Taxes Aren’t Scary

Taxes are Like Laundry

Last April, you might have read an anonymous Synthesis column about how you could get free money from the government via the retirement contribution tax credit. Several months later, a finance column started here in the Synthesis by yours truly. I’ll resolve the mystery by confessing it was me. I can’t help it; I love talking about taxes.

I can also admit when I’m wrong, which I was—I undersold you in that article. I said you could get up to $200 in tax credits, when in fact you could get up to $1000 (or $2000 if you’re filing jointly).

So seriously, go back and read that article (tinyurl.com/syn-free-money). The TL;DR version is: put some money into an IRA or Roth IRA before you file your taxes, and your friendly neighborhood federal government will give you up to half of it back, up to a $1000 per person. (It can’t exceed what you owe in taxes, though, so if you owe $500, then you can only get a credit up to $500.) It even counts if you contribute through your workplace. Call it this week’s assignment, if you like.

One reason I love talking about taxes is because they provide for some incredibly important things. My K-12 education and several years of school lunches were paid for by taxes. The roads I drive on, libraries I visit, clean water in my faucet—all these are provided at least in part by taxes. For those reasons alone, I’m happy to pay my taxes. There are kids out there who could use some lunch.

I recognize that taxes mean I don’t get to pick everything the money goes to. For example, many Quakers protest paying taxes for the military (roughly 19% of last year’s federal budget) because they are pacifists. They know they can’t just pay taxes on the things they prefer, and they can acknowledge they benefit from the military protecting them. So they set aside 19% of what they owe in an escrow account, knowing the government will collect it. At the same time, a Quaker can happily pay the 2% of their taxes that goes to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, because they support preventing starvation and malnutrition among their fellow citizens.

Another reason I love talking about taxes is because they’re a necessary aspect of our American lives. Knowledge is power, and the more knowledge I have about my taxes, the more I can plan for their role in my life. Taxes are like laundry—only scary when you don’t know what you’re doing. Once you do, it’s just another adulthood task.

In short, taxes are a necessary good. Despite this acknowledgement, there’s no hypocrisy in being happy to pay them and yet ensuring I’m paying the minimal amount required. One might even consider it a good sign of citizenship to be aware of tax law and pay no more than required. I can always pay more if I want to, or donate to a charity of my choice.