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earning less, paying less tax  RSS feed

 
Lori Whit
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I've been thinking about whether it's a good idea for me to earn less money and pay less taxes.  (I understand that some people live off the land, and that's how they earn their living, but I doubt I will ever be there in my small 0.2 acre property, and my life circumstances.  I think I will probably always need some money to survive.)

Right now, I want to pay off my house, build up some savings, get my backyard turned into a food producing area, and have a good-sized emergency fund.  That's probably going to take me three to five years at least.  But after that...I keep thinking about backing off on my work and earn less.  Survive on less, not pushing myself so hard...taking it easier and making do with less.

I'm self-employed.  I pay 1/3 of whatever I earn, minus expenses (and I don't have many write-offs) back to the state, local, and federal government.  And at the moment, I can be penalized pretty badly for not buying health insurance (even though there's nothing available I can afford in my state this year).  I feel like I'm between a rock and a hard place sometimes.  I don't have the benefits of a big business, which can often end up owing basically nothing in taxes.  I also don't have the benefits of steady employment, where you get insurance and a regular paycheck as part of one's earnings.  And I don't earn enough to get health insurance, or little enough not to be required to buy it.

I'm fortunate to be able to be self-employed, but I often feel that my tax money is wasted on things I disagree with and I'm slaving away, for what?  If I'm going to pay 1/3 of what I earn for the rest of my life...well...maybe I wouldn't mind cutting back a little at some point, owing less, taking it easier--looking after MYSELF on less money, and paying less tax as well.  I don't want to bleed for my country's economy, even if I never become completely independent of it.  And the health insurance issues are complicated for me right now, to say the least.

I work hard even though my work isn't physically demanding.  There is a stress element with constant deadlines.  That's another reason I'd like to cut back at some point.

Input / other experiences are welcome.  Try to tell me what you think calmly and I'll try to listen calmly as well.  Thanks.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I feel strongly about this subject.

I earn and live on very little, and pay self-employment tax because self-employed.  I understand wanting to pay the least amount of tax.  By reducing income, and if there is superfluous income, giving to charity, I think one can push the tax way down.  I don't know if one is obligated to accept health insurance subsidies if one doesn't want them(?)  I have accepted them because we need them (multiple health problems in the family).  I guess one could accept the subsidies and just never use the insurance, which would mean the government would be paying itself to take a piece of paper from this desk and move it over to this other desk.  I don't know how we can avoid contributing in some way to bureaucracy, if we live in this modern society. 

I think it is ok to reduce one's taxes if one supports society in other ways by being a good neighbor.  This might be things like cleaning trash off the street/road, donating to food pantries, sharing food, tools, and time with neighbors, etc etc.  I think there are lots of ways we can contribute to society and be good citizens without paying a lot of tax.  I think it is almost impossible to pay no taxes of any kind unless one wants to spend all of one's time in court.  But there are multiple ways regular people can reduce tax burden, especially by reducing the need to earn by providing as much as possible for oneself and engaging in a sharing economy with neighbors.  It is legal to pay the least amount of tax (within the rules).

Just my opinion and personal experience!  I want to be a Gert: https://permies.com/t/55918/millions-permaculture-millionaires-story-Gert
 
Lori Whit
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Thanks for your thoughts, Tyler!

Tyler Ludens wrote:I don't know if one is obligated to accept health insurance subsidies if one doesn't want them(?)  I have accepted them because we need them (multiple health problems in the family).  I guess one could accept the subsidies and just never use the insurance, which would mean the government would be paying itself to take a piece of paper from this desk and move it over to this other desk.  I don't know how we can avoid contributing in some way to bureaucracy, if we live in this modern society. 


I probably wasn't clear.  The way the current system seems to work is that I don't have the money to buy health insurance, with or without subsidy, because it's gone up so high here.  But I can still be penalized for not buying it.  If I earned more, I could buy it, if I earned less, I wouldn't be penalized.  It's confusing and may change in future.  Last year I was able to afford the health insurance and not pay a penalty, but that option stopped being available. 

