back to article America was founded on a dislike of taxes, so how did it get the IRS?

Welcome again to the eXpat files, our now-occasional visit with readers who've moved to a new land in search of adventure, sunshine and, in the case of this week's chap, bewildering and labyrinthine tax and credit regulations. The chap in question is David Hough, currently resident in Newark, California (not New Jersey). David …

  1. NormDP

    One of the great myths that America has claimed over Communism is that in the US you can own property. Nonsense. If you think you own it? Stop paying taxes on it. See how long you own it. You own your shirt -- nobody can make a claim on it -- but you don't own your house or anything other real property.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      +1

      The difference is in communism the government owns your ass, in capitalism corporations own your ass. In a mixed economy you're a pass around.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Stop paying taxes on it. "

      One of the sci-fi writers** based a novel on the inability of city house owners to pay their taxes. When they defaulted the city took their house - so they left the city.

      Consequently the number of tax payers kept diminishing and the taxes on them rose higher - until the city owned every property. As the houses were unsaleable and empty then the city had no tax income and was effectively bankrupt

      Seems like something similar happened to Detroit recently.

      **Probably Clifford Simak's "City" 1952.

      1. Joe Gurman

        Except.... wrong.

        People left Detroit because jobs in the city and in towns adjacent to the city vaporized as the automotive industry packed up and left for overseas and non-unionized or less unionized ares in the American South. They couldn't afford to pay property taxes, or keep their homes from falling apart, because they had no money. The city would have been bankrupt and empty regardless of its sources of income because no one could afford to live there who needed a job to make ends meet.

    3. chivo243 Silver badge

      Nail -> Head -> Spot on.

      Years ago my parents paid off their mortgage. And I remember my dad bitching about still having to pay to live in "HIS" house, yes in Amerika property taxes suck!

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Another big difference, in the UK your home is your castle. Here you have condo-fees if you live in a flat or townhouse (block of houses/maisonette) which can be $3-500/month to pay for the general building stuff and you can be hit for massive $50-100K bills if they discover something major wrong with the building.

        Even if you have your own home in the suburbs there will be a Home Owners Association who can set rules on how your house looks and fine you if you don't comply. Surprisingly for such an ethnic melting pot it is often used to make sure that the wrong sort of people don't get to stay long in your neighbourhood.

        1. John Miles

          re: Here you have condo-fees if you live in a flat or townhouse

          UK has similar - it is called Leasehold - flat I was renting in was about £1,200 a year maintenance charges and you can get with big bills - Most flats in UK are Leasehold, though there may be more protection for leaseholders in UK

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: re: Here you have condo-fees if you live in a flat or townhouse

            Leasehold always used to be pretty cheap though, I paid £100/year ground rent and a few quid for external lighting/etc in the UK.

            Here even ordinary flats come with hefty fees and I get the impression that the property developer regards these as the profit margin. If the place has a gym or outside pool then the fees can end up being 50% on top of the rent/mortgage. It's enough that the mortgage companies take it into account when working out how much they will lend you.

            1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
              Headmaster

              Re: re: Here you have condo-fees if you live in a flat or townhouse

              The good news is that you get to write your property taxes off your federal income tax. So if you are throwing down $15K on property taxes, and you are in the 28% federal bracket, you get over $4K off your federal taxes.

        2. RainbowTrout

          Not all developments have HOAs (such as mine). You do lose out though in not having a neighbourhood swimming pool or club house which the HOA fees pay for.

          1. MrXavia

            Re: Council Tax

            Yes, But if you can't pay, i.e. are unemployed, only students live there, generally you don't pay it, there are plenty of exceptions to the rule.. in theory that pays for all the council services, Fire/police/bins etc..

            in theory road tax pays to fix the roads (yeah when do they ever do that?)

        3. Tom 13

          Re: there will be a Home Owners Association

          Only if you live in one of the People's Republics. My parents house has no Home Owners Association. Problem is, the maggots that live in the People's Republics keep moving out because they don't like them, then vote to impose People's Republic rules in their new location. Kalifornia is one of the prime examples of this behavior.

      2. Number6

        The UK has council tax - vaguely related to the value of the house in the distant past. Cambridgeshire is charging about half a percent of current value, others may vary. However, I'm not sure they can confiscate your house for non-payment, so it's not quite as bad as the US.

        The US system has some things in its favour though - starting from the date of last sale, California property tax is assessed as 1% of that value, and it increases by a nominal amount each year. That way, you buy a house knowing what it's going to cost you in future years. It also means that if you bought a house dirt-cheap many years ago and it's now worth several million, you're not expected to pay property tax based on its current value, over which you have no real control. This is way better than a mansion tax which will hit people who may have very few assets other than a house with a hugely inflated value. As with council tax, it's distributed locally.

        1. Joe Gurman

          Each state differs in how it bases its property taxes

          Outside of the Bay Area join California and few other tho property markets, the annual property tax on anything short of a real mansion is much less than $14K.

          In most states, the rate is something on the order of 1% of assessed values, with assessments being arrive out every three years based not he sale prices of similar homes in the area. If house prices have dropped precipitously, as they did in the US after 2007, one can generally apply for a reassessment, which if granted, results in much lower tax bills.

          Many states also have "homesteader" rules, that prevent the absolute rise in property tax bills from exceeding some percentage (say 10%) if you've lived in the home for a few years.

      3. Joe Gurman

        Nail -> head - missed totally.

