Well, as I promised, we are going to start taking a hard look at the reality of money and financial fitness. Again, this has a direct impact on your health because the more stressed out you are about money, the harder you work, the less time you have to recover, the less time you have to enjoy even the little things in life, the more your health will suffer. So, pull up a chair, grab your kids, and read this series together so you can learn something. Maybe you know it, maybe you do not, but read it all the way through. Or not. Frankly, it is your life and trust me when I say that when I am old and retired and balling big time because I have money and you are eating cat food, I will not think twice about it because I tried to help.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Protect your Social Security Number. This is not a joke. Do not carry that card around with you. EVER! Lock it up in a safe deposit box. Put it in a little safe at home that is fireproof. Do not let that number loose. Do not put it down for anything. Not at medical offices. Not at any place that seems sketch. Places like car dealerships, banks, and credit card applications will need it. And, prospective employers once they hire you. Otherwise, do not share it for any reason. EVER!!!! Identity theft is a real bitch and once you go down that rabbit-hole, there is no getting out!!!!
Taxes and You
So, do you remember your first job? I do. Man, I was so excited. It was H-E-B in Weslaco, TX. HEB is a grocery chain and one of the places where a lot of kids in Texas get their first job. I think I made like 5 bucks an hour back in 1989-90. It was not a lot. But, it was work. I humped carts. Carried out groceries. Cleaned floors. Whatever was needed.
I recall looking at my first paycheck. I cannot remember how many hours exactly, but let’s say for the sake of argument it was 20. So, here I am counting that paycheck. I worked 20 hours at 5 bucks an hour. Woohooo….I am going to get 100 bucks. And then I look at the check and I see all these words and numbers. FICA, OASDI, and this other stuff and I was thinking…ok…but where is the line with my 100 bucks. I get to the bottom of the paystub and there is no 100.00 amount there. What what?
Whoa Whoa Whoa HR lady…what the hell? Where is my money? Come on now, where is my proper pay? She raised an eyebrow and looked at me and then realized…it’s this kid’s first job. And he is an idiot. Perhaps my mother had said something about taxes at some point, but that shit was for old people. Not for me. But nope….nope….it was for me too. It was for everyone. And thus was the start of a very real lesson I learned – we pay taxes!!
Fast forward 28 years and not much has changed. I still pay taxes. But, and here is the funny thing, as much as we have advanced. As much as we know. As far as we have come, there are a metric shit ton of kids that do not have clue one about this concept. Schools are failing us because they are not teaching people what they need to know (sorry for this brief tangent). But seriously, I do not need to know U.S. History when it comes to reading my paycheck. Teach a class on that shit….please. But, back to my financial stuff.
So, rude awakening. I did not get my 100 bucks. Instead, I got like 85 bucks. Maybe a bit less. That was three whole hours of work. Maybe a Monday evening shift. I basically gave HEB a free day of work. Right!? That is what it felt like. But nope, no….they took nothing from me. I paid into a system designed to keep our country running. Although some will argue that it is a bunch of horseshit. By the way, those people are fucking morons. I really try not to cuss on here. Truly…but seriously…anyone that does not want to pay taxes is a FUCKING MORON. And if this is you, friend or random reader, then you too are a FUCKING MORON.
Now, I am not saying the tax code is perfect. Indeed, we in the US have one of the most complicated tax systems of the 34 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (https://taxfoundation.org/2015-international-tax-competitiveness-index). Imagine, out of 34 balling countries, we are listed at number 32. Now, full disclosure, I have worked for the Internal Revenue Service for 20 years. And, for the record – I AM NOT SPEAKING AS A REPRESENTATIVE OF THE IRS. But, that does not mean I can completely remove myself from the knowledge, experiences, and observations I have made about that organization.
But, back to the 100 bucks. I was pretty steamed. And then when I left home and worked in the military, I started seeing all these deductions off my check. And I just resigned myself to the fact that this was how it was going to be. But, they added a wrinkle. I had to not only pay taxes, but then do this thing once a year called federal taxes. Wait, didn’t I pay them already? Now I have to send them paperwork? What is this infernal curse from hell???!!!! Worse yet, if you are from certain states, you also have to pay a state tax!!!! What the shit??!!!