I have health issues, but none that traditional medicine have been much help with, unfortunately.  I feel like i'm being kicked around by the current health care industry.  (No: the health INSURANCE industry.) I can't complain as much as some, of course, but insurance issues the last few years have been confusing, expensive, and very frustrating.  The stress has NOT helped my actual health.

Tyler Ludens wrote:
I think it is ok to reduce one's taxes if one supports society in other ways by being a good neighbor.

Yes.  It's important to be a good citizen and help where I can, when I can.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Lori Whit wrote:
I probably wasn't clear.  The way the current system seems to work is that I don't have the money to buy health insurance, with or without subsidy, because it's gone up so high here.  But I can still be penalized for not buying it.


I think the current situation is very confusing, but I can say from my own experience as a person who earns just above the poverty line, I pay nothing for health insurance because of the subsidies.  When I earned a little more, I paid a little for health insurance.  Be sure you are understanding the health insurance marketplace and make sure you do not qualify for subsidies to cover the expense of health insurance.  If you don't have much income, you should not have to pay much for insurance. We earned more in order to pay off our house, and had to buy insurance,  then our income diminished to the point we qualify for 100% subsidy of insurance.


 
Tyler Ludens
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Lori Whit wrote:the health INSURANCE industry


I call it the "Illness Industry" because it exists in order to make sure we stay sick enough to keep paying into it. 
 
John Weiland
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Tyler Ludens wrote:..... then our income diminished to the point we qualify for 100% subsidy of insurance.



Do you know if that was a Texas-directed aspect of the ACA or are the cut-off levels mandated federally, Tyler?  I would be curious about that for the state of Minnesota.
 
Lori Whit
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I have to have an accountant so I pay the right amount in taxes and don't owe big government fees, etc.  She helped me figure it out (the year I was able to afford it), but when that option disappeared, she couldn't make an affordable one appear.  I don't know what will happen this year, but I haven't earned low enough to not owe a punishment fee during the last few years.  Maybe that's one reason I've been thinking so much about having LOWER income!!  (But again, it's important to me to build up a savings, emergency fund, and pay off my house as soon as I can, too.)

And my soon to be sister in law earned almost nothing and they still gave her the runaround with nothing free, nothing she could afford.  Maybe it's my state...
 
John Weiland
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Lori Whit wrote:.....I haven't earned low enough to not owe a punishment fee during the last few years.


Lori, I can't recall how the punishment fee is calculated....what determines the size of that fee?
 
Lori Whit
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I know it grows every year you don't buy insurance.  Other than that?  Not a clue.  It's all pretty confusing to me.  I've had a few panic attacks over it.

I know some states are better than others.  Here it's tough right now.
 
John Weiland
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Yeah...OK....thanks.  This looks like the general breakdown here:  https://www.healthcare.gov/fees/fee-for-not-being-covered/


The fee for not having health insurance in 2016 & 2017

The fee is calculated 2 different ways – as a percentage of your household income, and per person. You’ll pay whichever is higher.

Percentage of income

2.5% of household income
Maximum: Total yearly premium for the national average price of a Bronze plan sold through the Marketplace
Per person

$695 per adult
$347.50 per child under 18
Maximum: $2,085
Paying the fee

Using the percentage method, only the part of your household income that’s above the yearly tax filing requirement is counted.
Using the per-person method, you pay only for people in your household who don’t have insurance coverage.
If you have coverage for part of the year, the fee is 1/12 of the annual amount for each month you (or your tax dependents) don’t have coverage. If you’re uncovered only 1 or 2 months, you don’t have to pay the fee at all. Learn about the “short gap” exemption.
You pay the fee when you file your federal tax return for the year you don’t have coverage.