        I paid off my mortgage in the US 12 years ago, and still enjoy police and fire protection, the higher property values that come with a decent if not stellar educational system, a good public parks and recreation system, and a public library system. And they even occasionally patch the potholes on the roads. They can do all that because other homeowners and I pay our property taxes. Time for some people to grow up and realize their homes would be worth nothing if they lived someplace where no one could afford to pay the property taxes (q.v. Detroit).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Nail -> head - missed totally.

          My town is actually very good about potholes, plowing, parks, drinking water, and hopefully broadband soon. I don't have a problem with paying property tax. It's not the fairest but it's simple and non-intrusive.

          The IRS and the state income/sales taxes, on the other hand, require mountains of paperwork and as discussed below, are really starting to undermine basic human rights worldwide. These taxes were banned by the US constitution for good reason. Unfortunately those protections were trashed in WW1 and we're still suffering 100 years later. WTF.

    4. John Miles

      Or even just have someone have drugs in it

      Judging from use of Civil forfeiture I have heard

    5. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      See also

      Eminent domain: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eminent_domain#United_States

    6. lambda_beta
      Linux

      Facts Please

      First off, property taxes are levied by the town ... not the state or the federal government. The amount you pay depends on two factors:

      1. The accessed value of you house.

      2. A percentage based on the assessed value (usually some % per $1000).

      The town can manipulate either one to get to the amount you have to pay in property taxes.

      The IRS has nothing to do with this.

      1. Tom 13

        Re:The IRS has nothing to do with this.

        Yes and no. No, the IRS doesn't directly have anything to do with. Yes, being able to deduct house taxes from your federal taxes encourages non-federal taxing entities to boost their take from property taxes.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Buying houses

    If the whole house buying price has to be put in escrow in cash before the deal is complete - how does a chain of buyers work? It is my understanding that in the UK several lawyers close all the chain's transactions simultaneously.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Buying houses

      The whole process here is much faster.

      Make an offer (in writing and binding with a big penalty) then typically complete in less than a week. It's a bit of a rush to get inspections booked and paper work faxed to the bank but it means you don't have months long process that falls apart because somebody in the chain drops out and no gazumping.

      Some places have a rule that all contracts exchange on the first of the month (as do all rental contracts) which makes getting a mover or even a uhaul van tricky.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    House prices

    If one compares the South East of the UK then the quoted house prices are not much different. There are many places in the UK where house prices are a lot cheaper - but no doubt if you compare like with like then there are similar spreads in the USA.

    The big difference may be that you can't commute easily between areas because of the distances in the USA?

    1. phil dude
      Boffin

      Re: House prices

      @AC: There is a vast amount of land in the US, and they build almost a million new houses EVERY month!!! That is the big difference with the UK. House building is not encouraged as land is in (artficial) short supply.

      Distances are greater, but the interstates are far more likely to connect places you want to be, than not. In fact a very cool thing they have been doing (well in the East) is every exit has a list of amenities (Food, Gas, Lodging, Attractions etc..) approaching the exit ramps.

      P.

      1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

        Re: House prices

        Not a million houses a month. Current new home construction rates in the U.S. are about 1 million ANNUALLY.

      2. Rainer

        Re: House prices

        There's a lot of land available here in Switzerland, too - but most people realize that commuting 4h a day is a waste of life!

        What point is there about owning a house when you only see it in the dark?

        A former co-worker moved (back) to the US and now works for TFB. His commute is something like 2h. One way.

        That's insane. I'm 25 minutes from work. By bike.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: House prices

      One of the problems with SF is that there is a desire to keep the place low rise and low density. So high demand and low supply = prices rise (the policy is set by voters = property owners)

      In Houston there is 300mi of empty land between Houston and San Antonio which is being filled with suburbs as fast as the concrete can set, prices are low but you have to sit in movie grade traffic jams.

      And distances are bigger, you can commute to London from Yorkshire. You can't commute to SF from Detroit. I'm guessing that >50% of the UK population live in comutting distances to London?

      1. Fibbles

        Re: House prices

        I'm guessing that >50% of the

        UK population live in comutting

        distances to London?

        I laughed. Sometimes it takes me an hour just to travel 10 miles. London is 100 miles away.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: House prices

          There are big versions of Thomas the Tank engine. I know people from York that commute into London and the government wants to spend a gazillion quid on making Birmingham a London suburb

          1. Fibbles

            Re: House prices

            Have you seen the cost of train fares lately? Sod that.

            1. AndrueC Silver badge
              Thumb Up

              Re: House prices

              Have you seen the cost of train fares lately? Sod that.

              Meh, it's not that bad from some places. I live in South Northants (rural area in the UK for those who don't know). I can get to a train station on the Chiltern line in 15 minutes. From there it's £452 a month for the journey to London and parking is £99. So that's about £26 to get to Marylebone and back. It'd be going on for £20 if you went by car and that's not allowing much for parking or congestion charges. I think it'd be worth £10 just to avoid having to deal with the M25 and London traffic. And Chiltern run a very reliable service which usually has enough room for most people to find a seat.

              Birmingham (second biggest city for those who don't know) is cheaper - about £15 per day. Journey times for me are about 90 minutes door to door in both cases. I did the trip to B'ham for 14 months until earlier this year. In fact I'll give a shout out to any of my ex- travelling companions. I got out just before the line was blocked - literally one day before, lol.

