Steven Walters: Ten tax facts as you face April 15 filing deadline

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Steven Walters
Monday, February 24, 2014

By April 15, more than 2.9 million of us will have intimate moments with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue. By filing our 2013 personal income taxes, we're sharing 12 months of our financial wins, losses and near-misses.

Look up from that pile of W2s, summary of interest paid from your mortgage lender, stack of doctor and dental receipts, copy of your property tax bill, and statements of charitable deductions.

Time for 10 facts about Wisconsin's individual income tax.

Q: Will I get a bigger refund this year than last year? If so, why?

A: Yes. Most taxpayers will get bigger income tax refunds this spring.

Here's why: Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans who control the Legislature cut income taxes when they passed the state budget last June.

But there was no change in tax withholding tables, so you didn't see that tax cut in your paychecks last year. Instead, you'll see that tax cut with a bigger refund this spring.

Q: But hasn't Walker ordered changes to withholding tables? What's up with that?

A: Yes, the governor has ordered the state Revenue Department to revise withholding tables, starting April 1, so less will be taken from your paychecks after that. It's the first change in withholding tables since 2009.

How much more you'll see in take-home pay depends on how much you earn. But Revenue Secretary Rick Chandler uses this example: If your total household income is about $80,000 a year, you'll get an extra $58 per month in take-home pay.

That's the good news.

The bad news: Getting more money in your paychecks will lower your spring 2015 tax refund, although Chandler estimates that three out of every four taxpayers will still get refunds next year.

The lower spring 2015 refunds come after the November elections, however. Capitol politicians want you to see more take-home pay before the Nov. 4 election.

Q: I prefer to keep getting the biggest spring 2015 tax refund possible. Can I keep my withholding where it is—and not get more in take-home pay after April 1?

A: Yes. Chandler said in a WisconsinEye interview that all you have to do is fill out a Department of Revenue form your employer has, indicate that you don't want your current withholding adjusted, and that request will be honored.

Q: Now that I've made a first pass through our tax documents, I see how much our family made last year. What was the average income of Wisconsin income taxpayers in 2012?

A: According to a State Revenue Department summary, 2.94 million income tax returns were filed in 2012, and they reported taxable income of $150 billion. The 2.94 million included all categories of filers—married filing jointly, single filers and heads of households.

Per-taxpayer income averaged $50,959 in 2012.

Q: But how many taxpayers filed returns to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit that helps low-income single parents, or other tax breaks, and ended up not owing any income taxes in 2012?

A: Of the 2.94 million filers, 902,240—or 30.6 percent—had no tax liability that year.

Q: I'm curious: How many of my fellow taxpayers reported taxable incomes of more than $1 million in 2012?

A: The DOR summary said 5,320 taxpayers reported taxable incomes of more than $1 million in 2012—a 35 percent increase from 2011. Those 5,320 taxpayers reported taxable income that totaled $15.28 billion, or average taxable income of $2.87 million per taxpayer.

Q: How much in income taxes did those millionaires pay?

A: About $992 million, or 14 percent of the $6.98 billion in total income taxes paid in 2012. That means each millionaire paid an average of $187,909 in Wisconsin income taxes that year.

Q: All those millionaires paid income taxes, right?

A: Actually, no. Of the 5,320 taxpayers who reported $1 million-plus taxable incomes, 40 paid no income taxes in 2012.

Q: All this talk about Wisconsin's “middle class.” How much did they pay in income taxes in 2012?

A: Let's define “middle class” taxpayers as those with taxable incomes of between $30,000 and $80,000 in 2012.

The DOR report says 947,300—or about one out of every three taxpayers—reported taxable incomes in that range. They reported incomes that totaled $47.8 million, or $50,480 per taxpayer.

And, they paid $1.46 billion in income taxes, or 21 percent of all income taxes collected.

One last fact: The overall net income tax rate was 4.6 percent in 2012.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Email stevenscwalters@gmail.com.

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