Damn man. This sucks. Then, to add insult to injury, I go to the store to buy something and I get him with more crap. Sales tax? What the shit man? What!? Listen bro, I wanted those Nike’s that cost 50 bucks. I had exactly 35 left over. I am taking my girlfriend to Sonic for dinner and that is 12 bucks. I need gas in my car and that is 8 bucks. Then we are watching a movie which is 10 bucks. And I have enough for soda and a popcorn which is 5 bucks. But, you want an extra 4 bucks for these shoes. What the heck? Now I cannot have the soda and popcorn or I have to put less gas in my car. Or, I need to work more hours, but I do not get more hours. Taxes. Taxes. Taxes……
Remember those days? I do. And they sucked. So, my mom was good. She understood money. Why was it that I did not? Oh yeah….I did not listen to her. She is my mom, so of course that must mean that she does not get it. Perhaps your kids are way smarter than I was at that age, but based on observations I have made and conversations I have had over the years, kids are still surprisingly stupid about this stuff. And thus this series…financial literacy and fitness. Healthy choices, mentally, physically, and fiscally will make your life happier.
Taxes – Their Real Purpose
So, let’s start off with taxes. We will break these down and talk about what they mean and why. This may be stuff you know, but it is also done to be educational.
What in holy hell is a W-4?
When you get that first job (or any job), one of the first things you will do is fill out a W-4. This form is used to tell your employer how much tax to withhold. Now, You can see below, the format is pretty simple. Name. Address. Social Security Number (yes, used on federal tax forms). You check if you are single or married (and tip, if you can do it, always check single, even if you are married). And then the number of exemptions you are claiming (tip – always claim zero). Sign. Forget about it.
So, quick explanation about withholding. Single zero means you are withholding the highest amount of taxes possible. But Rod, you work for the IRS you asshole. I know what you are doing. Jerk. But hey, let me help you understand this. Taxes are what makes our country go. You like roads? You like knowing the military is out there (whether you agree with them or not)? Then taxes pay for that and so much more. Taxes keep us from living in mud huts and driving donkey carts. So get over the tax issue.
Single zero means the government keeps the most amount of money possible. They keep it until you file your tax return and when you calculate what you should have paid and what you did pay, this turns into a refund or a balance due.
If you withheld 5000.00 in tax, but at the end of the year you should have only paid 2500.00, then you get a nice big check for 2500.00 back as a tax refund. Cool beans. But, you gave the government an interest free loan of 2500.00. Live with it. It helps our country.
Now, let’s say you are like screw the government. And you say Married Five (even if you are single). Now, you withhold 50.00 all year. But, you calculate your taxes at the end of the year and you owe the same 2500.00. Now, you need to send the IRS a check for 2450.00. Right…like you have it! Sure you do. Then you start to owe the government money. I cannot tell you how many people do this dumb shit. Oh, but I cannot afford to live. Hey, take that up with corporate America and your politician’s desires to not raise minimum wage. This is about finance.
Some people balance this out very carefully so they give the government as precise an amount as possible, let’s say 2498.00 and they owe 2500.00. A $2 bill is easy to pay. Write a check. Send in some stamps. Done. But, most people do not do this. You see, when the money comes in the form of a paycheck, people tend to spend it. No one thinks to put money aside for taxes. They just never do. So, end of the year comes, big tax bill due, and all of a sudden you are in debt to the government. Payment plans. Debt due. The government can garnish your wages. It is a real clusterfuck.
But, if you condition yourself to just go Single Zero, you will be okay 95% of the time. Sure, you have less to live on. But, learn to do it. Believe me, when you get a 2500.00 check on your refund, it is nice to pay off that credit card (which we will discuss in an upcoming chapter). But, if you get 100.00 per check extra, you spend it and at the end of the year, you have nothing to show for it.