        2. Pedigree-Pete

          @ Fibbles Re: House prices

          I think you'll find that is pronounce "That made I larf" around these parts.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: House prices

        "I'm guessing that >50% of the UK population live in comutting distances to London?"

        Broadly speaking yes. The train journey from the West Midlands to London is about an hour and ten, I'd say that's a practical limit of commuting when combined with the feeder/destination journeys. Taking the West Midlands and all closer regions (London, South East, East) and you have 46% of the mainland population. Those in the more outlying reaches of the West Midlands may complain that it can't be done, but that 46% doesn't include the nether reaches of the South West region (like Swindon) or or the East Midlands (like Leicester).

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Taxes etc

    There was an article a while back about people considered eligible for USA tax have to submit returns even when they have moved to another country. Preparing the paperwork answer can cost much more than any tax due.

    Apparently the slightest association with the country can result in you being considered a tax payer even when you have moved back to your country?

    Still it is better than the 1960/70s when British people with a Green Card were drafted to Vietnam or classed as deserters. One colleague worked there for a year and escaped while his call-up papers were in the post.

    1. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: Taxes etc

      As an American living abroad, I can say the paperwork I must do for the IRS is crazy. I don't have to pay any taxes, but just the paperwork involved in "notifying" them is extreme. Speaking of which, what is the date? Crap, late again!?

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Taxes etc

      You generally end up doping a tax return for the year after you leave - but probably end up getting some money back! US citizens have to file every year even if they have never lived in the country.

      The problem is that US politicians reward their sort of people with specific rules/loopholes. So if you just fill in the boxes you pay a lot more tax. Even regular working people end up getting a big chunk off (mortgage interest is deductable, so is any money borrowed for investing). For people on software developer salaries you need accountants to start doing "MP expenses" level of tax-avoidance.

      ps. Remember we conscripted a bunch of people for WWII and then told them they weren't citizens - like Spike Miligan. Not to mention the millions of Indian soldiers forced to fight for their "mother country"

      1. Nifty

        Re: Taxes etc

        Does that mean dipping the tax return in a special sauce so that it all comes out right?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Taxes etc (Spike Milligan)

        Err, Spike Milligan wasn't exactly the same situation. He was from a British army family, and was born in India "on the regimental strength", to a father who had been born in Ireland when it was part of the UK (I don't recall where his mother was born). They had returned to Britain when his father left the army, and were living in London when the war began. He expected to serve during the general conscription, and joined up willingly when conscripted.

        His treatment after the war, when he was denied a British passport, was a disgrace.

        1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

          Re: Re: Taxes etc (Spike Milligan)

          "Willingly?!"

          Alright, Milligan did exaggerate for comic effect in his memoirs but he certainly wasn't beating down the door of the recruiting office.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Taxes etc (Spike Milligan)

            Well, when you put it like that, willingly was probably the wrong word!

            I haven't read his memoirs in a while, but from memory he had injured himself when his callup papers came through, and reported late (with a doctor's note or somesuch permitting it). He wasn't beating the door down to the recruiting office, but nor was he hiding under the bed waiting for MPs to come round and drag him into the street.

            So he answered the draft, unlike the friend of my father, who was working in New York state in the 1960s when he received notice he was eligible to be drafted for Vietnam. He drove to Canada the same night, and his wife arranged for their belongings to be shipped back to the UK.

            And, to reiterate the other point, the way the British Government treated Milligan (and others in similar positions) following the war, by denying passports to people who had risked their lives to fight, was disgraceful.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Taxes etc

        "Not to mention the millions of Indian soldiers forced to fight for their "mother country""

        I think you'll find that the the Indian forces were volunteers, and that conscription was never used.

    3. Chris Fox

      IRS claims a global right to charge income tax on anyone

      "Apparently the slightest association with the country can result in you being considered a tax payer even when you have moved back to your country?"

      Indeed, no personal association at all is required: under rules that are supposed to stop global tax-avoidance schemes, IRS claims income tax on royalty payments made to you if routed through a US-registered part of an organisation, even if you are not registered with the IRS, have never visited the US, are not a US citizen, have had no dealings with the US-registered part of the organisation, have conducted all the relevant work outside the US, and pay all the income tax due in your own country.

      You can avoid the IRS claiming this income tax... but only by first registering with the IRS... and that involves sending them your passport to them in the post for some unspecified period, assuming you even have one*... meanwhile the big players still avoid paying tax... It makes the injustice of that import duty on colonial tea seem like small beer...

      * Anyone else noticed how No2ID won the battle against UK ID cards, yet lost the war, with biometric passports now being demanded for an ever increasing range of transactions with government, banks, and prospective employers, and with an ever decreasing choice of acceptable and viable alternatives? And now you need a biometric passport, with all the details logged in the US, just to avoid paying income tax to the IRS.

      1. Midnight

        Re: IRS claims a global right to charge income tax on anyone

        Indeed. The USA has always been a great proponent of "taxation without representation".

        It has also always been at war with Eastasia, and Eurasia has always been its ally.

  5. Heathroi

    one way to establish a credit history if you know you are coming to the US for a while before actually arriving is go to your current bank and use their contacts to transfer your foriegn cards into US cards, if you just turn up, you might have come from bongobongoland. amex probably works best for that.

    1. Rob 5

      Spot on.

      If you have an AmEx card in the UK, they'll give you a US card based solely on your history with them. What's even better is, they'll report it to the US CRAs as dating from when you first opened your UK account, so you can instantly get several years' worth of credit history.

