I have serious ethical issues with paying taxes to the US government, given the number of civilian death raised by the US gov military activities and destructive political interference abroad.

This issue has caused so much pain for me that I have trouble sleeping at night feeling guilty for the innocent lives being taken by the military to whose budget I contributed through paying my taxes. However, since I'm a legal alien staying in the US under visa (not green card), I'm really afraid of the consequences of refusing to pay my taxes (Plus, I also think it's unethical if I don't pay the part that is used for legitimate constructive expenses of the society I live in).

What's the best way to be a legal tax resister in this situation (considering that I'm not a US citizen or permanent resident)? Is it possible to pay 0 $ in taxes if I donate as much money as I'd have to pay in taxes?

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    What about the portion of your taxes that pays for beneficial services, like keeping roads maintained and emergency services? Do you dispute paying them as well? Bearing in mind you can't control what portion of your taxes goes where. – Roy Aug 10 at 9:55
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    @Roy the original question literally answers that. The OP says they think it is unethical not to pay the parts that are used for (what they consider to be) legitimate reasons. – Vicky Aug 10 at 10:53
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    You should strongly think about moving to a country which you consider to be morally upright. – RonJohn Aug 10 at 11:48
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    If I remember correctly, charitable deductions are limited to 50% of AGI with the excess being carried forward to the next year. – Dilip Sarwate Aug 10 at 12:13
  • @DilipSarwate: it has been 50% AGI for the normal case (cash to 501c3) but less (30% or 20%) for certain cases, like fraternal organizations or capital-gain stock. With carryforward, as you say. TCJA increases the normal case to 60% this year, but I haven't found a source on whether the other cases change. – dave_thompson_085 Aug 10 at 21:09

Assuming that you really are required to pay US income tax (e.g., you meet the "substantial presence" test), there is not an effective way to resist. Even for permanent residents and citizens, taxes are among the most inexorably enforced laws (Ben Franklin had something to say about that). To give some possibly constructive perspective:

  1. You should consider the distaste you have for paying US taxes as a factor in the choices you make in where to live and work -- i.e., it is part of the price you must pay for whatever advantages you obtain from your current situation.

  2. While donating to charity will not reduce your taxes dollar for dollar, it will reduce them to some extent, which should give you extra motivation to donate. Moreover, all legal tax avoidance techniques that people pursue out of self-interest could serve an added ethical purpose for you. But donations could be especially useful for your concerns because you could target them to groups that try to directly ameliorate what you see as harms done by your tax dollars. Yes, this would leave you with less money to live on, but if you feel strongly about it, you could probably offset a good bit.

Your question is about resisting taxes, but your motivation appears to be based on the morals/ethics of US military force used overseas. Furthermore you want to "pay the part that is used for legitimate constructive expenses of the society I live in".

So there are a few things to break down here. First - the US military is a federal entity, so you should have no issues paying state and local income taxes, property taxes, sales tax, etc., which are all used to pay for infrastructure and services that benefit the area in which they were collected.

What about federal income tax? Well, consider that it doesn't all go to the military and even the portion that does go to the military isn't used solely for warmongering, it also provides for the defense of the United States.

So the ethical dilemma of your federal tax dollars going towards military action that you don't agree with, only accounts for only a small portion of your tax bill each year. This doesn't seem like a good reason to not pay your tax bill. Especially considering (as others have noted) you can't specify to the IRS which part of your tax bill you've decided not to include in your remittance.

What you can do, if you disagree with the current military strategy, is to contact your US representative and senators (paid for with your tax dollars btw) and let them know. Ultimately, it is they who decide how federal tax dollars get spent. And they represent everyone in their respective constituencies - citizens and aliens alike.

This is what it means to live in a democracy - you don't get the final decision on how every little aspect of the country is operated, but you do at least get to have a say. After having your say, you are expected to live by the rules that were decided by the elected representatives. The alternative, where everyone lives by their own rules and ignores the majority, well that's called anarchy.

Income made in the United States is taxable in the United States.

What's more, you are a guest in this country, and presumably, you choose to be here. This means a few things.

  • Unlike US citizens, when you leave and earn money elsewhere, you will not owe taxes to the US.
  • You're here for a reason. Obviously when you stack up all the pros and cons (and you certainly do subconsciously), you prefer to be here rather than leave. That is already a fact. This is one place where most people lie to themselves to some degree: they say they consider only a few factors, but in fact they consider all of them. This results in a values conflict, which is the actual source of this pain.
  • Another values conflict is that you actively agreed to follow our rules when you were admitted as a guest. Now you don't want to keep your agreement. Your words and actions don't align, which means you can't be trusted, or even trust yourself, which is the bigger problem. Ouch.
  • By amazing coincidence, your "heroic act of civil disobedience" mostly benefits you. Hmm.

