the White House and what happens? They act just like every other incumbent ever has, buying your vote with my money.

    I do take heart in that McCain doesn’t do earmarks and has a voting record that is 100% against earmarks.

    But that doesn’t help to reduce the size of Government.

    And starting with the IRS (by going with a flat tax or something close) would be a nice way to both reduce the size of Government and force the Government to size the government to fit the revenue.

  23. My husband and I filed jointly for the first time this year. We’ve already spent the returns… On credit card debt we accrued from the wedding. Woo.

  24. California Republican John Campbell yesterday introduced in the House his “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is Act,” which would amend the tax code to allow individuals to make voluntary donations to the federal government above their normal tax liability.

    Isn’t it already true that one could do this, if so inclined?

  25. We got a refund this year, which was surprising with the big fat bonuses my wife was getting last year. We won’t be getting much of a tax rebate check. I think our accountant figured it out to be a whole $44 dollars. Yipeee. I’ll go buy a couple of books.

    We have this massive funneling of money from the states up to the government and then back down to the states. Seems inefficient to me.

    I think we’d all be better off if the Federal government just took care of federal problems. That would be defense, trade, and justice. Reduce the Fed government to that and there would be less need for Congresscritters to be in session bleeding us dry with one hand, and holding out their hand with the other.

    Also reducing the tax code to a few pages would help everyone but the IRS, accountants, and congresscritters. Congresscritters of both sides would be the worst out, since they dole out favors in the tax code to privilege their voting blocks. The tax code can be fair, progressive, and simple.

  26. I had a good year, due to my employer’s stock price going up significantly. This is the first year I ever had to pay AMT — amusingly, I ended up owing nearly equal amounts of AMT and normal taxes. Since I don’t expect to make nearly as much money next year, I should get that AMT amount back then.

    Stock option exercises have taxes withheld, so I owed considerably less than your picture. But I still paid more in taxes (state and federal) than I made ten years ago. Eeek!

    Even when I considered myself a Libertarian, I never thought I was paying too much in taxes; the most I ever thought was that the amount I was paying state and federal should be switched.

  27. Finally got ours in yesterday – odd for me, since I usually have everything filed and done by March. I was going to do the car thing, but there didn’t seem to be a good way to show half of a Chevy Cobalt.

    As far as the refund, we’re getting back just over three water heaters, only one of which we needed to buy recently anyway. I’d rather not overpay so much, but so far my attempts to monkey with withholding haven’t worked all that well. Perhaps for next year…

  28. I got my shiny tax return last week, so it’s sitting in the bank. The majority is going out to cover some debt, and a wee chunk will be floating its way to Amazon for some fun.

    I dunno. I have my moments where I resent losing a percentage of my check to so many entities, but that’s usually when I’m at that point in the month where all the bills are piling up and they’re all due at the same time. Intellectually, I understand that to have the services we have, you just gotta suck it up and put your share in.

    Of course, after working a 16-hour day at the paper, only to come in and work a 12-hour day the next, that doesn’t always occur to me.

  29. Filed my taxes back in February, got my refund not long after.

    Since I worked for only half the year but my paycheck deductions assumed I was working all year… well, let’s just say this may be the biggest check I get from the federal government for a very long time.

  30. My saving grace this year was being employed in Austria last year until Oct when I moved back. Since I was employed by an Austrian company the US gov could not tax me on those earnings. But when I moved back in Oct I did a consulting gig until the end of Jan. And my wife owns a yoga studio. So the bottom line is the money we shelled out to Federal I could of bought this..

    http://www.rickenbacker.com/model.asp?model=350/12V63

    State we are getting some back.

  31. Had to pay the state but got paid significantly more by the feds. If I receive the full payment on the stim check it’ll just about cover the accountant and the state payment so I can save/invest/play with the federal refund. Not the best it’s been for me and not the worst. Just about fine.

    The postal worker did deliver my voucher to an old lady around the corner, though, so I wasn’t able to find, retrieve and mail it until this morning.

  32. I had to pay this year due to a small inheritance. I e-filed and told the IRS and state to take their money on 4/15. The Feds were at my account at 2 a.m. this morning getting theirs. But I have to agree with John, if I want the services the government provides me, I have to pay for them. I just wish there was a way to say WHERE I want my taxes spent.

  33. I don’t whine about it, I don’t get too mopey, I just don’t like having to write the check. I also have simple taxes right now as real life has yet to kick me down (Graduate School, I hate you too). Perhaps when I grow up a bit more I’ll learn to detest taxes, or I’ll get as excited as my dad and pull out the calculator for a day of fun and 0′s

    I would love to pay my state tax to the local city schools (we had textbooks in US History my BABYSITTER had and she’s 15 years older than me, seriously, her name was on the girl’s book next to me). *sigh*

  34. Tax day is awesome. I got a fat refund back in February. I don’t think of it as an interest free loan but rather a non-interest bearing savings account (I calculated the interest, even a high yield, online account would only get me about $20, I don’t miss it). I agree with everyone else though, the gubmit needs to do a better job allocating my taxes. I doubt they will accomplish in my, my children’s, or my great grandchildren’s lifetimes, but I can dream. Maybe I could just convince the IRS to adjust the AMT for inflation(they’ve done it twice since 1970 or so). That would be nice.

  35. I’m three of the services you help pay for; disability, medical, and housing. But, you’re only helping to pay the full cost if you live in California.

    On the other hand, without this support I’d cost you far more in time and money. Medical, emergency services, legal costs, that sort of thing. And, I wouldn’t be blogging. I certainly wouldn’t be able to…

    You know, I need to put up the tip bars on my blog.

    Now, if you think you pay a lot now, add in all that gets withheld from your check.

  36. Being in the Army and deployed, I don’t have to pay Federal Income Tax for the duration of the tour (one of those hidden benefits that noone outside the organization talks about but those of us in the organization are very aware). I actually got a very healthy tax return because of this and the fact that I had kid #2 last year.

    That being said, I am in the Scalzi camp on this one. If I want my government to do X, Y, Z (fight a war, bail out banks, pay out social services, etc.), than as a citizen I need to pay for it and that is the tax bill. One thing that has utterly baffled me over the past several years is that we can increase expenditures dramatically over the past seven years, but still propose tax cuts with a straight face. I find this fiscal irresponsiblity to be a greater crime against the American people than the war or suggested losses of civil liberty. There is a logic to latter items agree with it or not, but the tax situation is just plain crazy.

    My two cents.

  37. Just a quick note on the ‘rebate’. My attorney mentioned that according to the inside scoop, its not ‘tax free’. In fact, its 100% taxable. So, you’ll be getting whatever you’re getting, but come next April, you’re going to have to give it all back.

    I don’t pretend to understand hardly any of it (I let the accountants and attorneys handle that stuff – I just make sure to hire good ones), but considering that he’s never steered me wrong over the past ten years, I’d err on the side of caution and prepare for the hit.

  38. Owed both the fed and the state this year. The later was not a surprise, because if you have a job you pretty much owe the state of WV (this despite my husband and I have 0 deductions listed and he pulls out extra money.)

    Although it hurts to write the check, I don’t mind paying taxes, because I like public education and the CDC and all those other cool things. And to be honest, my state has long been the recipient of a good share of federal money, so it’s only fair.