      The program is called AmEx Global Transfer, iirc.

      1. eldel

        Re: Amex transfers

        Yup - did just that (quite fortuitously) 14 years ago when we first moved out here. That plus the credit union which still had my employers name in it made the credit score a comparative non-issue. It took me quite a while to realise just how lucky I'd been. Talking to other newish arrivals and hearing horror stories of not even being able to rent somewhere to live because there was no credit record.

        In fact the biggest issue I had was persuading one of the phone providers to give me a phone which was capable of international calls. Now *that* was hard.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Don't expect this to work for "the world's global bank" - fscking HSBC

      Also expect banking to be at least 20years behind europe. You will pay fees for being in credit, you will pay for cheques (which they can't spell) and you will use them a lot, debit cards are being heavily pushed as the "next big thing"....

      1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

        I don't pay for checks (proper spelling!) or debit cards--unless I use another bank's ATM networks. I don't take out credit cards if they have an annual maintenance fee.

        1. Rob 5

          You may be doing yourself a disservice, then. For example, I pay a small annual fee for one of my AmEx cards. The points that I earn with it pay for hotel rooms, flights etc that are worth much more than that fee.

          1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

            I have a no-fee points VISA on which I place most of my purchases, and that works well.. Had a gold amex, but dumped it due to the fees.

      2. JEDIDIAH
        Linux

        Huh? What?

        Using checks? Who? Is this my grandmother you're talking about? I haven't used checks for merchant transactions EVER and I'm middle aged.

        1. Sooty

          Re: Huh? What?

          Using checks? Who? Is this my grandmother you're talking about? I haven't used checks for merchant transactions EVER and I'm middle aged.

          I had to use a cheque recently for a club membeship, i was concerned that my chequebook, issued in 1992 and still mostly full, may not be accepted by the bank anymore.

    3. phuzz Silver badge

      I still don't understand why a credit history is "good" if you're always spending loads of money on a credit card whereas someone who can balance their own books and never needs a loan has a "bad" (non existent) credit history.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        "Good" from the point of view of extracting more profit from you.

      2. Tom 13

        Re: never needs a loan has a "bad" (non existent) credit history.

        For precisely the reason that they have no history. With no past history, you can't make future predictions. If you can't make future predictions, you put them in the highest rated risk group.

        Anyone who lives here knows the goal is to have two or three credit cards on which you make regular purchases and pay off the balance due each month. I'm ALMOST there having spend far too many years with credit balances that were far too high.

  6. ST Silver badge

    USD $24 for 10 gallons of gas

    in Silicon Valley? Meaning $2.40 for a gallon of gas?

    Bullshit.

    I flew to Silicon Valley three times this year and spent a week there each time. Gas is nowhere near $2.40/gallon anywhere in Silicon Valley, at randomly picked gas stations. More like anywhere around $4.30/gallon, often higher.

    And that's because I didn't want to pay the rental car company for a gas tank refill. The rental car company - which shall remain nameless for now - charges USD $9.00/gallon for a gas tank refill.

    1. MD Rackham

      Re: USD $24 for 10 gallons of gas

      Gas prices have been down (global crude prices down), up (refinery fire, strike, maintenance, price manipulation), and back down again this year, so depending on when you were in the Valley you and the expat could be right.

      Any gas station near an airport or freeway will be charging more, and California gas prices in general are higher than the rest of the country. (Just paid $1.92/gal in (very) rural Arizona.)

      1. phil dude
        Boffin

        Re: USD $24 for 10 gallons of gas

        Here in TN it has been down to $1.90 too. I filled up the other day it was $2.14.

        P.

    2. phil dude
      Boffin

      Re: USD $24 for 10 gallons of gas

      @ST: A tip for when you next rent a car. US cars have an "overfill" line, so you can drive probably 30 miles to get gas cheaper before return the car and have it show as full.

      And I replied below, but here in TN $1.90 has been the low, and just 2 days ago it was $2.14/gal.

      I doubt CA is much different, they probably refine it there. CA is pretty huge...

      P.

      1. ST Silver badge

        Re: USD $24 for 10 gallons of gas

        > I doubt CA is much different, they probably refine it there.

        Look it up in Google. Yes, you can get gas prices in Silicon Valley by searching in Google.

        Today, in Silicon Valley, they are nowhere near $1.90. $3.30 is the lowest, for lowest-grade, and only if paying cash. $3.30 is not $2.40 as claimed in this article.

        At any rate, the notion of doing gas price arbitrage by getting a sample of all the gas prices at all the gas stations in Silicon Valley and then choosing the cheapest isn't really realistic. Most people don't buy their gas that way. :-)

        CA has some special rules about the composition of the gas sold there, which generally makes it a bit more expensive than it would normally be.

        Yes I know about the overfill trick. :-)

        1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
          Mushroom

          Re: USD $24 for 10 gallons of gas

          Gas prices went up in California, because we use a special gasoline formulation to reduce smog, so gas normally sold outside of California can't be loaded on a tanker truck and sold in-state. (Note--there are something like 48 of these formulations in the whole U.S.--ridiculous and in need of standardization.) Anyway, down near LA, one of the refinery units that makes California's formulation had an explosion and is currently out of action. So prices went up again around the state, even though oil prices are really low.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: USD $24 for 10 gallons of gas

            "Gas prices went up in California, because we use a special gasoline formulation to reduce smog, so gas normally sold outside of California can't be loaded on a tanker truck and sold in-state."

