Skip to comments.The Overtaxed $250K Couple: ‘We’re Not Rich’
Posted on 12/06/2012 9:04:34 AM PST by SeekAndFind
If someone had told me as a kid in Louisiana that my husband and I would have a combined income of $250,000 a year in our late twenties, I would have been pie-eyed. It sounds like a crazy amount of money. But after taking into account taxes, debt and living expenses in New York City, were actually finding it difficult to meet our financial goals.
Why Our Taxes Are Nearly Unmanageable
Last year, we paid $100,000 in taxes, which is almost exactly 40 percent of what we make. Even though we also paid $22,000 in student loan payments (we have about $145,000 in combined loans for my husbands law school and my grad school), we dont qualify for deductionsif you make more than $150,000 filing jointly, you cant deduct student loan interest.
We also dont get a deduction for home ownershipbecause we cant afford to buy one. Weve been saving for three years, and after another three years of diligent budgeting, we hope to have about $100,000, which would be enough for a 20 percent down payment on a home in a New York suburb with decent schoolsthe average starter home in these areas is about $500,000plus an extra $20,000 for closing costs and incidentals.
Were in a weird place: We dont have enough money to invest in a house or the stock market, which would get us tax exemptions. So we pay the full 40 percent of our salary in city**, state and federal taxes. People who are much wealthier can take advantage of tax loopholes, capital gains preferential tax rates and a larger mortgage deduction, so they end up paying only about 20 percent in taxes. For instance, in 2011, Barack Obama paid 20.5 percent in taxes. Mitt Romney paid 14 percent in taxes.
We find it ironic that wed have to make more . . . in order to pay less.
If were being honest, its not only taxes that are killing us. Living in Manhattan is expensiveup to three times the cost of living in other citiesbut I work for a private equities firm and my husband is in securities litigation. This city is the industry hub for both of our careers.
Weve discussed moving, but its unlikely that we would both be able to get jobs elsewhere. We rent a one-bedroom apartment near our offices in a neighborhood where they go for $3,000 a month. We could move to a slightly cheaper outer borough, but were both called into our offices at odd hours and we also work long days. So we pay for the convenience of living near work.
How Things Could Get Harder for Us
We budget constantly. As an accountant, Im always reviewing our spending, and trying to find ways to cut back. We take the subway. We dont buy name-brand clothes, and we dont buy anything unless its on sale. We take only one fun trip a year and the most weve ever spent on that is $1,600.
My husband isnt even putting money in his 401(k), so we can save more for a house. (I contribute to mine, but we have diverted all of our emergency fund to our house savings.) Its something we argue about, but these are the choices we have to make.
If our country goes over the fiscal cliff, our situation will become even more dire. The Bush-era tax cuts for married couples that make over $250,000 will expire, raising our taxes by 3 percent. Thats thousands more dollars we would have to paymaking it even harder for us to save money for a house.
Our lives are good. We work very hard, and enjoy what we do, but Im tired of people saying that were not paying our fair share. How much more are we supposed to pay?
Why the Tax Code Needs to Change
We both come from middle-class families and were taught that if you go to school and work hard, you can live the American dream: own a house, have a family. Its really all we want. We dont liveor long foran extravagant lifestyle.
Look, I know its relative. I realize there are families raising three kids on $50,000 that are just trying to put food on the table. My husband and I are very thankful for what we have. And we dont begrudge paying taxes. We even understand why people think were rich. Compared to many people, we are.
We just cant figure out how were supposed to make the American dream work for us while giving away half of our income in taxes.
The tax code needs to change, and if it were up to me, Id like to see the following:
* Adding a cost of living factor. The tax code should have a factor that takes into account location-specific costs, like average home price, the price of an equivalent bag of groceries, the average price of a car and the average cost of gas in a region. Once taxes are calculated, the factor would be applied to achieve greater geographic tax parity.
