Understanding taxes can tax your patience

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It’s that time of year again.

No, not June weddings or graduations or even so many shopping days until Christmas.

It’s time for employers and pensions and Uncle Sam through Social Security to send out the W-2 forms and other notices of income so you can send in more money for Washington to waste.

Before you get the idea I’m not glad to be living in this country as compared to, say, Outer Mongolia or even Australia, where you can be arrested for daring to stick your nose outdoors, my concern has to do with Uncle Sam’s math and how he calculates things.

Now, in the interest of complete transparency, let me go on record here as stating I do not, repeat, do not, have a mathematical mind. I know what 8 times 7 is and a few more similar problems, but anything beyond general math is also a foreign language, say, Greek, to me. I’m convinced Mrs. Johnston, in the dark days of Pittsboro High School when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was in her 12th grade algebra-trig class, gave me a “D” so I wouldn’t come back for another stab at it.

And it’s when you use numbers and apply them to something called economics that I’m really in over my head. Obviously, numbers play a big role in the game of economics as do such concepts as the law of supply and demand. That’s a way of looking at things that says the fewer of something there is, such as toilet paper, the more in demand it will be, thereby raising the price per piece. There are other factors that affect the price of something, such as most rolls of toilet paper are sitting in ships somewhere off the west coast — but you get the idea, even if math and economics aren’t your cup of tea, which also has been in short supply.

I say all that to say this: that having come to a modest understanding of math and economics and being able to add numbers up to five digits, I am having trouble figuring out how Uncle uses numbers in his economic formula for how much money someone owes in taxes based on his income. It all has to do with what he calls benefits and taxable income. And you may be wondering, too, especially if you recently got one of those forms from Uncle that requires you to tear on three sides and then look at the numbers inside.

Let me illustrate with mine. I can’t remember the exact numbers because my family associate who keeps up with such has filed my form and hers somewhere in a stack of papers living in the recesses of a file cabinet. But for the sake of argument, I’ll use random figures which still make the case, I think.

Let’s suppose Uncle said my Social Security payments, which he puts into a bank account by direct deposit each month, totals $12,000. I’m supposed to pay tax on that, which I already did when I first earned it and Uncle took it away. Then my government insurance program has a yearly total of, say, $3,000, which Uncle took from what could have been part of the monthly deposit. Then, I have voluntary tax withheld from the monthly total to the tune of maybe $1,500 so the April 15th jubilee doesn’t eat my bank account alive.

Uncle then does his math and says I have total income and benefits of $16,500, to which he wants to affix a tax for me to send him.

What I’d really like for Christmas this year is for someone to tell me why and how the $1,500, which is, in my mind, money I’ve paid tax on twice — when first earned and when taken out of the Social Security payment each month — is yet another amount for which I should pay tax now. How is that a benefit other than the fact that Uncle says it is?

Again, I know as far as the big picture goes, I’m blessed and fortunate to have been able to work through the years and all that stuff, but to add a tax payment into income so you can pay tax again on it is a concept I can’t quite grasp.

Reminds me of a poster I saw that said Uncle is coming out with a new very simple tax form this year. It has only three lines. Line A says, “How much money did you make last year?” Line B says, “How much do you have left?” And Line C says: “Send Line B.”

There is, of course, no shortage of taxes — income tax, tax on money you save, tax on things you buy, yearly taxes for the privilege of owning what you’ve bought, taxes when you die and the list seems endless.

About the only thing that isn’t taxed is my patience. That may be next if Uncle can figure out how to do it.

Bob Wachs is a native of Chatham County and retired long-time managing editor of the Chatham News/Chatham Record, having written a weekly column for more than 30 years. During most of his time with the newspapers, he was also a bi-vocational pastor and today serves Bear Creek Baptist Church for the second time as pastor.


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