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The Psychology of the Tax Refund

The average tax refund is about $3,000. And people do one of two things with it. They either spend it or set it aside for a specific purpose. What’s the distinction between these two groups of people? It all comes down to their expectation.

If the refund was unexpected, chances are it will be spent. This group of people is subject to the Windfall Syndrome in which “found” money is spent more freely than money earned.

If the refund was expected, chances are it will be saved. I’ve heard many people refer to their tax refund as “the money they will use for vacation” or “the money used to pay off last year’s Christmas bills”. This group of people abides by a behavioral finance concept known as Mental Accounting.

The key to all of this is the expectation. It is the single most important factor in determining if the refund will be spent or saved. It just goes to show how powerful a little bit of planning can have.

The Most Unusual Tax Deduction I’ve Ever Heard

What do you do with a house you no longer want? What if it’s a house in bad shape but you love the land?

Up until recently, I would have offered two options: renovate it or knock it down and rebuild.

Turns out there is a very creative strategy. You donate the house to the local fire department, who in turn burn it down for training purposes. You, in turn, receive a sizeable charitable contribution.

It’s common enough of a strategy that the Journal of Accountancy wrote a summary piece on what to be aware of (it’s written for CPAs, so it’s really technical, but the conclusion confirms it).

Analysis of the Tax Cuts

Recently some clients attend a talk on the recent tax law changes by Eliot Bassin of Bregman & Company. I thought it was interesting enough to send the slides out to readers of the blog and newsletter as there were several important take-aways that were new to me.

See the Slides: Analysis of the Tax Cuts Jobs Act

Here are a few slides that jumped out to me:

Slide 10: A comparison of tax brackets and who pays more (Red) and who pays less (green)

Slide 24: A simple impact analysis based on different hypothetical situations

Slides 33-40: a summary of tax changes affecting CT residents


The Surprising Superbowl Tax Twist

The following post is written by our current intern, Calvin Nastyn. He is a student at the University of Hartford where he is studying finance. The issue that Calvin digs into is a wonderful (and comical) example of an odd implication associated with state taxation laws.

Benjamin Franklin once said in a 1789 letter that “nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” We are taxed in every aspect of our life. Whether it’s going to the store to buy groceries or even working to make a living, taxes are always going to follow no matter what. With 2017 being the year of tax reform, it is without a doubt that taxes are a complex subject. Those who have filed taxes know that there are hundreds, if not, thousands of different facets and nuances that our federal, state, and local taxes mandate. Anything that has to do with money has its own little (or big) section in the tax code.
Football player Jimmy Garappolo can attest to the fact that taxes are complicated, even though they may have worked in his favor. Long story short: Jimmy Garappolo, a former Patriots quarterback, will end up earning more than Tom Brady from the Super Bowl. Because pay for the Super Bowl extends to former players who played at least 8 games during the season of the Super Bowl, Garappolo will reap earnings from the biggest game of the season in which he and the team he is currently part of is not on the field. But how will he make more than Tom Brady, arguably the best quarterback in history? Minnesota law states that any professional athlete who is a non-resident of the state must pay taxes of his earnings from the team that year multiplied by a fraction that equals (total duty days worked in Minnesota/total days worked in the season). Since Garappolo has no duty days in Minnesota, he would have an effective tax rate of 0% in Minnesota. Rather, he would just be subject to the tax in the state where he lives, which is most likely taxed at a lower rate, given that Minnesota has the 2nd highest income tax rate, following California at number 1.

The point is that there are times where taxes can sometimes work in your favor or sometimes against it. Investors, in particular, are never certain about what may happen in the markets. They can only control risk. But when its time to cash out, there can be many costly tax implications that can severely hinder gains. You can be the best investor in the world, as Tom Brady is the best quarterback. However, if you don’t know your way around taxes that come along with investing, you can end up earning less than the guy who worked a fraction of what you did.


We Don’t Pay Much In Taxes?

We like to complain about high taxes. We all do. The thought of the government taking “our” money drives us crazy. With the election right around the corner, we may be thinking about the effects on our pay checks due to a new president.

Most of what I read about income tax rates deals with the ultra-rich and the highest tax brackets. For example, I’ve read about top tax brackets in the 1940’s and 1950’s where the top earners had a 90% tax on the income in that highest bracket. To be clear, to reach that bracket, they would have needed to earn about $20 million per year. While interesting, it doesn’t apply to most Americans.

But what if we went back in time? Would we be paying more or less in taxes assuming our income was adjusted for inflation? I spent some time researching the details.

I have bad news for many of you: Your tax rate is among the lowest rate ever!

If you earn $100,000 today, you pay an effective tax rate of about 17%. But looking back between the 1940s and the 2000s, that effective tax rate was around 25%. You would have to go all the way back to the 1930’s to find an effective tax rate lower than what you pay now. Before 1940, there were many cases where the tax rate was between 2-5%.

See for yourself:
This calculator can highlight how much your income would have been taxed over the last 100 years