Tax rates are at historic lows

Ben Peck of The American Prospect has a list of the “Top Ten Tax Facts.” The whole thing is worth reading — as is the source material Peck links to. Here are some highlights:

1. The government has collected less in taxes as a proportion of the economy in the past three years than it has in any three-year period since World War II, and tax rates are at historic lows.

… 4. Corporate income taxes for the past three years have hovered at just over 1 percent of GDP, lower than for any three-year period since World War II. The average for OECD countries is 3.5 percent.

… 10. Only two OECD nations collect less revenue as a percentage of GDP than the United States — Chile and Mexico.

So if you love lower taxes so much, just move to Mexico already.

If you prefer showing to telling, Chuck Marr of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has the “Top Ten Federal Tax Charts.” Marr’s charts illustrate the facts in Peck’s list. Tax rates are at historic lows.

This is a fact. It is a true thing. You can look it up. But as with many facts these days, this fact is rejected by people who feel that facts are only factual if you “believe” in them.

Thus we have one of the stranger aspects of American politics just now: Millions of citizens angry with President Obama for raising their taxes despite the fact that he actually lowered them.

I know this isn’t simply perverse stupidity on the part of these citizens. These folks have been lied too aggressively by a powerful propaganda machine. And those with employer-provided health care might be confusing the bigger bite that premiums are taking out of their paychecks with a bigger bite from taxes.

But still, reality has to count for something. And the arithmetic here is not complicated.

So at some level it really is just stupid and perverse to blame Obama for higher taxes when he has lowered them. Thus at least part of the mandatory response to these folks is to point out — as nicely as possible, if they will allow nice as an option — that they need to shut up, wake up, and move back to reality. Spending your days seething with rage about something that is the opposite of true is not a recipe for personal happiness. (See also: Anti-tax anger directed at the ginormous tax-cut package of the stimulus-providing Recovery Act.)

* * * * * * * * *

Taxes are the one bill I have that I’m required to calculate myself. My Internet provider, my wireless carrier, my electric utility, my water company, my insurance company and the bank the holds my mortgage all just send me a bill. So does the township for our local taxes.

Yet the state and the federal government both require me to fill out a set of forms calculating my own bill. This seems superfluous, since both the state and the federal government will also be doing the same calculations in order to double-check that I’ve done this properly, threatening costly consequences if I get it wrong. So why can’t they just send me a bill?

Matt Yglesias explains why: We have to calculate our own tax bills because it’s more difficult and complicated that way. “Who Wants Taxes to Be More Complicated?” The short answer is that the tax preparation lobby does, and more importantly so do politicians who base their careers on railing against taxes:

Why don’t you just lie on your taxes? You don’t lie because you’re worried that the IRS will catch you. And why do you worry about that? Because all the various entities who’ve paid you over the course of the past year have to submit paperwork about your income. Your employer, your bank, your stock broker, etc. — record and transmit almost all relevant information about your money to the IRS, meaning that if you lie you’ll get caught.

But by the same token, the IRS could simply collect all this information and send you a tax bill. You could read it over, sign at the bottom, and either include a check or wait for your refund. It wouldn’t be fun, exactly, but it would sure be simple.

Needless to say, taxpayers should have the right to dispute the veracity of the IRS’s calculations and submit their own form. And some classes of people are going to routinely have unusually complicated tax finances. Journalists, for example, often have miscellaneous travel expenses related to freelance assignments. People running substantial small businesses will still need accountants.

But for the vast majority of the population, most of the pain of tax compliance could be eliminated by a few keystrokes at IRS headquarters. So why don’t we do it?

Two reasons. One is lobbying by the tax preparation industry to discourage states and the feds from developing easier tax-paying systems, as California recently did. The second is lobbying by anti-tax conservatives. When the Golden State implemented its ReadyReturn system, it did so over the objections of Grover Norquist and his anti-tax pressure group Americans for Tax Reform, which fears that if taxes become less annoying voters might be less unhappy about paying them. After all, if the government did something to make your life easier it would be harder to tout the difficulty of tax compliance as a reason to abolish the progressive rate structure.

""Now please look away so I can go back to scanning the horizon for roadkill ..."

LBCF, No. 181: ‘Meet the Steeles’
"One of my coworkers in the work campaign has threatened to play Karl Marksman, a ..."