            That's also why most cars in the US are built to the tighter California emission standard (anyone watching an American game show with a car in it may have once heard "California emissions" being listed as the features on the cars, meaning the additional stuff needed to make the car California-compliant).

  7. Rainer

    Wouldn't work there, unless I planned on living there until the end

    The IRS considers you a "US-person" (that has to pay taxes or at least fill out useless forms with potentially large penalties) for a couple of years after you've left.

    That wasn't a big problem, until the value of the US-Dollar tanked so much that suddenly people who weren't millionaires at all (but exceeded the 50-ish year old (but never inflation-adjusted) tax-allowance ) owed the IRS money while at the same time, under the pretense of going after millionaire tax-dodgers with off-shore accounts in tax-heavens, regulations got stricter and pressure on banks around the world got much stronger.

    So, people with a US-passport or with a Green Card now sometimes have problems actually getting a bank-account (unless they waive all rights and authorized the bank to basically dump all their financial data directly to the IRS)

    And good luck getting a mortgage in some other country after your stint in the US...

    Plus the bit he only glanced upon about the IRS taxing profits on private retirement plans overseas.

    That money most likely was already taxed in the source country and you'll likely never see it again.

    Is living the American way of life really worth so much? Because, last time I looked, the social security net in the US mostly doesn't exist.

    And don't forget the cost of education of children.

    Granted, most of Europe is a wasteland (regarding taxes), too, but at least you only pay taxes for your income only once, where you reside!

    1. Number6

      Re: Wouldn't work there, unless I planned on living there until the end

      When switching countries you need to look at what tax treaties exist. In theory it should allow you to claim back tax from one side.

      As for the American Way, all sorts of things seem to be set up to make you spend your money. California in particular has the smog test for cars, for which you pay eight or so dollars for a certificate and something a lot more to whoever does the test. Unlike in the UK where the MOT test has a maximum price mandated by government, California does the true market economy of letting all the smog testers compete with each other on price, although in practice most of them end up the same. If you've got a modern car, it's ten minutes interrogating the car's engine management system and you're about seventy dollars lighter. That's a good hourly rate. Sadly it's not possible to just read the numbers yourself.

      If you want to do anything to your house you need a permit. I can see that for structural stuff that may be sensible, given the earthquakes, but you're supposed to do the same for all sorts of other stuff too. Much stuff has to be inspected by someone with the appropriate license (with an 's'), so that's even more money required.

      On the subject of taxes, it usually costs you money to do that - a lot of people pay someone to do all the paperwork, or buy a commercial software package to do it themselves.

      As for the comments about petrol prices, it does vary wildly. Back in January (when Cambridge were still in the FA Cup) it really did get down that low. At the moment it's floating around three dollars a gallon. Don't forget the obscene amount of tax and duty on UK petrol - if the crude price doubles then it can cause the pump price in the US to nearly double, whereas in the UK it's going to go up 20% because most of what you pay is a fixed amount

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Wouldn't work there, unless I planned on living there until the end

        Well, even cosmetic house improvements need to be checked they don't pose other risks. For example, you have to keep a certain amount of open space between you and any adjacent streets so people and cars can properly see around corners. You can't put up anything fragile and likely to fall off or fly in the wind and hit someone. And so on.

        1. Tom 13

          Re: Well, even cosmetic house improvements need to be checked

          Those are the nominal reasons for the regs. The real reason is that any work you do to your house is likely to change it's assessed value, and that changes your tax base.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: Well, even cosmetic house improvements need to be checked

            They're not just nominal reasons. Many of them came on the heels of lawsuits filed because someone got hurt or killed as a result of a home improvement getting blown off in the storm and hitting someone or someone struck by a car at a blind corner: blind because the buildings were too close to the street making it impossible to see what's coming to any acceptable degree.

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  9. Irony Deficient

    a country that was founded on a dislike of taxes

    David, it’s a country that was founded on a dislike of taxes without representation.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: a country that was founded on a dislike of taxes

      The "no taxes without representation" story sounds good - but that doesn't stop immigrants without representation getting taxed more than citizens. For example, after having lived legally (visa, then green card) in New Jersey for years (paying taxes all the time), my child still got charged out-of-state (i.e. more expensive) rates to go to a NJ public university because she wasn't a US citizen.

      1. Irony Deficient

        Re: a country that was founded on a dislike of taxes

        Anonymous Coward, NJ public university tuition is not a tax; the in-state vs. out-of-state tuition rates are determined by the university and/or the state legislature, not by Congress. For example, see here for the tuition residency policy at Rutgers University.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: a country that was founded on a dislike of taxes - out-of-state tuition

        If you had entered the country illegally, you wouldn't have that problem. All the college-age kids coming up through the porous southern border don't have to worry about out-of-state tuition, paperwork, etc., and get a social security number, to boot.....

    2. bazza Silver badge

      Re: a country that was founded on a dislike of taxes

      Tell that to residents of Washington DC. (Still?) no votes for them...

      1. Irony Deficient

        Re: a country that was founded on a dislike of taxes

        bazza, this has been the case since the beginning of the 19th century, and DC residents are perfectly justified in their dislike of taxes without representation. There are at least two solutions that wouldn’t require constitutional amendments: change the tax code to exempt DC residents from federal income tax, or repeal part of the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801 to restore their ability to vote in federal elections as if they were Maryland residents (as this 2004 bill proposed).

