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My Effective Tax Rate

I just got my W-2 for last year, which, when combined with Turbotax or similar, allows me to calculate my income tax rate.

The direct, visible tax rate I’m paying — including federal and state taxes — is about 33.4%.

By any honest measurement, this is far below what I am actually causing to make its way into the government’s coffers. First, my Social Security tax and Medicare taxes are matched by Facebook — 6.2% and 1.45%. I never see this money in my “income”, but Facebook views it as a cost to employing me, so this is exactly equivalent to me paying all of these taxes as a slightly elevated pay rate.

Then there is the VPDI, “voluntarily paid disability insurance”, which, like most government schemes, isn’t really voluntary at all. I can choose to participate in my company’s plan, or I can pay the state — my choice! I of course chose to not pay the state, but essentially this is also a tax (since I wouldn’t carry disability insurance otherwise), albeit one that I get a service out of (of course, some people would claim this of all my paid taxes).

When these are taken into account, my income is taxed at more like a 38.1% rate.

And then, I buy things. I bought a car and paid sales tax on that. Every time I go to the store, I pay sales tax there. Where I live in Palo Alto, the sales tax rate is 9.25%. That’s right, everything I buy, I give another almost 10% to the government. Taking into account the approximate sales tax I paid, using some rough but not unreasonable estimates I made using data from my records (I used reasonable assumptions, such as all gas, dining, and entertainment was purchased in state; shopping was half online; travel was mostly reimbursed and not counted, etc), my tax rate goes up to 39.6%.

We’re at nearly 40%, and that’s just the stuff that’s easy to figure out. I pay more for my housing because of property taxes. I pay all sorts of government taxes when I travel (occasionally they are enumerated and they often add 40% to the base rate).  I’m sure there’s a lot I’m missing too. How much do all of these things add to my total tax burden? I figure it’s almost impossible to tell. And that’s not unintentional.

I have a friend who recently calculated his income tax rate, and it came to about 1/8th of mine because he and his wife (one of whom is currently collecting unemployment benefits) are paying two mortgages. Viewing the unemployment payments as a reverse tax, their effective tax rate is well below 0%.

So the guy who made all the “right” decisions — studying hard and busting my butt to be worth a decent income; working through school to avoid student loans; not buying a house circa 2006 because I did the numbers and decided I couldn’t afford it; saving on my own for retirement — now pays at least 40% of his income to taxes, while others who bought the house, financed the car, and take the revolving door job — get net reimbursed with that money.

God bless America.