At What Income Level Does The Marriage Penalty Tax Kick In?

Marriage Penalty Tax In HawaiiOne of the most disappointing things about the government is their institution of the marriage penalty tax. The government is smart to laud the act of marriage in order to collect more taxes. When you’re in love, what’s an extra $1,000 or $10,000 a year in taxes you’ve got to pay? Love is blind and the government tries to take full advantage of you.

Lucky for us, we are not blind. We don’t mindlessly follow everything our politicians have to say. We question why the government suddenly allowed Roth IRA conversions during the height of the financial crisis. We think for ourselves, and that’s why the lot of us are going to be much better off than the rest.

This post will present examples of various fictitious couples with various income levels and deductions to give you an idea of how much extra you must pay the government in order to get married. All data comes from this marriage penalty tax calculator by the Tax Policy Center.

I encourage you to input your own numbers and see what happens after this post as well. Remember, please take your anger out on the government, not on me. I’m just the investigator trying to shine a bright light on this ludicrous situation. Just the fact that I had to spend loads of time figuring out various income permutations to see when the marriage penalty tax kicks in is maddening. 

The Benefits Of A Backdoor Roth IRA

Backdoor Roth IRA - Horseback ridingIs A Backdoor Roth IRA A Good Move?” on Daily Capital is probably the best post on the internet that explains who should do a backdoor Roth IRA, how to do a backdoor Roth IRA, who is allowed to do a backdoor Roth IRA, the risks of a backdoor Roth IRA, and who doesn’t need to do a backdoor Roth IRA. Have a read and I’m sure you’ll agree.

Long time readers know that I’m one of the biggest detractors of the Roth IRA program. The main reality is: most people will make less in retirement than during their working years. Therefore, taxes should be lower, all things being equal. I present many more arguments as to why a Roth IRA is suboptimal.

But after spending some time editing the Daily Capital post, I’ve come around to the idea that for some people, a backdoor Roth IRA is a good move. Here are three main reasons why a backdoor Roth IRA should be considered.

Investing Your Tax Refund For A 1,000% Return

Mauna Kea, HawaiiIn the article, “How To Get Over Your Fear Of Investing” I mention how your risk tolerance decreases the more capital you accumulate. When you were rocking a $100,000 net worth as a 30-year-old, you had no problems investing 30% of your net worth in your employer’s promising stock. But now that you’re 50 and less enthusiastic about working for decades more, investing 30% of your $1 million nest egg doesn’t seem like a good idea.

The tax refund actually provides for a great opportunity to swing for the ROI fences every single year, no matter your age or net worth. Given that the average tax refund is only around $3,000, many people just blow it on material things like shoes, clothing, gadgets, and LED TVs. It’s not necessarily a bad idea to use your “bonus” money to buy something tangible: any of these things can provide solid utility until next year’s refund. Alternatively, going the traditional route of paying down debt or increasing a depleted emergency fund is also fine, just terribly unexciting.

Now if your tax refund was a whopping $100,000, I’m willing to be that your approach to spending it would be substantially different! Some would unwisely go out and spend the money instantly on a luxury automobile; most, however, would probably give considerably more thought to the question of how to deploy such a large sum. Things like paying down a mortgage, investing for retirement, buying a home, putting money away for a child’s education, or helping out a loved one all come to mind with this level of money. But most people will never receive such a large refund, so the point is moot (sorry!). The $100k refund simply provides a mental exercise that highlights how our spending habits shift when dealing with different levels of money.

Although a tax refund often feels like a nice windfall each year, it’s actually been your money all along. And how boring it is to just invest that money (now that you finally have it) in the stock market for a potential 8% historical return. Of course if you’ve got revolving credit card debt with interest rates in the teens or higher, certainly give that a whack. But as a Financial Samurai reader, I’m thinking you guys are savvier than this.

