Since the first federal progressive income tax was introduced in 1913, most Americans have fairly assumed that, come mid-April, the more money you earn, the more money you pay.

Rage! Photo via iStock.

But, oh boy, does it ever not work that way.


Examples of stupendously wealthy people paying hilariously low percentages of their income in taxes aren't hard to track down. See, for example, Warren Buffet paying a lower tax rate than his secretary or Donald Trump paying an effective tax rate of 25% in 2005 — far lower than the top marginal rate that  year of 35% — despite earning $150 million.

If the tax code had been designed by, say, a coalition of teachers, construction workers, and fry cooks, things might be different. Unfortunately, the laws determining who pays what and why are written by members of Congress, who, as of 2012, had a median net worth of just a wee bit over $1 million. From their perspective, it's not hard to see that "How can I structure the tax code to make buying gas and going to the doctor a little more affordable?" might be a less pressing question than, say, "Should solid gold busts of Ayn Rand be deductible?"

To be sure, many rich people do pay more in taxes than middle- or working-class Americans, just less more than they might otherwise. And it's hard to blame the wealthy for taking full advantage of a system designed to benefit them. Don't hate the player, the saying goes, hate the game.

The Game probably pays a lower effective tax rate than you. Photo by Eva Rinaldi/Flickr (cropped).

But the game, such as it is, is rigged (SAD!).

So while most of us prepare to part with around a third of our hard-earned cash trying to decide if it's legal to write off as a business expense the $13.79 in tissues we bought to wipe away our tears, here are some of the rules that make it easier for the wealthy to play.

1. There's a tax break for vacation homes.

Let's say you live in a tiny apartment in a major American city, paying your landlord hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars a month to sleep in a glorified coat closet. You typically don't get to write off your rent on your federal taxes.

Your rent. Photo via iStock.

But if you were among those privileged enough to have the means to buy a house or condo or downtown triplex with a sweet view, you would get to deduct the interest you'd pay on your mortgage.

"OK sure," you might be thinking, "People who can buy houses are generally doing better financially than those who can't, but there are a lot of homeowners in America, and I hope to be one someday." And that's true, so far as it goes.

If you're really doing well, however, one house might not be enough. Sometimes you just have to spring for that little fixer-upper in the Poconos or that sprawling beach compound in the Outer Banks or that $90-million condo on 5th Avenue.

So close to the Apple Store! Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

In that case, you get to deduct the interest on the mortgage for your second house too!

As far as tax breaks that favor the already-pretty-damn-favored are concerned, the second home deduction is, alas, one of the more egalitarian, as it advantages both the only-sort-of-rich and the ridiculously rich — and you can only write off a total of $1.1 million in debt. Furthermore, the rule doesn't apply if you're so rich you just buy the house outright, nor does it apply to the third, fourth, ninth, and 12th homes owned by your average Gates, Bloombergs, and Zuckerbergs.

But the fact remains that taking out mortgages on more than one house gets you federal tax relief, while renting a studio apartment, mobile home, or infuriatingly twee tiny house doesn't.

Thanks to the U.S. tax code, it owns to own.

2. If you're rich enough to buy a yacht, you can probably write off a big chunk of it.

What makes a house a home? A cozy reading nook by the fire? Happy memories? The love and affection of all those you hold near and dear?

According to the U.S. tax code, if you can eat, sleep, and pee in it, it's a home — which means that this:

...counts as a home, making it eligible for the mortgage interest tax break.

Some politicians have tried to exempt yachts from the second home deduction in recent years. It hasn't happened yet, partly because there are an absurd number of ways to get out of paying your full share of taxes on your yacht. Some states go out of their way to make superboats more affordable to your average Koch brother, DeVos sibling, or Soros quintuplet by capping the amount of sales tax you have to pay on them.

(L-R) George, Brad, Benghazi, Obamaphone, and #HillaryDid9/11 Soros. Photos by VCG/Getty Image, Spencer Platt/Getty Images, Eric Piermont/AFP/Getty Images, Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

Even better, if you rent out your yacht to slightly less wealthy people some of the time, you can usually deduct the whole purchase price and some of the insurance and maintenance fees as a business expense.

Pretty sweet! You should probably get a yacht!

3. While people who earn high salaries pay more in income tax, many wealthy people make a lot of non-salary income, and that's taxed at a lower rate.