    Also, I think the amount John paid in taxes is close to what my husband earns in a year (I earn just a hair more) so I really do have nothing to complain about, comparatively.

  39. I’m getting a nice refund. But I don’t mind paying taxes for most things. The amount paid for military and “classified” military spending is abhorrent, though.

    This is interesting:

    http://www.thebudgetgraph.com/

    (click on the poster to see an interactive, close-up version.)

  40. Return of $1,666 coming. Much of this is due to me *not* taking all the exemptions I can on my withholding. This allows me some leeway if I have an awesome year in my side business (gross sales/profit ~$5K/$3K this year, ~$7.5K/$5 last year) but generally it acts as a automated savings mechanism to give me some funny money at the time of year when the gas bill (heating in winter) and the electric bill (cooling in summer) are both somewhat low. I have a second kid coming, so this money will either be put in an (insignificantly) interest bearing account, or I will plow a bunch of it into credit card debt. Although ongoing negotiations with my wife have yielded some ground on the Playstation 3 front.

    The only year I was full time self-employed was a minor disaster with a $3,000 tax bill that I was somewhat unprepared for. As a barista told me, “Well, if you’re paying that much it means you made some money.” Hmm, damn him and his Vulcan logic! But that was on $16K in total income so it wiped out my account, thus a re-entry into the biomedical research field.

    If anyone really dislikes taxes, I advise them to go to Cambodia. One of the motocab drivers summed it up nicely, “We have no taxes, but we have no service.” This meant no street lights, minimal paving (some in the capital city and at tourist sites), and the need for full timed armed bodyguards if you are well-to-do. Not to mention the walled compounds with the broken glass at the top of the wall. I don’t like how much tax money the military sucks up, but everyone has their bugaboo and we all have to contribute to some things we don’t like in a modern society.

  41. Steve @41… it’s actually an unsecured loan against your refund from tax year 2008. Any amount you get as a refund up to $600 is taken back; however, if you owe, you don’t owe an additional $600.

  42. “Any amount you get as a refund up to $600 is taken back; however, if you owe, you don’t owe an additional $600.”

    Really? That doesn’t sound right. So why doesn’t everyone set up their withholdings to owe money next year?

    My understanding is that the stimulus is just an advance on next year’s refund. That is, if you receive $600 this year, your taxes will just be $600 higher.

  43. John,

    You make me nostalgic for my days as a self-employed contractor instead of working for my current employer.

    I used to park my estimated tax money in a no fee / no interest bank account. Unfortunately for me, and ultimately the bank in question they had sales quotas and very short memories.
    Every bloody time I made a tax deposit or withdrawal I had the same conversation:
    Agent: “You should set up a wire transfer agreement so you don’t have to do this by hand.”
    Me: “I read your legal boilerplate and didn’t like the terms.”
    Agent: “You have a lot of money parked here, you should really invest it.”
    Me: “I can’t… its the government’s money, not mine and you are just holding on to it for me.”

    I was forever surprised that someone would suggest I *invest* tax money! LOL. I don’t mean rolling 90 day CDs or something sensible I mean lets drop in the stock market and see what happens! Craziness.
    After several months of being hassled over and over by the salespeople^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H bank tellers, I just gave up and moved my business.

    I also miss having an SEP-IRA although I hear now you can invest even more in a self-administered KEOGH.
    Employee matching in a 401(k) is nice and all. But it doesn’t compare in the total amount of $$ you can sock away, that’s for sure.
    Particularly when your default investment options are company stock and more company stock. I love working here, but I don’t want half my portfolio in any one company.

  44. “Any amount you get as a refund up to $600 is taken back; however, if you owe, you don’t owe an additional $600.”

    Really? That doesn’t sound right. So why doesn’t everyone set up their withholdings to owe money next year?

    My understanding is that the stimulus is just an advance on next year’s refund. That is, if you receive $600 this year, your taxes will just be $600 higher.

    Sorry to commit the faux pas of quoting myself, but I’m wrong.

    From http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=179181,00.html

    Q. Will the payment I receive in 2008 reduce my 2008 refund or increase the amount I owe for 2008?

    A. No, the Stimulus Payment will not reduce your refund or increase the amount you owe when you file your 2008 return.

  45. We finished our taxes a month ago. 38% Fed, 9% State. I’m self-employed, so we pay quarterly.

    Last week, we got a letter and a check from the IRS saying we didn’t calculate our taxes properly, and, by the way, here’s a check. Our accountant told us to treat the check as if it were a contagious disease – isolate it, don’t let it near any other money, and only handle it with tongs, until he can figure out what in the world the IRS means. He’s done our taxes for years and he says that the IRS explanation of what we did wrong isn’t right.

    *sigh* And my computer completely self-destructed (I’m using the travel laptop) and that hazardous IRS check would pay for a nice new system.

  46. I have not paid taxes in many years. Well, yes, of course I do, but actually writing a check to the government? No. Yes, I am one of those knuckleheads that gives the government a free loan of my money. But you know what? I have not paid taxes in many years *and* I get a big chunk of money back every year. That money goes into savings, college fund, and vacations. How much would I have saved if I had taken the “correct” number of exemptions. None because life intervenes. When it’s not there, you don’t miss it.

  47. Eric@47, I think you’re missing something. Basically what he was saying was that if you got the $600 this year, and then managed to not owe any taxes at all next year (not even the payroll deductions) you’re not going to have to pay the $600 back.

    But since most of us will very easily hit that, it’s not really an issue.

    For me, I’m going to celebrate Buy A Gun day with the refund check. Presumably something that looks evil.

  48. Sure we all pay too much. And I do whine about it. Yet my revenge is continuing to work this wasteful government position which pays twice what it should, gives me the freedom for frequent 2 hour lunches, early leave, and rapid vacation accrual. No doubt it’s a bit depressing to watch everyone else also schedule pointless meetings, slip projects to-the-right, and allow the other below average workers get a pass; yet the payoff is in screwing the government at it’s own game. I figure I waste more than the 33% in taxes just surfing the web at work. And it’s funny to listen to government IT folks who are still baffled at circuit utilization growth rates. All my youtube activity is work-related. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  49. [An actual post: really just a holder for the comment made over here: http://scalzi.com/whatever/?p=631%5D

    I was tickled to see the page header today: I'm one of the folks paying US taxes but not getting to vote. As a Brit, the irony is that bit greater.

    Allocation of taxes by the payers has always seemed to make sense to me. I suspect that one needs, though, at least one override (for the IRS!) and once there's one, the slope is in place. It would, though, I think get us to the state of the airforce needing those bake sales; not a bad thing. [And actually unlikely; I am well aware both of the value of the US military and of the large number of people who would allocate funds in that direction. My guess is that this directest of democracy would turn out pretty well, although the dual tier state-federal system might complicate things.]

    AMT didn’t *quite* hit this year, but it will next: acquiring a second child is going to throw our deductions over the line, I think. Yuck. On the other hand, we’re moving soon, and have chosen to live in a school district where our school taxes are going to be $15K instead of the one next door where they’d be $6K.. one of the few places where we *can* see the direct results of our dollars.