Why You Should Really Do Your Own Taxes

1040Every year I spend $49.99 to buy the H&R Block Premium Edition to do my own taxes. And every year someone scoffs at me for spending a couple hours of my life learning, understanding, and optimizing my finances to pay the least amount of taxes legally possible. A part-time tax preparer who’ll make $375 doing my taxes isn’t going to know more than me. A full-time tax preparer with a CPA who charges $1,000 might be worth it. But after doing my taxes for 12 years, the only way the CPA will save me more money is by cheating. There is no magic that only tax accountants can use to reduce taxes.

The best way to learn about something is to do it yourself. Remember when you were growing up and your mom taught you how to do a math problem, only for you to completely forget how to do it come test time? How about reading all those SAT test prep books and then getting a mediocre score because you didn’t take enough sample tests? Being instructed on how to do something is helpful, but getting in the weeds and solving different variations of the problem over and over again is the only way to achieve mastery. The same concept goes for understanding and minimizing your taxes.

Dealing With The Guilt-Joy Of Raising Taxes On The Rich

view-from-aboveWatch out, rich people: I’m coming for you! A preliminary run-through of my 2013 taxes has revealed that I now earn a low enough amount to no longer qualify as a prime tax hike target. And yet, as sad as this apparent reduction of my own productivity may be, I still possess a wondrous power: the ability to vote to raise taxes on others to benefit me, me, ME!

It’s quite amazing, really; first we learn that the average 401(k) balance surpasses $100,000 for over 50 million working Americans, then we find out that the national unemployment rate has dropped to 6.6%, and now this? Drinks for all, paid for by my rich blogging buddies next time we meet.

I think it’s everybody’s duty to pay taxes. A flat tax above a certain minimum income level of comfort (MILC™) for individuals and families sounds like a fair approach, right? Make 10x more than someone, pay 10x more in taxes than someone. Stuck below the MILC? Don’t worry about income taxes, we got you; just pay sales tax, and FICA tax for your own good (assuming you have a job). We all enjoy the same benefits of military protection, libraries, a functioning judicial system, the NSA, and manicured public parks; it’s only right that we should all help pay for them.

This post offers a little bit of honest introspection as to how I’ve felt going from paying no income taxes as a student, to paying a boatload of income taxes as a worker bee, to once again paying not so much at all. I now find myself assailed by an odd sense of guilt; while my own tax liability has decreased, I still have the ability to potentially vote for legislation to increase someone else’s taxes in order to benefit myself and my family. Deep in my heart I know that ganging up on any one group is wrong, even if the law allows it. But hey— if I don’t pick up the $100 bill lying on the street, someone else will!

As a reminder, the ideal (adjusted gross) income for maximum happiness is $200,000 because:

  • Regardless of how high the cost of living may be in your neck of the woods, anything over $200,000 is a target for tax hikes, period.
  • The marginal federal tax rate is 28%– a reasonable number, even if you add a state tax rate of 8% to your wages.
  • You don’t have to pay the new Net Investment Tax of 3.8% for every dollar you make over $200,000 as an individual, or $250,000 as a couple (why 1+1 = 1.25, I don’t know!).
  • You still get to max out your 401(k) and save plenty in after-tax money at $200,000.
  • You get to be a part of the middle class, which is the best class in society.
  • You can vote to raise other people’s taxes without having to pay more yourself.

Exploit Online Data To Lower Your Property Taxes

Victorian Mansion In San FranciscoEver since 2008 I’ve been fighting to lower my property taxes every year. If I didn’t fight, the SF Property Assessor’s office would undoubtedly keep raising my assessed value all throughout the financial crisis because they need to extract as much money from homeowners as possible. Renters certainly aren’t going to volunteer to pitch in if they can simply vote to raise property taxes. Too bad everything just comes around in the form of higher rents. In other words, together we must stand united against the government.

Your main mission as a homeowner is to convince the assessor’s office your property is worth as close to $0 as possible. Anybody who is proud their assessed home value is higher is being silly because the government will take advantage of you. The same goes for people who make a lot of money telling everybody exactly how much they make. Practice the mantra of Stealth Wealth and believe your primary home is a dump in order to build your net worth further.