43% Pay No Income Taxes!! Well…not exactly…also-Fun with Math

They pop up every couple of months…today by Jeanne Sahadi  at money.com. Now quite honestly, this one…if you bother to read it is better than most(but I’ll pick on it anyway), but the headline still blares out….”43% Pay No Income Taxes“. That’s terrible you probably think….nearly half of the population is getting a free ride. Those lazy slacking  (and literally) poor SOB’s…. Except… there’s just one little thing…these numbers always exclude employment taxes…for social security and medicare. As I detailed a few months back in Social Security: Crappy Deal…Getting Worse …Fica is a bona fide income tax of 15.3% of all income earned up to like $110k or so. So…that guy making $50k may not pay a lot of “income tax” as defined by the study, but he does pay $7500 a year for something that looks like an income tax, walks like an income tax, and smells like an income tax.

So let’s just cut the crap. FICA is an income tax…I laid out my hypothesis in Proof (well…circumstantial evidence) Social Security Implemented As Stealth Income Tax. Anyway…the bottom line is that these articles get me riled up because they are generally intellectually dishonest and just try to rile up tension between different income groups… If you want to play those kind of games fine…but do it for real and include the 15% FICA as income tax. Of course, nobody would click on that headline…”8.25% pay no income taxes”.. but I digress 🙂 So let’s skip over that and look at some math.

Lets take a typical family of 5 with an annual income of $50k. We know they pay $7500 of FICA taxes a year…but what about “income taxes.”

Right off the top…take off $12,200 for the standard deduction and another $3900/person for exemptions ($19,500) and you get down to $18300 of taxable income. The 10% tax bracket runs to $17,900, so if this was it…they’d be on the hook for about $1,800. But…take out some for medical, maybe some modest 401k and HSA contributions, maybe some business losses on a not so popular blog…getting down to $10k of taxable income could happen without too much effort, so $1k of income taxes.

But wait…they have 3 kids….and are almost certainly eligible for a 1k per kid credit…so they are eligible for a $2k refund (1k -3k=-2k) as it stands. Depending on the circumstances…they could probably push their income up to $65k or so before they technically started paying taxes, and this is a pretty cookie cutter scenario. No judgement here…but that’s the math….it’s pretty damn simple. So odds are, a good chunk of families making under $65k per year technically don’t pay “income taxes”. All I’m saying is that I’m not amazed, and this shouldn’t be a story at all….if these writers were capable of basic math, they would see that it actually makes a whole lot of sense. In fact, I’m surprised it’s not quite a bit higher…. Clearly…you don’t need to be a tax cheat to avoid “income taxes”…just the ability to do 3rd grade math.  Oh well…I’m sure our journalist’s sentence diagramming skills are impeccable.