    The UK PAYE (pay-as-you-earn) system is much less onerous on the individual, but I enjoy US tax day: it increases awareness of tax loads and how the system is set up, and I actually enjoy playing with the math (although I have stopped doing the calculations for joint vs separate filing after having it come out in the same direction for several years). Hiring an accountant always seemed to me to be ‘giving in’ somehow – and the programs never catch everything that even I do.

    Anyway – happy tax awareness day, everyone!

  50. (commenting when I should be doing my taxes)

    2# Fiona on 15 Apr 2008 at 9:18 am:
    I have this fantasy that we could check off what we want our taxes to be spent on, kind of like the boxes for (small) political and environmental donations.

    Jack C Haldeman II wrote a story about that:

    http://www.sff.net/people/jack.haldeman/people.htm

    36 # Barstool Babe on 15 Apr 2008 at 11:07 am
    I had to pay this year due to a small inheritance.

    Huh? I thought inherited money was not income for US federal income tax purposes. Was this out of an IRA or something?

    There is the estate tax, but that should have been paid before it got to you.

    On the stimulus discussion:

    Someone on NPR the other day said that this stimulus progam is not an advance on next years taxes. The previous stimulus deal was, but not this one.

    http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=179181,00.html

    Q. Will the payment I receive in 2008 reduce my 2008 refund or increase the amount I owe for 2008?

    A. No, the Stimulus Payment will not reduce your refund or increase the amount you owe when you file your 2008 return.

  51. “Got the sum smack dab perfect and owe nothing? Share!”

    I note you could’ve bought a mustang.

    I on the other hand could’ve bought that same mustang.. along with a new mercedes.

    Its good to know you don’t think you pay to much… while I on the other hand watch 33% of our family income disappear each year… and that doesn’t include property tax (or as I call it… rent), or sales tax… or the invisible inflation tax. Our total tax burden is near 50%… and I pay no local or state income tax.

    Perhaps you think you don’t pay to much. I would question if you’ve ever sat down and added everything up.

    I also understand that the question boils down to how much you value the services. I for one don’t value them at all. Social Security is just another tax… Medicare and Medicaid only make our healthcare problems worse.. we really have no need for a standing military at all… and the schools produce mindless consumerist workerbees.

    See? If you look at it from that perspective… virtually any tax is to much… because you get nothing of value in return.

    So that’s my question to you… what do you get in return for your taxation?

  52. Ian@44: This meant no street lights, minimal paving (some in the capital city and at tourist sites), and the need for full timed armed bodyguards if you are well-to-do.

    Except that none of this (except for Federal highways which were built to shuttle the military around in case of attack) is the responsibility of the FEDERAL government. So why send the money up there, only to have it redistributed unfairly (based on the personal power of particular Senators, including Senator Byrd of WV) to the states.

    And it’s not that I dislike paying any taxes, or don’t want some services. I just think there is an appropriate level of government for services, and the Federal government is duplicating things the states and lower should handle completely.

    Straight from the horses orifice…

    http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=179181,00.html

    Q. Is my Stimulus Payment taxable?

    A. No. You will not owe tax on your payment when you file your 2008 federal income tax return. But you should keep a copy of the IRS letter you receive later this year listing the amount of your payment.

    Q. Will the payment I receive in 2008 reduce my 2008 refund or increase the amount I owe for 2008?

    A. No, the Stimulus Payment will not reduce your refund or increase the amount you owe when you file your 2008 return.

  53. Waiting for the government to shrink itself will never happen, it expands to fit all available space (or budget). The only way we will ever get any sanity back into the situation is to cut the available funds, then no choice but to cut the bureaucracies back. The real trick is to actually get the ones that should be cut, cut, instead of just immediately taking the funds from the closest social program.

    I am self-employed as well. I don’t mind paying Social Security the additional 7.5% assuming (a leap of faith here) that I’ll ever see any of it. Any thoughts on how likely any of us under 50 will be to see a SS check when we retire at (by then) age 75?

    I do mind income tax; not paying taxes, but income tax, and a progressive one at that. Either a flat tax or a national sales tax would work much better, there are many options that should work. Anything but the current disaster of a system.

    That said, I do not mind paying a rational amount to tax; say, 20-25% of my income. Here’s the problem: it’s not just the income tax. It’s property tax. and sales tax, and gasoline tax, and sin tax, and so on that is killing the economy. There are only so many dollars to go around, and if they’re going to taxes they aren’t going into the economy, investments, savings, anywhere. Sit down when you have a few minutes with a calculator, estimate your personal income and spending habits, and figure how much in taxes you REALLY pay. The Boston Tea Party (nod to the TEA folks) starts to make a lot of sense. Tax day just brings it home.

  54. Um. A quibble with those of you who “paid nothing”. Look at your last paycheck. Take the big number on the stub, subtract the number on the check and multiply by number of checks per year…
    Then tell me if you paid nothing. Payroll deduction is the devil.
    Notice the difference between the SEPs and the employees in attitude here. I think Scalzi represents the happiest possible SEP, with the scale going to “torch and pitchfork” on the other end.

  55. We got back a huge refund yesterday, which annoyed me yet again that we can’t stop my husband’s employer from taking out too much. Every time he tried to reduce their cut, they pushed it right back up.

    It’s not an insignificant amount. If we’d had this cash in pocket, we wouldn’t have had to pay all the interest we did on our VISA card.

    Flat tax. I’m all for it.

  56. I got the Federal return just about right–ended up with a wee little refund. But I’m getting a $1K refund from California, which has me befuddled: can I adjust my W4 to stick in extra deductions JUST for the state? Probably I did something wrong, but neither I nor TurboTax can figure out what.

    Nate@55: I for one don’t value them at all. Social Security is just another tax… Medicare and Medicaid only make our healthcare problems worse.. we really have no need for a standing military at all… and the schools produce mindless consumerist workerbees.

    Are you opposed to government services in general, or just the ones we have? Because I think your arguments are more for improved services rather than no services. No one’s arguing that there are terrible schools out there, but that’s an argument for better schools, not NO schools.
    Also–no value? None whatsoever? Think of it this way: if your house is on fire, you can call on specially-trained professional firefighters. If someone does you wrong, you can take ‘em to court. If you are (wrongfully, of course) accused of a crime, the gov’t will pay for the whole shebang–jury of peers, legal representation for you, everything. You can even borrow books from a large inventory of books that your city/county maintains for just that purpose, and it’s free, as long as you bring them back on time. I’d go on. You can argue that your tax burden is too high, that you expect at least X level of service given that you give up Y percent of your income, and that’s fine. I might even agree with you. I’ll certainly join in the kvetching about property taxes. But that’s a different argument than that no government service has any value.

  57. Buying a house made a huge swing for me from perpetual ower to getting a refund. It’ll be interesting to see if the house is enough to push both my new wife and I into the refund category next year.

  58. As you were kind enough the other day to share your nit about “alright” (one with which I admittedly agree), I shall share with you my nit about “return”.

    A “return” is the document you file with the government. A “refund” is the money you get back that the government kept over the course of the year as a zero-interest loan.

  59. I pay an awful lot in taxes, too. And doing taxes gives me a headache quite literally, especially since my company’s methods of compensation are myriad, if effective.

    I don’t mind paying the taxes. Despite all my spending, I do salt a lot away; I buy a lot of books, but I’m hard-pressed to spend my entire paycheck doing that, so I don’t.