If you're a single person making $1 million in salary, you're paying the top federal income tax rate — which for 2016 means 39.6% on every dollar over $415,050. That's way lower than it was in 1944, when the top rate was a whopping 94%. It's even lower than just over 30 years ago during the early years of the Reagan administration, when the top earners were paying 50%. Still, it's a solid chunk of change. Mercifully, for many super wealthy Americans, only a small portion of their annual income comes from working at an actual salaried job.

Enter capital gains!

"Money?" "Money." "Money money." "Money?" "MONEY!" Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

The best part about already having a buttload of money is that your money can make you even more money. If you're rich, you can take the cash you already have and invest it — in stock, or real estate, or apps called Moob that deliver fish bones to elderly Methodists, or what have you. And the best part? The cash you make when your assets post a gain is taxed at a mere 15-20%. That means if your trust fund does well, or if your 15th home increases in value, you might pay a lower tax rate on that gain than a nurse's aide pays on her $18/hour salary.

If that tax rate seems unfair, then you obviously haven't heard about the Newtian Pository. It's a philosophical concept I just made up that means "hahahahaha screw you and your 'job' that pays you a 'barely living wage.' If you want to get ahead in life, stop crying and own a landfill, or a Monet, or a bunch of Google, you dingbat!"

4. Rich people who own a lot of stock don't have to pay taxes on it if it increases in value — as long as they die before selling it.

Teddy is survived by his son Teddy Jr., his fifth wife Polankia, and a $75 million portfolio. Photo via iStock.

This is called "step-up in basis," one of those purposely complicated phrases used to obscure a pretty simple concept that would send poor people in the direction of the nearest flaming pitchfork store if anyone ever decided to, you know, actually explain it clearly.

So I'm gonna try to do that, by way of a totally hypothetical example.

Imagine you're a hard-charging New York City real estate billionaire type — "Ronald Bump," let's say. You buy 100,000 shares of stock at $1/share. To do this, you lay out $100,000 — an entire life savings for some, but chump change to a member of the Bump dynasty.

Let's say you, Ronald Bump, get lucky, and over the next 30 years, the stock increases in value to $100/share. Your $100,000 has magically become $10 million! If you sell it, you'd net a cool $9.9 million — but you'd pay taxes on it (albeit at the previously mentioned, already ludicrously low capital gains rate), leaving you with a mere $7.4 million or thereabouts.

But let's say you don't sell, and one day, when you're out grabbing a caviar bagel with gold leaf cream cheese, you get hit by a bus.

The Bus of Tragedy. Photo by Adam E. Moreira/Wikimedia Commons.

The bus really does a number on you, flattening your legs, rib cage, and most of your vital organs. Then, trying to determine the cause of the light whump that momentarily inconvenienced its passengers, the bus backs up, pancaking your head. Finally, seeing no cause for special concern, it speeds away, running you over a third time, knocking your body into a ditch to be eaten by crows.

How horrible. You're dead now.

Because you're dead, your son — let's call him Ronald Bump Jr. — inherits your giant portfolio. ​When he sells it​, he only has to pay taxes on any gains the investment makes beyond the $9.9 million — regardless that the stock was originally purchased for just $100,000. He can go his merry way a full almost-$10 million richer, convinced of his own singular brilliance, free to hunt endangered mammals and approvingly reply to racists on Twitter with the comfort of a nest egg to make his economic anxiety disappear.

And the meritocracy triumphantly soldiers on.

The bottom line, if you hold stock until you die and pass it on to your kids, spouse, or golden retriever, neither you, nor they ever have to pay taxes on the value it accrued in your lifetime. Pretty sweet!

5. A lot of rich families don't have to pay taxes on the money they pass on to their heirs, even though there's a tax theoretically designed to make that happen.

"We repossess about 379 of these bad boys a day. Mwa-ha-ha-ha!" — the government, probably. Image via iStock.

To hear anti-tax advocates tell it, millions of hardworking Americans are subject to an evil "death tax," whereupon soulless government brownshirts descend en masse to rip the family farm away from Junior not nine seconds after Ma and Pa's untimely death in a freakish tumbleweed accident. It's the sort of thing that gets decent people riled up, demanding answers and installing electric fencing around their property. How could Uncle Sam be so heartless? So cruel? So greedy?

