Today, April 17th, 2017, is the deadline for everyone’s favorite annual activity: filing federal income taxes.
This year was a little different than normal for me as after my first pass through my taxes, I took an additional 10 hours to read through tax law concerning deductions and credits looking for anything I may be able to take that I might not have learned about in previous years.
Normally, I simply take the standard deduction (which is $6,350.00 this year). However, after my 10 hours of research, I found that I could take over $11,000.00 in deductions which meant that I could itemize deductions for the first time ever! (Yes, I really am so nerdy that I get excited about itemizing deductions. If you have any doubts about said nerdiness, see this post.)
In doing this process, one of the components of tax law I came across was that if one itemizes deductions, charitable donations of certain kinds of property can be claimed as a deduction and one has up to 5 years to claim those deductions if one could not claim them in previous tax years.
This provided to be of particular interest to me since I gave a car away back in 2014.
This got me rather excited so I swiftly went to work trying to determine the fair market value of the car at the time I donated it so that I could figure out how big of a deduction I could take.
After I arrived at a satisfying number, I continued my research on the subject now excited to get to claim a tax deduction for my good deed. However, I then ran into a snag – in order to claim the deduction, the car would need to have been given to a valid non-profit organization and I instead had simply given the car to a person in need.
I felt a tremendous sense of disappointment sweep over me as the prospect of the tax system rewarding my Good Samaritan activities was very appealing.
However, I then found myself toying with another idea:
What if I just fudged it?
In the time it takes a dog to steal a chicken wing off your plate when you’re not looking, my mind had already jumped into lawyer mode and assembled a comprehensive list of all the reasons why I should still take this deduction. If it would please the court your honor, here are my arguments in the case of Jeremy Potts vs A Minor Silly Tax Law Detail:
- Technically, I did still give the car away as a “charitable contribution” since I gave it to a person in need. The only difference here is that said person is not a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
- Odds are, people in my generation will never see social security despite paying thousands and thousands of dollars into the system. This is just a small way of getting a little bit of that money back.
- The government is incredibly wasteful with taxpayer’s money. Why should they get more money from me since they’ve proven they’re not responsible with it? If a teenager acted as irresponsibly with money as the federal government does, we would give that teenager less money, not more. This just helps keep some of the money in the hands of someone more responsible – namely, me.
- Large companies avoid billions of dollars in taxes every year through numerous corporate loopholes. If they actually paid those taxes, my tax rate would be much lower so this just helps level the playing field closer to what it should be anyway.
- The government budget operates in trillions of dollars. Accordingly, the couple hundred dollars in taxes I’ll avoid is so infinitesimal that the difference it will make in their budget is completely negligible.
With my case firmly in place, I found myself leaning more and more towards taking this deduction.
However, one small, nagging thought kept clinging to my mind like a stubborn snail refusing to leave the leaf it is adhered to:
If I do this, I will be taking the act of giving a car away, something that was good (ostensibly even very good) and now using it for evil.
That fact bothered me a great deal.
Capitalizing on my cognitive dissonance, God drove the point through with laser-like precision the next morning in my scripture reading.
That particular day, I “just so happened” (for further emphasis, you can imagine me making sarcastic air quotes while saying the preceding phrase) to be at the beginning of Proverbs 11. Here is what Proverbs 11:1 says:
“The LORD abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.”
That hits the nail pretty squarely on the head. Though my mind was trying to find all kinds of ways to disguise it in clever euphemisms, what I’m really talking about here is quite simple: cheating on my taxes.
The context around this verse I find rather interesting because much like with tax law, it has to do with commerce and business.
In the ancient world, people did not have serial boxes and soda cans, so they had to rely on something far more rudimentary for commerce – weighted stones & scales. In order to exchange certain goods with a merchant (like precious metals, flour, beans, etc), they would have to be weighed to find out how much is there. To do this, the good would be placed on a scale and balanced against a stone marked for a certain weight. So for example, suppose someone had some silver (that was not in coin form) and wanted to exchange it with a merchant. The merchant would place a stone of a certain marked weight on a scale and then the person would place silver on the other side of the scale until it was in balance. Then both the merchant and the buyer would both be able to agree that the buyer has a quantity of silver of equal weight to the marked stone, thus allowing commerce to proceed.
However, if a merchant wanted to make some extra money on each transaction, he could intentionally mislabel his weighted stones in order to rip someone off. So for example, suppose a merchant has a stone of marked weight 5 pounds. However, the actual weight of the stone is 5.5 pounds. This is a small enough difference that someone probably couldn’t tell simply by holding the stone. Then, suppose someone wants to offer the merchant 5 pounds of silver for some of his goods. When the merchant weighs the buyer’s silver on the scale, it will actually be 5.5 pounds of silver due to his mislabeled stone. Accordingly, when the person pays the merchant 5 pounds of silver, the merchant will instead receive 5.5 pounds of silver even though the buyer thought he was only giving him 5 pounds of silver.
Thus, when Solomon observed this kind of activity, he then penned Proverbs 11:1 saying “The LORD abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.”
In other words, God doesn’t like people transacting commerce in dishonest ways.
However, this is exactly what I was considering doing – I was considering taking the charitable contribution of the car I gave away and weighing it dishonestly. According to the tax law (even if I think the law is silly), the weight of giving a car away to a person is $0.00 in terms of a deduction. However, I was considering giving it a very different weight in terms of the dollar value of the deduction.
That, quite simply, is a dishonest scale.
Thankfully, with the rather poignant reminder from God, I did not take this item as a deduction when filing my taxes and yet I still ended up with over $11,000.00 of legitimate deductions. Almost as if God were saying “See, you don’t need to be dishonest prosper financially. The path of honesty yields good fruit.”
Maybe you too have found yourself tempted to weigh something dishonestly. Maybe it is with your taxes. Perhaps it is with a business deal where you could change a couple things to benefit you that no one would notice. Maybe it is in dealing with money with family members. If you find yourself feeling tempted, don’t feel guilty just because of that – even Jesus was tempted to sin in every way (Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet he was without sin).
However, don’t let temptation get the final say. Instead, let wisdom have the last word in the courtroom of your mind. Or as Proverbs 13:11 says:
Wealth gained dishonestly dwindles away, but whoever works diligently increases his prosperity.