    All said and done, I’m hesitant about the idea of taxes for only what an individual thinks is important. Mostly because I run into a lot of people who say things like, “I don’t want to pay for child protection services”, “I don’t want to pay for state colleges, libraries, or educational programs”, “I don’t want to pay for poor people and immigrants”, etc.

    I have learned to hold back the instinct to kill these people. We’re a society. Few of us actually live in isolated woodland cabins or can even survive for more than a week doing so. That I run into such complaints from folks who are well-off makes me… urgh.

    Y’ken.

  60. Justice Holmes, I believe, once said that taxes are the price one pays to live in a civilized society. Of course when he said it his income tax bill was about 2%. I wonder what he would make of the insanity that goes on now.

    Personally, I feel somewhat like a serf. No matter where I move I owe the ‘lord’ (i.e. the federal government) about 33% of what I make, closer to 50% when one adds on state taxes, sales tax, property taxes, etc. If I don’t pay, I’m incarcerated.

    Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “wage slave”.

  61. “Are you opposed to government services in general, or just the ones we have?”

    I am opposed to virtually all government services sense the government has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it cannot solve a single problem.

    Whatever problem the government seeks to address… it invariably exacerbates.

    I do not believe there should be a public school system. The truth is we were a far more literate society before it was invented in the early 1900s. For evidence of this I suggest you pick up some old letters written by the soldiers in the War back in the 1860s. These weren’t privaleged people. Rich folks have never fought on the front lines. But these people’s education cannot be faulted.

    Why not private schools?

    Why not private fire departments?

    And if I have no desire to aquire the fire department’s protection… why should I pay for it?

    Why must I be forced to pay for “social security” I clearly don’t need it?

    Why must I be forced to participate in the funding of a library I do not value and do not use?

    oh… I know I know… because I live in a society which benefits.. and since it benefits the whole it benefits me indirectly.

    What a bunch of crap. Its a paperthin justification for plain old theft.

  62. Arachne,

    You are perfectly correct. People may complain about taxes, but I’d like to see how well they do without the CDC, FDA, USDA, and public health departments.

    Unless you’re willing to grow and cook your own food, of course, and limit yourself to only what you can grow yourself. In that case, you’ll most likely not die of food poisoning.

    And of course you’ll not want to leave the house, since contagious diseases won’t be tracked, flu shots won’t be developed, etc.

    And then there’s the medical research that is funded by the government….

  63. Well I’m supposed to pay quarterly but have come upon an easier system. When a check comes in I immediately send 35% to the feds and 10% to the state. At the end of the year I look at the entire year’s income, send an adjustment check (to account for bank interest CD earning and other things that don’t generate large lump sums) and file and extension. Between normal taxes, AMT, a smattering of self employment tax and the loss of eligibility for many deductions I am stating at close to a 50% tax rate (all taxes not just federal). John you are on the boundary of making enough that deductions will start to go away, good thing you have a smart CPA. Due to peculiarities in our particular situation I cannot fund a normal retirement program, deduct my substantial medical expenses or insurance (we have a former oncology patient in the family) without creating externally managed entities to administer benefits.
    Needless to say this ticks me off somewhat. I have always believed that one should pay their fare share, roads don’t build themselves and we owe a substantial debt to the men and women of the armed forces and their families for their sacrifice (champagne brunch at the officers club not so much). While we talk about the rich getting tax breaks (we are well off but not rich) it seems to me, from where I stand, that one needs to be above the 10 million mark to play significant tax games (unless one cheats) and must have ones income stream set up so that it provides benefits that others normally pay for.
    I don’t wish to give the impression that I am whining about this, I’m damn lucky to be in the position that I am in. I have also funded several business ventures that for a variety of reasons have failed. The losses were written off, retaining 33 cents on the dollars helps but the other 66% is still a big bite (and the time and energy invested is substantial). The willingness to risk real hard earned cash, to create an entity of lasting value (as opposed to gambling on futures), deserves a significant return for the risk that is undertaken.
    I am trying to recalibrate people people’s perception and definition of wealth. The truly wealthy need to pay their fair share and the complexity of the tax system and moving loopholes allow those with the resources to avoid many an obligation. But that expertise is very expansive to buy and one must have substantial resources (over 8 figures) to utilize the knowledge. The rest of us just have to cough it up and give away half.

  64. Arachne at 62 said: “All said and done, I’m hesitant about the idea of taxes for only what an individual thinks is important. Mostly because I run into a lot of people who say things like, “I don’t want to pay for child protection services”, “I don’t want to pay for state colleges, libraries, or educational programs”, “I don’t want to pay for poor people and immigrants”, etc. ”

    Arachne, I think you are overstating the problem. Quite a few people, including conservatives, would probably earkmark their tax bill for education, the poor, environment, etc. Some others would likely earmark it for national defense, roads, etc. Few (as a percentage, anyway) tax payers would earmark for foriegn wars, foriegn aid, U.N., congressional perks, etc.

    I’m personally of the opinion that if tax payers were given the ability to earmark their taxes for one of twelve or so pre-designated categories, that government would be a lot more accountable to the will of the people.

  65. And if I have no desire to aquire (sic) the fire department’s protection… why should I pay for it?

    Because if your house catches on fire it’s not just your life and possessions that will be lost, but those of your neighbors as well.

    Ever heard of the great fire in Baltimore? How about Chicago? How about San Francisco.

    Your selfishness should not doom the lives and property of everyone around you.

  66. “Because if your house catches on fire it’s not just your life and possessions that will be lost, but those of your neighbors as well.”

    The closest house is a quarter mile away. There are no buildings close enough to my home to be at any risk.

    I ask again… why is it your business if I choose to opt out of that service?

    If you want to make it mandatory in your urban hellhole… that’s fine. I know you city folk have different requirements.

    I just don’t understand why you think I should pay for them.

  67. “Ever heard of the great fire in Baltimore? How about Chicago? How about San Francisco.”

    By the way.. I note that fire departments were available and working in each of the cases you site.. and the cities burned anyway.

  68. Private, not pubic fire departments. Why do you think there was a move to public fire departments?

    And if you think fire can’t easily leap a quarter mile or a half mile, or a mile, that’s your mistaken belief.

    And urban hellhole? That is… amusing to say the least.

    West Virginia an urban hellhole. Indeed!

  69. Got my refund back about a month ago. That is mostly due to the efforts of my lovely and gifted wife, who filed our taxes very early. She’s good at stuff like that.
    I would have to agree with The Scalzi about our tax rate. It’s not fun to pay them, but compared to our friends in Canada and Europe, we’re getting off cheap.
    Even if you don’t use some of the services the government provides with that money, you still benefit from them incidentaly.

  70. I’m getting the Royal Order of the Purple Shaft with Pineapple Clusters this year, since I was divorced last August, and that means I was withheld at married rates for 2/3 of the year, but have to pay at single rates (since that was my status at the end of 2007). Means sending about $2000 to the IRS (about half of which I’ll have to pay in installments) and another $150 to downtown Denver.

    On the other hand, some friends of mine are getting back (have gotten back, in fact) substantial amounts this year, as they have kids and all. If I look at it as “the money I’m paying is going to them,” I feel a little better…but I’d rather have been able to give them that money myself, instead of having it extracted from me at gunpoint, which is what taxes basically amount to, when you think about it.