This is from 20 years of working for the IRS that I make this observation. Do what you want, but I am trying to give you some sound advice.
Special Note: States with income tax requirements have their own version of this form you need to fill out. It differs for each state. I am from Texas, so never had to fill one out. But, be aware if you have a state income tax and ask questions when you go into your HR office.
What is FICA? And how much is the FICA Tax? (thebalance.com, 2017)
First off, your FICA is automatically calculated if you get paid on a W-2. This is your wage and earnings document. You will see your wages/earning. You will see your withholding. You can see social security wages. Medicare wages. Misc items withheld. You see who your employer is. They will identify you. Be sure your SSN is correct! Be sure you clearly read their employer identification number.
FICA Tax – “FICA” is short for the Federal Insurance Contributions Act. The Act was introduced in the 1930s to pay for Social Security. Medicare was added later (thebalance.com, 2017) <– (By the way, notice this thing here….when you quote someone, even loosely, cite them! Learn this early. Prevents plagiarism).
How much is the FICA Tax? (thebalance.com, 2017)
Here is the breakdown of these taxes:
- Within that 7.65%, the OASDI (Old Age, Survivors, and Disability program, AKA, Social Security) portion is 6.2%, up to the annual maximum wages subject to Social Security.
- The Medicare portion is 1.45% for each employee, on all employee earnings.
So, funny thing, as you can see above, some pretty chill folks have already written a lot about this stuff. Teaching it is no harder than saying go here, read this, and ask questions.
Now some employees are exempt from taxes. But, you should follow the flow chart in IRS Publication 505 for that. I will not even try to explain it. Generally though, if you make a very small amount of money and you would not owe taxes at the end of the year, you may possibly be exempt. But, the trick is to condition yourself to pay taxes. So, just pay them. Learn to live with it. This way, it will not be a shock later on in life.
See, pretty easy to read. This is what you get at the end of the year. Now, if an employer is small and says he takes care of this but gives you a handwritten W-2, be careful!!
I have seen these small employers give their employees these great documents and you pay tax and claim a refund and think all is well only to later find out that your small employer did not actually pay his or her tax (but still gave you a nice W-2). Guess what, you are on the hook for it! Sure, you can report your employer. Good luck with that. You pay until it gets sorted out. Bottom line. Crappy deal. So, smaller businesses (not all, but some) need to be watched carefully. Big boys like retailers, Amazon, and all other manner of big companies usually take care of this for you really well. I am not saying all small employers or handwritten W-2s are bad, but be on point with your money. Seriously.
Self Employed Contributions Act – SECA
Or, as I like to say, yes…you still have to pay taxes.
So, this one is the one that gets people all the time. And I do mean all the time. How does one explain this? You get paid one of two ways when you work. Your employer pays taxes and does part of the work for you (filing forms and such with IRS and submitting payroll tax) and you get a W-2 at the end of the year. This will clearly say W-2. Or, they just say this is too much work and we will give you a 1099. The 1099 then becomes your problem. Hope you know what to do. Good luck.
So, I am attaching a picture of a 1099 for you all to see.
As you can see, some basic info on this form. Payer’s name and address (this is the company that hired you). Recipient’s name and address (this would be you). Payer’s Federal ID. This needs to be correct. Also, your Identification number is your SSN. Make sure it is right. Few other sections. Pretty much irrelevant. What you want to look for is Box 3 – other income. If you have income here, you need to report it. Especially if you worked for someone. However, they probably put it in the wrong box. It should be on Line 7 – Nonemployee Compensation. This is what happens when you are a contract employee.
But Rod, I work there. I have worked there. Yes. Yes, you do work there. But, for taxation purposes, you are a contract employee. It is a term. Just accept the reality.
Box 4 – federal income tax withheld. This one is tricky. You can ask them to withhold tax. It would be cool if they did. However, most places pay on a 1099 because they do not want to deal with the hassle of paying anything for you to the IRS. So, this will most likely be blank. It would be awesome if they did, but be mindful of it being zero.