LBCF, No. 181: ‘Meet the Steeles’
"Well, the CoS one that's already filled up was one that had coworker gamers come ..."

LBCF, No. 181: ‘Meet the Steeles’
"Sounds like you are thinking about it well. It does sound plausible, and a scam ..."

LBCF, No. 181: ‘Meet the Steeles’

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • We didn’t have income tax before 1913 so taxes are very far from historic lows.

  • Cathy W

    …I wish I’d known that a week ago. :)

  • Ursula L

    Another thing to consider is that, while many people don’t understand how much (or little) taxes they pay, filling out the forms does provide some education about the way the tax rate works, and keeps it from feeling utterly random.

    If you fill out your own forms, using the standard instructions, you have some understanding of how the tax system works.  You have the forms you’re sent telling you about your income.  You have a chance to think about your deductions.  You look at the printed tax chart to find what your taxes are, and you see in plain print that you’re paying more than someone who makes less than you, but less than someone who makes more than you.  You’re somewhere  in the middle. 

    If you just got a bill in the mail, you  would not be going through the routine of filling out the forms and looking at the charts.  

    It would seem even more arbitrary than it does now. 

    The way the system is now, figuring out your taxes is an effort where you collaborate with the IRS.  The individual taxpayer owns part of the process of determining the financial contribution they make to the government to keep society running well.  Everyone has access to what the law is, in a form that is designed to let you work through your responsibility in a series of well-defined steps.  

    Going back to New Testament stories of tax collectors, these people were hated.  And part of the problem was that ordinary people had no control over their place in the tax system.  

    Individuals were appointed tax collectors, and they had to give the government a certain amount of money, and they had the right to demand “taxes” from a defined section of the population.  They weren’t paid, but rather were allowed to demand as much as they could get away with, keeping any surplus over the amount they were assigned to collect.  

    The result was endemic corruption.  The tax collector neither enforced nor obeyed any law.  The tax payer had no way of knowing whether what the tax collector was demanding was the actual taxes they owed.  A poor and powerless tax payer was easily bullied into turning over money, while a wealthy individual had the power to refuse payment.  

    Those printed tax forms that come in the mail or that you pick up for free at the library, those keep our system honest and just.  Any tax reform needs to increase the transparency that those forms offer, rather than eliminating them and going to an opaque process where you just obey the bill that the government sends you.  

  • hapax


    An accountant costs far less than they save in both time and taxes.

    I keep hearing people *say* this, but I have yet to see one scintilla of evidence beyond anecdata.  And even if they save people time and money on average, that doesn’t mean that they are going to be useful to everybody in every situation.

    Not to mention the fact that you ignore my point on the investment necessary to select and hire an accountant.  I don’t know about where you live, but around here competent accountants don’t exactly go door to door in March, references in hand.

    You know what implies massive doses of privilege? The idea that everyone can do their own taxes.

    I will donate one hundred dollars to any charity you name if you can cite ANYWHERE that I said anything like that.

  • Daughter

     I suppose “historic lows since the 1930’s” or “historic lows for the last 75 years” would have been more precise.

  • Emcee, cubed

    If you’re taking the standard deduction and just filing your W-2, then
    there’s no reason for the IRS not to do this calculation for you and
    send you a bill.

    Did you get married/divorced/widowed/have a child/your child turned 19? All of these thing affect your tax bill, and the IRS does not have access to this information. Marriages, divorces, deaths, birth certificates are all kept at the state or county level. Did you win $500 in Vegas that should be taxed? The casino doesn’t report amounts that small to the IRS, so they wouldn’t know about it. If they send a bill that doesn’t include it, how many people are going to go back and tell them about it? But many people will include it if they are doing it themselves. (Yes, some won’t, but I think more will this way than a bill being sent.)

    Another point on this, which I just learned myself. IRS does not receive third-party info such as W2s until May. IRS does not get that information directly. Companies report W2 and 1099 info and such to Social Security, who then sends it on to the IRS, presumably after they are finished doing whatever they do with it. So again, changes in how things are reported and where they are reported to could make things happen differently, but as they stand now, the IRS sending a bill to everyone isn’t either practical or possible.