    Unlike most people who’ve posted here, I don’t object to my tax money being used to properly fund our national defense and border control (without which, we don’t really have a “nation”), or fighting our enemies that wish to kill and enslave us all (which, if we won’t do, we won’t have a civilization). What I object to, like Rachel Lucas, is money being taken from me at gunpoint to be handed over to people who have made poor decisions. (I’m not talking about people who have been genuinely screwed over by life, through no fault of their own. I’m talking more about people like those who are expecting the government to bail them out because they were too dumb to understand how much their mortgage payments would really be costing them.) In addition, government is about four times as big as it really needs to be; the function of any bureaucracy is to hire and pay bureaucrats.

    Now I’ve got to go mail out the envelopes, and then come back and try and figure out how I’m going to pay for the medical care my cat needs…

  71. Although I did owe all round this year, and it is never exactly pleasant to deplete the bank account, I do strongly believe in the old concept of the common good and the responsibility of being a citizen.

    But maybe we’re not taking a modern enough approach. Why not harness the forces of marketing to help determine what gets funded? Imagine a REAL “American Idol” or “Government Survivor” where a weekly television program/Internet podcast has various programs or projects make their “pitch,” and the viewers can vote off what they don’t consider worth their taxing while? It might have the side effect of reinvigorating engaging the public in the political process again. You might get additional funding for the government from advertising.

    Ah, well, tongue-in-cheek eases the discomfort…

  72. “And if you think fire can’t easily leap a quarter mile or a half mile, or a mile, that’s your mistaken belief.”

    Of course… you might when the lottery to. At any rate… as was pointed out… should such a thing happen my neighbor has a legal recourse to seek reimbursement for his loss and perhaps even damages.

    And I’m just shocked that a West Virginian would take umbrage with my anti-service mentality. I mean if I lived in a state where 1 in every 6 people were on food stamps I’d be a little defensive as well.

    Y’all got a good thing going. No doubt you don’t want to see the gravy train come to an end.

  73. I’m not unhappy to pay my share to keep the place running, but my fantasy is this: if corporations are individuals in the eyes of the law, they should be taxed accordingly. Then maybe all the rest of us could pay a tad less, instead of paying more to subsidize the bastids.

  74. I’ve paid huge tax bills in the past, having had a decent six-figure income, but last year I was without work for 11 out of 12 months due to disability. And I’ll tell you what: it sure made me understand why I’ve been paying taxes. I got disability checks twice a month, regular as clockwork, and when that ran out (not because I was no longer disabled, but because there were no funds left), I got unemployment checks for the two months it took me to find the part-time work that is all I can manage right now.

    At least I can honestly say that I never begrudged paying taxes, so I’m not being a hypocrite. And my husband and I still ended up paying extra taxes this year despite my disability last year because he wasn’t withheld sufficiently; I used to pay the bulk of the taxes from my earnings.

    I only wish one of the big complainers about taxes had learned this lesson instead of me. I already KNEW this stuff!

  75. already got our refund back…

    We’re gonna put a new roof on our house because the current one leaks, and we can’t get a home equity loan since the bottom fell out of the market. Yay for trying to do home repair in cash on a grad student stipend and a $10 an hour job.

  76. “And I’ll tell you what: it sure made me understand why I’ve been paying taxes. I got disability checks twice a month, regular as clockwork, and when that ran out (not because I was no longer disabled, but because there were no funds left)”

    Math must be really hard.

    How much money would you have had if you’d saved that money instead of giving it to the government to blow on pork barrel garbage?

    Imagine 80k per year in a savings account. Ya think that would’ve run out faster than your beloved disability checks?

    Like most people with six-figure incomes… I have private disability insurance. This means that if I become disabled and cannot work in my profession… I am covered… and the government has nothing to do with it.

    Of course I still have to pay more than my share… because someone has to take care of all those people in West Virginia on food stamps.

    Bah.

    I wonder how many of those folks would let themselves starve if food stamps weren’t there…

    Having lived in Morgantown for 6 years… I can attest that a “stoppin’ eatin’ ” diet wouldn’t do that particular state any harm.

  77. Got my federal tax refund back on Friday and instantly set about reducing credit card debt. It wasn’t a big return, but there isn’t a ton of credit debt, so it evens out. I’m going to do the same thing with the “incentive” check next month. Do most folks realize that is a loan against next year’s tax return and NOT the government returning your money because they don’t really need it right now? God, I hope so.

    Sent a check to the state today. We always owe them, but always very little so I’ll take it. I’d be totally okay with it if they would fund the public schools the way the law says they should, but I tried holding my breath over that and it only made me dizzy.

  78. I’m assuming Nate is trolling, because genuine libertarian types don’t usually brag about their incomes; they’re sharp enough to know that opens them up to attacks about how their privilege shields them from noticing what happens when the government is absent.

    There’s also the little fact that Nate, in @75, notes that his neighbor has ‘legal recourse’. Legal recourse, as most adults are aware, is something provided by the goverment, through laws and enforcement of those laws. Nate’s Neighbor’s legal recourse is to file a lawsuit in a court…which is, like, operated by the government. And if Nate’s Neighbor receives an award of damages, it will be the government that enforces the award.

  79. “There’s also the little fact that Nate, in @75, notes that his neighbor has ‘legal recourse’. Legal recourse, as most adults are aware, is something provided by the goverment, through laws and enforcement of those laws.”

    Of course I know its a government service. The court system happens to be a service I support. I am not an anarchist. Neither am I a capital “L” libertarian. I’ve never claimed to be.

    What I am is a guy that pays my share.. and several other people’s share… in taxes. Which is why I get a little irritated when people that pay 10% or 5% talk about how fair the system is.

    As for bragging about my income… I’ve not said what I make… but i’ll tell you this… it was only a couple years ago that my family was living off of 40k a year… so save your “privilaged” arguements for others.

  80. The truth is we were a far more literate society before it was invented in the early 1900s.

    No, we really weren’t. Illiteracy rates in the 19th century were much higher than they are now.

    For evidence of this I suggest you pick up some old letters written by the soldiers in the War back in the 1860s.

    The logical fallacy here is that if you choose as evidence of literacy something that requires literacy than you are likely to find a high rate. Soldiers who wrote letters were soldiers who could write. Those who didn’t, couldn’t.

    If you look at things like legal documents (wedding licenses, etc) with required signatures, the number of things marked with an “X” or the equivalent is quite high before public schooling.

  81. i only owed money this year because i was kind of lax on paying my quarterly taxes. i paid every quarter, just not as much as i should have. ah well.

    and i wish more people shared your opinion about taxes and their usefulness.

  82. Fortunately for me, today is just another day. I filed my taxes in January and got my refund in February. Sometimes it’s nice having only one employer.

  83. Of course I know its a government service. The court system happens to be a service I support.

    Odd, given that you believe beyond a ‘shadow of a doubt’ that the government has shown it cannot solve ‘a single problem’ – yet you claim to think that the legislative branch, including the entire court system and its enforcement mechanisms, works just fine.

    And in @79, either you told us that you have a “six figure income”, or you were bragging about how like those six-figure-income folks you are. Private disability insurance isn’t cheap.

