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Do you deserve your tax breaks?

NYT's Ron Lieber.

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Tess Vigeland: Friday is the day the money runs out for Uncle Sam. Well, to be exact, the federal government will shutdown if Congress doesn't authorize a budget. What they're really arguing about is you and your tax dollars. And that got commentator Ron Lieber thinking.


Ron Lieber: The timing of all of this hubbub seems awfully appropriate. It is, after all, the moment when many of us begin adding up our contributions to state and federal coffers. Tax time, in other words.

As I began my own tally this year against this backdrop of political discord, I couldn't help but notice just how many breaks I get. First, a little about me: My household is upper middle class. Two incomes and only one child to spend the money on. But as with many of the breaks in taxland, the more you earn, the bigger the discounts you get. That's because you graduate to a higher income tax bracket. So any deductions are worth more to you -- and there are a lot of them.

The rubdowns for my tricky back come out of a pre-tax, health care, flexible spending account, since they took place at a physical therapist's office. The replacement for the Oakley prescription sunglasses that I just ran over in my car will come out of there too. My kiddo started learning to swim last summer courtesy of day camp counselors -- paid through my pre-tax dependent care account. And let's not forget the big one -- five figures in mortgage interest, fully deductible. I don't have a country house, but if I could afford one, I'd get the deduction there too. Amazing, right?

I make my living in part by teaching readers how to play this game, so I probably win more often than most people in my income range.

Still, something doesn't seem quite right here -- namely the fact that with all the things I've just ticked off, there are few if any income limits that restrict who can access the tax breaks. Hey, look it's the law, so I greedily stash money here and there, lapping up the deals that I am eligible for. It would be foolish not to.

But if you were to wind me up and march me towards the nearest capital city? I'd arrive with a very simple question for the people that make the laws and write all the rules: Why on earth should I qualify for all of this stuff?


Vigeland: Ron Lieber writes the Your Money column for the New York Times. You can tweet an answer to him at ronlieber or to me at radiotess. Or post your thoughts on our Facebook page. And we are still looking for your questions about taxes.

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While I agree that some tax breaks should receive a second gander, I also think that this discussion is missing a larger point. The federal government needs to bring in more revenue - period.

What I simply cannot understand is how we seem to ignore the absolute reality of what illegal immigration means to this country. Look, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the legality or correctness of illegal immigrants living and working in the U.S. the point (and the reality) is that they are and will continue to do so.

While they are here they use government funded public goods, such as roads, public schools, and hospitals. The difference is that more often than not illegal immigrants who use our public services pass the bill to the rest of us who DO pay taxes. What does that mean? Well, that means that legal citizens who pay their taxes are having to pay a disproportionate share of supporting government.

I do not blame the illegal immigrants for this problem, anyone trying to create a better life for themselves and their family deserves admiration and support; the blame rests on us for our inability to put aside hatred, racism and fear-mongering to solve a major problem that will not go away. I thought this country was supposed to be a beacon for many to come and start a new life and pursue the American Dream. It does not seem that way.

If we keep this up perhaps we should dismantle the Statue of Liberty and sell it for scrap.

Ron,
I completely agree with you and thanks for writing this article. My wife and I work full-time and go to graduate school full-time. We moved up a bracket this year and were still surprised to see how much we get back; although, a good majority came from the 20% reimbursement of education costs and the fact that we both withhold as single, I have no problem paying taxes, I just wish the government didn't waste it on the laziest and most unproductive/irresponsible citizens in the country. What's really amazing is the outrageous federal and state credits and educational grants given to young irresponsible teens that have kids and get paid more than my wife and I make.(I prepare their taxes if you question my factual evidence).

@ Cecilia:
Gain on the sale of a home should not be taxed. As long as it is your primary residence for 2 years or more and the gain is less than $250,000, you wont be taxed. If it were taxed, think about the implications of the elderly who sell their home to go to a nursing home after living there for 40 years...there are many more reasons..

Tax breaks and taxes are basically government controls over behavior one is a carrot the other is a stick, taxes at least cover some of the collective things we all demand. We have a system in this country, we elect the Democrats to give us the public goods we want the Republicans to make certain we don't have to pay for it.

Dear Ron,
Please feel free to give your "extra" cash to charity. Meanwhile, while I'm moonlighting to pay off my med school loans, on top of a sixty hour work week, I'm not going to feel too guilty about any sort of tax break I'm able to take.

Sincerely,
Laura Bajor

PS Hearing you talk about your second pair of prescription Oakleys does nothing to build your credibility with me, or with my other colleagues who are up all night to afford the basics.

And to think that of those unemployed Americans in the jobless landscape who are fortunate enough to have unemployment benefits, they will still have to pay taxes on those scant benefits, particularly if they are single.

AMEN, Mr. Lieber. At least 70% of the country is fine. And those who make over $100K or $150K should pony up. I sold a house last year and even I couldn't believe that I didn't have to pay ANY tax on that gain.

IF single, no dependents, your tax bill is a huge burden! (you enter the higher tax brackets at half the income levels). It is very frustrating- the reward for hard work and long, stressful, workweeks is: higher taxes. I would also like to point out that the "UNDERGROUND ECONOMY" is alive and well, and growing! Soooooo many people are WORKING OFF THE BOOKS- paying NO taxes- and fraudulently qualifying for free medical, food stamps, college grants, EIC, and more. I am sick of working to exhaustion to support all this fraud! If I see this, why doesn't the government? The politicians look the other way- they want the votes. Our tax system discourages hard work, and is way too complicated. I should PAY to have someone figure my taxes!?! I do paper and pencil too- because the IRS charges me to efile- crazy!

Why shouldn't you qualify to get some of it back? It is your money, you earned it, I think they take too much of it already.

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