  • The time investment necessary to hire an accountant is to drive or take a bus or walk to the local H&R Block (or whatever) office, walk in, and say, “I need someone to do my taxes.” Nowadays, it’s looking online to find someone. Now, is it a privilege to be someone who has enough community connections to know about this? Yes. But it saves money and time. The more complex your taxes are, the more of both it saves. Plus there’s the saved cost in lack of anxiety, if you’re the type of person to normally be anxious about that kind of stuff, which I am. 

    You did not outright state that anyone can do their own taxes, no. But you did rant about how massively privileged it is to think going to an accountant is normal, and you absolutely did not acknowledge that it might be a necessity for many people. Believe me, I would LOVE the privilege of not needing an accountant. The thing that makes an accountant a necessity for me is anything but a “privilege.” Just as it was for the friend who inspired me to start using an accountant. 

    And I don’t understand the resistance to it. It’s like hiring someone else to change your oil (yes, the privilege of owning a car, though it’s actually a necessity in most of the U.S.) It doesn’t mean you don’t know how much you owe or are owed in taxes. It saves time, money, and anxiety. Emotional costs are real costs. 

    Back when I moved to this apartment and wasn’t disabled, I hired Two Men and a Truck to move my stuff. I’d moved and helped other people move countless times in my life, and I said no more. I was middle class at the time, so I did have the necessary income to hire them. The hassle it saved was more than worth the cost, and I vowed to never again put myself and my family and friends through renting and driving a truck and lugging boxes and furniture around. Before the choice was taken from me, I thought of taxes in a similar way. 

  • The more I learn about the “back-end” of the US tax system the more I wonder if aspects of it haven’t been purposely designed this way, kind of like some state governments purposely scheduling DMV hours at inconvenient times to make hay out of te “guvmint bad” contingent in the population.

    In Canada, as near as I can tell, all standard tax slips (T-slips, we call them – our T4 is your W-2) are sent straight to Revenue Canada as well as to the taxfiler in question. There is probably secondary reporting, but some offices (i.e. provincial social services offices) depend on tax info from a filer to properly issue benefits – i.e. until you file a return and report taxable income, they can’t do bupkiss.

  • Ursula L

    We didn’t have income tax before 1913 so taxes are very far from historic lows. 

    Just because there wasn’t a federal income tax before 1913 doesn’t mean that people didn’t pay taxes.

    It just means that they paid taxes in different and less-fair ways.

    There were property taxes. There were poll taxes – pay if you want to exercise your right to vote!  There were head taxes –  everyone pays the same, whether you’re a starving day-laborer or a millionaire aristocrat.  There were heavy tariffs on imports – imported good were extraordinarily and unnaturally expensive, and the tariffs were designed not to nurture domestic production but to collect as much revenue as possible.   

     The graduated income tax is by far the most fair way to calculate taxes.  It recognizes that people need to live – that paying a certain amount might be easy for someone very wealthy, but be a matter of life or death-by-starvation for someone who is poor.  It recognizes that the rich use public resources in a much more intensive way than ordinary people – the owners of the regional grocery store or furniture store chains run many heavy trucks over the road system every day, while I just drive my used compact car to and from work, so they cause more damage and wear to the infrastructure than I do.  

    A billionaire  can pay hundreds of millions in taxes, and still live in extraordinary comfort, wealth and luxury.  Someone working a full time minimum wage job can’t even make enough in a full 40 hour work week to cover rent on the cheapest place available and the most basic and deficient cheap diet, let alone paying dollar-for-dollar equal tax to a billionaire.  

  • Warning! Wall-o-text! I am an accountant, but not the tax-kind-of-accountant. YMMV.

    A big part of why the U.S. federal income tax code is as complicated as it is lies in what it’s actually used for versus what it purports to be. On its face, taxes are about the government collecting revenues to operate. But various political agents have, over the last century, altered the tax laws to encourage certain behaviors, discourage others, and use tax deductions/credits/exemptions as an indirect subsidy to certain special interest groups.

    Yes, you pay taxes on your income, but gambling winnings influence which tax bracket you use, while losses do not; gains from selling stock can be calculated one way or another, depending on when the stock was purchased and sold. Anyone who says they don’t get any financial assistance from the government should double-check their income tax forms for what deductions they’re claiming.

