There are two things you can never avoid in life—death and taxes. When it comes to being a responsible citizen, paying taxes is thankfully the more relevant inevitability, but what, specifically, are your personal taxes paying for?
Are your hard-earned dollars funding roads? The military? Foreign aid?
You can find out what happens to your federal taxes with the website Where Do My Taxes Go?
Why would you want to know where your tax money goes? Well, by understanding what your taxes pay for, you start to understand the federal budget, and how the government distributes money to various departments and functions. Once you understand where the money goes, you might discover you don’t like how certain departments are funded, or you might have to look up what a particular group in the government does, and end up learning about an area that fascinates you.
How to use the site
To use Where Do My Taxes Go?, you need to know three things. First, you need to know your income before taxes are taken out of it. Basically, the amount on your paychecks and pay stubs before all of the deductions are put in. Ideally, you’ll want to know this number for the entire year, so multiply your weekly salary by 52, or figure out how many hours you work on average each week or month, and do that math in whatever way you need to. Input that number in the “Your Pre-Tax Income ($)” box with NO commas.
Second, you need to know what state you live in—or at least, what state you live and work in most of the time. Select that state from the drop-down menu on the Where Do My Taxes Go? homepage, and keep on heading down the page.
Third, you need to know if you file your taxes as an individual, or jointly. If you are married, barring certain financial situations, you are likely filing your taxes jointly. If you are not married, you’ll file your taxes as a single person. Once you have all of this information put in on the website, just click “Submit.” You’ll now start to see where your tax money is going.
What the site will teach you
First, at the very top of the page after you hit “Submit,” you’ll see a projected amount you’ll owe in taxes on the federal and state level. These amounts don’t account for deductions, so they’re not entirely accurate, but they give you a rough idea of what you might end up owing come April.
Beneath these numbers is the big list that states each item from the proposed 2019 federal budget, and how much that item gets as a percentage of tax dollars, and then as the actual dollar amount taken from your projected tax obligation numbers. Most of the money you pay in taxes goes to the items under the Mandatory Programs category, which are all programs that must receive government funding by law. Discretionary Programs are optional, and are determined by appropriation bills made annually.
Most of your tax money, as you’ll see, goes to Social Security and Medicare. Some of the least, at least in the 2019 proposed budget, is the General Services Administration and the Small Business Administration. The small amounts may not seem like much, especially out of your own taxes, but you have to keep in mind little bits from several hundred million people add up to quite a lot in the end.
What to do with that information
Start looking up what each budget item is online. You can just Google the terms, but you can also find great descriptions on the different items in the actual proposed budget report linked at the top of the page above the budget item list. The proposed 2019 budget report can be found here, and also check out the Where Do My Taxes Go? Resources page to understand where the site gets its percentage numbers.
Keep checking out Where Do My Taxes Go? as time goes on. If the budget changes, so will the distribution of your tax dollars. Plus, the site has a Development Roadmap for itself that promises you’ll soon be able to see state-level budget data, and then compare enacted budgets to proposed budgets. In other words, the site is still growing, and it’s growing into a more valuable resource. Keep up with it so you can stay informed!