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Personal Finance Savviness: Bush vs Cheney

Contributed by mm | April 16, 2005 2:13 PM PST

A tax return is great reflection of one's overall personal finance picture, but it is also telling the story of one's capability to control personal finance issues. Yesterday, the Whitehouse released the 2004 tax returns from the President and the Vice President. (Full tax returns in PDF format are available from TaxHistory.org.) What does it tell you about our leaders' personal finance savviness?

Let's take a look at the key numbers:

The President (2004 tax return)

- Total Income: $784,219
- Adjusted Gross Income (AGI): $784,219
- Itemized Deductions: $111,431 (including $77,785 charitable donations, $24,344 deductible taxes, and $27,813 miscellaneous deductions)
- Total Tax: $207,307
- Total Tax Withheld and Estimated Tax Payments: $245,841
- Tax Refund: $38,534

The Vice President (2004 tax return)

- Total Income: $1,747,794
- Adjusted Gross Income: $1,734,373 (Deducting $13,421 self-employment tax)
- Itemized Deductions: $405,695 (including $303,354 charitable donations)
- Total Tax: $393,518
- Total Tax Withheld and Estimated Tax Payments: $290,855
- Amount Owe: $102,663

It should not surprise anybody that the Vice President family is getting more income than the First Family; Cheney used to be CEO of Halliburton, a Fortune 500 company and he is still receiving deferred compensation from the same company.

What's more telling about two families' personal finance shrewdness is the different withholding/estimated tax payment status. For the second consecutive year, the First Family is withholding more than it is due. As I reported at PFBlog this time last year, the First Family overpaid by $61,451. Apparently they hired a better accountant this year, but still, overpayment is extending an interest-free loan to the Treasury, and the First Family can be a few grand better off if they withhold less and park the money in greener pasture.

Cheney's tax return tells a very different story. He managed to get a $100,000+ tax free loan instead by delaying the tax payment. What's more, he did this without triggering a penalty. The Vice President's family paid $253,067 in 2003 and they just withheld/prepaid a bit more than 110% of their 2003 tax. Apparently, they are aware of the IRS's safe harbor rule, which removes penalty as long a high-income family like Cheney's paid as much as 110% of last year's tax.

Yes, both tax returns tell much more than this, but even from these simple numbers, it is not difficult to tell who is better at managing money. Don't you think so?

This Post Has Received 51 Comments. Share Your Opinions Too.


Pavan Commented on April 17, 2005

Hello,

I tried looking up information on the IRS safe harbor rule, you mentioned. Can you direct me to some pages that might have more details about the same? Thanks.

Pavan


mm Commented on April 17, 2005

It is in IRS Form 2210.

http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f2210.pdf

Or follow this:

http://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc306.html

In short, safe harbors include:

1) Underpayment of less than $1,000, or
2) At least paid 90% of total tax, or
3) Paid 100% of last year's tax (or for high income families, 110% of last year's tax)


jim Commented on April 18, 2005

On the flip side, who's spending too much time on their finances and not enough on running the country? :)


mm Commented on April 18, 2005

Good point Jim! Maybe we can say Cheney has a much better accountant than Bush.


dman Commented on April 18, 2005

What was The President's 2003 total tax paid. He may have simply been making sure he paid 110% of his 2003 tax so that he would not owe any penalties as well. If his 2003 total tax paid was similiar to 2004 then he withheld almost exactly the correct amount.

As interest rates begin to increase this idea of not giving the government an interest free loan becomes a little more important but until recently it has basically been a meaningless event, that for most people would seriously amount to nothing more than a few extra dollars at the end of the year which of course presumes that they immediately took every extra penny and socked it into a savings account and likewise never touched any of it.

In practice that is rarely ever true. It may be a poor statement about people's discipline but I think most people would admit that savings that is dependent upon their discipline will never result in as much money in the savings account as things that are automatically deducted and put there.

When people are flush in extra cash, certain things that might be appealing that they don't need that they had not intended on buying suddenly become "available." Not that its not valid to choose to spend the money but the fact is that the big deal that is made out of not giving the government extra money is mostly a big hulabaloo over something that really does not make much of any positive difference in the end and I would bet in far more cases actually ends up with a negative net worth impact at the end of the year.

Now that being said the undisciplined can easily choose to blow the refund in one shot once they get it too, but it might be easier as a saver to just put the refund in one shot into savings.

So my argument is basically to suggest that the refund versus taxes owed issue is vastly exaggerated as some sign of great financial astuteness even though it is often heralded as such.


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