Just How Rich Is $250K?O
Basically, taxes are a bitch. Below are some selected quotes from the article (which I urge all of you to read).
In the ongoing debate over whether to use tax policy to help resolve the nation's massive deficit, a single number has emerged from the crossfire: $250,000.
By most measures, a $250,000 household income is substantial. It is six times the national average, and just 2.9% of couples earn that much or more. "For the average person in this country, a $250,000 household income is an unattainably high annual sum -- they'll never see it," says Roberton Williams, an analyst at the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.
But just how flush is a family of four with a $250,000 income? Are they really "rich"?
The bottom line: It's not exactly Easy Street for our $250,000-a-year family, especially when they live in high-tax areas on either coast. Even with an additional $3,000 in investment income, they end up in the red -- after taxes, saving for retirement and their children's education, and a middle-of-the-road cost of living -- in seven out of the eight communities in the analysis.
Taxes take a hefty toll. Everything from property taxes and the alternative minimum tax to the taxes added to cell phone bills and the cost of gasoline, when combined, takes a massive bite out of earnings -- in some cases even more than the federal income tax. And it's not likely to get better soon. States and municipalities have been steadily raising income tax rates to help close gaping holes in their budgets. Property taxes are also increasing, even though real estate values have cratered. And sales taxes are hitting record levels, in some areas nearing 10%. Gas taxes, alcohol taxes and hidden surcharges on everything from airline flights and ferry rides to vehicle registrations, rental cars and even sodas have also been stealthily rising.
On top of that, additional tax increases for couples with salaries of $250,000 or more (and single people earning $200,000 or more) are scheduled to go into effect in 2013 under the health care bill passed a year ago.
As educated professionals, the Joneses buy books, newspapers and magazines; they own computers and pay for Internet access. But they don't take lavish vacations, don't belong to a country club, don't play golf, don't drive luxury cars, don't have a swimming pool, don't buy designer clothes, don't own or rent a second home and don't send their kids to private schools. They don't even shop at high-end grocery markets. (They spend what the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as a "moderate" amount on food for the average family of four.) In short, they're not "wealthy," even if they're in the top 5% of earners.
Consider the tax profile of the Joneses when they're based in Huntington, a suburb of New York City. Thanks to all their smart pretax contributions and a fat deduction for mortgage interest and state and local taxes, the couple's federal income tax is only $29,344. But what often goes overlooked is the toll taken by state and local taxes. In this case, it exceeds that of the federal income tax bill: $31,066. State income taxes, taken alone, are just $10,557. But factor in the gas tax ($2,679), property tax ($15,222), phone service taxes and surcharges ($350), and sales tax ($2,258), and the picture looks far different. Their total tax bill, including the AMT and payroll taxes: $78,276.
And costs assumed by the Joneses could be significantly higher if their circumstances changed. For example, if they worked for themselves, they would have to foot the bill for all their medical insurance premiums, which average $14,043. As it is, they pay 30% of the premiums, and their employers pay the rest.
The bottom line: For folks like the Joneses -- who live in high-tax, high-cost areas, who save for retirement and college, who pay for child care to enable them to earn two incomes and who pay higher prices for housing in top school districts -- $250,000 does not a rich family make.