As for the ethics argument, I'm sure we could go round and round with this one, but when I think of...say....Sweden where the taxes are higher but health care is rolled into that, I could imagine not being so upset since the government of that country will be controlling the price of the services offered to the public, for better or worse.  Having a mandated health care fee as we do in the US to support an industry with NO controls over costs is a bit daft.  But I realize that is only one piece of the puzzle.
 
Lori Whit
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Well, whatever it turns out to be, I guess I'll owe it this year.  I wasn't able to get coverage for any months.
 
Tyler Ludens
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John Weiland wrote:
Tyler Ludens wrote:..... then our income diminished to the point we qualify for 100% subsidy of insurance.



Do you know if that was a Texas-directed aspect of the ACA or are the cut-off levels mandated federally, Tyler?  I would be curious about that for the state of Minnesota.


Texas seems to hate it's citizens so I can't believe this is any kind of beneficent Texas-specific aspect.  This isn't state-specific like Medicaid expansion (which Texas rejected) but on the federal level, through the federal health insurance marketplace.  https://www.healthcare.gov/

We could not afford our previous insurance (Blue Cross) but had to select one  (Ambetter) which our doctors didn't accept, so we had to choose a different doctor.  But we really like our new doctor and the new insurance has been great.  We never used the old insurance much because we weren't very sick, but my husband was recently diagnosed with Leukemia, so we have had to use the insurance a lot, and it has been great.  I have no complaints about the ACA personally, now.  At first I did because I didn't know if I could bear going to a new doctor, but I think I actually prefer my new doctor to my old one.  It was very hard at first though, because I have problems with trusting strangers.

Our Blue Cross premiums plan had gone up 60%!  WTF!  We could not afford that, but other plans were available through the marketplace.

sorry about all the edits, kind of tired
 
Stacy Witscher
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I have no taxable income, and probably won't ever again. I think it's great, and would never feel bad about it.

Wanting to earn more so as to pay more taxes seems like a very strange idea to me. I understand it from an utilitarian standpoint, like that philosopher who thinks we all should make as much money as possible and give to those who need it the most, but that's not really how that works.

I feel like earning a lot of money contributes to our consumptive lifestyle, which is, to my mind, not good.

I have given a lot of time and energy helping others. I almost always have at least one person living with me, because society, their parents and/or the government has failed them.

I don't have a lot, but everyone's always been welcome to share in what I have. Just my 2 cents.
 
Bethany Dutch
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Because of my divorce I'm going to be in that same situation next year - self employed, don't really have enough money to pay for the insurance but I have to anyway. All ethics aside, are you talking about intentionally making less money so you pay less taxes? If so, I'm curious about how that math works out, it kinda seems like even if you did make more money and paid more in taxes that you'd come ahead but I've never been in a high tax bracket so I don't really know. I suppose it depends on how close you are to that next bracket.

I will say this - I intentionally limit my worktime and therefore my income, but not because of ethics, but more of a quality of life kinda thing for myself and my family. I'm thrilled to be self employed (with semi-passive income) because it means I can work when my kids are in school and more or less take summers off. Admittedly though I do wish I had more money because I could do a LOT more with the homestead if I did... but then I'd have less time because I'd be working more anyway.

So here's my input and my experience, however valuable it may be.

I don't know what you do for a living, but if there is any way for you to translate what you do into a digital product that you can market and sell, that may be something you could consider. When you have to actually DO something for every customer, then you bring in stress and workload AND it isn't scaleable. Not that this would affect the tax thing, but if you can somehow move into a more digital download space, it removes a TON of stress. I did that and I'm about 75% digital and it has made a massive difference in my quality of life and that of my family.

 
Lori Whit
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Thank you all for your thoughts.

Tyler, I'm so sorry your husband has leukemia.  I'm glad he's getting decent care.

I know it's a complicated topic.  And I know the medical establishment has its place (heck, I wouldn't have been born alive without it!).  But it IS complicated and difficult sometimes, at least for me.

