Frequently Asked Questions

What sort of tax resister are you, anyway?
There are many ways to resist taxes, and many reasons to try. Tax resisters use different strategies, have different objectives, and have different reasons why we take our stands. I resist my federal income tax by keeping my income low and using legitimate deductions and credits that reduce my federal income tax to zero, and I resist federal excise and self-employment taxes in other ways. I do these things to reduce my complicity in the actions of the government.
Is what you’re doing legal?
The more I look at the tax law, the more I realize that all of us illegally evade taxes to some extent — not because everybody is trying to get away with something, but because most of us are unaware of just how much is taxable and how much paperwork and fees we’re legally obligated to comply with. On the other hand, even dedicated tax resisters find it difficult to avoid paying any taxes. There’s a big gray area in the middle between absolute compliance and absolute evasion. When I started this experiment, my strategy was to do things above-board and legally, so although I was in the gray area along with everyone else, I was actually doing things more by-the-book than before. It’s been part of my experiment to show that even if you follow the rules you still don’t have to pay federal income tax if it would compromise your values. In 2006, I started resisting the federal self-employment tax as well — by simply withholding payment, which isn’t legal. So I am currently using a combination of legal and non-legal methods to resist paying taxes.
What do you mean “everybody evades taxes” — I pay all my taxes!
Do you pay “use tax” on things you mail-order from out of state and therefore didn’t pay sales tax on (if you’re in a sales tax state, like most of us) — like books from Amazon or seeds from the seed catalog? I didn’t even know this tax existed until I started my tax resistance and did some research. This is an example of a tax that people are technically obligated to document, report, and pay, but that in practice people evade out of ignorance or frustration at the paperwork.
Have you considered earning money in the underground economy and never declaring it to the IRS?
I’ve given this some thought. I think that if you can get away with earning undeclared income, it absolutely makes sense to do so. On the other hand, it’s worth emphasizing that tax resistance is a path that you can choose even if you want to do everything above-board and by-the-book. If the right opportunity in the underground economy comes along, I’ll take it. I may decide not to discuss it on this blog, though, because that could be used against me by the powers-that-be. As of the time I’m writing this, I have not earned any significant amount of undeclared income and I am still pursuing federal income tax resistance through legal means. This might change.
Don’t you know that you don’t have to pay income tax because wages aren’t really income and the sixteenth amendment wasn’t legally ratified by Ohio and anyway it doesn’t apply to people living in states but only those who live on federal land, and all you have to do is declare yourself a sovereign citizen and buy this book?
I get a lot of advice like this, but I see a fatal flaw: The IRS and the courts are the ones who get to decide what the rules of the game are and when they can seize your property or throw you in prison, and they don’t read the same book you’re reading. They’ve decided that arguments like these won’t fly. However, even completely silly tax arguments often “work” just because it’s so much work for the IRS to unravel them. Unless there’s plenty of money involved or it’s a high-profile case, it just isn’t worth their time. So although the logic behind these legal arguments has about as much to recommend it as Nigerian Scam emails and pyramid schemes, I’m glad some people have taken this on as a hobby. I think I’ll pass, though.
Do you think you’re going to enjoy a life of abject poverty?
Who said anything about abject poverty? I just want to live under the tax line. I can earn more than $35,000 in a year, and then, by doing such things as putting some in tax-deferred retirement accounts, some in a Health Savings Account, and maybe spending some on tuition, keep about $18,000 that I get to use to live on. Thanks to some perfectly legal, above-board, IRS-approved deductions and exemptions, I won’t have to pay any income tax on any of that. In , the median per capita income in the United States was $26,487. Other stats I’ve seen suggest that between 90–95% of the world’s population earns less in a year than I get to spend after putting away 40% of my income for retirement. A billion people try to get by on less than 2% of what I earn. Fully half of the people sharing Earth with me live on less than $700 per year. I’m filthy rich! And I’m not paying taxes! It’s the American Dream! I’m not going to have to sell my body for top ramen money any time soon. I’ll be fine.
Wait a minute: You can pull in $35K without paying income tax? Legally? How does that work?
You can read my (free, on-line) how-to guide for some details. It’s a little-known fact that paying no federal income tax is very common in the United States. According to The Tax Policy Center, about 49.5% of households in the U.S. paid no federal income tax at all in .
But you won’t really have $35K to spend — a lot of it is tied up in this and that, right?
Yes, to some extent. For instance, one way to make $35K income tax free is to put some of it into tax-deferred retirement accounts, some into a Health Savings Account, and spend some on college tuition. But in all of these cases, it’s still your money that you get to spend, and there are worse ways to spend your money. And because you’re not paying taxes, that $35K is a real $35K. Your dollars are full-dollars, not clipped after-tax-dollars. Before I embarked on tax resistance, each dollar I earned was clipped by 17½¢ by the IRS via federal income tax withholding. By eliminating that tax, I gave myself a raise by increasing the value of every dollar I earned and thereby increasing my take-home pay for every hour I worked.