      2. Tom 13

        Re: (Still?) no votes for them...

        Baloney. Last time I checked they have 536 residents voting for them.

    3. No, I will not fix your computer

      Re: a country that was founded on a dislike of taxes

      Ever wondered why there's such a huge gap between declaring independence and signing the constitution?

      The first constitution (articles of confederation) failed, despite the good intentions because the new "federal" government had no money, it was the second constitution (now called "The Constitution") almost a decade later that required federal taxes, allowed a new "United States" government to be formed, the country is literally "Founded on taxes".

      1. Irony Deficient

        Re: a country that was founded on a dislike of taxes

        No, I will not fix your computer, Article VIII. of the Articles of Confederation contained its taxing mechanism. What the Articles lacked was an enforcement mechanism to ensure that each state legislature provided its proportional share to the common treasury; but given that Article II. noted that “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence”, and Article III. described its union of member states as “a firm league of friendship” rather than as a single nation, one shouldn’t be surprised by its absence. To address your final remark, and to reïterate my initial point, the 1789 USA reboot was “Founded on taxes with representation”.

        1. No, I will not fix your computer

          Re: a country that was founded on a dislike of taxes

          >>No, I will not fix your computer, Article VIII. of the Articles of Confederation contained its taxing mechanism.

          What do you mean no? I didn't say that the there wasn't taxation, merely that the requirement wasn't there - and 'the new "federal" government had no money', Thomas Jefferson discussed this at length, when you're cap in hand asking for money "please nicely", it doesn't happen,

          When I said 'the country is literally "Founded on taxes"', it absolutely is - in fact, I'd go so far as to say the country is literally "Founded on enforced taxation" it was this requirement to submit taxes which meant that a proper government could be run, it certainly wasn't founded on the dislike of taxes unless you have some kind of cognitive dissonance whereby you dislike the very thing which allowed you to exist.

  10. Fazal Majid

    Property taxes go to your city, not the State of California

    Minor nit. The State does cap the property tax, but it goes to local authorities.

  11. All names Taken
    Alien

    It is a natural consequence ...

    ... of having many state employees.

    Then, of course, the only way to fund careers and ever growing scope is by further increasing taxes either directly or indirectly (for example selling bandwidth and frequencies owned by the state?)?

    There are some theories (game theory, greedy algorithm) that describe the phenomena quite well.

    Plus, of course, a continual pandering of economies to inflate.

    A nicer still stewardship model is to let non-physicals - notional things to be free to the public.

    Argument might be made (and equally failed) that non-natives should pay more but that would probably cost more to administer/run than it would return?

    1. Tim99 Silver badge

      Re: It is a natural consequence ...

      ... of having many state employees. You have described a consequence of Cyril Northcote Parkinson's Law. He was one of the first people to formulate the inevitable increase in the public service in a 1955 article in the Economist. Describing this as a state/government problem is, perhaps, unfair - This phenomenon can be observed in any large organization including private companies.

      1. All names Taken
        Paris Hilton

        Re: It is a natural consequence ...

        The differences between large companies and state employees tend to be:

        budget control in state sector is laughable

        budget control in private sector is profit n loss with too much loss equalling business closure

        terms of employment in private sector tend to have to adapt to trading circumstances (anyone heard of a civil servant/public employee taking a wage cut? In the UK the practice is called ring fencing where an employee is transferred to a lower paid post but retains all the terms and conditions and income of the previous higher paid post).

        A usual practive in private sector is: if you don't meet the post KPIs your out of the post.

        And state employee (by that I mean all uk public employees) had the best of any terms and conditions of employment, redundancy and relocation benefits short of something spectacular.

  12. JC_

    Don't Like the IRS? Blame Intuit.

    One reason the IRS can't do things to simplify tax is because Intuit vociferously lobbies against it.

    Comically, Intuit claims that easy filing would hurt the poor.

    Not to be conspiracy-minded, but some corporations and one political party in the US have a vested interest in making government look incompent, and they do their very best to achieve this. Blame them, not the IRS.

  13. gerdesj Silver badge

    Taxtastic

    I've explained PAYE (your employer does the whole thing) to several Americans and they look at me as though I come from the promised land.

    Our self assessment (that's for our more complicated tax affairs - shares and such like) is nothing like as complicated as their income standard tax set up - I do mine in around 20-30 mins. In the US you can have federal, state, and even municipal (New York for example) income tax to sort out, potentially on different dates.

    Oh and fuel - when you are comparing remember that the US standard gas is not the same RON as ours. 91 I think over there but ours is 95. However in the UK we get quoted RON, over there it is MON I think because I recall seeing 83 on the pumps for the rating.

    1. JEDIDIAH
      Big Brother

      Re: Taxtastic

      Taxes in the US are as simple or as interesting as you want to make them. If your taxes are simple enough that they can even be all completely handled by your employee then they will be pretty trivial in the US too. The moment any part of your financial life is something that isn't managed by your employer, then of course things are going to get more interesting.

  14. Tim Brown 1
    Pint

    Death and taxes

    At first the property tax sounded ridiculous - then I remembered that the UK has Council Tax which is paid by everyone no matter whether you own or rent....

