Direct action for peace often entails exposure to unpredictable risks. War tax resistance is no exception. Though getting a notice from the IRS is very likely, jail is virtually unknown for war tax resisters.
IRS Notices and Fines
Those who file but refuse to pay will probably get several tax due notices, adding on civil penalties in the 5 to 25% range, plus compound interest at the current rate. If your resistance is token (e.g., say $1), the interest and penalties will not amount to very much even after several years. The statute of limitations for filers is 10 years beyond the date of assessment (which is often a few months after filing), meaning the amount due is wiped out if the IRS does not collect at the 10-year deadline.
- A return with protest messages written on it, or showing an unallowable deduction or credit affecting the calculation of tax due, may lead to a “frivolous penalty” of up to $5,000.
Nonfilers may go undetected, but if the IRS catches up with them, they may find stiffer penalties imposed, with no statute of limitations.
A false or inflated W-4 form usually results in a lock-in letter from the IRS to the employer, adjusting the W-4 deductions back to the lowest number.
The IRS considers their notices and threatening letters their most effective tax collection tool. However, sometimes they do proceed beyond their threatening notices.
The IRS has three years from the date of filing to audit a return. Generally, unless you claim questionable deductions on your tax returns, your chances of being audited are no more likely than most tax filers. However, many war tax resisters consider audits an opportunity to explain to the IRS their reasons for resisting. Resisters who don’t file are not likely to be audited. However, there is no statute of limitation for non-filers.
Levies and Property Seizures
Once the IRS “assesses” a specific amount for a given year and at least ten days have passed since a “final demand,” its power of collection includes levy (seizure) of wages, bank accounts and other property (such as — in very rare instances for war tax resisters — cars and houses).
- After sending out its notices, the IRS will often look for bank accounts in banks near the home or office of the resister or through your own past payments to the IRS or direct deposits to you from federal agencies.
- The IRS will look for employers or clients (based on the W-2 or 1099 forms submitted with the income tax return) and levy the salary of or payments owed to the resister.
- Rarely — and generally after years of resistance and a high balance due — an IRS collections agent will attempt to call or visit you at home to get you to pay up or at least get information about your assets.
- Very rarely, the IRS will attempt to find out if you own property (such as a car or house), then seize it. At any point, the IRS is usually happy to have you settle with them rather than proceed with seizure and auction of property.
- The IRS can report tax delinquencies above $52,000 to the State Department and passports can be revoked or renewal refused.
The IRS rarely responds to telephone tax resistance because of the small amounts involved. It often costs the IRS more to deal with a resister than is eventually collected.
Criminal prosecution is possible, but in practice so rare that in most cases the risk is negligible. Since the modern war tax resistance movement began during World War II, only two people (in 1949 and 2005) have been jailed for resisting their war taxes. Only about 50 out of tens of thousands of people in the U.S. who have resisted war taxes have even been brought to federal court and convicted on issues related to their war tax resistance (usually for refusing to reveal sources of assets to the government or, in the 1970s, inflating their W-4 forms by claiming too many dependents). Click here to see War Tax Resisters Taken to Court since World War II, as well as IRS Seizures of Property from War Tax Resisters since World War II.
Many resisters conclude that the positive consequences outweigh the negative. Resisted taxes are often given away by resisters to meet human needs. Resistance may motivate others to act, or may provide new opportunities to communicate your beliefs to others. Feelings of empowerment, liberation and personal integrity may themselves compensate for any penalties.
More information and resources on War Tax Resistance:
- What is War Tax Resistance?
- How To Resist War Taxes
- Consequences of War Tax Resistance
- U.S. Military Spending
- History of War Tax Resistance
- War Tax Resistance Resources
- War Tax Resistance Organizations
- National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee