'Freedom Day'? Pick One that Suits You


Every year, the National Tax Foundation announces how many days it takes the average American family to complete paying for its federal, state and local taxes.

Last year's Tax Freedom Day was May 5.

I called the organization's Washington headquarters last week to find out this year's date. The very polite receptionist told me that I would have to wait until tomorrow, the day federal income tax returns are due, to find out.

Despite my best groveling, she would not reveal the date. She wouldn't even tell me if the day the average American finished paying his taxes would be earlier or later than last year's.

In the midst of my pleadings, I wondered: When did the Sullam family celebrate Tax Freedom Day?

Sitting down with my tax return, a calendar from last year and my handy Texas Instruments calculator -- model BA-35, with more keys than I need or can use -- I spent a morning figuring out this intriguing question.

My method was rather simple. I divided our total adjusted gross income as reported on Form 1040 by 365 days. (Since I am always on the job -- thinking, talking and arguing about news -- I decided to count every day of the year as a workday.)

Thanks to modern technology, I determined our household's daily income down to five decimal places and was able to complete this sophisticated quantitative analysis in one morning.

I can now report my findings.

It took my household 113.047242 days -- or until April 22 at about 1:08 a.m. last year -- to pay for our 1994 federal and state income taxes, local property taxes, Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes.

Compared with the National Tax Foundation's figure, it looks like the Sullam family finished 13 days ahead of the national average. reassuring to know that we are above average in this category.

Thanks to the wonders of semiconductors and microcircuitry, I was able to complete an even more detailed analysis of our tax bill.

Late in the evening on Feb. 16 -- 47.791545 days into the year -- we finally paid our federal taxes. Exactly 19.620663 days later -- on March 7, shortly before noon -- we completed our payment to Maryland Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein for our state income and local piggyback tax. To pay our local property tax, it took another 16 days.

The real surprise was that my wife and I worked a few hours short of 30 days to cover our Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes, or twice as long as we did to pay our property taxes.

(I may throw out this little factoid the next time I hear the specious argument from retired people that they are burdened with paying property taxes for an education system they don't use. If current projections are accurate, my wife and I won't be collecting anything from the Social Security system because it will be insolvent about a decade before we retire.)

In fact, my wife and I worked longer -- 3.2 days -- to cover our Medicare withholding than to cover our share of Blue Cross-Blue Shield premiums.

My curiosity got the better of me with this little exercise. Since I had my tax return and checkbook in front of me, I decided to find out how many days I had to work to cover my monthly mortgage payments to Carrollton Bank and reach "Mortgage Freedom Day."

A few taps on the calculator, and presto, I got my answer: 38.824 days, which meant we had to work until May 30 to cover our house payments.

We had to work also another two days to cover the cost of our homeowner's insurance.

What about "GEICO Freedom Day" -- the day I no longer have to pay car insurance? That wonderful day didn't arrive until June 9.

"Car Payment Freedom Day" arrived last year five days after we celebrated the 218th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and our nation's declaration of freedom from Great Britain's tyranny.

Unfortunately, I was still laboring under the tyranny of my bills.

It was close to Bastille Day -- French Independence Day -- when I celebrated "BGE Freedom Day."

I didn't have the patience to figure out my out-of-pocket expenses for doctor and dentist visits, but I made a couple of calculations comparing my earnings with some of the fees physicians charged my children and wife last year.

To pay for a trip to the pediatrician's office for a three-minute ear examination and prescription of antibiotics cost our family nearly one hour of work. The annual checkups for my two daughters cost almost two-thirds of a day's income.

These revelations were too depressing, and I didn't calculate the cost of my wife's annual mammogram or the total cost of her visits to the allergist. I am only guessing, but I am sure I worked through July to cover my medical co-payments and deductibles.

"Giant Food Freedom Day" came in mid-September. "Hecht's, Sears and Jos. A. Bank Freedom Day" arrived by the first week of October.

Car repairs and maintenance added 13.675911 days to my personal spending calendar.

I knew it was a mistake to add up our monthly Visa charges. By the time I reached the total, I realized that I had run out of dates in 1994.

I am afraid I may never reach "Visa Freedom Day."

Brian Sullam is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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