    1. Linzello

      Re: Death and taxes

      Yeh and on average council tax is a lot less than property tax in the US. And don't think you avoid paying property tax in the US by renting. The owner of the house still has to pay it and they pass the costs on to the tenant. Saying all this, council tax and property tax are the definitely the most unpleasant type of tax. They are completely unavoidable and thus a tax on being alive.

  15. Joe Gurman

    Speaking of myths

    A lot of people, including David, appear to have been taken in by the Tea Party (the political organization paid for by some very wealthy people indeed) and their cant about the US being founded on a dislike of taxes. The American Revolution started as a reaction against actions taken in Council with no representation of the taxpayers (In the Colonies) upon whom the tax acts were being levied.

    In some colonies, such as Massachusetts, where the spark finally hit the powder, the residents could elect their own legislature, which had the power of taxation. The colonial taxpayers may have grumbled about those taxes, and for all I know about the rates each town imposed on its residents (including tithes to support the local Congregationalist minister), just as everyone everywhere grumbles about taxes, but it never rose to the fervor of hatred and resistance to the Acts passed by the North government (the "King's party" at the time). And the tax on tea at the time of the Boston Tea Party was totally negligible.

    I don't know of kids in UK schools are taught about the American revolution or not — obviously few here are, or retain what they've been taught — but to claim the American Revolution was about a dislike of taxes is like saying WW II came about because of a strenuous disagreement about how the name of the city of Gdansk's name was spelled.

    I know it doesn't fit with the Marxian theory of revolutionary classes to claim that a class could be revolutionized by an argument over constitutional principle, but in fact it was.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Speaking of myths

      "In some colonies, such as Massachusetts, where the spark finally hit the powder, the residents could elect their own legislature, which had the power of taxation."

      The problem wasn't in local or colonial taxes but in taxes brought by England, which the colonists rightly claimed they had no true representation (to the claim the governor was their representative in that regard, they answered, "One, there's the six-month lag time and two, this governor doesn't sit in Parliament where the tax laws are made."

      1. JEDIDIAH
        Linux

        Re: Speaking of myths

        "Taxation without representation" was just a marketing slogan. None of the patriots actually wanted representation in Parliment. They rightfully knew that their voices would not amount to much due to small numbers. Much more significance is given to that slogan than it really deserves. It's like shrinkwrapped history for lazy consumers.

    2. Chris Fox

      Re: Speaking of myths

      Concerning the issue of tea, the officially sanctioned imported tea, as offloaded in an unconventional fashion at that party in Boston, was actually cheaper, after tax, than the existing untaxed "imports". That particular storm appear to be brewed up those who, at the time, would have been officially classified as "smugglers", seeking to protect their financial interests after being undercut by "legitimate" imports.

      According to contemporary statements, the dispute initially appears to have been motivated by the desire of a few "traders" to maintain profits by gaining control of trade, and assuming the right to break treaties to grab land and resources. Taxation was just a side show. The latter of course became an important hook on which to hang various justifications and explanations, given that the general populace might actually have preferred cheaper British imports to the expensive black-market goods.

  16. Paul Bartlett

    Well I just completed my first ever IRS tax return, having moved to San Diego, California last year.

    My tax return in the UK takes me 15 minutes. Here I had to pay someone $150 to enter a set of numbers into a software package. I'm hoping YR2 to be much simpler as I am no longer a non resident alien, but then they want to tax me on any bean I get in the UK.

    It is really expensive here. Half my salary goes in rent and the other goes in bills. I'm left with nothing, yet my salary is near double the UK.

    Oh! and it has rained about twice this year. Blissful sunshine -- and not too hot. We have to pay a lot for the sun.

    1. phil dude
      Thumb Up

      must be miserable...

      You are in San Diego...a gorgeous place! Mountains, the pacific, desert (if you like that sort of thing).

      If your taxes are simple enough for software, you can probably do it yourself.

      If you have sufficient money earned in the UK there are deductions for that. Get an accountant...

      The reason UK taxes are "simple" to do, is because they already have your money and you have no choice. The busy work is to make you *feel* like you have a choice.

      P.

  17. Dana W

    Not NO taxes as Tea Party cretins like to teach. it was Taxation without representation. But to know that they might actually have to read something.

  18. All names Taken
    Alien

    Still

    Taxation is morally wrong.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Still

      Funny, I'd say lack of universal health care was morally wrong instead. Horses for courses I guess.

      1. JEDIDIAH

        Re: Still

        Not allowing your proles to afford their own professional services is morally wrong.

  19. joeldillon

    Note that pretty much all states can provide you a state ID card which is the equivalent of a drivers licence for ID purposes, if you don't drive.

    (Not that doing so is terribly practical in California, I expect, but the option is there)

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      But those same states typically charge you for obtaining an ID card. If it's a requirement to vote to possess such an ID, that amounts to a poll tax, and that runs afoul of the forbidden laws list of Article I, Section 9.

  20. All names Taken
    Paris Hilton

    The usual scenario?

    1 - state develops directly employed people with contract of employment durable throough elections (seems reasonable that an election means not only politicos face the dole but all public employees too?)

    2 - Las Vegas effect kicks in: it becomes a money maker with no real overall control

    3 - state absorbs almost all of the money knocking about and of course everything has lots of justification for costing so very much consequently little amounts of money are available for other non-state enterprises

    Usual indicators:

    how high do public employees incomes go? (usually the highest in the state)

    how favourable are the terms of employment at the most favoured end of the statistical range between state and non-state employees.

