Ever feel like Uncle Sam deserves a little something extra for the effort? Oh sure, Americans already pay an average of about $8,000 in federal income taxes per year, but how about slipping in a fiver for that “fighting for freedom abroad, defending freedom at home” thing, or tossing a bit of spare change into the Treasury’s tip jar to say, “Hey, the Constitution — nice job with that.” Or maybe not.
With the April 15 deadline for filing tax returns only days away, many taxpayers would rather jab a few extra dimes under their toenails than give them to the tax man. But a few citizens are happy to pay their due, then add a little gravy. Actually, some add quite a bit of gravy. Last year, a taxpayer sent in a gift of $640,000. Another wrote a check for $375,368.46. The cash goes to the Gifts to the U.S. Fund, overseen by the U.S. Treasury. “It’s true, we receive all sorts of letters. Some want to give money to specific things, some just want to say thanks,” said Jean Carl, spokeswoman for the Internal Revenue Service in Denver. “One came with a note saying it was ‘simply as a token expression of my gratitude and love for this blessed land.’” But don’t start singing “America the Beautiful” yet. These do-gooders are an exception to the rule. Of the roughly 130 million tax returns filed in 2004, just one dozen intentionally slipped Uncle Sam something extra. A few, such as the six-figure checks, were pretty hefty; most were way more modest. One person sent in $30. Another gave $5. The 12 gifts added up to just more than $1 million, which hardly makes up for the estimated $250 billion people shortchange the IRS each year. In 2003, the feds received gifts for 19 cents, 42 cents, and 89 cents. They arrived as pennies and other coins taped to letters explaining that the money was found on the street. Usually, people write in to support a cause. “They want their money to go to rebuild the Pentagon, or to go to the soldiers,” said Vivian Cooper, director of the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Accounting and Services Division in Washington, D.C. “Unfortunately, we can’t do anything specific.” The Treasury can’t promise that money will go where requested. Instead, the cash from the fund is tossed into the nearly $2.5 trillion federal budget where it could pay for anything from soybean subsidies to Sen. Ted Kennedy’s salary to secret containment facilities for extraterrestrials. In 2002, after the Sept. 11 attacks, people contributed more than $5 million to the Gifts Fund. In 2003, with the nation on edge over Martha Stewart’s indictment and Britney Spears kissing Madonna, the take was less than $200,000. Not everybody chips in out of pure patriotism. The Treasury also has a fund for the guilt-ridden. The Conscience Fund, set up for people who have cheated on taxes or stolen from the government, brought in $12,252.55 last year. One person gave $5,370. One gave $7.65. “Who knows,” Cooper said of the smaller gift. “Maybe the person became Christian and had to make things right. That happens a lot. We get letters from people all the time saying they stole a stapler or something in 1965.” One note read, “Dear Internal Revenue Service, I have not been able to sleep at night because I cheated on last year’s income tax. Enclosed find a cashier’s check for $1,000. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send you the balance.” For every person who ‘fesses up, more stay mum. The “tax gap,” which measures how much people pay in income taxes versus what the law says they should pay, has been growing for years — even as U.S. flag bumper stickers and public displays of patriotism have risen. “There’s a growing view that while America is good, government is bad, government is inefficient, and the best thing people can do is make it smaller,” said Eugene Miller, assistant director of the Center on Philanthropy at the City University of New York. People on the whole are generous, he said. Individuals in the United States donate to various causes to the tune of about $180 billion a year. “But the days of civic pride when we admired the great things government could do are gone. . . . Now we just have a natural aversion to paying taxes,” Miller said. People who want to slide Uncle Sam a little token of gratitude, whether they still believe in the potential of big government or not, can take comfort in this: Their gift to the United States is tax deductible. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0223 or firstname.lastname@example.org FEEL LIKE TIPPING THE FEDS? In addition to the Gifts to the U.S. Fund, the Treasury has other venues for donations. You can send a check to: Gifts to the U. S. Fund or the Conscience Fund U.S. Department of the Treasury Credit Accounting Branch 3700 East-West Highway, Room 6D37 Hyattsville, MD 20782 Donations to the Gifts Fund are tax deductible. Those made to the Conscience Fund are not. Gifts to Reduce Debt Held by the Public Fund Bureau of the Public Debt Dept. G Bureau of Public Debt P.O. Box 2188 Parkersburg, WV 26106-2188 Checks made out to the Bureau of Public Debt can also be mailed in with this year’s tax return.