is the U.S. Tax System Fair?

income tax return paperwork desk“Congress, Congress! Don’t tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree.” This 1930s ditty reflects the sentiments of most Americans today as Congress once again tries to simplify and reform the 74,608-page Federal Tax Code and Federal taxes. Their task is particularly challenging since about 40% of citizens feel that they pay more than their fair share, according to Pew Research. The groups that don’t pay enough include corporations (80% agree), wealthy people (78% agree), and poor people (40% agree).
 
Overall, 56% of Americans feel that the existing system is either not too fair or not fair at all. But how exactly does the Federal tax system work? Is it truly unfair?

Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Taxes and Fairness

To answer the question “Is the U.S. tax system fair?” we must first explore:

  1. The Necessity of Taxes. The American colonists’ complaint of “no taxation without representation” was misleading. According to historian Richard T. Ely, “One of the things against which our forefathers in England and the American colonies contended was not against oppressive taxation, but against the payment of taxes at all.” For decades, the American government relied on excise taxes, tariffs, customs duties, and public land sales. Are income taxes necessary?
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  3. Our Current Tax System. What taxes do Americans pay? According to one blog, Americans pay 97 different taxes each year. We pay taxes on the income we earn, the property we own, and the goods and services we buy. The government taxes gifts we make to others, assets we leave to our families, bad habits in which we indulge, and ill-gotten criminal gains. Who are the winners and losers of America’s existing tax system?
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  5. The Difference Between Statutory and Effective Tax Rates. Misperceptions complicate understanding and agreement – especially those surrounding the Federal tax system. A 2017 poll found about a third of Americans claim to understand a “fair” or a “great deal” about U.S. tax policies but are unable to reach agreement on basic facts, such as whether the average Federal income tax rate is higher or lower than other Western democracies. This lack of understanding fosters disagreement about policy and complicates reform efforts.
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  7. The Definition of Fairness. John Stuart Mill, in his “Principles of Political Economy,” wrote, “If anyone bears less than his fair share of the burden, some other person must suffer more than his share, and the alleviation to the one is not, on the average, so great a good to him as the increased pressure upon the other is an evil. Equality of taxation, therefore, as a maxim of politics, means equality of sacrifice.” Should taxes be proportional or progressive? Are they solely a revenue source or a method of social justice and income redistribution?

 
The complexity of the tax code, the machinations of those with special interests, and the sheer scope of administering, paying, and collecting taxes promotes misunderstandings, myths, and even malevolence about the role of taxes in society and the character of those charged with their administration.
 
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Understanding Tax Benefits of Real Estate Investment Properities

real estate invest coinsRenting versus buying can be a difficult choice. Still, according to The Wall Street Journal, almost two-thirds of American households own homes. Many more own rental properties or second vacation homes. By contrast, a Gallup Poll found that only one-half of Americans own stocks.
 
Home equity is the foundation of personal wealth in the United States, representing about two-thirds of net worth for most American households, per Bloomberg. The expansion of home ownership has been stimulated by government programs and tax advantages to incentivize the purchase of houses. According to a study in Social Forces, home ownership leads to “a stronger economy, better schools, and an invested, proactive citizenry.” Homeowners have higher voting rates and are more involved in civic organizations.
 
Owning real estate has some unique financial advantages. For example, homeowners can deduct their mortgage interest, mortgage insurance premiums, and property taxes from ordinary income. Also, proceeds from the sale of a house are treated as capital gains for taxes – up to $250,000 of the gain can be excluded from income for a single taxpayer or $500,000 for a couple filing a joint return.
 
Owning a home or investment real estate offers huge advantages to both society and you individually. Here’s how to get the most out of your investment.

Real Estate as an Investment

Owning an investment property is significantly different than owning the property in which one lives. While investors share many common risks – illiquidity, lack of transparency, political and economic uncertainty – each investment property is unique, varying by use, location, improvement, and permanence. Each investment can be subject to a bewildering collection of tax rules, all of which affect the net return on investment.
Andy Heller, co-author of “Buy Even Lower: The Regular People’s Guide to Real Estate Riches,” notes that most people pay too much for their properties: “The profit is locked in immediately once the investor buys the property. Due to mistakes in analysis, the investor pays too much and then is surprised when he doesn’t make any money.”
 
Heller advises that success in real estate investing requires:
 
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