The new tax season brings no earth-shattering tax law changes. The big news, of course, is the election of Donald Trump. His tax plan does call for modifications, anticipated for 2017. He certainly wants to reduce tax rates. Therefore, those with the ability to “income shift” should do so. That means arranging to earn less this year and more next year to take advantage of next year’s lower rates. If you are self-employed, for example, you could delay collecting money from your customers until January. You could also pay all outstanding expenses in 2016 that are not due until 2017, which will lower your profit this year. Since income taxes are only levied against profit, you will save. This strategy is for the wealthy, who are the ones really affected by this.
There has been a lot of talk the past eight years about “income inequality,” a term which means that some people in our society have excessive amounts of money while others struggle to meet their needs. While that may be true, instead of thinking about creative ways to attack this complicated problem, the liberal left, Robin Hood-like, zeroes in on something called “income redistribution.” In other words, the solution is higher taxes on big earners and corporations in order to transfer that money to low income people via expanded welfare.
Many Americans receive such welfare in the form of food stamps, Medicaid, and Section 8 housing. Given this reality, the question I want to discuss here is, does it really pay to work for a living and shell out for taxes, or is it better to just live on the dole?
Once upon a time, people gave gifts. For holidays, birthdays, and special occasions, your friends and family would buy you a necktie or transistor radio, a necklace or a crock-pot. The problem was that no one knew your taste in neckties or whether three crock-pots were already languishing in your cupboard. This situation resulted in many exchanged gifts. For the vendor, this meant a loss of profit, due to the manpower needed to handle the exchanges. Furthermore, the returned merchandise was often not in pristine condition or was poorly re-packaged, creating a product that could no longer be sold as grade-A. On December 26th, the stores had to deal with long return lines and lost profits.
One could always give a gift certificate, of course, which allowed the recipient to buy what he or she preferred. It was a good deal for the stores, as it meant no return on that transaction, no ruined merchandise or repackaging, and one more little goodie: slippage, from the word “slip,” as in “to fall by the side.” It refers to the fact that if the gift certificate was not redeemed, the store got free money!
Because I have written many articles in these pages about lowering one’s taxes, I am often asked this reasonable question: “I have only one job and an uncomplicated financial situation. Can’t I do my taxes myself using good old Turbo-Tax?”
Yes, you can, but even those with simple returns can save money by using a tax strategy called “bunching.” Imagine a single young woman who works as a nurse and earns $55,000 a year. She does not own a house and therefore cannot claim a deduction for a mortgage. Should she itemize her deductions or claim the “standard deduction”?
A little background: There are two kinds of tax deductions: “above the line” and “below the line.” This line has a name; it is called “adjusted gross income.” The deductions above the AGI are allowed so long as you paid them. The most common of these is putting money in pensions and IRAs.
It is no secret that college costs money – lots of it. However, many students are able to go because they receive financial aid from both the federal and state government. The starting point for all these sources of aid is a form called FAFSA, Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Bear in mind that many yeshivas and seminaries are legal colleges, so their students qualify.
Some parents think the FAFSA does not apply to them, because they believe their income is too high. This is a mistake, because, even if you do not qualify for government aid, you might be eligible for aid from the college itself, and they use the FAFSA when granting it. Furthermore, according to a recent article by Wall Street Journal, even wealthy students should file the FAFSA. They offered several reasons. First, you might sometimes get aid even if you think you earn too much. Second, by filing the form and getting turned down, the college realizes that you can afford full tuition. Since they need some students who can pay, that might give you an edge on admission!
Rabbi Berel Wein tells a humorous story about the time his plane ticket was cancelled due to a mix-up. Twenty minutes before take-off, the airline quickly seated him in first class, next to the vice-president of TWA. The vice-president noticed him reading the Chumash in Hebrew. After a few moments, he leaned over and asked, “What language is that book written in?”
“Hebrew,” Rabbi Wein replied, sweetly. “You mean there are still people left in the world who read and write Hebrew?” he responded incredulously. “I thought it was a dead language.” "Well,” Rabbi Wein explained, “there are millions of people in the world who read, write, and speak Hebrew. In fact, your airline flies regularly to a country where Hebrew is the official language, spoken by millions of people.”For some reason the VP disliked the response. “I see that you and I have nothing in common,” he muttered, turning away.