But not everybody could get those deductions, you know.
True enough — different people have different sorts of deductions they can take and different sorts of financial obligations they must meet. I don’t have a car, or children, or a chronic disease, or a mortgage, or credit card debt. I’ve got more flexibility in my finances that allows me to consider a step like this.
How did you find out about the deductions and credits you use, and how do you know they’re legit?
I mostly learned about the credits and deductions that I use by reading IRS documents like Publication 17 — the agency’s how-to guide for individual income tax filers. If I needed to delve further to make sure I knew how to qualify and if there was any fine print, I looked to other IRS documents. Oddly for a government agency, their website is pretty good: easy to search once you get the hang of it, and with all of the pertinent information available for download.
If I want to do tax resistance, do I have to choose between poverty and persecution?
There are also the paths of prevarication and paperwork! Seriously, though, in the field marked off by these four “P”s there’s a lot of territory. Some tax resisters are persecuted relentlessly by the government, and some deliberately provoke this sort of confrontation as part of their protest. And some resisters do adopt a voluntary simplicity lifestyle that seems impoverished to some people. But there are also a lot of resisters who are neither persecuted nor impoverished. There are many tactics, and many ways to go about using them.
You may be avoiding federal income tax, but you still owe the payroll tax, and pay California sales tax (and maybe the state income tax), various excise taxes, etc. What about that?
There’s that gray area again. I wonder what I’d have to do to avoid paying (or owing) any taxes at all. I’d probably have to avoid money altogether, since some is lost to tax just about every time it changes hands. I couldn’t get vaccinated, since there’s an excise tax on vaccines. I couldn’t eat food that had been shipped using taxed fuel. I couldn’t drink booze that hadn’t been home-brewed or bootlegged. I couldn’t leave the country and return legally, since there is a high fee to purchase a passport. I’d have to avoid using any products that were subject to an import tariff — or maybe any products whose manufacturers or sellers made a taxable profit or who paid their employees taxable salaries. Sounds pretty tough. I think I’ll stick with moral impurity for the time being. I’m putting off sainthood for another day. That said, where there’s room for improvement I’m eager for suggestions. I do homebrew beer to avoid the excise tax on alcohol, and I do not own a car so I pay little excise tax on gasoline directly. As for the payroll tax (or in my case the self-employment tax) I decided in to just stop paying it (non-legally). We’ll see how that works out.
If you think the government is so bad, why don’t you just leave the country?
If you are just asking whether I’ve considered moving to another country as a way to live on less money, avoid support of the U.S. government, get out from under the thumb of Uncle Sam, spend my suddenly large bank of free time by seeing a bit more of the world, and so forth — I have considered this and am considering it. If what you’re really asking is “If you hate the government so much, why don’t you leave its country” then the answer is different: I don’t believe this country belongs to the U.S. government. I don’t believe that by opposing the government, I become less invested in the place where I was born, where I grew up, and where I live. In short, I think that it’s the government that’s the problem, and that if push comes to shove it’s the government that should leave the country, not the people.
Do you want just to “not support” the government, or actually to resist it in some fashion?
I think many of the protesters out on the streets with their signs and chants are fooling themselves if they think they oppose the government — their actions don’t take a nickel from the bottom line of their actual support. I think a compelling case for the need to resist the government can be made. Now, finally, I have earned the right to weigh that case. Once I stop supporting the government, I can make the decision of whether to wash my hands of it or whether to go further and actively oppose it.
Don’t you know that many brave people have fought and died so that you would have the right to espouse the tripe that is your opinion?
I’ll try to hold up my end of the bargain.
How can you reconcile withholding financial support for our federal government and continuing to derive benefit from services supplied by that same government?
I see what you’re getting at, but I think this is a sham argument. Let’s say that Al Capone sets up shop in your neighborhood and offers you the standard mob protection racket deal: “We’ll make sure your home doesn’t burn down and your kneecaps don’t get broken if you pay us $50 every week — it’s great insurance.” You grumble but pay, resenting it all the while. Now what if Al Capone uses some of the money you and your neighbors have been coughing up to add a new wing to the hospital, or to throw a party for returning war veterans, or to buy a truck for the volunteer fire department? Should you stop resenting the fact that you’re getting shaken-down every week? Should you start being glad that you’re being shaken-down? Should you feel guilty if somehow you can weasel out of paying? How much of your money does Al Capone have to spend on philanthropy before it becomes okay that he’s extorting it from you?
Taxes are the way everybody chips in to fund things of mutual benefit, like national parks and the social safety net. By refusing to pay taxes aren’t you welching on your duty to help out?