The thing is, most Americans aren't wealthy enough to be subjected to the "death tax" — more properly known as the estate tax. If you leave a small retirement account, family home, or a couple of used toasters and $50 to your kids when you pass away, the IRS won't send you an invoice.

The tax only applies to estates being passed down that are worth over $5.4 million. So unless Ma and Pa's farmhouse looks like this:

You're probably not going to see a tax on it.

Yes, super rich people — your aforementioned Gates, Bloomberg and Zuckerberg dynasties  — do have to pay estate taxes, and thank Zod. And, yes, it's good that middle class families don't have to pay it. Meanwhile, lots of pretty rich people (albeit not Gates, Bloomberg, or Zuckerberg rich) are making out great under the current system, even as activists try to do away with the tax altogether, because the net worth limit for when the tax kicks in is so high that those families don't have to pay anything at all either — which allows dynastic wealth to keep on piling up.

As recently as 2004, the estate tax kicked in at $1.5 million. The current limit of $5.4 million is, frankly, a crap-ton of money to be able to pass down tax-free.

Even without such a high estate tax threshold, kids would be able to keep using the heirloom kitchen appliances long after their parents are gone.

Unfortunately, with the limit currently in the stratosphere, it also means that Junior can keep up the Kobe beef farm as he rides his platinum-hulled tractor into the sunset.

Considering all the deductions, loopholes, and advantages already in place, it's sort of weird that Congress' next priority is to reduce the tax burden on the wealthiest Americans even more.

After Republicans wrap up their will-they-or-won't-they dance with the American Health Care Act, Congress plans to tackle "tax reform," so-called because it "reforms" more money into the pockets of rich people. Among the proposed changes to the tax code: lowering the top income tax rate from 39.6% to 33%, lowering the corporate tax rate to 20%, and completely eliminating the estate tax.

Someday son, much of this will be yours, tax free! Photo via iStock.

But as we've seen numerous times these past few months, America doesn't have to let it happen!

Calling your representatives worked to scuttle the first go-around of the AHCA, and it can work to put the kibosh on the current tax reform plan too.

It won't be easy. But after helping kill a suspect federal law, and finishing and filing your taxes, you'll definitely have earned a nice vacation.

May I suggest buying a yacht?"

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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The airplane graveyard that 3 families call home is the subject of a stunning photo series.

From the skies to the ground, these airplanes continue to serve a purpose.

This article originally appeared on 09.18.15


What happens to airplanes after they're no longer fit to roam the skies?


An abandoned 747 rests in a Bangkok lot. Photo by Taylor Weidman/Getty Images.

Decommissioned planes are often stripped and sold for parts, with the remains finding a new home in what is sometimes referred to as an "airplane boneyard" or "graveyard." Around the world, these graveyards exist; they're made up of large, empty lots and tons of scrap metal.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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Helping young people understand the causes and effects of historical events is a formidable task for any educator. History isn't just "what happened and when." There's also a "why," "how" and "who" in every historical happening, and quality history education helps students explore those questions.

Sometimes, however, that exploration can go off the rails.

Most people would agree that understanding different perspectives is an important part of learning history, but there are more and less problematic ways of helping students gain that understanding. We've seen some of the more problematic methods pop up in school assignments before, from asking students to pick cotton like slaves to listing the pros and cons of slavery.

Now an assignment from a school in Georgia is making the rounds, with people calling out issues with the perspective it asked students to take.

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Dear Beauty,

Time is crawling to January 20th, the one-year anniversary of the day you took your final breath on my chest in our bed. We had a dance party the night before. Your posse came over. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, closest friends, and your loving nanny Tia. We sat in the warm kitchen with music on and passed you from one set of arms to another. Everyone wanted one last dance with you. We didn’t mess around with only slow songs. You danced to Havana and Danza Kuduro, too. Somehow, you mustered the energy to sway and rock with each of us, despite not having had anything to eat or drink for six days. That night, January 19th, we laughed and cried and sang and danced. And we held each other. We let our snot and our tears rest on each other’s shoulders; we didn’t wipe any of them away. We ate ice cream after dinner, as we do every night. And on this night, we rubbed a little bit of fresh mint chocolate chip against your lips. Maybe you’d taste the sweetness.

Reggaeton and country music. Blueberry pancakes and ice cream. Deep, long sobs and outbursts of real, raw laughter. Conversations about what our relationships mean to each other and why we are on this earth.


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