National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee

How to Refuse to Pay for War

Resisting war taxes can be very simple — don’t pay some or all the tax due on your annual Federal income tax form, or don’t pay the Federal excise tax on telephone bills, or both.

During every payroll period, employers send a portion of employee salaries to the federal government. This procedure, called “withholding,” is meant to add up to the worker’s total tax due for one calendar year. Thus when income tax forms are filed on April 15 taxpayers should owe or be refunded only a small amount — the difference between what was withheld during the year and what they owe. What you pay to federal withholding throughout the year and any additional amount on April 15 goes to the general fund part of the budget. Other sources of general fund income include corporate income taxes, estate taxes, customs duties, and the federal excise taxes on tobacco, alcohol, telephone service, etc. A paycheck stub will show separate withholding for social security, Medicare, unemployment, etc.; these are trust fund taxes ostensibly earmarked for those purposes.

War tax resisters tend to focus on individual income taxes and federal funds, because they are part of Congressional spending authority and directly used for military spending.

Methods of Resistance

Summarized below are a few war tax resistance methods. For more information see the book War Tax Resistance: A Guide to Withholding Your Support from the Military or talk with a war tax counselor. The probability of collection or prosecution varies among the methods; all, except #3, are illegal. You should study the methods and consequences thoroughly before embarking on these types of resistance.

  1. File and refuse to pay your taxes. This involves filling out a 1040 form and refusing to pay either a token amount of your taxes (e.g. $5, $10, $50), or a percentage representing a “military” portion (see the federal spending pie chart), or the total amount (since a portion of whatever is paid goes to the military). See “Getting Started” on our War Tax Boycott website.
  2. Stay out of the system and refuse to file a tax return. See “To File or Not To File A Tax Return”
  3. Earn less than the taxable income. This can involve having such a low income that you are not required to file federal income tax returns (approximately $9,350 in 2010), or it can mean filing and taking deductions so that no income tax is owed. See “Low Income/Simple Living as War Tax Resistance”
  4. Resist the local telephone excise tax. The federal telephone excise tax historically has been related to wars and excessive military spending. It appears on local-only phone bills. Refusing to pay this tax is a low risk method of war tax resistance. See the Hang Up On War website.

Stopping the Withholding System

One of the difficulties with resisting taxes is getting the opportunity to do it. If you are like most people, you receive your income in the form of wages from which taxes are withheld before you see your paycheck. Listed below are ways to circumvent withholding.

W-4 resistance
All employees must fill out a W-4 form with their employers. The W-4 form determines the amount of money that is withheld from each paycheck. The more allowances you claim on this form, the less is withheld. See “Controlling Federal Income Tax Withholding” for more details.
It is entirely the individual’s responsibility to file quarterly tax payments; there is no withholding.
Special jobs
Certain jobs, such as domestic service, are exempted from the withholding system.

How Could Tax Money Be Used?

You can only spend money once. If your tax dollars are spent on the military, they cannot be spent to meet human needs. When people in the U.S. suffer — from hunger, poor health care, insufficient day care, substandard housing, inadequate mass transportation, deficient education, meager pollution control, and an unimaginative energy program — it is easy to see how the money could be better spent.

Some argue that military spending creates jobs, but dollar-for-dollar the same amount of money creates nearly twice as many jobs in education or health care as in the military. Additionally, military-related jobs do not result in socially useful goods. Billions of dollars are spent to fuel, house and store weapons, tanks, planes, and ships, and to recruit and train our youth in the ways of war. Skilled scientists and engineers are perfecting methods of destruction rather than developing products that improve the quality of life. In addition, taxpayers end up paying again to clean up after the military — one of the worst polluters on the planet.

We cannot know all the ways that military spending negatively affects our economy, but we know that it fuels inflation and is the biggest contributor to the deficit. Another disastrous effect of military spending is that countries around the world are encouraged to buy more weapons, diverting scarce resources to arms. Increased militarization contributes to the escalation of international tensions, resulting in numerous conflicts. Who knows which violent conflict might lead to the next major war?

Often people are concerned that by not paying federal taxes they are also withdrawing their support from the “good parts” of the U.S. budget. The government does not allow you to designate the purpose for which it will use your tax money, so a percentage of whatever you pay will be used for military expenditures. Many resisters pay state and local taxes. Some people choose to resist a percentage of their federal tax money that represents military spending. War tax resisters often redirect the money they refuse to pay in taxes to programs that meet human needs. By doing so, more money goes directly to socially useful programs than by would be the case if they paid through the tax system.