Thanks for listening.  I'm going to try to think of happier things than insurance right now.  Maybe go read some more gardening threads.

Thanks again everyone.
 
Kyle Neath
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A wise woman once told me the only way to keep your money in America is to be self-employed. You say you don't have many write-offs, but I'd suggest you talk to an accountant about that. You'd be surprised at what qualifies as a deduction. I currently run two businesses – software consulting and the ranch (forestry, private camping). Between the two of those, I'm able to deduct a very decent percentage of my income. A portion of my rent, utilities, etc are qualified deductions since I have an office in my house. I walk around town, so my vehicle is a business vehicle (and so are all the repairs and maintenance). Sometimes it's even worth starting a business just for tax purposes. It's not as nefarious as it sounds either — what the IRS considers as a business and what a reasonable, rational human qualifies as a business are dramatically different. Using your extra income to invest in a new business opportunity, fail, and keep trying it over and over again is The American Way™. And as you're able to reduce your income, your health insurance subsidies will rise. I do feel you here though — it's rough. My insurance has gone up by at least 50% every year for the past three years. It's very close to the amount I pay in rent every month now, and I have a shitty plan.

However, I'd also urge you to ask yourself whether this is about wanting to work less or pay less taxes. If you are feeling stressed & unhappy and feel that you can afford to work less, I'm all for that option. Four years ago I was working insane amounts, earning insane amounts, but also super stressed and frustrated all the time. I took my savings, left my expensive city, and ended up being able to take two years off all work completely. Now I try to do enough consulting that I can pay my expenses and spend the rest of my time however I wish (mostly digging holes at the ranch). All in all I was able to reduce my living expenses by about 80% and reduce my working hours by about 75%. I've been very privileged, and everyone's situation is different, but if you can see a path where you can find a way to work less, I would definitely support aiming for that. Life's too short to be stressed out every day.
 
Travis Johnson
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I have a different take on it as well because as a full-time farmer, I have far more deductions that are legitimate, then I ever would have gross income. In other words, with farming, there really is no "income" as everything is so long term. I am not talking about buying new trucks, new tractors, or just having the latest and greatest farming gear, but darn it takes a lot of supplies at retail prices and kills the profit margin when you sell at wholesale prices. Somewhere in there is charity, and community service...

So for me, not paying taxes is almost a catch 22. If I farm as best as I can, constantly improving my 9th generational farm so the next generation can have something even better to work with, I show no profit, and lending institutions hate that. In some ways it is good, I am debt free and thus pay everything from cash because how could I get a loan showing no profit year after year? But I will be honest with you, to get my farm where it needs to be, away from forestry sales and into sheep more, I need 250 additional head of sheep. At $250 a head...you do the math..it might take borrowing to get me where I need to be. Right now I have to sell my produced lambs and could never retain that many ewe lambs in a given year, not to be survive this year.

But for me, income tax is nothing, property taxes is what kills me. As the political thing to do is cut State and Federal taxes, the burden just trickles down to property taxes. Every year for the past four years it has gone up. The thing is, 75% of the property tax bill is school based. Yet the school is the biggest employer here so every time there is a budget vote, it is voted in. 10 years ago the number of students were 1600, and now the number is only 1100, BUT the school cost is skyrocketing. It should be going the other way...down. Yet when they went to close a seldom used school, my friend did the numbers and found it would save the taxpayers $750,000 a year. The school board asked him how much per taxpayer would it go down, and when he said $214 a year, they said it was nothing and kept the school open for very few kids. What part of 3/4 of a million don't they get? I could go on and on, but it is the same story; use your entire budget or lose it, even if there is surplus at the end of the year.

Something has to give. As one famous permiculturist said, "everything I want to do is illegal", yet while we are losing rights as landowners every day on what we can do with our land, we are paying incredibly high taxes.