    Why doesn’t the U.S. government issue you an income tax bill?
    Well, the courts have ruled that individuals and businesses are entitled (but not required) to take all lawful steps to minimize their taxes. That language, “entitled but not required”, means that the tax code includes options and choices to be made by each individual tax payer. (“Do I take the standard deduction, or do I itemize? Do I put money into the 401K or the Roth IRA?”) The government cannot make these choices for taxpayers, and it would be a flagrant conflict of interest to ask them to. (at best, the government would calculate the maximum amount of tax due legally)

    These decisions aren’t clear-cut. After your divorce, should you file jointly for that year, as single, or married-but-filing-seperately? If you move mid-year, what state(s) do you file taxes in, and where will you claim residency?

    One other thing: the myth of “the government”
    There’s a huge problem with Yglasias’s argument, and that’s the myth of a single, well-informed “government”. The reality is that there is no “federal government”, except in the vaguest sense. There are agencies, departments, and bureaus, but there are often siloed or even disconnected from each other. Even if all the different elements did communicate, there are fifty state governments with their own splintered sub-groupings.

    Consider the 2010 Census. It was performed by “the government”, right? But doesn’t “the government” have access to your tax filings which lists your name, address, SSN, and dependents? Doesn’t “the government” have access to your driver’s license, your vehicle registration, your property tax records? Why does “the government” have all of these people knocking on doors to get information that “the government” already has?

    Much like the filmmaker’s mythological “newspaper archives”, this notion of a single, centralized repository of data called “the government” is quickly seen as absurd.

  • Emcee, cubed

    Full disclosure. My husband works for the IRS (I have mentioned this here before, though not in terms of actual tax/IRS discussions, and it’s been a while, so not sure if anyone remembers. So been running some of this past him, to make sure I’m not getting anything factually wrong.

  • Will Hennessy

    …and thus I am still voting for Obama despite the fact that I just got screwed on my taxes this year.

  • hapax


    The time investment necessary to hire an accountant is to drive or take a
    bus or walk to the local H&R Block (or whatever) office, walk in,
    and say, “I need someone to do my taxes.” Nowadays, it’s looking online
    to find someone.

    If you are comfortable handing all your personal financial information to some temp with two months training,  I am glad that works out for you.  I have seen too many cases of such fast-food financial franchises royally screwing up taxes, disappearing into the aether, having the home company refusing to stand by their work or provide follow-up assistance, and even engaging in identity theft, however, to be willing to jeopardize my financial security and mental health in that fashion.

    But it saves money and time. The more complex your taxes are, the more of both it saves  … It saves time, money, and anxiety. Emotional costs are real costs.

    Again, prove it.  For me, specifically, and my particular situation.  Otherwise, stop making general assertions that you cannot back up.  My *informed* conclusion is that it would save me none of the above, and cost me more.  Your conclusion, based on nothing but YOUR particular situation, is irrelevant.

    But you did rant about how massively privileged it is to think going to an accountant is normal

    Again, citation or it didn’t happen.  I in fact agreed that many people rely upon accountants to fill out tax forms now, and “ranted” that it was massively privileged to assume that EVERYONE has an accountant or can and should get one, and to refuse to provide information to taxpayers and employees and customers on the basis of that assumption.

    If you can’t tell the difference between “this is perfectly normal” and “everyone is like this, so I needn’t bother to do my job”, I can’t help you.

  • The time investment necessary to hire an accountant is to drive or take a
    bus or walk to the local H&R Block (or whatever) office, walk in,
    and say, “I need someone to do my taxes.”

    Up here, H&R Block take a chunk of anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of your expected refund, or charge a pretty steepish fee (IMO) to prepare a tax return if you do not want “instant cashback”. OTOH Revenue Canada and various colleges/universities advertise free (or v. cheap – one college I know E-FILEs for you and it’s $15 flat) programs where you just hand them the forms and they grind it all out for you.

    If I had a high-volume laser printer and a better record-keeping system than I do, I’d probably hang out a small shingle come tax time since I’m familiar with the forms and the computer programs involved. :)

  • ursula- even with that the level of taxation wasn’t near what it is today.

  • hagsrus

    Just a note:

    I’ve used the free Turbotax the last few years, which gives me NY State as well as Federal. My situation is fairly simple (Schedule C) but I’m terrible at arithmetic, even with a calculator.

    They have other options than Turboxtax as well, but I think you do have to go through the freefile portal to get access to the no cost versions.

    Only gripe is a search function that doesn’t seem to work smoothly with my favourite  Firefox, but Chrome  handles it no problem.