NOTE: Ask clearly and concisely if they plan to pay you on a 1099 and if they will withhold taxes.
If they say 1099 and we will not withhold taxes, then you are now in the twilight zone. Read this next part carefully!! Depending on how much money you make, you will need to make estimated tax payments. What the shit Rod? What do you mean by that? What the hell is that? So, if you are filing by yourself and you made next to nothing, then you will not need to send money in. However, let’s say you are a car salesman. You are strictly commission and they say you are paid on a 1099. Weird, but it happens. Great. You are projected to make 60,000.00 this year. You earn $5,000.00 per month. When you get that check, you immediately take out a percentage of your income, say 15 to 25% and set it aside. That could be anywhere from $750 to $1250.00. Put it in an account. Do that every month. Every three months, you will write the IRS a check called an estimated tax payment. You will use Form 1040-ES. Payments are made in April, June, Sept, and Jan. Failure to do so could result in an Estimated Tax Payment Penalty. Basically, you do not follow the rules, you get a penalty. Hey, do you like to light money on fire? I hope so, because you might as well do that.
So, make estimated tax payments. The range varies based on the amount and the form has instructions for you to calculate your payment. But, you better do it. If you do not, not only will you owe a tax bill at the end of the year, you will have a penalty to boot. Don’t be a dumbass.
I bet you never heard that in high school economics or home economics class. Hmmm? If I am wrong, good. They taught you. If I am right, then seriously pay attention to this shit. Learn to do things right. I shit you not, two things you cannot avoid in this life: Death and Taxes.
But why do I have to pay this. Call it self-paid FICA. Everyone that works pays it. Including self-employed and contract employees.
You could get paid under the table. Sure. Spend your whole life doing this. I am not saying you should. In fact, it is illegal. But I hope you invest wisely, because you will not get any social security benefit without it.
Are we learning anything yet? I hope so. Because seriously….this is a lot of damned writing for people to ignore.
How Long Must I Do This?
Great question. As long as you work. Simple section. Cool, right?
Why are you telling me all this?
Listen, ignore it. Seriously. Ask me if I care. Also, this is filtered through my experiences and observations. So, when any of you have 20 years of experience working for the IRS and seeing the things I have seen, feel free to tell me what you know is better than what I know.
But here is what I have seen….people that have no clue about this stuff. And it gets them into trouble. Then, they stay up late and night worrying about the huge tax bill they owe. Hey man, I did not realize I had to pay taxes. Hey man, my buddy told me I did not have to pay as much. Hey man, I am super stressed out about this. Hey man, why do I have to pay all that interest on what they say I owe? Blah blah. Because that is how it is. I wish I could give you a better answer. But, being ignorant of the rules does not mean you are exempt from following them or being penalized for not knowing them.
Learn how to do your taxes. Get the basics down. Have a clue of how the numbers work. Understand that you need to do this, year after year. Forever. Keep those papers safe. Protect your social security number. I will do an actual section on filling out taxes soon. This posting was just about knowing what taxes are. Understanding how your money is affected. Getting a clue about what to do and why we do it.
But hey, blow it off. Disregard it. Do not listen. My stuff is on point. You can be the one staying up late with collection notices from the IRS. You are the one that could wake up and find everything but $1 in your bank account because of a tax levy. You could call one of those settle your taxes for pennies on the dollar scams and pay them more money than you owe in taxes to “settle” your debt.
But it is stressful. You are always worried. And, you live beyond your means and do not meet your tax obligation.
I remember one person calling and getting mad and saying you cannot tell me how to spend my money. You are right…when you owe nothing. But, if you owe the government money, guess what….they can and do tell you how you can spend your money. And…they can enforce it.
Your choice. But, you cannot escape it. Well, actually you can. Hope you like foreign countries. Maybe Yemen. How about Iran? But if you like living here in the United States, then you pay the price. So, hope you all learned something. Share this with your kids. Trust me…make them read it.