When I hear this argument, I try to imagine a favorite charity: maybe Amnesty International, or Habitat for Humanity, or Doctors Without Borders… something like that. What if I learned that my favorite charity were spending half of the donations I send to them on a campaign of murder, brutality, and torture? Would I continue to send them checks to support the good things they were doing with the other half of my money, or would I find another charity to support? Nothing about tax resistance prevents you from contributing your time and money to beneficial projects. It just means that you intend to do so in a way that doesn’t also contribute to the harmful projects of the government.
Speaking of charity, why don’t you just continue to earn as much money as you used to, and then donate enough to charity that your taxable income drops below the tax line?
It’s a common misconception that people can get under the income tax line by donating a sufficient amount to charity. I’ve run the numbers, and it’s not that simple. The first problem is that the deduction for charitable donations is an itemized deduction, so you have to donate enough to get your itemized deductions up to the same amount as your standard deduction before you even start to reduce your taxes. The second problem is that your deduction is typically limited to 50% of your adjusted gross income (even less for some types of charity). The third problem is that you take your itemized deductions after you calculate your adjusted gross income, so you can’t reduce your AGI that way and therefore can’t use this method to qualify for tax credits that require a low AGI (like the retirement savings tax credit I rely on). Every once in a while the government loosens some of these restrictions — for instance, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina they allowed people to make tax-deductible hurricane-related donations up to 100% of their AGI. These opportunities are difficult to predict, however, and only help with the second of the three problems.
Is this site going to end up just being some shady excuse to beg money from people?
No.
Do you really think you’re going to change the government’s policies this way?
No, I don’t. Some people resist taxes as a protest directed at people in power, or even as a tactic to try to force concessions from the government. But the reason I chose this course of action was simply to stop my personal support of the government — to wash my hands of it. I had a selfish desire to live my life according to my principles, and not a more overarching agenda of regime change or reform. Which isn’t to say that I don’t want a broader change, just that this path wasn’t chosen with that goal in mind. That said, I do like to think that by writing about what I’m doing and how it’s going that I might encourage other people to try tax resistance. What if 10% of the people who are of the opinion that the wars are a terrible crime or that the government is run by a bunch of psychopaths actually did as I’m doing and withdrew their support? Well, I don’t know what would happen, but I think it would mean more than if they all sent email to their senators or decided to vote for some politician or paraded around in the streets again. Tax resistance is a good exclamation point at the end of my convictions — a way of saying “and not only that, but I mean it!”
Is there an RSS / XML feed for this site?
Yes: http://sniggle.net/Experiment/rss1.xml is the RSS 1.0 feed and http://sniggle.net/Experiment/atom10.xml is the Atom 1.0 feed.
Why are acronyms and abbreviations, like IRS, underlined in Picket Line RSS feeds?
I use the HTML element <abbr> to mark an abbreviation. I usually include the full or spelled-out versions of abbreviations in the “title” attribute of the tag. Some web browsers note the presence of such tags by underlining the enclosed text, and if you hover the mouse pointer over such an underlined abbreviation, a little pop-up window will display the contents of that “title” attribute. You may not find this particularly useful, but people with impaired vision who use audible screen readers to read web pages might appreciate hearing “US” pronounced differently depending on whether it’s a capitalized version of the word “us” or an abbreviation for “United States,” for instance. This may also help search engines and other automated tools to categorize the pages on this site more usefully.
Who are all these people who are quoted in your “Quote” sidebar? I’ve never heard of most of them. Do they endorse The Picket Line?
These banner images contain pictures of and short quotes from tax resisters of many varieties. Some, like Gandhi or Dorothy Day or Thoreau, are fairly well-known. Others don’t have any particular fame but are just ordinary folks like you and me. That I’ve quoted them just means that they are or were a tax resister who said something pithy and whose picture I could find on the Internet. This shouldn’t be taken to mean that they do or would endorse my specific method of tax resistance, this site, or the views I espouse here. If you want, and you’re somewhat web programming savvy, you can embed these quotes into your web site by pulling the content from http://sniggle.net/Experiment/facequote.php.
Is there some sort of topic index to this site that I can use to find information on a particular subject?
Yes, and it’s unique to the blog-world as far as I know: Take a look at the outline page. It’s organized not in alphabetical order, but in clusters of topics that kind of mirror one way the content on this site might be grouped.
Who is this Ishmael Gradsdovic?
He’s my imaginary friend. That’s somewhat more substantial than a nom de plume but a lot less scary than a psychotic break with reality. He tells some interesting stories, like the one about his baseball-theorizing college friends, or the time his free will disappeared, or his photojournalist stint in the opening days of the Afghanistan War. He has a telepathic, clairvoyant tapeworm who interviewed Mahatma Gandhi. Sometimes he writes letters to the editor.
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For more information on the topic or topics below (organized as “topic → subtopic → sub-subtopic”), click on any of the ♦ symbols to see other pages on this site that cover the topic. Or browse the site’s topic index at the “Outline” page.