  84. Why must I be forced to participate in the funding of a library I do not value and do not use?

    You don’t use the air, which is cleaner now, nor the water, which is also cleaner now, either?

    And I don’t care if you have a well in your rural paradise: toxins travel in groundwater, and if restrictions weren’t imposed on dumping hazardous materials several decades ago, you might well be dealing with a contaminated water supply.

    Do you drive? How do you propose to maintain the roads in this tax-free world of yours? Or do those who can afford it purchase 4-wheel-drive vehicles and the rest just suffer?

    I’m in favor of the FAA’s regulation of airlines, the USDA’s regulation of food safety, the USEPA’s regulation of air quality, the USACE’s regulation of water quality and protection of wetlands, the NPS’s administration of our history and natural resources in the national parks–which are open to all.

    Public services such as these serve the entire nation, even those who can’t afford it, and protect us all in the long run, because without clean air and clean water and safe food, we’d be spending/wasting a lot more money on short-term and long-term medical care. Unless people who can’t afford medical insurance and who catch food poisoning (or cancer from contaminated wells) should just be obliged to stay home and die rather than burden the government…

  85. I’m paying a month’s take-home to the Feds and the state of Oregon. This is my own fault: I was self-employed for the first three months of 2007 and I failed to withhold at the time. And while I have a full time job working for someone else, which makes me a worthier person in the eyes of the tax code, and thus less to be punished than if I were running my own business, there are certain aspects of having benefits that also reduce the tax-time benefit. Yeah, in the grand scale it’s better.

    However, what really bites it is that this year, paying for 2007, I have to file as single, and everyone knows that single people are worth less than married people, and that if you procreate, you are providing infinite goodness, so you need to punished by paying more taxes if you don’t.

    2006 was easier in some ways – my wife was alive for part of it, which meant filing joint, and I could deduct the humongous medical expenses. Even then I missed the mortgage deduction.

    Still … almost a whole month’s take-home for three months work. Makes me pause for a moment to turn the air violent purple with language unfit for the ears of decent people.

  86. The truth is we were a far more literate society before it was invented in the early 1900s. For evidence of this I suggest you pick up some old letters written by the soldiers in the War back in the 1860s. These weren’t privaleged people. Rich folks have never fought on the front lines. But these people’s education cannot be faulted.

    Not to belabor the obvious, but… those letters were written by, well, literate people. Not a representative cross-sample of society. By ANY metric, MORE people can read today than could in the 19th century. Also, you’re getting a distorted idea of their educations. You’re impressed with their command of English language and rhetoric, their use of quotes and allusions from Classical sources–well, that’s what was emphasized in 19th century education.

    Why not private fire departments?

    This one I can answer: we’ve tried it that way, and it didn’t work.* There were multiple private fire departments in 19th century New York City, and it was an Epic Clusterfuck. Fire departments would literally stand around while your house burned down and argue about whose fire it was. Rival companies would send out guys to slap barrels over hydrants so that the other companies couldn’t use them. Private fire departments were also big political players: one of them eventually spawned the notorious Tammany Hall machine.

    *Applies to a lot of libertarian ideas, actually. The Gilded Age was basically a libertarian’s paradise–and, unless your last name was Rockerfeller or Carnegie, it sucked to be you.

  87. I miscalculated and ended up getting back just shy of $2000 combined federal and state back in February. I accounted for the little deduction we spawned last year, but forgot to account for the 12 weeks unpaid time my wife took off. That and the new energy efficient heat pump.

  88. Just did mine this afternoon before heading to work. I had to pay last year so I was rather gun-shy to file this year.

    But I wound up getting I think 40 bucks back from state & federal combined. So once I pay for the tax software I used… it would be a wash. Oh well!

  89. Steven @#67: “Quite a few people, including conservatives, would probably earkmark their tax bill for education, the poor, environment, etc. Some others would likely earmark it for national defense, roads, etc. Few (as a percentage, anyway) tax payers would earmark for foriegn wars, foriegn aid, U.N., congressional perks, etc.”

    I’m not so sanguine about the Wisdom of the Crowds to pay for those things that don’t directly flow to their pocketbooks, like educating other people’s kids. In our (generally middle- to upper-middle-class) community, the school budget tax levy has been defeated 8 of the last 10 years. For some reason, people don’t get the idea that turning out well-educated 18-year-olds who are able to fill a productive role in society is in fact to their benefit.

  90. DG Lewis’ point reminds me of other data points supporting the “people are selfish bastards” theory. For instance, people where I live voted to halve the budget for the library and slice off extracurricular activities from the school budgets.

    And this is a location where the majority of people are upper middle-class families.

  91. “And in @79, either you told us that you have a “six figure income”, or you were bragging about how like those six-figure-income folks you are. Private disability insurance isn’t cheap.”

    Six figures. Yes. That’s not bragging. I didn’t say it to impress you. As for disability insurance.. its a car payment… that is.. about 300 bucks a month… hardly a back breaking expense.

    I note in typical fashion you people jump to extremes. Go back to my original comment.

    What I said was… John’s post boils down to bang for your buck… and as far as bang for your buck goes… we as a society don’t get any.

    Only the users of windows Vista get less for their money than we get for our taxation.

    Crying about roads or fire departments or the court system is entirely pointless when you consider that those things make up such a tiny percentage of government expense.

    Talk to me about our insane health care system that somehow manages to be both extremely expensive AND ineffective.

    Talk to me about the hundreds of billions we spend on foreign wars that have nothing to do with our security. Someone please tell me how our security is helped by maintaining bases in Germany. Do we really need to keep that close an eye on the French?

    Talk to me about the Boweevel… and why we will spend yet another 40 million dollars researching it…just like we did last year… and the year before… and the year before… and the year before.

    Conservatives hate wellfare… they can’t stand handouts when they are going to citizens… of course they are just fine with billions being being used to bailout to huge corporations that have acted stupidly… Conservatives love individuals to suffer consequences.. but they can’t stand it when a business might have to.

    Liberals on the other hand love welfare going to individuals.. they just can’t stand it going to corporations…

    Ya know what I know? I know they both have their hand in my pocket for their own specific interests.

    I wouldn’t mind paying 50% of my income in taxes if I was getting some kind of a return on my money. The only thing I see happening is a government spending more and more and more… and services getting worse and worse and worse.

    Respond how you like… but the way I see it… if you aren’t paying the same percentage as I am.. then your opinion holds no water. You’re just happy playing fast and loose with someone else’s money.

  92. “For some reason, people don’t get the idea that turning out well-educated 18-year-olds who are able to fill a productive role in society is in fact to their benefit.”

    Maybe people just woke up and realized that we spend more per-student than we ever have before… and more than any other country in the world… and for some reason the more we spend the dumber the kids get.

    We dump billions into education. What do we get to show for it? We get a bunch of consumerist drones.

  93. Bought a house and got married last year, and sold a bunch of stocks and stuff to pay for both of those things. Knew the tax hit was coming on all those gains and paid it off with as much of a smile as I could manage. People ask me how I can be so calm about paying 30K and my response is that the government is taking a part of my investment GAINS. It makes sense to me that if I make a killing on a stock where the only “work” I did was research and investign the money, 15% of those profits can go build a bridge or a school somewhere.

  94. Go back to my original comment.

    I’m still waiting for you to defend your assertion that literacy rates *decreased* after public schooling arrived.

