It’s Tax Day. Most of you have already filed, which means you’re reading this with at least a general sense of relief. Some of you haven’t filed, and if you’re reading this then stop! Go do your taxes! But there are other people who are just sitting comfortably and watching tax day whoosh right past them: people who don’t pay their taxes, and don’t seem to be bothered too much by it. Curious who these people are? So were we, so we tracked down two Brooklynites who haven’t paid their taxes in a few years.
For obvious reasons, we’re giving them pseudonyms. You might have conjured up some image of money-eyed corporate tycoons who defraud the government year after year, but these women who decline to file fall on the opposite end of the fiscal spectrum: they’re broke. Each one has lived on taxed salary, and each one has lived on freelance income. And both have failed to file in both instances.
Are these two warriors against an unjust tax system, or just lazy? Read their stories and decide for yourself.
Sue, a 30-year-old who lives in Prospect Heights and works in advertising, feels like taxes are the rich man’s domain; she sees her own evasion as more of a white lie than anything else. “I don’t own any property or anything. So we’re just talking about not ‘checking in’ with ol’ Big Brother to make sure we’re square.”
Sue is a freelancer whose first tax offense was in 2013. Since her untaxed wages alone were barely enough to break even on rent and food expenses every month, she anticipated a hefty bill from the government that she wouldn’t be able to pay.
“So I just decided not to file,” she says. “And I was curious to see whether anyone would, you know, notice. I was almost daring the government to be diligent.”
Luckily for Sue, no one came knocking at her door that year.
“Literally nothing happened,” she says. “Actually, what happened was that the government shut down that year, so it seemed like I was the least of their worries.”
Government deception is an adrenaline rush (kind of like that episode of Seinfeld where they drive a car below E). Even after Sue began working in a salaried, taxed position in 2014, she again decided not to file the following tax season.
“Since I was actually paying taxes on my wages, I’d probably broken about even. That time, it was almost an experiment — I just wanted to see how far I could go. Again, nothing happened.”
That all brings us to 2015—and Sue admits she’s planning to go without filing once again.
“I once again don’t have any funds to spare — so while I’m content with the length of my experiment and pretty down for reconciling, I’m holding off until I am financially prepared to deal with the consequences of my complete lack of fucks given.”
At the end of the day, Sue hopes the IRS is too busy frying big fish in the corporate ponds to go after the little guys in freelance and low-paid positions who are just barely making rent year after year.
“Who cares, is the real question. Seriously, does anyone care?”
Penny, a 27-year-old associate producer living in Williamsburg, has story that’s a little less daredevil-ish. She’s been on taxed salaries for the past couple of years, but she says she just can’t be bothered to file her taxes.
“My tendency to not check in with the government is solely laziness,” she says. “Big Gov probably owes me a little money, but that’s not enough incentive [to file]. I’m actually doing them a favor by not trying to collect my debt from them! They should really be thanking me.”
Penny’s first year of not filing, 2013, was just on adjusted wages, but in 2014 she started working as a freelancer. Once she found herself pinching pennies to make rent, the internal debate shifted.
“I adopted a more balanced-scale outlook,” she says. “I thought, ‘Well I did them a solid before, they should totally pardon me this time around.’ Also, I was still broke.”
As tempting as it may be to think that the IRS will have a live and let live attitude like any other reasonable, middle-class hustler like the rest of us, that’s probably not how the system works. All the same, Penny felt confident that her actions would again go unnoticed by the IRS last year. And they did.
“The worst part of being an (alleged) tax evader is hearing the disapproving lecture from my parents,” she says. “My mother assures me that the IRS is going to come find me.”
Despite admonishing parents and the giant frown of society, Penny’s rounding the bend on 2015 with the same laissez-faire attitude she had two years ago.
“Bottom line is, I hate paperwork. And don’t preach to me about TurboTax, because it’s the same damn thing.”
Penny’s still struggling to make rent, so she’s operating on a nearsighted scale. Taxes the least of her worries, too. “It’s kind of trivial to me right now. I really don’t think anything is going to happen, and I really don’t plan on doing this forever.”
THE RISKS OF NOT PAYING TAXES
The ethical debate on taxation isn’t black and white—otherwise, it wouldn’t be a part of our politicians’ platforms year after year. We run a blog about being broke, so we’re not about to preach in either direction. Sure, no one likes the I.R.S. or taxes, and they pay for terrible things like our insatiable war machine and all-seeing intelligence apparatus, but they also pay for our health care subsidies, public parks and the support that the welfare state gives you and your neighbors.
But we can tell you that there’s very real risk involved with not paying up, per this nightmare listicle from Business Insider. There’s obvious consequences like the possibility of jail for defrauding the government, but you could also lose your Social Security benefits, permanent stains on your credit, a hefty amount of interest once you finally pay and more.
The consequences are out there, and they suck. So while this may be the only time we tell you not to follow a brokester’s example, we strongly advise you treat the above accounts more like cautionary tales than untapped saving strategies.
Still, do you think there’s ever a time where you’re justified in not paying taxes?
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My Australian grandfather’s Army buddy (turned RAAF) refused to pay taxes after WWII, saying, “I flew arse-backwards across Germany for this country, like f*ck I’m paying taxes.” Sure enough he didn’t his entire life. Of course, the Aussies were a bit more laid-back then and they didn’t have things like electronic databases.
Nowadays, your name is in a database somewhere. The IRS “knows” you haven’t filed your taxes. There’s a little algorithm that’s constantly weighing whether an investigation/audit into you is worth the amount of money they’d make off of it. Thing is, if you don’t file, they start leveraging fines against you. Soon enough, those fines will make it worthwhile for them to come find you and squeeze the cash out of you (or throw you in jail if they feel like it). The IRS doesn’t fuck around.
The only way to get away with not filing taxes is to totally fall off the grid. That means working for cash, never subscribing to anything that requires a credit check, opening any kind of financial account, or ever getting a mortgage. And we all know how feasible that is.
The other alternative is to leave the country. Rarely is anyone extradited to the US for tax evasion, unless the evaded tax is high enough. Of course, you have to find a country that will take you. And then you’ll have to pay its taxes. Unless you live off the grid there (i.e. illegally) And ’round and ’round we go.
Takeaway? File your taxes. They will eventually find you and fuck you over otherwise. If you can’t afford what you owe, you can always make a deal or a payment plan with the IRS.