A Few Tax Arguments Not to Make

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Hey, your taxes are due this week—or are they?

Yes, they are, that was a figure of speech and not a suggestion that you should treat federal taxes as optional. That is one of the many arguments you should not bother making on Wednesday.

Turns out that the IRS has a publication that lists and summarizes a number of arguments not to make, entitled “The Truth About Frivolous Tax Arguments.” Part of that truth is that there are lots of frivolous tax arguments—the PDF is over 65 pages long and addresses 44 (sometimes overlapping) “contentions” that will be rejected if you assert them. Here are just a few.

1. Paying federal taxes is optional.

What, have you been paying all this time? Well, that’s good because it’s actually not optional. There are several versions of this one, many of which note that the IRS and Supreme Court have each described the U.S. tax system as “voluntary.” FYI, they do not mean “optional,” they mean that in our system the citizens generally assess and pay taxes themselves, as opposed to having a government agent show up and count your sheep (or whatever you have) every time. To be fair, it does seem like they should start using a word other than “voluntary” to describe this process. But “optional” won’t be that word.

2. Wages are not “income.”

This is because, according to the proponents of this argument, the amount they have been paid happens to exactly match the amount of labor they have given, and so there has been no net gain. Abracadabra, my taxes have disappeared. No, unfortunately, section 61 of the Internal Revenue Code says that “gross income” means “all income from whatever source,” including “compensation for services.”

A fun variation on this is the “zero return,” in which people file a return that reports zero income, typically with a “corrected” W-2 form attached. If you do this, the IRS will correct your corrections.

3. I got paid in paper money, which is not taxable.

Article I, section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power “to coin money,” and what part of “coin” don’t you understand? All I got was this paper stuff, and you can’t tax that because it isn’t real money, so this argument goes. It seems to overlook the fact that, presumably, the proponent has been using that paper stuff for a while now when he or she wants to buy things, such as alcohol and books about how to avoid paying federal taxes.

4. You can only tax U.S. citizens, and I just seceded.

No you didn’t.

5. I cannot be taxed because Ohio wasn’t a state in 1911.

Um, what?

Ohio’s legislature ratified the 16th Amendment in 1911—or did it? Yes, it did, this is another figure of speech. Apparently, in 1953, which everybody thought would be the 150th anniversary of Ohio statehood, someone reported that they could not find a resolution signed by then-President Thomas Jefferson declaring Ohio to be a state. Congress (the 1953 Congress) drafted one up and then-President Eisenhower signed it. Aha, but if Ohio wasn’t a state in 1911, then its ratification of the 16th Amendment had no effect, abracadabra!

No, for two reasons. First, Jefferson didn’t need to sign a resolution. He signed a bill admitting Ohio to the Union, and you can blame him for that if you want but it was all legal. See, e.g.Bowman v. United States, 920 F. Supp. 623 (E.D. Pa. 1995) (explaining this and suggesting that even if this were a valid argument, somebody should have brought it up in 1803 and now it’s too late). Second, and more obviously, 41 other states ratified the amendment, and because it only took 36 states (three-fourths of the 48) to amend the Constitution, it doesn’t matter what Ohio did or didn’t do.

6.  I just thought of a new one that isn’t on this list.

Well, first you should check the IRS’s list (see above).  But remember, just because it isn’t in there doesn’t mean it isn’t frivolous, as the disclaimer warns:

This document, including the relevant legal authorities cited, is not intended to provide an exhaustive list of frivolous tax arguments. Merely because a frivolous argument is not included in this document does not mean that it is not frivolous.

It might be humorous, though, so by all means give it a shot.