* Phasing out deductions and loopholes. If we lowered tax rates across the board, and cut the deductions and loopholes in the system (there are plenty of them to pick from!), we would put everyone on a more level playing field. I know its a touchy subject, but capital gains rates probably also need to be increased from the current 15 percenteven if its just a bump to 20 percent.
* Broadening the tax base. Right now, deductions and loopholes mean that many people dont pay certain federal taxes. If we eliminated them as described above, more people would pay taxes that they owe. By no means do I think that families in dire circumstances should be asked to dole out money to the government. But if more families could help chip in a small portion of their earnings, it would work toward generating more revenueand a little bit, spread across a large number of people, could go a long way.
* Lowering the tax rates. Id be fine paying in the 30 percent range. And if my husband and I did make it to a point where we were making above $500,000, reasonable tax increases (35 percent-39 percent) for this income would be acceptable.
Theres something really wrong with a system that considers us rich and not paying our fair share at 40 percentbut billionaires are only paying 20 percent or less.
Something is obviously broken.
We just hope it gets fixed soon.
This couple’s struggle in this economy is not uncommon. They work hard for a middle class income and are left with only $150,000.00 year after taxes. And while 150k may go a long ways back in Lafayette, it does not go a long ways in Midtown Manhattan when you consider that a half way decent dinner for two costs $200.00, the yoga studio is another $300.00 a month and a round of drinks out with coworkers runs you $80.00.
You sound like you don’t think that the “financial services industry” exists outside of NYC?
I find it intentional. And that nice, fashionaly-tanned President you voted for supports the concept, too. :)
Extortion is used on selected people and that is what Obama&Co are doing.These people are being taxed more than anyone else.
A fair tax is a flat tax.
I agree. Completely.
If they are good at business, they should own and operate their own business.
They could take small salaries, only enough to live on, which would dramatically lower their effective tax rate. They could let retained earnings pile up inside a C corporation and defer an taxes until they sold their shares or liquidated the company; that’s the only “taxable event” for them personally, and it needn’t happen for 50 years. Meanwhile, whatever salary they want they can pay themselves as long as the business can afford it. Spend those early years with no kids building up their own business. Work like a dog building that business into a multi-million dollar enterprise. A C corp can own real estate investments, operate any business it wants to.
They do not have to rent in Manhatten, they could get a house for a relatively low price right now in the suburbs.
They could buy intelligently, taking into account that property taxes are killer expenses right now in the suburbs. Buy too big, and the taxes are 20k per year.
They’d find wonderful towns with people like them. They could take the train (nice ride) into NYC with everyone else; it only takes maybe 1/2 hour and runs late. For the occasional real late night you call the car service. Cars line up outside the office buildings, everyone does this. Stockbrokers, lawyers galore on the train.
They need to think outside the “dream bubble” they came up with in Louisiana; they’re chasing after a lifestyle instead of building a life. The folks who live in Manhattan who are smart have enough net worth that they own their place and they profit when they sell it. Renting in NYC is only for the truly wealthy who simply want a pad their or for real estate investor landlords.
“half way decent dinner for two costs $200.00, the yoga studio is another $300.00 a month and a round of drinks out with coworkers runs you $80.00.”
The last time I went out for dinner was, hmmm, I can’t remember, then I also bet she and a friend could partner up to do Yoga at each others apartments, finally I haven’t gone out for a round of drinks with co-workers for over 2 years.
Yet, for some reason I am going to pay my house off this month. Heck, I guess we better punish evil people like me!
The author of the piece is still immature. Someday she might get it, but I have my doubts...
These are the type of working people the GOP should be actively recruiting to our way of thinking.
High marginal tax rates are not a tax on “the rich” but upon those attempting to accumulate assets. I have long noticed that the better your financial situation the less of a tax bite you get on your income. Once I could afford a house, I paid taxes at a much lower rate. Someone who makes the majority of their income from investments rather than work pays at a much lower rate.
