As the late George Carlin once said, “the poor are only there to keep the middle class going to work each day.” And so it goes, we are off to work each day, hoping beyond hope to scrap by without having your life’s work stripped away by health insurance costs, lack of creditworthiness and kids and/or parents who are becoming increasingly dependent on your incomes.
And the one hidden menace, lurking in the background is taxes. Sure, I focus a great deal on the influences of the economy at large, the subtle impact of inflation and the political landscape of money, but taxes, the thing that no one likes to admit keeps the public engine running in communities across the country, are about to increase. But will you notice?
On the Local Level
Revenue for state and local governments ebb and flow with the state of the economy. When property values jumped dramatically, taxes tied to the assessed value of those home filled the coffers and made new project planning easier. But as those values decrease, those revenues will still be needed to keep the communities running even if its residents feel as though those taxes would be better kept on their own side of the balance sheet.
Some states are making swaps, using one revenue source to pay for another that may not be doing as well. A good example of these kinds of swaps is cigarette and alcohol taxes increasing as property taxes are frozen (usually at 1-3% of assessed value), capped or cut.
Expect sales taxes, if your state has them, to increase over the next several years. This does help tourist rich cities to capitalize on outside sources of revenue but for the most part, it slows the economic growth by taking spending money from the consumer.
Look for an increase in amnesty programs, events designed to get delinquent taxpayers back into the system using the lure of payment without penalties of late fees.
On the Federal Level
This is the big unknown question. Senator Barrack Obama has made I clear he believe that the families with household incomes exceeding $250,000 should be paying what he refers to as “their fair share”. Investors expect that this group, the ones most likely to support the capital gains tax of 15%, to pay more for the sale of stocks if he is elected. (The prevailing belief is that even if Obama is elected and increases this tax on the wealthiest of families, it would be capped at 28%.)
Senator John McCain on the other hand, is offering much of the same program that has been successful, but only if you ask the right people. Mr. Obama’s plan would force many folks who have not diversified, specifically those with illiquid assets, to do so before the new president takes office.
If Obama gets his way, states and local municipalities would see a huge influx in revenue from tax-exempt municipal bonds. This can be tricky territory though. Some munis trigger the alternative minimum tax (AMT) because they pay interest.
The Effect on your Retirement Plan
Unless you are among the highest wage earners, your approach to retirement planning should be focused not so much on how much is in the nest egg but how much income, less taxes and inflation, will allow you to be comfortable. That number is generally different for each of us and unfortunately is based on a perfect situation (usually calculated without considering taxes and inflation).
Most of us can expect to take home – after retirement – a paycheck that is 30% lighter than we estimate (3% for inflation – modest and hopeful guess, 15 – 20% income taxes on earnings from deferred income sources like pensions and retirement accounts, and 10% on property and local taxes).
That means you will need to save an additional 30% above what you are currently putting away for your future or, lower your expectations on how much you will need.
We can count on one thing: Your elected officials feel your pain but can do little about it. Taxes will not go down no matter whom takes the helm in Washington or at the local level. The best you can do is plan for the worst.