50 Fun Facts to Lighten Up Tax Time

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"Fun tax facts" may seem like an oxymoron, but sometimes taxes can be amusing. From a tax on beards in Tsarist Russia to an American astronaut who forgot to pay his taxes before heading into space, here are 50 unusual, funny, interesting -- and sometimes practical -- tax-related tidbits.Related:10 things to do now to lower your 2016 tax bill

TAXES GO WAY BACK

Governments have imposed taxes for thousands of years. There are recordings of tax payments made in ancient Mesopotamia circa 2500 B.C. At the time, people who didn't have money to pay taxes often had to pay with livestock, food, or labor.Related:10 rule changes taxpayers need to know in 2016

WE TRIED A FLAT TAX

The first income tax in the United States came about with the Revenue Act of 1861. A flat 3 percent tax on income above $800 was used to fund the Civil War and repealed 11 years later. In 1894, a new flat federal income tax was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. It was not until the 16th Amendment was ratified in 1913 that the federal income tax finally stuck for good.Related:Don't believe these 12 common tax myths

TAX DAY USED TO BE IN MARCH

Federal tax returns were not always due April 15. In 1913, March 1 was the big day; in 1918 it was moved to March 15; and finally in 1954 the current Tax Day was established. This year, a public holiday in Washington, D.C., (Emancipation Day) falls on April 15, moving the tax deadline to April 18.

WITHHOLDING STARTED BECAUSE OF A CASH CRUNCH

In the 1940s, the government needed a steady flow of cash to fund the war effort. It passed the Current Tax Payment Act of 1943, which required that companies withhold income taxes from employees' paychecks and make ongoing payments on employees' behalf. Before this -- from 1916 to 1943 -- everyone had paid income taxes quarterly or annually.

FEW PEOPLE OWED AT FIRST

Before World War II, few individuals or families owed income taxes. Due to a high personal exemption, only 1.1 percent of working-age people filed a return, according to the Tax Foundation, and about 17 percent of those filers did not have to pay income taxes.
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MANY PEOPLE PAY NO TAX NOW

According to the Tax Policy Center think tank, 45.3 percent of tax filers owed no individual income tax or had negative taxable income last year.

THE AVERAGE REFUND IS WORTH THOUSANDS

As of Feb. 26, the average income tax refund was $3,053, according to the Internal Revenue Service. With about 56 million individual returns processed so far, the IRS has paid out more than 46 million refunds.

'EZ' MEANS LESS THAN HALF THE INSTRUCTIONS

The instructions for the basic 1040 tax return form are more than 100 pages long. The instructions for the 1040EZ, the version used for the most basic tax returns, are more than 40 pages long.

THE TAX CODE ISN'T 70,000 PAGES

A tax attorney writing in Slate says the often-cited figure that the tax code is 70,000 pages is incorrect. The actual code is close to 2,600 pages -- still a lengthy read.

EVEN EINSTEIN DIDN'T LIKE PAYING TAXES

Even Albert Einstein found taxes inscrutable. He once said, "The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax" (that is, according Leo Mattersdorf, the math genius' tax preparer).

TAX PREP TIME ADDS UP

According to the IRS, the average time it takes to complete a Form 1040 is 16 hours; a 1040A takes seven hours; and a 1040EZ takes five hours. Overall, the average is 13 hours. In 2015, the IRS received 49.65 million tax returns, equivalent to about 27 million days' worth of prep time.
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THERE'S ONLY ONE WAY OUT

Aside from Eritrea, the United States is the only country that requires citizens to pay taxes on their income if they work and live outside the country. Some wealthy individuals have renounced their citizenship and moved to another country to avoid paying taxes.

THERE'S ANOTHER TAX DAY ON THE CALENDAR

Americans collectively had to work until April 24 last year -- 114 days -- to pay the country's tax burden, according to the Tax Foundation, which has declared that date Tax Freedom Day. On a state-by-state basis, Connecticut residents had to work the longest, until May 13. Residents of Louisiana had the earliest Tax Freedom Day, April 2.