 
Dale Hodgins
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Yes, I think in the states, high tax rates often force farmers to go into a high-yield things like corn or soybeans, even if their land and their lifestyle is more suitable to something like grazing. If Travis chose to destroy his soil by growing these cash crops exclusively, the percentage of income going to land taxes, would surely drop greatly.

So, many end up trading soil for money. If any sort of realistic value were put on the lost soil  and pollution created by the roughly five gallons of diesel fuel per acre used on his farms, these farms would not be profitable.
 
Peter Daub
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Lori,

One other option is a health care share.  It was one of the few things that was given exemption from the ACA.  I have full health insurance through a national provider. Since I have 4 kids, it seems less risky to me but one of my best friends does a health share and they've had a great experience.  The cost is drastically less.  If you're looking at taking the ACA penalty, this would be a much better option.  You would have health protection, even if it's not standard insurance.  You no longer get the deep discount from doctor's offices for having insurance but my friend has found all his doctors will use different codes when they know you have a health share and that evens out the pricing.

From a philosophical point of view, it's also a cool idea: groups of people sharing medical cost without big insurance industry being in the picture.  These programs were given an ACA exemption based on a religious constitutional basis so you will find all of the are Christian or another faith based program.  Unfortunately, I'm not speaking from experience here - I wonder if anyone else is a part of one and give their experience??

My insurance program went up $400 a month last year.  If that keeps happening, we may be forced to go this route as well.
 
Lori Whit
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Kyle Neath wrote:If you are feeling stressed & unhappy and feel that you can afford to work less, I'm all for that option. Four years ago I was working insane amounts, earning insane amounts, but also super stressed and frustrated all the time. I took my savings, left my expensive city, and ended up being able to take two years off all work completely. Now I try to do enough consulting that I can pay my expenses and spend the rest of my time however I wish (mostly digging holes at the ranch). All in all I was able to reduce my living expenses by about 80% and reduce my working hours by about 75%. I've been very privileged, and everyone's situation is different, but if you can see a path where you can find a way to work less, I would definitely support aiming for that. Life's too short to be stressed out every day.


Thanks for your thoughts.  I've been considering what you said.  I like what I do.  I think the stress comes from money worries, feeling rushed, having deadlines.  Getting into a good place financially, and then cutting back enough to have fewer deadlines, or at least more flexible ones, would do me good.  I think that's probably what I'll work towards...


Travis Johnson wrote:
Something has to give. As one famous permiculturist said, "everything I want to do is illegal", yet while we are losing rights as landowners every day on what we can do with our land, we are paying incredibly high taxes.


I agree with you.  It's dreadful. <political thoughts snipped, will leave it at "dreadful">  Sorry you have to deal with this.

Dale Hodgins wrote:Yes, I think in the states, high tax rates often force farmers to go into a high-yield things like corn or soybeans, even if their land and their lifestyle is more suitable to something like grazing. If Travis chose to destroy his soil by growing these cash crops exclusively, the percentage of income going to land taxes, would surely drop greatly.

So, many end up trading soil for money. If any sort of realistic value were put on the lost soil  and pollution created by the roughly five gallons of diesel fuel per acre used on his farms, these farms would not be profitable.


That is unreasonably dreadful. 


Peter Daub wrote:One other option is a health care share.


If there were non-faith based programs, I would definitely be inclined to consider it.  As it is, they seem to have requirements I don't feel comfortable with, such as church membership and certain number of services attended, plus the implication that adherence with certain doctrinal principles is required.  I am a person of faith, but I do not belong to a church and there are many "popular" doctrines I am strongly against.  There may be people who can use it without those issues, however, and great for them.  One would think there would be more non-faith based options out there, to be honest, but there aren't that I can see.
 
Jami Gaither
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John Weiland wrote: I would be curious about that for the state of Minnesota.


