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Federal law dictates who owes taxes, how much is owed and when that amount is due; paying those taxes is mandatory, not optional.
Failing to pay the taxes you owe could result in fines, criminal charges or your property being seized.
This claim is linked to a complex, persistent and unfounded conspiracy theory.
Allowing a shopper with fewer items to cut in front of you when you’re in the checkout line with your groceries is optional. Pausing to hold the door open for someone is optional. Ordering a dessert when you’re out to dinner is optional, too.
Paying taxes in the U.S., however, is not optional — no matter what you might hear from videos circulating online.
One such video appeared in an April 23 Facebook post, with a text overlay that falsely proclaimed: "Paying taxes is optional!!"
The video, which originated on TikTok in mid-April, shows a man nodding and pointing to some sort of pamphlet while a voice narrates.
"Those in power have a big secret," the voice says. "Paying tax is optional."
He goes on to claim that people aren’t obligated to pay fines or appear for court dates, among other things. Just before the video cuts off on Facebook, the narrator mentions the concept of a "straw man."
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
Despite long-standing claims to the contrary, paying your taxes isn’t voluntary or optional.
It’s required by U.S. law — a fact the Internal Revenue Service makes clear on its website.
"Section 1 of the Internal Revenue Code clearly imposes a tax on the taxable income of individuals, estates, and trusts," reads the site. "Failure to pay taxes could subject the non-complying individual to criminal penalties, including fines and imprisonment, as well as civil penalties."
The law is just as direct. It breaks down each type of taxpayer — married individuals filing joint returns, heads of households, unmarried individuals and others who must pay taxes — and lists the tax imposed on each person based on their income.
A subsequent section of the code says people "shall pay such tax" to the IRS when it is due.
Choosing not to pay the taxes you owe could result in fines, criminal charges or your property being seized, among other things.
Tax evasion is a felony. Very few people go to jail for tax crimes, but it has happened. In 1931, mobster Al Capone was famously sentenced to 11 years in federal prison for tax evasion and prohibition charges.
The IRS has a response to the "straw man" conspiracy, too: It won’t get you out of paying your taxes. It’s an old argument that the agency has been dismissing for more than 15 years.
Promoters of the straw man conspiracy believe that along with every birth certificate and social security number issued, the U.S. government sets up a fake identity or corporate trust in a newborn’s name. As a result, that person’s rights — and their obligations, including tax bills — are split between the physical person and the ones assigned to the baby’s fake identity or corporate shell account — also called a "straw man," by the theory’s supporters.
"These people argue that they’re not subject to U.S. laws or taxes because their tax bill is made out to a legal entity with a well-funded bank account that shares their name but isn’t actually them," explained a History.com article. "If you’re confused," the article said, "that’s because conspiracy theories don’t usually make sense."
The IRS said in 2005 that taxpayers "cannot avoid income tax on the erroneous theory that the government has created a separate and distinct entity or ‘straw man,’ in place of the taxpayer and that the taxpayer is not responsible for the tax obligations of the ‘straw man.’"
"The argument has no merit and is frivolous," read the IRS bulletin.
In a 2014 publication titled "The Truth About Frivolous Tax Arguments," the IRS said: "The notion of secret accounts assigned to each citizen is pure fantasy."
A video claimed that "Paying taxes is optional!!"
Claims that a secret "straw man" account exempts you from paying taxes are tied to a complex, persistent and unfounded conspiracy theory.
Federal law dictates who owes taxes, how much is owed and when a tax payment is due. Failing to pay the taxes you owe could result in fines, criminal charges or your property being seized.
We rate this claim Pants on Fire!
Facebook post, April 23, 2022
TikTok post, April 14, 2022
PolitiFact, "Paying taxes is not voluntary," July 23, 2021
IRS, "Internal Revenue Bulletin: 2005-14," April 4, 2005
IRS, "The Truth About Frivolous Arguments — Section I (A to C)," March 2022
Legal Information Institute, "26 U.S. Code § 1 - Tax imposed," accessed May 2, 2022
Legal Information Institute, "26 U.S. Code § 6151 - Time and place for paying tax shown on return," accessed May 2, 2022
H&R Block, "Who Goes to Prison for Tax Evasion?" accessed May 2, 2022
IRS.gov, "Tax Crimes Handbook," accessed May 2, 2022
Vox, "More people are cheating on their taxes, but fewer are going to jail," April 16, 2019
FBI.gov, "Al Capone," accessed May 2, 2022
Southern Poverty Law Center, "Sovereign Citizens Movement," accessed May 2, 2022
Frontiers in Sociology, "The Sovereign Ascendant: Financial Collapse, Status Anxiety, and the Rebirth of the Sovereign Citizen Movement," Nov. 26, 2019
History.com, "All the Weird Ways People Have Tried to Avoid Paying Taxes," Feb. 13, 2019
IRS.gov, "The Truth About Frivolous Tax Arguments," March 2014
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