AMERICANS' TAX BILL TOTALS NEARLY $5 TRILLION

Collectively Americans paid more than $4.8 trillion dollars in federal, state, and local taxes last year -- more than the combined cost of food, clothing, and housing, according to the Tax Foundation.

SEVEN STATES HAVE NO INCOME TAX

While there's no dodging a federal bill, seven states do not have income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. New Hampshire and Tennessee tax only dividends and interest income.

TAXPAYERS GET $10,300 IN TAX-FREE EARNINGS

Between the standard deduction ($6,300) and personal exemption ($4,000), most single filers don't pay federal tax on the first $10,300 they earned in 2015. Taxpayers who earned more than $259,400 don't qualify for those breaks.

THERE'S NO PENALTY FOR REACHING A HIGHER BRACKET

Some people believe that moving into a higher tax bracket will net them less money in the end. But the United States uses marginal tax brackets, meaning the higher rate applies only to the earnings that fall within the higher bracket. If only a single dollar bumps a taxpayer into a higher bracket, only that one dollar will be taxed at the marginal rate for that bracket.
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TAXPAYERS DON'T ACTUALLY PAY THE TAX RATE FOR THEIR BRACKET

To illustrate the difference between the marginal tax rate for people in a particular bracket vs. their effective tax rate -- the average rate they actually pay -- the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated the 2015 tax burden for a family of four with income of $110,000. Although the family falls into the 25 percent bracket, after accounting for standard deductions and credits and the progressive tax system in the U.S., their effective income tax rate is only 9 percent.

TOP EARNERS PAY NEARLY HALF OF ALL INCOME TAXES

According to the Tax Policy Center, the top 1 percent of earners in the United States paid 43.6 percent of all federal income taxes in 2015. The top 0.1 percent paid 21 percent.

LOTTERY WINNERS CAN TAKE HOME MORE IN CERTAIN STATES

All winners of more than $5,000 in a lottery are subject to a 25 percent federal withholding tax, but state withholding taxes vary. In some states, such as California and Delaware, the withholding rate is zero. In Maryland, the withholding rate is 8.75 percent for residents and 7.5 percent for non-residents. And that's just what the states take immediately; the winner may be required to pay additional tax when filing a return.

THE HIGHEST TAX BRACKET HAS BEEN MUCH HIGHER

Today, the highest marginal income tax bracket is 39.6 percent, but it has been much higher. The Individual Income Tax Act of 1944 raised individual tax rates to the point where the highest bracket was 94 percent.

THERE COULD HAVE BEEN A 100 PERCENT INCOME TAX

A few months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed a 100 percent income tax. In a letter to Congress, he wrote, that in this time of "grave national danger ... no American citizen ought to have a net income, after he has paid his taxes, of more than $25,000 a year" (equivalent to about $403,250 today).

HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM

Astronaut Jack Swigert was the command module pilot for Apollo 13. He got the assignment at the last minute because of health concerns surrounding another astronaut, and in the rush, Swigert neglected to file his taxes. According to the transcript of the moment he realized his mistake, the crew on the ground thought he was making a joke, but Swigert was seriously asking how to file an extension.
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TAXPAYERS FIND LOTS OF WAYS TO FOOL THEMSELVES

While some people claim unintentional mishap when the IRS audits them, others have made it a point not to pay taxes. Common arguments or tactics include claiming the 16th Amendment was not properly ratified, that filing violates Fifth Amendment rights, or that the taxpayer has taken a religious vow of poverty. Others believe they can form a trust to hide taxable income. The IRS says it will help taxpayers who were misled to believe these excuses.