    “Everyone can use IRS Free File. If your adjusted gross income was
    $57,000 or less in 2011, use brand-name software to do your taxes for
    free. If your income was more, use Free File Fillable Forms.”

  • Emcee, cubed

    I just spent the last few months working as a site coordinator for VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance). This is a joint program between United Way and the IRS to do tax returns for low income households. Its focus is specifically on making sure as many people as possible get the Earned Income Tax Credit if they qualify for it. One does not have to get the EITC to have their taxes done, however. There are limitations (the household has to make less than $50K for the year, they can’t do businesses or rental income, and if you are in a community property state, they can’t do married filing separately – there are others, but these are the most common), but if you qualify, it really is a great program, and it is free. Many of the volunteers (at least here, may be different in other areas) are IRS employees, and while some preparers are specifically trained by the program, all returns are quality reviewed by even more experienced people (I generally used my IRS volunteers to do this, as they were most likely to catch mistakes or missed opportunities.) I highly recommend it to anyone who can qualify, come next tax season – since this tax season is over.

  • Daughter

     But, I’ll repeat, federal income tax rates are lower than any time since the 1930’s–which means lower than at any time that virtually anyone alive today has been paying taxes.

  • Emcee, cubed

    Also, to clear up another issue, there is a difference between “federal income taxes have gone down” and “everyone’s tax burden is smaller than last year”. Just because someone knows they paid $X last year, and this year they paid more/less, doesn’t tell you anything. With times being what they are, many things are happening that could raise a person’s tax burden, without taxes going up. For instance, if you have to take money out of an IRA/401K to help pay bills or debts, unless you are 59 1/2, you pay a pretty high tax on that money. Maybe you had to sell some stock you had. Money from stock sale is also taxed. Did you have a foreclosure or short sale on your home? Did you negotiate credit card balances to a lower amount (“you owe $4000, but we’ll take a payment of $1000 and call it even”)? Cancellation of debt that is not bankruptcy is considered income. When you’ve done things like that to tide you over, your tax burden goes up. So it may look as if your taxes went up, when they didn’t. You just have more taxable income than you thought, or you have income that is taxed at higher rates.

  • Did you negotiate credit card balances to a lower amount (“you owe
    $4000, but we’ll take a payment of $1000 and call it even”)?
    Cancellation of debt that is not bankruptcy is considered income

    That has to be the most asinine tax ruling ever conceived. Debt forgiven is not suddenly income for you; nobody magically put a $3000 check in your ass pocket for that, you just don’t have to pay all the rest of that off umpty umpty years from now struggling on the minimum payment and you certainly wouldn’t be eligible for tax relief for all the extra interest you paid!

    If I’d known about this before now I’d have been shouting from the rooftops to write in to Congress and the President to amend the tax laws to exclude all debt-alteration agreements from taxable income, so at least the unemployed don’t have to suffer the indignity of getting hit in the wallet twice for getting out from under a debt that would otherwise be unpayable – once for having to scrape up the lump-sum to pay it all off and then again come tax time when a refund gets wiped out thanks to the IRS review of your tax forms.

    As it is, this should be made retroactive to 2009 effective immediately.

  • MaryKaye

    One might choose not to use a tax accountant because it *does* save money, and it seems deeply unsavory to save money that way.   Part of why richer people pay  proportionately less taxes is that they can afford to–they can get expert help in cutting their taxes as much as possible.  But the revenue has to come from somewhere, so by optimizing your taxpaying you are just shifting the tax burden onto those who cannot or do not employ a good expert.

    This is why I didn’t use an accountant for many years.  When I adopted a special-needs child and wanted the adoption credits, I finally hired one, and have stuck with that since right now my child needs all the money we can get.  It amounts to over $1000 a year.  But if I weren’t in financial trouble I would go back to doing my own taxes, because I think the “accountants can always save you money” statement, if true–in my case it does seem to be true–is a symptom of something wicked and wrong and I don’t want to benefit from it.

  • daughter- they didn’t have anything like the inflation we have today either.  taxes are almost moot really. You pay for higer gas, higher prices, no yields on anything.

  • Emcee, cubed

    Also, please be aware that there are unscrupulous tax preparers out there. The IRS is presently starting an initiative to go after preparers who file an inordinate amount of incorrect returns. They make an assumption of incompetence rather than fraud, but either way is bad for the taxpayer. Because regardless of who does the return, the taxpayer is responsible.