For wealthy liberals it must be nice to be at the top, pull up the ladder behind you, and pat yourself on the back for being so “giving” advocating higher marginal tax rates - when they have already accumulated a huge amount of assets - and the taxes are on those attempting to accumulate assets over their working life.
The term for folks like this is “HENRY”: high earner, not rich yet.
The problem with the HENRYs is that while they’ll bitch and gripe about their taxes, they really vote social issues and in support of things like abortion rights and gay marriage.
I’d guess that this overeducated, overpaid and overleveraged twit bought the whole war on women line hook line and sinker ... and voted accordingly.
I also see they are saving for a house. They have saved 3 years, and are 3 years away from having a $100,000 down payment.
That means they are putting $16,666 into savings each year. Or about $1,388 per month.
This “250,000” crap is not indexed for inflation, so before long it will hit low earning people. And this is intentional.
I thought they wanted to raise taxes on a TAXABLE income of $250,000, not a gross income of $250,000.
Oh no,,don’t send these two to Texas! No thank you!
“This couple works in the financial services industry, which is located in New York or a few other big cities.”
NYC is not the only place for people who work in this industry so knock it off. You say yourself other big cities in other places have offerings,,and guess what? It would be hard pressed to find another big city in a different state that is going to tax them MORE...
They are not chained and even if they are, it could not have been a surprise..so they are whining pure and simple
This is precisely correct. If you choose a career that takes at least a decade to train for, you have lost a significant amount of potential income during that training period. This is the case for many who trained in medicine , for example. Once you get a ‘real job’ you want to make up for lost years, and have to pay off loans. While you're trying to play catch up you are labeled as ‘rich’ and become a target for the Obama crowd. It's a wonderful reward for making a decision to delay gratification and try to achieve something.
While you can get banking jobs anywhere, their particular area of expertise will get a job in New York, Chicago, or maybe San Francisco. Note that all are expenses places to live.
This is market forces in action. Look at the Dakotas to see it happening now. They are having an oil boom and, gosh oh gee, housing costs have skyrocketed. What a surprise!
It will ALWAYS cost more to live where there are high paying jobs. Their problem is that taxes take a bigger bite the more you make (in general). Here in New Mexico if you make $100K a year you are doing pretty well AND you are keeping more of what you make. I was making $100K in South Florida and barely paying my bills. Here you can live as well on $50K, but of course the jobs that paid $100K in SoFla pay $50K here!
So why move to the lower price area? Income taxes are Federal, so your rate on $50K is less than your rate on $100K. You keep more, as a percentage, living in a lower cost of living area.
I believe that the income tax should be replaced by a consumption tax which is not levied on necessities. This would help tap into unreported income resulting from cash only transactions that sometimes occurs. Combined income for Hubby and I has always been less than $100,000. When we first married, we were so poor we could have qualified for several Federal benefits, but never signed on, preferring to maintain independence.
So that's my bias. I agree that $250,000 is not so rich in expensive cities, and have pointed that out to others when discussing Obama rhetoric. I hate this class warfare crap, and have learned to hate the words “fair share”.
Now to your current situation:
Perhaps you should reconsider the 401k contributions? If I understood you, you are saving for a house and not contributing to the 401k. If you make the 401k your savings for retirement and down payment for your house combined, there might be some advantages. A company match is like haveing your employer help pay for part of your down payment.
Start with the current amount you are setting aside for this savings. In the future, channel all raises into this too. This will lower your taxable income which means more money in your pocket so to speak and helps starve the beast. Part of this money would have just gone for taxes anyway.
Also, you will have an automatic good return that first year due to the Company match. If your employers have a decent stock option or purchase plan, likewise use that to get at least the company match, unless the stock is worthless with no future.
When you have enough for the down payment, you may be able to withdraw it without penalty for the purpose of buying a house, as Congress has discussed often, and down the road, that may be possible.
Even if that is not possible, most companies will allow you to borrow from the 401k and set up repayment arrangements - you will pay yourself interest.