CELEBRITIES ARE JUST LIKE (SOME OF) US

Even celebrities and business tycoons run into problems when they don't pay their taxes. Pamela Anderson once had a $1.7 million lien against her for unpaid taxes. Duane Chapman, also known as Dog the Bounty Hunter, has owed up to $2 million in unpaid taxes at a time. Perhaps the best-known celebrity tax dodger is Wesley Snipes, who spent three years in prison and is still dogged by millions in federal tax debt.

THERE'S MONEY IN WHISTLEBLOWING

The IRS pays people to provide information on someone who did not pay taxes. The whistleblower can get up to 30 percent of what the IRS collects in back taxes, penalties, and interest.

DO THE CRIME, PAY THE TAX

Even money earned illegally is subject to tax. Some states require drug dealers to pay taxes on the drugs they sell. The tax may be due as soon as the drug is in their possession, meaning someone caught with drugs may have to pay a fine for unpaid taxes on top of punishment for their other crimes. To pay the tax anonymously, dealers can buy tax stamps and affix them to containers of controlled substances.

THERE CAN BE SOME PRETTY KILLER COSTS FOR TAX EVASION

Violent Chicago mobster Al Capone famously got caught on tax evasion charges. Other mobsters, including Al's brother Ralph "Bottles" Capone, Frank Nitti, and Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik, were also charged. Among his debts to society, Al Capone had to pay $215,000 plus interest in back taxes.

A NEW TAX LAW MADE CHILDREN 'DISAPPEAR'

An IRS rule change in 1987 required taxpayers to list dependents' Social Security numbers for the first time. As a result, about 7 million children -- a tenth of all dependent children in the country at the time -- "disappeared."
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TAXES HAVE MADE DELAWARE THE CORPORATE CAPITAL OF THE U.S.

Delaware has a low 8.7 percent flat tax on corporations, likely the reason about half of all publicly traded companies in the country consider it home. A single address in Wilmington, 1209 North Orange St., is the legal address of nearly 300,000 companies.Related:Top 10 affordable cities for starting a business

ONLY TWO COUNTRIES HAVE HIGHER CORPORATE INCOME TAX THAN THE U.S.

The top marginal corporate tax rate in the United States (39 percent) is the third-highest in the world, tied with Puerto Rico and exceeded by only Chad and the United Arab Emirates.

PROFITABLE CORPORATIONS SOMETIMES PAY NO TAXES

In spite of their size and the corporate tax rate, some large corporations have a zero, or negative, effective federal income tax rate. On the list of non-payers in 2014 were General Electric, Time Warner, and Prudential Financial.Related:30 essential tax tips for small businesses

EVEN ANCIENT GREEKS HAD TAX GRIPES

Observations and complaints about unfair tax payments go back to at least the ancient Greeks. Plato once said, "Where there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income."

MADISON SQUARE GARDEN GETS A PROPERTY TAX BREAK

Madison Square Garden, the New York sports, music, and entertainment venue, has not had to pay property taxes since 1982. The arrangement was supposed to end after 10 years, according to then-mayor Edward Koch, but due to the disputed wording of the agreement, it remains in perpetuity. The break has cost New York City more than $350 million over the past 34 years.

SOME HOLIDAYS ARE MEANT TO BE COMMERCIAL

Eighteen states, primarily in the southeastern part of the country, have annual sales tax holidays. Depending on the state and date, clothing, footwear, school supplies, energy-efficient appliances, and other select items are exempt from sales tax for two to three days a year.
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TAXES MAKE WITCHES BURNING MAD

Fortunetellers, astrologers, and witches were added to Romania's labor code in 2011, meaning they have to pay income tax and contribute to the country's social programs. Some witches cast curses on the government in response -- although others felt it legitimized their work.

ARTISTS MAY WANT TO CONSIDER BECOMING IRISH

Ireland exempts up to 50,000 euros in profits from the sale of qualified artistic work from income taxes. Grants, awards, and prizes may also be tax exempt if they are related to the artist's work.

