Each year, the average American doing her own taxes spends 13 hours just on pretax planning, gathering records and such -- and that's before filling out the first line of her tax return. That adds up to about 6 billion hours being wasted annually, and it's one of the many reasons why U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, came together Thursday to launch a new online platform where people can suggest the changes they want to see in the tax code.
Through TaxReform.gov, the congressmen hope to start a discussion between lawmakers and everyday folks about the difficulties they have with the system, and use their suggestions to devise a modern new tax code. Previous attempts to modify the tax code have only added more layers of complexity to it, as well as building in loopholes that allow corporations and the wealthy to evade taxes.
Because of their roles as the heads of the two congressional committees that germinate tax law, any genuine change in the tax code will start with (or at the very least, near) Baucus and Camp, and they want the public to help them make it happen. "We are dedicated to writing bills in an open and transparent fashion. No cutting deals behind closed doors," they state on their website.
A perfect tax system might be too ambitious a goal for the imperfect world of politics, but Baucus and Camp hope to simplify it and make it more fair for American families. If you'd like to help them, they're waiting for your input.
Nearly 25 percent of all income taxes go to pay for defense. Of that amount, salaries and benefits for members of the armed services make up roughly a quarter, while most of the remainder goes toward equipment and supplies as well as weapons, construction, and research and development.
About 22.5 percent of income tax revenue goes toward health care programs. The two big expenditures are for Medicare and Medicaid, but additional amounts go toward health research, food safety, and public health services and disease control. These amounts don't include the dedicated Medicare taxes that workers have withheld from their pay.
The government spends roughly 17 percent of income tax revenue on various programs that provide money for those in need, including retirement benefits for federal employees, food and nutritional assistance, and Supplemental Security Income. The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit are also funded from income tax revenue.
About 4.5 percent of spending goes to pay for various benefits for veterans. Income and housing support represent not quite half of the spending in this category, with health-care expenditures nearly as high. The remainder goes for education, training, and other benefits for former military personnel.
The majority of the 3.3 percent of income tax revenue spent on education and job training goes toward funding education through the high-school level. College financial aid, along with employment training for those with disabilities and more general job training and employment services for the broader public, take up the remainder.
Just over 2 percent of income tax revenue goes to support the nation's immigration and law enforcement programs. These expenses help fund the nation's court system, as well as federal law enforcement agencies and the federal service that implements U.S. immigration policy.
About 2 percent of revenue from income taxes is spent on various expenses related to the natural resources of the nation. About a third of that money goes toward water and land management, with the remainder funding environmental protection initiatives as well as management of the nation's energy assets and conservation efforts.
Money going toward international initiatives makes up about 1.7 percent of total income tax revenue. About half of that amount is spent on humanitarian and economic-development assistance, while the remainder is split among the costs of maintaining embassies and diplomatic missions, and providing security assistance overseas.
Just over 1 percent of income taxes go toward science-related programs. More than half of that amount goes to NASA, but additional recipients include the National Science Foundation as well as various national laboratories and other research facilities.
Ordinarily, when you sell something for more than what you paid to get it, you have a capital gain; when you sell it for less than what you paid, you have a capital loss. Both can affect your taxes. But if you immediately buy a similar property to replace the one you sold, the tax code calls that a "like-kind exchange," and it lets you delay some or all of the tax effects. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses Form 8824 for like-kind exchanges.
Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts allow the families of disabled young people to set aside money for their care in a way that earns special tax benefits. ABLE accounts work much like the so-called 529 accounts that families can use to save money for education; in fact, an ABLE account is really a special kind of 529.
One of the many benefits of working at home is that you can deduct legitimate expenses from your taxes. The downside is that since home office tax deductions are so easily abused, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tends to scrutinize them more closely than other parts of your tax return. However, if you are able to substantiate your home office deductions, you shouldn't be afraid to claim them. IRS Form 8829 helps you determine what you can and cannot claim.
Form 8859 is a tax form that will never be used by the majority of taxpayers. However, if you live in the District of Columbia (D.C.), it could be the key to saving thousands of dollars on your taxes. While many first-time home purchasers in D.C. are entitled to a federal tax credit, Form 8859 calculates the amount of carry-forward credit you can use in future years, not the amount of your initial tax credit.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has the power to seize income tax refunds when a taxpayer owes certain debts, such as unpaid taxes or overdue child support. Sometimes, a married couple's joint tax refund will be seized because of a debt for which only one spouse is responsible. When that happens, the other spouse is said to be "injured" and can file Form 8379 to get at least some of the refund.