    One major warning flag is any preparer who “guarantees” a refund, or advertises that you don’t pay unless they get you a refund. These type of preparers tend to post tax credits that the taxpayer isn’t eligible for, add deductions that aren’t allowed, etc., to create an inflated refund. You pay them (usually a percentage of your “refund”), then it comes back saying the return is incorrect, and you get a much smaller refund, or actually owe money. These returns can sometimes slip through if they don’t set off any major red flags, meaning you might get the refund. This is actually worse, because when it is realized (and it likely will be), you will have to return that money, with interest and penalties. (Penalties will often be waived if you make good faith efforts to pay back the money.)

    These are a small percentage of preparers, but definitely something to be wary of.

  • Pondering

    But the size of your refund/tax bill has nothing to do with your overall tax burden…so if that is all you key your comparison off of, you still have no idea whether you paid more or less in taxes from one year to the next.

  • Pondering

    Well, except you did already receive the benefit of the money for whatever it was you spent it on, whether necessary or frivolous.  You paid yourself at the expense of the debtholder.

  • Pondering

    Sorry for double post but I can’t edit the first. 

    As with most tax law (and the Slacktivist motto), it’s more complicated than that.  Cancellation of debt can be excluded from taxation IF you are, and can, demonstrate that you are insolvent at the time of cancellation.  So if you are truly ‘in debt’ in your overall financial life, you do not face this penalty – if you are willing to do the work necessary.

  • Tricksterson

    I remember that too.  I also remember having to feal with the IRS in the 80s.  Not a pleasant experience.  Interesting that it was under Clinton, a Democrat, that the IRS was brought to heel.

  • Tricksterson

    Or historic lows within the memory of nearly everyone alive?

  • Daughter

     If your argument is that people feel their tax burdens more today because the prices of everything else are much higher, that may be true. That doesn’t change the fact that rates are at historic 75-year lows.

  • Ursula L

    ursula- even with that the level of taxation wasn’t near what it is today.

    Chris – prove it.  

  • Ursula L

    Interesting that it was under Clinton, a Democrat, that the IRS was brought to heel. 

    It’s not that surprising.

    When the people in charge of the government have the attitude that government can’t generally do or be good, they have no incentive to try to make the government better.  

    But if someone believes that it is the job of the government to promote the public welfare, and they believe that this is a reasonable and achievable thing, then if they see a problem, their intent is to fix it, rather than just complain that government is no good.  

    If someone thinks that government is the problem, an unfixable mess to be limited or destroyed, they’re never going to figure out how to make government better, because they don’t think it’s possible and won’t even try.  

  • ursula- I don’t think anyone would doubt the government a hundred years ago was smaller than it is today. they didn’t raise anything resembling the kind of revenue they do now.

    daughter- No i don’t doubt they are. My grandmother is upset because she has nowhere to put her money. the banks are paying no interest, the bonds are yielding nothing. What is she gonna do buy Apple stock or something?   people didn’t have these sorts of problems before.

  • Daughter

     “People didn’t have these sorts of problems before.” Maybe not, if you’re talking about post New Deal America–the same time period characterized by high tax rates. Wikipedia lists the history of recessions in the U.S. and the severity of most was much greater prior to the New Deal.

  • And the debtholder is usually a large institution that has made the calculation to absorb that loss (strictly someone up in accounting worked out the acceptable loss ratio for unpayable debts) from their books, and can often claim a tax write-off on the corporate income tax to boot.

    So not only does the debtor who thinks he or she has gotten a leg up get it coming and going from the IRS,  the tax burden has basically been shifted from the company to an individual with a lot less money.

    Of course this is conservative economic philosophy* so I do not suddenly expect Republicans in Congress to take up the standard of the battle against tax shifts like this.

    * Inasmuch as “transfer the tax burden to the poor” can be called a philosophy and not simply outright meanness.

  • Daughter
  • P J Evans

    It’s a little more complicated than that – even if you make less than that minimum, if your employer withholds money for taxes – and I think most businesses do – you have to file a tax return to get it refunded. (I worked in a minimum-wage part-time job for a couple of years. I got all the money back that the IRS collects as withholding, but I had to file the form first.)

    If you have income from capital gains, you’re going to have to use Schedule D. I’d rather pay a real tax preparer to deal with that one.

