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Help Your Kids Understand Taxes

At some point, your kids have probably watched you:

  • Mumble under your breath (or louder!) as you work on your April taxes
  • Gripe about how much tax disappears from your paycheck
  • Make a not-so-nice comment about sales tax added to your purchases

Sound familiar?

Taxes can be an irritation, for sure. However, it’s also important to remember—and to help our kids understand—that a lot of our tax money goes to helpful services from which we all benefit. Here are some ways to help your kids understand just what taxes are all about:

Play the “Who Pays For It?” Game

Keep the tax concept super-simple for young kids. Whenever you see a fire truck whiz by, or pass a favorite park or community swimming pool, ask your kids: “Who do you think pays for firefighters to help us?” or “Who pays for our swimming pool to stay clean and have lifeguards?”

The answer is “Us! Everyone who lives in our town helps pay for those great services and places. A little bit of the money we make from our job is automatically paid to our city/county/state. That money is called ‘taxes.’” (Now, don’t you feel a little bit better about paying taxes when you think of the money that way, too?)

Create a Family Tax

Financial expert Neale Godfrey, president and CEO of GreenStreet Commons, suggests a Family Tax as a hands-on way to help middle-school and older kids start understanding taxes. When you give your kids their allowances or pay them for extra chores, require that a small portion of the money (maybe 5%) be set aside in the Family Tax jar. You (the grownups) may want to add some funds to it, too.

Every few months, make a point of spending Family Tax money on something that benefits everyone in your tribe. One suggestion: A family pass to the pool, zoo or local science museum. The idea is to help your kids see that taxes do useful things.

Review Your Teen’s Paycheck

Once your kid starts working, taxes will quickly become a reality. They’ll undoubtedly wonder why they’re losing so much of their paychecks to taxes. At this point, Godfrey suggests explaining a bit more about tax brackets, Social Security withholding (FICA) and more. A few sites that might help: IRS Understanding Taxes and IRS Tax Form Simulations.

By the way, unless your teen is making a ton of money (check IRS Publication 929), you might want to help them fill out a W-4 form. That way, they can claim that they’re exempt from federal and local taxes (line 7). The result: your teen will be able keep more money from their paycheck and not have to wait for a tax refund in the spring.

However, your kids should fill out tax returns even if they don’t owe the government any money. Read more about At What Income Does a Minor Have to Fill Out an Income Tax Return?

 

(photo courtesy © Chris Potter cc2.0)