If all else fails, you might have to pay a penalty in the same year that you get a huge mortgage interest deduction assuming you close in January and the laws don't change.
There are lots of things these two can do that don’t involve changing the tax code. I don’t think waiting for someone to “level the playing field” is a good financial strategy.
First, they should be maxing the 401k on both sides. 401k’s are usually matched by the employer making them increase much faster than simply saving up.
Second, student loan interest is somewhat lower than credit card interest in most cases. They could aggressively pay off the card balances as fast as possible while stretching out the student loan payments.
Even at a tax rate of 40% they would still have 150000 per year. They say the rent is 3000 a month so that says 36000 a year. 401k’s are often limited to four percent so if they maxed them that would be 10000. Student loans of 20000 at 8% paid off over ten years would be around 225 a month or 2700 a year.
Add that all up and they still have 100000 a year for all that living. That is very close to my and my wife’s combined gross income. We have debts too and costs and don’t have 1600 for a “fun trip.”
Close examination suggests that this woman has nothing to complain about and I actually wonder why anyone is bothering to read her sob story.
I have been using Share cropping also for a few weeks now. It is a perfect description of our situation. Share cropping went from 50 to 70% to the landowner. This is what many are now facing.
Yeah, they ought to move out of New York and loose their jobs and get food stamps like all the rest. /s
Cost of living is also VERY high in Alaska, gotta ship everything in, But Im here because I can get a job. Lots of people don't want to work 12 hour days / 7 days a week in 30 degree below zero temps hundreds of miles from a road.
Job is good... You take it where you can get it.
Compare an individual business owner with a Chapter C Corporation. The business owner pays his business expenses, then pays his taxes on net income at the individual rate.
The rest of the money is available to him to spend for needs, wants, or reinvest in the business.
If that same business owner changed to a C Corp. he would pay taxes on the net profit at the corporate rate, (which could be more than the individual rate), and have even less money to spend and/or invest due to owing additional capital gains taxes.
Any dividend distributions would be taxed at the relevant Capital Gains Tax rate on top of the Corporate Rate. This is the double taxation often referred to.
If there were only a handful of owners of the stock of the company, it would be feasible to have each owner pay his portion of the corporate taxes on his individual return.
However, when there are millions of owners, the Government prefers to just deal with one entity-The corporation. So the Corporation pays the owner's share. Since it is never assigned directly to the individual share owners, people loose sight of this reality.
When corporate taxes are raised, they are actually raising taxes on all individuals and entities that own stock, but that impact is just lost in the shuffle.
In addition to being a double taxation, Capital Gains is inherently unfair in this country because it is not indexed.
Purchase something for $50,000 for example, and if inflation has doubled the value to $100,000 you will pay Capital Gains on what is essentially phantom profits.
By way of illustration, if you wanted to sell your home and build another using the same exact materials, you would not be able to, because you would need $100,000, and after paying the capital gains tax you would not have $100,000 to do so.
Also, retired people have in the past have often relied heavily on dividends particularly when CDs are paying little interest. Raising the Capital Gains impacts more than the Rich, and it discourages business investment.
If any change is made to capital gains taxes, it should be to zero. If the rich aren't paying enough taxes, then tax their net worth. All this other gobbledy gook just hurts middle income and/or poor people, and business development.
Someone needs to tell these constitutional illiterates that there is an annoying provision in Article One that taxes must be uniform throughout the several states. Therefore a cost of living adjustment is unconstitutional. Senator Chuckie Cheese also needs to relearn this fact as he constanttly calls for the cost of living adjustment.
Hey! I represent that remark! :-)
Moved here from Maine 20 years ago. Wouldn't change a single thing. If I wanted to live in a NE dump, I'd have stayed in the NE.
Now, if I can only get my Mother-in-Law (I married a native) to stop introducing me as "That Yankee Republican".......
Wrote this like I was writing directly to the person complaining - not you S&F.