  95. Did my taxes at the beginning of March. Got both a federal and state refund, both of which went directly into the bank and made me feel a whole lot better about going to Worldcon in August. But not a large refund in either case; my employer is pretty good about withholding the right amount. And I’m definitely looking forward to the rebate, whenever it comes; because that will actually *pay* for my trip to Worldcon…

  96. I don’t mind paying my taxes because, as a fiscal conservative, my guiding principle is, “You have to pay your bills.” If the government spends money in our name, we have to pay those bills–no building up debt except in an emergency. Think the government spends too much? Vote in someone more fiscally responsible. (And if you think that means voting Republican, well, you may want to subscribe to a newspaper. Do it now, while they still exist!)

    What I do mind is the ridiculous complexity of the tax filing process. There’s just no good reason for tax forms being as complicated as they are.

  97. @Nate

    “…if you aren’t paying the same percentage as I am.. then your opinion holds no water.”

    Likewise, I’m sure.

  98. Nate, your original posts are there for all to see. Blathering isn’t much use as backfill.

    Bob, there may not be a good reason, but there are reasons tax forms are that complicated – namely, people’s efforts to find ways not to pay, and implementations of tax policy (which includes everything from deducting charitable contributions from “tall blonde man with one brown shoe” exemptions moving expenses back and forth through time).

  99. Crying about roads or fire departments or the court system is entirely pointless when you consider that those things make up such a tiny percentage of government expense.

    Shift goalposts much?

    Anyway, I’m glad to see you’ve conceded that SOME government services have value.

    Talk to me about the Boweevel… and why we will spend yet another 40 million dollars researching it…just like we did last year… and the year before… and the year before… and the year before.

    Do you mean the boll weevil? If so, it’s a pest that decimates cotton, of which the United States is the #3 world producer. Even if your numbers are right, what’s so bad about spending $40 million/year to help protect a $4.6 billion/year crop? (http://www.epa.gov/oecaagct/ag101/cropmajor.html)

  100. we paid our taxes almost three months ago. Getting married pretty much doomed us to having to owe a bit, but since we are also one of those rare American households who save (34% of our income so far, working on getting that up to 50%), the money we ended up owing the state wasn’t too bad (about the cost of a PS3).

    Taxes are a part of living in a society. Period. Don’t want to pay them, earn no money and leave the system/live off the grid. It’s possible… just not very appealing to most of us…

    A friend of mine was complaining that he wouldn’t be getting the money from Bush’s economy boost stupidity. So I offered to trade him income and give him our 1200 if I could just have what he makes after all his “too high” taxes.
    Once I showed him the numbers, he pretty much shut up. Yeah, he pays more in taxes than my husband and I make combined. But guess what? 1200 isn’t even a week’s pay after tax for him.
    It’s all relative…

  101. The fact that one’s state of wedlock affects the societally-decided tax rate – yeah, that annoys me :). But then, I’m in the process of deciding just how far I want to push my kindergartner’s right not to swear allegiance to a fag, nor to a nation under Ghod, and am hence obviously not to be trusted ;-).

  102. Hey – I posted the “I gave the IRS a car” post two days ago. You have to owe them something else – maybe a boat or a motorcycle. ;)

    And yes, my tax day was that bad and, yes, like you, we planned for it in savings. I am our family accountant though. Sigh.

  103. We paid the Feds a chunk bigger than I liked letting go of, but not so much we couldn’t manage. But since my husband works over the border in the other Carolina, we have to file in two states, and those lovely folks are giving us a little back.

    And then, of course, Dubya is sending us his happy rebate check so we can singlehandedly jumpstart the economy. It’s going right into savings.

  104. Every year before this one, I paid ~$100 to the feds and got back <$10 from the state (which usually I just donated to one of the charities instead of asking them to send me a check). This year I owed $7 to the state and am getting back ~$100 from the feds. Of course, not realizing that the feds owed me money, I didn’t file for the refund back in January like I would’ve otherwise, so now I have to wait a couple months for it to pass through the crunch.

    I still do my taxes the old fashioned way. With all the forms as paper, using a pencil and calculator. I have a healthy distrust of any program that crunches numbers for me when I have no idea what exactly it’s doing – which basically means I need to have written the code personally. Also, last I checked, eFiling still cost a fee – so until “they” finally figure out that efiling is cheaper and more efficient than paper, I’ll just continue to do it all on paper.

    The thing that annoys me most is the way marriage is rewarded – higher deductions, lower tax rates, etc. That might make sense if your spouse was your dependent – but then we already have tax breaks for having dependents, so they’d fit nicely into that category….

    I too think it’d be great if we could specify where our tax dollars go. It’d be interesting to ask each taxpayer on the forms, just to see what they say, even if nobody actually uses the responses to make the real budget. Perhaps such info could be used as guidelines at least.

    28. Keith_Indy said:
    I think we’d all be better off if the Federal government just took care of federal problems. That would be defense, trade, and justice.

    Where would science and medical research fit into this scheme? (queries a curious state-paid marine scientist)

    [I've read up to #96.]

  105. John,

    The Mustang photo looks like it is the GT. You’ve said a few times you have a thing of V8 Mustangs. At least it wasn’t the Bullitt version which you have mentioned. Or, you could have paid this much in taxes today

    http://www.fordperformancegroup.com/vehicles/?var2=0,0,10

    (For those not aware of the Shelby GT500 version of the Mustang the MSRP, with no options, is around $44,000. Good luck at getting one that cheaply!)

    or even more

    http://www.fordperformancegroup.com/gt500kr/

    Either of those two Mustangs would have really hurt!

    George

  106. I did my taxes between 7:30 and 9:30 tonight.

    I got a chunk of change back from the feds and a smaller chunk back from the state, due in LARGE part to the home mortgage interest deduction and the fact that my firm withholds a metric ton of money from bonus checks.

    I DO NOT UNDERSTAND Alternative Minimum Tax. Every year I’m paranoid that I should be paying it, but apparently the software I used online to do my taxes was supposed to have said “Hey! You might owe AMT!!!!” if that were the case.

    We can apparently have the tax folks at my firm do our taxes every year, but I never get my stuff together in time for that to happen.

  107. We could buy a midsized car with our refund. No Mustang, but an awesome down payment on one.

    But we had a bunch of stuff happen last year: We had a baby, moved, and did a short-sale on our first condo.

    Next year won’t be anywhere close, but if we can just stay at the income bracket we are now, we won’t have any problems.

  108. Nate says:

    “Like most people with six-figure incomes… I have private disability insurance. This means that if I become disabled and cannot work in my profession… I am covered… and the government has nothing to do with it.”

    Bwah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!

    I love it when rich,healthy people think that whatever they have saved would be enough to pay for a catastrophic illness or that their disability payments or health insurance will take care of it.

    When you get a C2 spinal cord injury like Christopher Reeve did, you just watch your medical insurance run out in under 5 years and your disability insurance fight you every single year, twice a year for the rest of your life so as to cause your entire life to be about proving to them that you can’t work. And should you ever try to go back to work? And say it doesn’t work out or doesn’t pay all of your medical and carer needs? Your disability insurance is gone, gone, gone and you will never get it back. Ditto for cancer or any long-term disabling condition like Parkinson’s or MS.