STATES OFFER SOME ODD DEDUCTIONS

Some states offer residents very specific tax credits or deductions. In Alaska, whaling captains can deduct up to $10,000 for whaling-related expenses. In Hawaii, property owners may be able to deduct up to $3,000 in expenses related to maintaining a tree with historic or cultural value.

CANDY CAN BE COMPLICATED

What is the real difference between a Kit Kat and a 3 Musketeers? The former contains flour in its wafers, an ingredient that leads some states to label the Kit Kat a grocery item rather than candy. As a result, retailers may have to charge different taxes on the bars.

THERE'S A DIAPER DOUBLE STANDARD

Some states apply sales tax to children's diapers because they are considered clothing. The same tax does not apply to adult diapers.

TAMPONS ARE OFTEN TAXED AS THOUGH THEY'RE OPTIONAL

Feminine hygiene products are a necessity for many women, yet most states impose a sales tax on their sale while exempting other necessities, including groceries and medication. There is a growing international movement to end the tax. Canada and France dropped it last year, and several cities and states in the United States could follow suit.Related:10 things that cost more for women (or men)
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SLICING A BAGEL CAN COST YOU

In New York, cutting a bagel turns it into prepared food, which means the store must add an 8.875 percent sales tax to the price.

SIN (AKA FUN) TAKES A TOLL ON A TAX BILL

Taxes on products or services that are considered harmful are referred to as sin taxes. Some examples include taxes on alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and even fast food. One example of a sin tax is Utah's 10 percent tax on businesses that have nude or partially nude workers -- in other words, strip clubs. The extra tax extends to drinks and food sold on the premises.

ENJOY THAT FREE BEARD

Beards are back in vogue, but there were times having a beard was costly. During the 16th century, King Henry VIII imposed a tax on beards that increased with the wearer's social status. Eventually the tax was dropped, but his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, reintroduced a beard tax on anyone with more than two weeks' worth of growth. In Russia, Tsar Peter the Great wanted to westernize the country and required every man, except peasants and clergy, to buy a "beard token" to prove they had paid up. The tax lasted from 1698 to 1772.Related:10 cheap ways to get the hipster look

LET THE SUN SHINE IN

Talk about taxes' ability to darken a day -- in 1696, a window tax was introduced in England and Wales. It was assessed as a flat property tax plus a tax based on the number of windows a home had. As a result, some people bricked up their windows and new buildings sometimes were designed with fewer windows. Scotland and France imposed similar taxes in the 1700s.

THE ROMANS TAXED URINE

In Roman times, urine and the ammonia within it was collected for uses such as tanning and laundering. Emperor Vespasian imposed a tax on the buyers of urine from public urinals. Today words for "urinal" in French, Italian, and Romanian are derived from the emperor's name.

WHAT WAS THE CAP ON THE HAT TAX?

From 1784 to 1811 the British government taxed hats based on price. A stamp was pasted inside the hat and anyone caught with a stamp-less hat had to pay a fine. At least one stamp forger was sentenced to suffer the harshest penalty: death.
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ENGLAND MAKES A CASE FOR THE BLACK-AND-WHITE TV

In England, residents must pay a license (or, ahem, licence) fee for each TV in their homes. The money from this annual fee goes toward funding the BBC. The cost is 145.5 pounds for a color TV and 49 pounds for a black-and-white TV. The blind pay half as much.

IN DENMARK, THE TAX COSTS MORE THAN THE CAR

U.S. car buyers pay sales tax, and there are fees for registering a vehicle, but they don't come close to what Danish car buyers pay. Depending on the price of the car, the registration tax is 105 percent to 150 percent of the sale price.

IT'S NOT CERTAIN BEN FRANKLIN WAS FIRST WITH THAT FAMOUS QUOTE

As Benjamin Franklin said, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Although he's often credited with the idea, that line comes from a 1789 letter, and the author of "The Yale Book of Quotations" cites similar quotes from 1716 and 1724.