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.