    Oh! (wipes tears of laughter from eyes)…able-bodied people amuse me!

  109. I got a nice refund — about 300 bucks, which went all went to Hookers and Meth (my general term for luxuries); I make about 15 grand a year, which barely covers rent and a used car payment.

  110. I still do my taxes the old fashioned way. With all the forms as paper, using a pencil and calculator. I have a healthy distrust of any program that crunches numbers for me when I have no idea what exactly it’s doing – which basically means I need to have written the code personally.

    For what it’s worth, for the past two years I’ve figured out our taxes manually (only using Excel to do the math because I can’t add and subtract to save my life) and then we’ve used a program to calculate it (once because we got it “free” when I upgraded Quicken, and then when my brother [the accountant] gave us a copy to install for when he did my grandmother’s taxes.) Both times it’s come out exactly the same. Of course, we don’t itemize which makes it more straightforward, but it did figure out the education expenses with ease, which was nice.

    So tax software is highly accurate in my limited experience.

  111. me: I think we’d all be better off if the Federal government just took care of federal problems. That would be defense, trade, and justice.

    MWT@112: Where would science and medical research fit into this scheme? (queries a curious state-paid marine scientist)

    Well, I could possibly see those fitting under trade. Research and development could also be covered by private industry, charitable grant foundations, and state universities.

    Of course, once you start making exceptions, you start back down the road of bloating the Federal government.

    I’m a pragmatist. While I think we’d be better off under my proposal, I also realize it’s not likely to happen.

    We need to get control of our spending. Mandatory entitlements are the biggest expense our government makes. And those are growing faster then inflation. Pork-barrel projects are chicken feed compared to those.

    1) Simplify the tax code.
    2) Get rid of subsidies for corporations and reduce corporate taxes at the same time.
    3) Reduce entitlement benefits (for instance no benefit should go to anyone who does not need it.)
    4) Cut the cost of government services.

    We need to work on those four things before we even think of more radical steps. Those are going to be radical enough.

  112. The frustrating part of tax computation for me is Schedule C preparation for my CPA to prepare and file or State and Federal Tax Returns on 15 April 2008. Business taxes are very complicated. We’ve got thousands of checks and credit card transactions that I type in to the PC and classify for dealing with for:
    (1) Computer Futures, Inc. (me, my wife, and our subcontractors as High Tech Consultants) which includes travel and expenses for Math and Science conferences;
    (2) Emerald City Publishing (me, my wife, and our co-authors as writers of Science Fiction, fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Poetry, Plays, Screenplays, Teleplays) including the subsidiary Magic Dragon Multimedia (which revolves around our 12-year old web domain which gets over 15,000,000 hits per year)
    http://magicdragon.com

    Bottom line, this recovers roughly $100 per hour from the money that would otherwise vanish into the U.S. Treasury from my wife’s Physics
    professor salary and my teaching salary when our small businesses take a valid tax loss. At least 2 years out of 7 either of them must make a profit, or the IRS makes the default assumption that they are hobbies and not for-profit businesses, and I get audited.

    Surviving these audits has been easy the past 3 times, as I keep meticulous records and print out all sorts of charts and graphs. Yay, Math!

    Also: I bring printouts of tax advice from SFWA and NWU which have powerful occult spells in High Taxic which ward off auditor’s attacks on the order of: “but it doesn’t look to ME as if you’re trrying to make a profit as a writer.”

    Someone should bring Scalzi’s blog essays on how to make a profit as a writer, to an audit, and let us know if that helped. I suspect that it would. But, in the language of NASA spacecraft designers: “NOMM” = Not On MY MIssion.

    Now that my son lives (except roughly every other weekend at home) on the USC campus, where he’s in Law School, he is no longer at least 50% supported by my wife and I, but on the $60,000 of grants and loans per year for Law School. Yesterday I completed a 1040EZ for him, which he signed. He paid very slightly more than 10% on his nearly pro-bono earnings as a Math tutor to high schoolers who come for his lessons at USC.

    I’m also deep in the biomedical research with the surgeon who saved my life, writing a paper to be published (we hope) in the world’s most prestigious science journal (“Nature”), and clinically tested at USC Medical School, where he’s on faculty. However, we’ve agreed NOT to do this through our corporations, not for profit in any way, but purely as openly published science and medical research. I am using open source software, to further the non-proprietary nature, namely SBML (Systems Biology Markup Language).

  113. One year we owed $666. We decided to always file at the higher single rate, so that we’d get something back. It’s always been more than 666.

  114. I paid back on March 12th–used TurboTax after two complicated years that necessitated H&R Block (consumerist, by the way, says to avoid H&RBlock.

    Frank:
    Curious to know if you’ve read David Kay Johnson’s book “Perfectly Legal” which details a lot about how rich individuals and well-financed corporations exploit every legal–and in some cases illegal–ways to avoid paying taxes. I’d be in favor of a bill closing those loopholes and stepping up IRS audits of corporations and the rich–to go where the money is. Would you support something similar?

    The problem with a flat tax is that, pretty much no matter what percentage you set it at, taxes on the poor will go up & on the rich will go way down. So it’s basically an excuse to give the rich a giant tax cut; if you’re going to argue for that, you might as well call it “another giant tax cut for the rich.”)

    As for cutting government waste, a new report highlighted $290 billion worth of waste in recent military spending.

    Nate-I agree with you about the bases in Germany and corporate welfare. If you’re talking about the insanity of our health care system, most of the problems come from the fact that it’s private.

    “The government has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that it cannot solve a single problem.” Except for that whole segregation thing in 1954, or the whole African-Americans not having full citizens’ rights or voting rights in 1964 and 1965. I’d say the government did pretty well with those.

    One could also check out FEMA’s record of disaster relief in 1993-2001, under James Lee Witt.

  115. A flat tax is hideously unfair. What would be more far would be a consumption tax. Where bare necessities like food, water, health care, possibly electricity and some others are not taxed at all. Then everything else is taxed like a sales tax. (With perhaps certain things that society decides are universally bad for everyone like cigarettes and possibly SUVs and the like taxed at a higher percentage.)

    In this way, one could to some extent control their tax bill based on their spending. But it will never happen, because corporations won’t allow anything that might curtail consumerist culture.

  116. Ugh. FEMA to 2001 did decently. Shockingly, adding in new layers of political drones within FEMA, and adding still more layers of political appointees between FEMA and the President didn’t do so much for the agency’s nimbleness or effectiveness. The DHS money vacuum that swept up pretty much all preparedeness money didn’t do much either. Add in a tin ear for public relations, result = nearly 3 years of floundering around in response to Katrina, and hundreds of millions in waste, fraud and abuse. Letting too many contractors run the show doesn’t bode well for the future either. FEMA under the current administration certainly hasn’t given anyone the bang for the buck they should expect.

  117. A friend of mine was complaining that he wouldn’t be getting the money from Bush’s economy boost stupidity.

    Hey, if people who are net tax recipients get a “rebate” on taxes they don’t even pay, and we agree that the “rebate” is economically meaningless anyway – like pissing in the ocean, it gives a temporary warm feeling but doesn’t change the big picture – seems to me that everyone should get a “rebate” regardless of income. People with over $150K AGI have feelings, too!

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