    (I am sure there are more but u get the drift and well can't be bothered really :-) )

  21. lucki bstard

    Credit scores transferred from country to country

    The other bank to look for is HSBC, having an account in the UK with a good credit history can make it easy to get a credit rating in a country where HSBC offers banking services.

    UK HSBC were happy to transfer credit details to Canada HSBC which helps getting that credit rating started.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    False

    "Beware the US tax system — for a country that was founded on a dislike of taxes, "

    The US was founded on American's dislike for taxation without representation.

    To my knowledge, the total tax burden is as great, if not greater, in most modern European nations.

    Funny now modern US conservatives scream about taxes, yet they want the US, which spends more on military than the sum of the next highest military spending by other nations, to spend even more on war and military spending! The big difference between the US and European nations is that the US spends its money on defence contractors while Europe spends it's money on people.

    1. Number6

      Surely you don't expect it to make sense? This is the country that is shocked by a nipple on TV but is quite happy to have guns and violence, the loud group that protests about contraception and abortion but then makes no provision for raising the unwanted children born because of such policies.

      The US is not the only country where the thinking is clearly not particularly joined up, but it has some really glaring examples of it.

  23. KBeee

    No Taxation Without Representation!

    Except "Representation" was turned down by the Colonists (twice).

    A good read about the War of Independence, though fictional, but probably closer to the truth than most history books would be "Scoundrel" by Keith Thompson. It does a "Flashman" to those troubled times, but using a real protaganist instead of a fictional one.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Newark, the Capital of Fremont

    Newark started out as a railroad town, and is mentioned in "Two Years Before the Mast" (don't remember if it was Jarvis or Mayhew referenced). The Leslie (now Cargill?) Salt Ponds were at one time the largest of their type in the world, and the Carter (railroad) Car Company was in Newark as well. The Eucalyptus trees north of Jarvis (or whatever it's called now) are from Australia, and have twisted grain due to "no longer being down under". I think it's called Ardenwood Park now.

    Not far away is Niles, nice railway museum and former home to essanay (sp?) studios. For a little town (OK, it USED TO BE a little town in the late 1950s) it's got a lot of history. Lots of tech, too.

    Hope you enjoy it there!

  25. Dana W

    Again, said Tea Party cretins don't understand that without the constitution allowing for taxation for a real Navy, (as opposed to a navy consisting of largely commissioned commercial vessels) and a standing Army, the war of 1812 would have gone far differently, and not at all happily for us.

    They are furiously angry that 3% of our budget is going to social aid. (Not including Social security which is paid by its beneficiaries) Yet they are blithely unconcerned with the fact that over 50% of the US budget goes to the Military and its support, a number not matched even by Russia or China.

    They don't REALLY hate taxation as they don't seem to mind a bloated military industrial complex.

    They hate gays, poor people, anybody darker than light tan, the disabled, and the elderly. And most of all anyone who is NOT an evangelical Christian.

    But the tide is turning on them, people are finally starting to see them for what they really are. its why they are going so rabid just now. The latest polls show the "Tea Party" is finally more disliked in the US than atheists. And I have to admit, this makes me smile.

    1. Tom 13

      @Dana W

      US military budget is 15% (610 billion out of 3.9 Trillion) of federal spending not 50%. Put I wouldn't expect that from a cretin who gets talking points about what TEA Party people believe from the DNC.

      And what that means is that it's not 3%, but 60% of federal spending that is Unconstitutional wealth transfer from actual working people to those who don't.

      1. Number6

        Re: @Dana W

        That's where you can look at it fro a different angle. Affordable healthcare can be seen as investing in the workforce, just as you pay to have your car serviced and it keeps running longer and is less likely to break down when you need it most. I appreciate that this is not a perfect analogy because it's easy to scrap a problem car, whereas the law frowns on doing that to a person.

        I wonder how popular a voluntary national insurance fund for unemployment benefits would be? If you pay in, you can claim from the fund if you're laid off, if you choose to opt out, you're on your own. It's a bit like donating to charity if you don't expect to be unemployed, with the side benefit that if something bad does happen, you get rewarded for all those donations.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: @Dana W

          "That's where you can look at it fro a different angle. Affordable healthcare can be seen as investing in the workforce, just as you pay to have your car serviced and it keeps running longer and is less likely to break down when you need it most. I appreciate that this is not a perfect analogy because it's easy to scrap a problem car, whereas the law frowns on doing that to a person."

          Trouble is, studies have shown that longevity HURTS the government. There's a certain age ideal for any country with such a system where the system breaks even: paying out as much per citizen in health benefits as they take in in taxes (and the loss accelerates as they get older because more money is required to keep people alive as they get older). Go beyond that point and healthcare becomes a money SINK. What the study showed is that the average country with strong state-run healthcare is past that point.

      2. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: @Dana W

        I think the correct term is half of DISCRETIONARY spending. One of the alarm bells is that TWO-THIRDS of the entire US budget is NON-DISCRETIONARY and MUST be paid no matter what. A tiny chunk of that is interest on standing debt, but the vast majority encompasses stuff like Social Security and Healthcare (yes, because they're guaranteed by law, they're considered NON-DISCRETIONARY). Half of mandatory spending is Social Security and the like, most of the rest is Medicare.

        Put it this way. We are obligated to spend more on mandatory spending than the US takes in in income tax revenues ($2.5T in obligations vs. $2.2T in total income tax revenues).

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