A while back, probably right after I’d finished filling out my income tax forms for 2010, I made a post about a tax idea called the Fair Tax. The beauty of the Fair Tax is that it would eliminate all of the hassles involved in paying taxes. Income taxes, Social Security, and other Federal taxes would be replaced by a single sales tax on goods and services when purchased (a national sales tax). Because taxes would be figured out and charged automatically when you purchased something, you would no longer need to keep track of expenses, have tax deferred accounts, set up medical savings accounts, 401ks, IRAs, etc… and go through other hassles.
You would simply receive your whole paycheck each month and then spend or save as you chose. One benefit beyond the simplification of tax compliance is that saving would be rewarded while spending would be penalized. The current system encourages spending and borrowing, through tax breaks for things like business expenses and the mortgage deduction, and penalizes earning. This means that under the current system there is a disincentive to grow businesses or work harder because more of your income is taken the more you earn.
The Fair Tax is prevented from being regressive, or level in any case, through the use of a prebate. In the prebate, a certain amount is refunded to each person each year at the beginning of the year. For example, if the sales tax is 10%, and $3000 were prefunded to everyone each year, then no one earning less than $30,000 would pay any taxes that year ($30,000*10% = $3000), even if they spent their entire paycheck on taxable goods and services.
One issue with implementing the Fair Tax is the radical change to the tax system. We have spent so many years having taxes taken from our paychecks and doing things to reduce income taxes that it would be a big shock to the system to see it changed overnight. Imagine the shock of going to buy a new car and seeing a 20% tax added to the top of it! Never mind that you have 20% more cash in you pockets – you still see that big tax on the car. You were paying tha big tax before, but it was taken in small increments so you did not see it all at once. There is a way, however, to implement the tax in a way that will be a smaller shock on the system.
Currently about 50% of people pay no income tax at all. In fact, many get cash given to them by the tax system since they receive a refund through the Earned Income Tax Credit. This means that implementing the Fair Tax to replace the tax payments of the lower 50% of earners would not require a large sales tax since the amount of revenue collected from them is mainly Social Security and Medicare, which aren’t large amounts of money. Also, implementing the Fair Tax would enable taxes to be collected from those who currently don’t pay taxes – those who get paid under the table and/or have illegal sources of income (drug sales, prostitution, illegal labor) – since they would also be charged the sales tax when they spent the ill-gotten money.
If the Fair Tax were implemented only on people making $60,000 per year of less say, it would only be necessary to have a sales tax of about 5% or less. This means that everyone would see a prefund each year of $2000 (5% x $40,000) and see their sales taxes increase by about 5%, assuming that it is desirable to continue to see 50% of the people pay no income taxes.
After a few years of seeing those at the low-income levels not need to file taxes and also seeing how the system worked, those in the middle and upper-middle classes would probably want to join the system. The threshold for the Fair tax could be then be ratcheted upwards as political winds allowed. The prefund would need to be ratcheted upwards as well since the level of the sales tax would need to increase as the income level of the Fair Tax threshold increased. This is because in order to generate the same level of revenues the sales tax percentage would need to increase since those at the higher income levels are paying a larger portion of the taxes. If the Fair Tax were ever to fully replace the income tax, including for those in the top 1% of earners, the rate would be about 23%. It is thought, however, that the drop in the expenses paid by businesses for tax compliance and tax avoidance would allow them to charge less for the goods and services; therefore, the actual price of the goods might stay about the same.
If you like this idea, please tell a friend – let’s get rid of the IRS!
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Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice. It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.