Why is it suddenly the responsibility of everyone who is successful to stop being successful to help fund the massive spending spree of the illegal Congress without a budget?
Shouldn’t those who bounce checks spend time in the pen?
There is a reason they call it CONgress.
I don’t really have any sympathy for them. I’m just saying that those other options aren’t really available. I used to work sort of on the fringe of the financial industry as a lawyer, and while there are probably a few jobs here and there in significantly less expensive cities like Chicago and Houston, the great majority of U.S. jobs in “securities litigation” and “private equity” are still in NYC, and then maybe in California (equally expensive).
Of course they could change careers entirely, but that ain’t all that easy either. Those are very specialized sub-fields, and it’s a very unwise career move to step down from developing a mastery of complex, high stakes securities litigation to competing against every ambulance chaser and DUI defender out there, trying to hustle up enough dough from people who don’t have it to make your law school loan payments.
You can also blame them for their original life choices, and yes, it is idiotic to take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in educational debt that can only be paid back by working in a vary narrow set of high-wage jobs, but understand that those sorts of decisions are made at the age of 19, 20, 21, not exactly a time when most of us have very much in the way of perspective on the world.
LOL. Yeh, when Hubby and I were saving up we didn’t buy any new clothes or yard sale ones either. Never took a trip or vacation - found a way to make extra money during the vacation time the company gave us.
Never even spent a dime on an ice cream cone. Never ate out even for special occasions. Ate mostly beans and taters or rice with cornbread and a slice of onion for supper. Other cheap protein and veggies for other meals.
Never steak or expensive seafood not even for special occasions cooked at home. Never bought a loaf of bread, since making it at home was cheaper. Did the laundry by hand to save on visiting the laundry mat.
Finally did get a hand me down washer and dryer when parents bought a new set.
We had a black and white TV hand me down and an old old radio, and a deck of cards for entertainment. Never bought a book or anything else we could check out from the library.
Lots of ways to save money that could be explored by this poor little overtaxed person. We have always made a lot less than $100,000, and paid in at the 40% rate when considering all the taxes. A person needs figure out how to get the goals in spite of the system-not whine about it.
“For wealthy liberals it must be nice to be at the top, pull up the ladder behind you, and pat yourself on the back for being so giving advocating higher marginal tax rates - when they have already accumulated a huge amount of assets - and the taxes are on those attempting to accumulate assets over their working life.”
You have painted a portrait of Warren Buffet. Spend a lifetime building enormous wealth using every available tax strategy to limit your taxes. Once you achieve your place on a pedestal amongst the one percent of the one percent move all your assets to tax sheltered trusts and then run around advocating higher taxes on anyone who might possibly challenge your legacy. Knock down all the ladders.
Any city in which the financial services industry exists as a big employer is going to be expensive. New York is not the only one: try living in San Francisco, Miami, Chicago or any other major city and you’ll find that there’s little difference. And you really cannot telecommute for everything. People still have to be on the ground and working in face to face groups for important decisions and current information.
Why do people here hate NYC so much? I grew up there and it’s a great place. If the GOP had any of those round things and believed in its message, there might actually be GOP voters there (because nobody likes being taxed to death, which is what happens to you in NYC and NY State). But we ceded the territory to the Dems long ago, and I have voted in many elections where there was literally no local GOP candidate on the ballot. This is probably true in many areas, and is something that needs to be addressed.
That said, why are Freepers out there cheering for higher taxes and telling people they should move if they don’t like them? Especially Federal taxes, because no matter where you move, you have to pay them.
Hard to feel sorry for people like this: most of them voted for and back Obama.
So smile and pay your taxes.....
20 years means you’ve had adequate time to season to the culture. Welcome!
“I was amazed when I saw people earning $200,000 described as the wealthy”.
It is a lot of money, though I don’t know about “wealthy”. There is no reason for a couple making this much money to live in NYC and complain about it; the suburbs (connected by highways, trains, and ferries) have many people living in them at a fraction of the cost while still working in NYC.
