Not filing taxes is lose-lose

Because of how employer withholding works, most students deserve refunds.

Today is April 15: tax day. It seems many students shirk their statutory responsibility to file their tax returns, some even claiming it as a badge of honor. Even outside of legal consequences, this is incredibly stupid.

Many students could claim refunds. Because of how employer withholding works, as well as the Lifetime Learning and Hope credits and even the earned income tax credit, most students deserve refunds. As such, not filing your tax return is effectively donating to the federal government. If this is what individuals think they can do for their country, that’s one thing. One might be able to pursue better avenues for public service, but who are we to judge? Still, it is unlikely students are delinquent on filing with the Internal Revenue Service as a public service.

If an individual owes taxes, not filing is even worse. While the IRS cannot pursue every tax evader, it’s a good bet it will catch most, particularly in the Internet age and especially if one fails to file multiple times. If your income comes as a W-2 employee or through investments, the IRS knows as much, if not more, about your earnings than you do, because employers or investment firms by law must send the IRS yearly statements of income, gains, dividends, distributions, etc.

In these situations, even a computer will know what a person owes. If one’s cash flow runs outside these channels, the IRS is less likely to notice, but if that flow is substantial it likely will. If, on the other hand, the flow is insubstantial, one is likely due a refund. In short, failing to file is a lose-lose situation: If you have money coming, the government is not going to seek you out; if you owe, expect an official and frighteningly cold letter asking for it.

There are times civil disobedience is valuable or at least worthwhile, but tax day is not one of them. Today’s world has few certainties, but filing your tax return is one. Not doing so for lack of effort is lazy. Not doing so as a matter of ill-conceived principle is quixotic and just plain silly.