  • P J Evans

    I can e-file my state return, too; I get a paper copy from my preparer. (I used to use the EZ form. I wish I still could.)

  • P J Evans

    I asked someone who was in the local chamber of commerce, and they recommended someone. It’s cost me $125 this year, minus a bit because the signing was done via PDF and e-mail, so all I had to come in for was to hand over a check and collect the W2s and 1099s.

  • P J Evans

    They had inflation that was sometimes worse – have you heard the expression ‘not worth a Continental’? They had booms and busts because business, including banking, was unregulated. A lot of people outside the major cities had large enough lots to produce a lot of their own food, right up until fairly recently.

    You might want to verify your statements before you put them out in front of people who actually know something about history.

  • pj- I was referring more to recent history there. There is no where to put your money now because the interest rates are so low. savings acconuts make nothing. bonds . neither even keep up with  the rate of inflation.If yu are old and on a fixed income it’s big trouble. 

    we have booms and busts now, we’re in one, the latter.  regulations can improve the quality of an area of business but the booms and busts usually come from someplace else not fraud.

    ursula= “If someone thinks that government is the problem, an unfixable mess to be limited or destroyed, they’re never going to figure out how to make government better, because they don’t think it’s possible and won’t even try. ”

    Thats not true. Gulliani did an amazing job in New York. There have been many great republican governors (I’ll leave out presidents so as not to sidetrack) and many terrible democrats and vice versa. the communists believed too strongly in government.   

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    the communists believed too strongly in government.

    The communists? Which communists are these? There are, what, 2000 members of the Communist Party in America. Which ones are in charge of your tax policy?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    My grandmother is upset because she has nowhere to put her money. the banks are paying no interest, the bonds are yielding nothing. What is she gonna do buy Apple stock or something?   people didn’t have these sorts of problems before.

    You’re right. Eldery women didn’t use to have the problem of being upset about not getting a good investment on their money.

  • no I meant believing in government doens’t mean you will do a good job running one. the communsits in russia and elsewhere who believed too strongly in the ability to centrally plan an economy among other things.

    no elderly people used to have an easier time dealing with inflation than they do now. a few years ago for example.

  • EllieMurasaki

    no elderly people used to have an easier time dealing with inflation than they do now. a few years ago for example.

    Define ‘few’. I bet Social Security recipients got better cost-of-living benefit increases during the Clinton years than under Bush, because under Clinton we were running a surplus and could thus afford to do such things, and because Clinton, unlike Bush, wasn’t trying to dismantle Social Security in the name of privatization and other libertarian ideals.

  • Lori

    we have booms and busts now, we’re in one, the latter. 

    Your definition of “bust” includes a period of record breaking corporate profits, apparently because you define “bust” based on whether your grandma can get a good interest rate from a risk-free place to park her money?

    This is an interesting position coming from a person with such great confidence in the free market.


    regulations can improve the quality of an area of business but the booms and busts usually come from someplace else not fraud.    

    You truly have no idea how we actually got into the mess we’re in right now, do you?

    An old Southernism comes to mind—you’re so confused you don’t know whether to scratch your watch or wind your butt.

  • Lori


    no elderly people used to have an easier time dealing with inflation than they do now. a few years ago for example. 

    Citation needed. Don’t forget to clearly definition you terms, because right now this statement is fuzzy enough to be essentially meaningless.

    Who counts as “elderly people” (note: you need a sample size significantly larger than “Chris’ grandmother”). What constitutes an “easier time”? Exactly which years are “a few years ago”?

  • Münchner Kindl

    um, wait a moment. Didn’t Fred write a column last year/ several years ago around April 15th and looked at the depiction of “send income tax form to tax office until deadline” from popular media like the Simpson up to the right-wing politicans… and declare that this was bogus because most normally employed people in the US had taxes automatically deducted from paycheck and if they didn’t earn above a ceiling, they didn’t need to file anything? (They way it’s done in most European countries)?

    So has this fact changed, or has Fred’s perspective changed from employed to unemployed/ self-employed?

  • Donalbain

    So, you all fill in this big form and then the government writes back to you and tells you if you need to send them more money? What happens if they ask you for more money just after your oven or fridge has broken down and needed to be replaced?

  • Donalbain
  • P J Evans

    No, that’s part of the form too. If you really need more time, you can ask for an extension.