We live in Minnesota and have found it to be very friendly as we've converted from the Rat Race (earning a 6-figure income) to basically earning nothing.  Due to our current income being under $21,599 (MN MA) for the year (my husband worked the first quarter and I have a small income for a very part-time gig), we qualify for Medical Assistance (MA).  Free health care coverage.  I was astonished when I found this out as we'd planned to simply not have health care coverage - and with our income so low, we would not have to pay a penalty federally.

I really didn't plan to use the MA except for an annual Rx renewal (of a thyroid medication I got stuck on years ago) and if we had an emergency.  I was surprised to find when I went to fill my Rx (a 90-day version) that they ran it through insurance (even though I hadn't provided a card or information - how do they know these things!?!) and I could only get a 30-day supply.  The cost was $1 vs. the normal $10 but I was like, "Crap! Now I have to go to town three times instead of once!"  Since town is a 50-mile round trip, that's not a real cost save for me.  I am wondering if I can tell them to NOT run it through insurance next time... but now I'm down to a 60-day supply on the refills so...

Recently my dentist emailed to let me know I'm due for a cleaning (also a long trip away, but in Mom's town so I can plan a visit to her with a dental check-up).  I wasn't planning on having any dental coverage but when I emailed, they informed me that the doctor will accept MA for existing clients and my current county allows treatment in that county.  It apparently covers two cleanings (though only one full exam) and one emergency treatment annually. This was REALLY good news. 

We worked for years so we could have savings on which we could live as we moved to the Permaculture Homestead life.  We still don't know what kind of income we'll have though we hope to work a lot with barter and trade in addition to growing/securing food.  The local community is highly supportive of this kind of living and I'm loving this aspect of rural Minnesota.  We have assets but almost no income which sometimes makes me feel guilty for having MA.  But I also know I do some work for the local community (Tyler mentioned this being an asset similar to tax-paying) and we continue to pay taxes for vehicle tags, purchases, etc.  And I've paid lots of taxes through the years!

I don't know if we will regret this path financially - we're just getting going in this "live on nothing" "retirement" where we still have enough to survive and are working harder physically than ever - but I do know that we're happier than ever and I encourage people ALL THE TIME to get out of the rat race if they can, especially if they can save enough to support themselves for some time as they develop a new way of life.  I certainly do NOT miss the Rat Race and being a slave to the clock for a company.  I enjoy being able to do pretty much what I want any given day... owning my time.  I enjoy the work of growing food and gathering wood for heat and trying to keep bees happy. 

I think the health care situation in the US is really a mess and I am hopeful they will soon realize the only moral and possible answer is a single-payer system.  It's criminal that wealthy congressmen with great coverage can deny others health care which should be a right, not a privilege.  For now, I'm quite grateful that we decided to relocate to Minnesota.  It's been a good decision on this front... one we hadn't truly realized when we made the decision 10 years ago.





 
John Weiland
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Thank you Jami G. for this very useful response!

The link to MN-MA is most appreciated and the income you note is roughly what we would be shooting for, so this is very relevant to our own living situation.

You noted "We have assets but almost no income which sometimes makes me feel guilty for having MA.  But I also know I do some work for the local community (Tyler mentioned this being an asset similar to tax-paying) and we continue to pay taxes for vehicle tags, purchases, etc.  And I've paid lots of taxes through the years!"  Each will have their own opinion on this and to me it seems very contextual. If you have access to MA after paying a "decent" (defined as ) amount of taxes to the state in your past and currently, then I don't see a reason to feel guilty, especially if you are accessing "routine" (once again, defined as ) medical assistance.  So as so often, the devil is in the details, but it sounds as though you are trying to live as healthy and low impact on yourself and on the planet as possible while helping your community and some medical assistance of the type you describe for taxes paid seems reasonable to me.

I agree with your other sentiments as well about the structure, compensation within, and costs of health care in the US, but to "go there" in the discussion would send us to the Cider Press for sure!

Much thanks for your response here, Jami G.!
 
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