When your words and actions do not align, it means you are not integral as a person. You are bifurcated. It's hard to be successful that way. You end up being a leaf blown in the wind by the emotion-of-the-hour.

How to get out of this

  1. Comply with US laws. Period. Because your word is good.
  2. Get a big sheet of paper and write out all the pro's and cons of
    • Staying in the US
    • Going home
    • Emigrating to a third country, allowing your good and lawful behavior in the US to recommend you
  3. Search your soul. Let yourself think about this for quite some time, and go to pains to be absolutely complete with every angle, even "unspeakable" ones. This is for no one but yourself.
  4. Consider everything -- decide on a plan of action that is morally right for you.
  5. Execute that plan. And sleep well - you won't need to think about it again, unless some new, external facts appear.

I recently read a blog post about someone who supposedly is a successful legal tax resister, and who has written a book about how to legally resist tax. The author of the blog post has also written a slightly broader book on the same topic area.

The books (which I have no experience of, so please do not treat this as a recommendation) are:
- 99 Tactics of Successful Tax Resistance Campaigns
- Basics of Resistance: The Practical Freedomista, Book I

I would definitely caution that you should probably read these books with an appropriately skeptical and pragmatic mindset. Many of the commonly cited tax resistance tactics are outright illegal (falling under tax evasion rather than tax avoidance) and many may subject you to penalties from the IRS. See here and here for more information.

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    I'd note that "successful tax resister" tends to just mean "hasn't been caught yet". A lot of them (and sovereign citizens) mistake the slowness of government to mean they've escaped its notice entirely. – ceejayoz Aug 10 at 12:34
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    According to his quote in the blog post, it sure sounds like he avoids paying taxes the only legal way: by having a taxable income so low that no taxes are due. – stannius Aug 10 at 15:02
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    Could you include some of the actual ideas in your post? Otherwise this looks like a longer than normal link-only answer. – Ganesh Sittampalam Aug 10 at 18:57

A religious group called the Quakers has objected to paying "war tax" (the part of their taxes that goes to the military) for a very long time. It grew from the "conscientious objector" position of not going to war. Here's an article that says it happened in the 18th century as well as the 19th and 20th. It mentions something called the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act which appears to be a way to allow you to pay the equivalent amount into a fund so you're not funding the military. It doesn't appear likely to become a law in the US.

A similar bill did appear to go to Parliament in the UK. My guess is that nothing came of it, but you could do some research on that. There have been many more tries in Canada but without success; some people do contribute to a fund but in the end the tax people end up collecting the full amount.

The only people who manage not to pay any taxes are those who earn almost no income. If you can opt out of the military-industrial complex by growing your own food, sewing your own clothes and so on, you will need less earned income and may pay no income tax at all. Most people are not willing to do this in order to withdraw support from the military. And of course this would mean you were not supporting libraries, roads, and so on.

Is it possible to pay 0 $ in taxes if I donate as much money as I'd have to pay in taxes?

To pay zero taxes, you would have to just before the end of the year (and don't wait until 11:00 PM on December 31st or you might make a very expensive mistake) do the following: Make sure that all your deductions on schedule A zero out all your taxable income.

  • Watch the rules because there are limits regarding charitable deductions, and if you go over they carryover into the next year.
  • Also make sure the state and local income tax limits in the new tax law don't cause you to miss your goals.

If you miss the goal by a small amount you can put money into a regular deductible IRA. The good news is that the deadline for the IRA contribution is the day taxes would be due. Of course in the future the money you pull out of the IRA will likely be taxable so this might not be a good plan.

Remember if the tax form before taking into account charitable deductions shows that you will have to pay $10,000 in income taxes you can't just have deductions equal to $10,000. You must have deductions to remove income that would cause a $10,000 shift in taxes. That means the deductions required will be many multiples of $10,000.

  • (1) TCJA's new $10k 'SALT' limit is on all deductible state&local taxes: income or sales, and property. (2) OP doesn't indicate how far they are from age 70.5, but at that age (if the law hasn't changed) you can donate up to $100k per year directly from a (trad = pretax) IRA to charity tax-free. – dave_thompson_085 Aug 10 at 21:10

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