I think about how much income my wife and I have (far less than half of what these people have), then think about all of the extra money they would have to play with if they kept it simple (which apparently they don’t). I don’t want their taxes increased, but I don’t want to hear them complain either.
The 2012 election showed how few voters are left in this country that ever think they’ll even earn $100K. Every job that people put forth as “where the money is” have companies scrambling madly to either outsource the work or import foreigners to do it; the companies have no interest in paying a “market rate” according to supply and demand within the US (see tech, nursing, financial sector). People of all ages are watching our standard of living plummet, and simply didn’t believe Romney would address it (Bush certainly didn’t). It is a shame that so many think communism will help them; it never helped anyone but the upper party members.
You nailed it. They have the “NYC Disease”, where their own bias convinces them life isn’t sustainable elsewhere.
And you cannot forget about this Midtown Manhattan couple’s payments on their two Range Rovers.
It sounds like this Obama voter just got slapped in the face by the actual realization of the price of her vote. Actions have consequences.
I was about to post the same as you, so I’ll just concur. They deprived themselves for advanced degrees, they did not work for years while in school, now they are in a high cost area. How can anyone think it is reasonable the govt. seize 40% of their labor?
Freepers are full of class envy too.
Why is it that no-one pines for the "good old days" when NHL stars pulled in ten grand a year (less than $100,000 in today's dollars?)
It's a telling inconsistency. One the one hand, CEO salaries have skyrocketed. On the other hand, an NFL or NBA star has enough swag to become next-door neighbours with the CEO of a major listed company. Back in the "good old days" of the '50s and '60s, their chances of moving into the CEO part of town were zero. Only top-level Hollywood actors could - and they didn't, preferring Hollywood.
It's an inconsistency we take for granted. The only rancour over high Hollywood salaries I've seen here is because of their left-liberalism and support for higher taxes plus the economic jealousy that fuels them. That's not really jealousy of the rich actors, it's the calling-out of performative hypocrisy.
And yet, even for some here, there's a lot of rancor over high CEO salaries. It's one of those taken-for-granted inconsistencies that's hard to spot and puzzling when it's spotted. No-one here, including me, begrudges any star athlete his/her good fortune - even though pay packets for the best have risen longer and stronger than CEO pay packs. The pro-athlete and Hollywood-star "pay revolution" got rolling in the 1970s, not the 1980s.
Is there a professor-level economic historian in the house? If so, you've got a "cool"-level paper waiting to be written. "The Pay Revolution 1970-2000: How Top Pro Athletes, Hollywood Stars And CEOs Skyrocketed Their Income And Jacked Up The Pay Differential Between Their Select Top-Level Group And The Norm."
Interesting points. It’s true: why do celebrities (sports, movies, TV, the Presidency) get to pull down huge salaries and perks without a complaint from people who work much harder and earn far less, while people who build a business or invest in their futures -and have spent years studying or preparing to do so - and earn what is by celebrity standards a fairly modest income are portrayed as evil bloodsucking leeches? And are even perceived as such by many on FR, who should know better?
The reason Obama has gotten away with all that he has is that he has been projected as a celebrity. This is a term that is hard to define, and maybe the same doctoral dissertation should look at this area...
There’s no question that people choose to live in high cost areas because of culture, nightlife, jobs lots of reasons. I live in Chicago costs a lot for a place to live but then again I don’t need or want a car. Saves a lot of money. That said all the smugness on this thread may be short lived. Your think the feds are going to stop at $250.000.00 a year..???? LOL. They’re softening it up they want a lot more from all of us. And for those who think because they live in less expensive areas all is well??? Well guess what? The IRS is a step ahead of you. They already have what’s called” maximum allowable expense’s” tagged to where you live. If you don’t think there’re already thinking about it ...Wake the heck up it’s the new normal. You’re going to be taxed more just because you chose to live in a low expense area.