Posted by Adam @ 11:01 am on April 24th 2007

The US for limeys, Part 7: taxes

As our ramble, for limeys, through the more boring sides of US life continues, it is clear that no guide to the less glamorous aspects of the American experience that pretends to completeness can omit mention of filing taxes; when better to detail the byzantine maze of American taxation than in the exhausted aftermath of the annual tax-filing circus?

Itís often said, by people fraudulently assuming the mantle of a wisdom to which they merely aspire, that there’s nothing so certain as death and taxes. Well, in the US, they are by no means independent; if you don’t pay your taxes, you will be put in prison, where you will be Raped to Death.

It is generally wise to pay your taxes.

Let us lurch into uncertain action with the everyday experience: purchase taxes. Purchase taxes are much more transparent in the US than they are in the UK. Prices are advertised without applicable taxes so that youíll find out how much the tax is when you are asked at the checkout for more than the advertised price, assuming that the goods you are buying are taxable which, like the tax rate itself, varies from state to state. There are a veritable plethora of other taxes; in many states, for example, youíll pay a tax when you rent a hotel room, because the taxes that the hotel pays are clearly not enough to pay for the critical resources you use when you dare set foot in the state, turning the heads of good, unsophisticated, local folk with your filthy ‘money’ and foreign ways. The price you agreed for a car rental may likewise attract a mysterious tax, because government has a clear interest in penalising antisocial behaviour such as car rental. Anyhow, in general, before loudly accusing the person at the checkout of robbing you, check the receipt; if you have been gypped by taxation, the correct response is to loudly accuse the government of robbing you (see below).

Periodically, you will pay some or all of federal income tax, state income tax, sales tax and property taxes (school tax, county tax and town or village tax). If you earn an amount of money that would have been quite a lot in 1970, you may have to pay the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), a tax the government wisely keeps in place to make sure that people don’t travel back in time on their current salary, live like kings and defraud the government of the money it needs to run the IRS.

If you are going to be living in the US, it is essential that you cultivate the proper attitude to taxes. You must despise them. Never pass up a chance to complain about the bums in the state and national capitols who are robbing you blind at gunpoint. This somewhat gauche behaviour may not come naturally to you at first, but it will be as easy as breathing once you have had to fill out your first US tax return. Wheras, in the UK, most people do not have to file their own taxes and in any case the forms are not particularly complex, oh, you are in for a magical surprise in the US, of the sort familiar to anyone that owns a puppy and leaves their shoes out*.

There are tax-breaks aplenty in America. You can claim for the interest you pay on the mortgage you canít afford. You can claim for your property taxes, which are proportional to the assessed value of the house that you live in that you bought with the mortgage you canít afford. If you donít have health insurance, you can claim for the healthcare costs that you couldnít afford after you cancelled your health insurance because you couldn’t afford the premiums and still keep up with the payments on the mortgage you can’t afford. If you are planning surgical enhancements to ease your path into the porn career you need in order to be able to afford all the stuff you currently can’t afford, you cannot claim for that (but never fear; it’s an investment). You can claim for the accountant you had to pay, for fear of being Raped To Death in prison, to fill out the tax form you couldn’t understand.

According to Dick Armey, former House Majority Leader, the US Federal tax code contains 60 000 pages and is even more boring than the ‘Frodo-Sam-Gollum love triangle through Morder and on to Mount Doom’ part of the Lord of the Rings but without the temporary relief from the hobbo-erotic tedium when they run into Faramir and his men (Dick Armey didn’t explicitly mention that stuff about Lord of the Rings, but it’s there between the lines). You will sometimes hear talk that Federal income taxation is unconstitutional and that it can be avoided through the use of constitutional legal arguments so simple that, why, you should exercise your right to represent yourself in court. Mysteriously, the people who make these claims do pay their own Federal taxes, doubtless in order to better understand the unconstitutionality of Federal income taxation from inside the system. On the bright side, television advertisements are replete with accountants who’ll promise to prepare your tax returns and pay any fines the government levy on you for incorrectly filed taxes; they achieve this magical trick by taking your money and then filling out your tax form while claiming back only the most trivially vanilla deductions. You can, of course, buy tax software that will do all this stuff for you without the Long Dark Winter of the Soul that portentuously describes any conversation with a tax accountant; if you make a mistake on a computer-generated return, however, start sharpening your toothbrushes. Finally, you can always rely on your friends for tax advice, although you should only choose this option if you are incredibly stupid, and mean enough to survive in prison.

You will frequently hear about ‘middle class families’ when taxation policy is being debated, second in frequency only to ‘The American People’. Put away your mental image of bowler-hatted and pinstriped City workers or senior civil servants commuting in from the leafy shires of South-East England, copy of the Times newspaper neatly folded under one arm and softly shining attache case, containing Important Papers and a lunch of apple, yoghurt and parchment-wrapped diagonally-cut brown-bread ham and mustard sandwiches, held firmly at the hand end of the other; in the US, anyone that eats from the garbage less than twice a week is apparently ‘middle class’ so long as they own something large enough to live in which never had wheels on it. There might be some additional considerations, for example, relating to the ratio of remaining teeth to visible tattoos or a cut-off on the longest allowable meth-induced psychotic episode, but such fine distinctions are not often necessary.

At the end comes the result. Ideally, you owe the government no money nor have you overpaid. In practice, you either owe the government more money (that you already spent on the mortgage for the house that you can’t afford) or the government has too much of your money. If the government has too much of your money, it will return it to you with absolutely no interest, guaranteed; one common way to view this is as a marvellous gift from a caring Legislature and courageous Executive, fighting to improve the quality of the garbage that middle-class families have to eat the last evening before payday. Others prefer to see the tax refund as a government-enforced saving plan to ensure that every young man in America gets a new games console and a lapdance at least once a year. Sadly, many of the people that see this as a huge government bureacracy, how shall we say it, eating up its own tail from the inside, are Libertarians, poor, tragic figures whose main survival talent is knowing not to bother looking for food in the trash of the middle-class just before the end of a pay period. In this one matter, however, these simple creatures, brutish and savage, posess the wisdom of Solomon; it is your money. You should still lock your garbage cans.

*Always check your shoes before you put them on. This is a Rule By Which to Live Your Life.

1 Comment »

  1. if you donít pay your taxes, you will be put in prison, where you will be Raped to Death.

    Then I laughed so hard I choked..

    Comment by weltschmerz — 4/27/2007 @ 2:57 am

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