Posts tagged with: finance

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, April 15, 2015

7figuresToday is tax day, the day when individual income tax returns are due to the federal government. Here are seven figures you should know about tax day:

1. The average federal tax rate for all households (tax liabilities divided by income, including government transfer payments) before taxes is 18.1 percent.

2. Households in the top quintile (including the top percentile) paid 68.8 percent of all federal taxes, households in the middle quintile paid 9.1 percent, and those in the bottom quintile paid 0.4 percent of federal taxes. (Quintiles — fifths — contain equal numbers of people.)

3. Social insurance taxes (e.g., Social Security, Medicare) account for the largest share of taxes paid by households in all but the top quintile.

4. The U.S. tax code is approximately 2,600 pages long (about 1.5 times longer than Tolstoy’s War and Peace and 2.5 times longer than Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged).

5. At midnight, the U.S. Treasury gets an extra $760 million. Taxpayers have three years to claim refunds, so the $760 million that is owed to 918,600 people will, by statute, go to the governments coffers tomorrow.

6. If you’re owed a refund, you won’t get in trouble if you miss the April 15 filing deadline. But if you’re wrong and you actually owe money, you’ll incur a maximum penalty of 5% for each month after the deadline. If you’re more than 60 days late, you’ll be fined $135, or 100% of the unpaid tax — whichever amount is smaller.

7. Examining 30 years of road crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, researchers found that fatal car crashes increase 6 percent on April 15.

and112812blogNear the top of the list of things I despise is companies that take advantage of the plight of the poor and desperate. But just above that on my list is something I hate even more: being poor and desperate. That’s why I loathe payday lending companies that charge usurious interest rates—and why I’m not yet ready to see them abolished.

Here’s how payday lending works. If you have a job (and pay stub to prove it), a payday lending company will allow you to write and cash a post-dated check. For this service the company will charge an absurd interest rate. A typical two-week payday loan with a $15 per $100 fee equates to an annual percentage rate (APR) of almost 400 percent. So if you need $100, you write the check for $115 and they’ll give you $100 in cash. Two weeks later they cash your check or you can renew or “rollover” the amount—for an exorbitant fee.

Why would anyone agree to such terms? Because they have no other choice. About twenty years ago I made some terrible choices and found myself in a serious financial bind. The amount I needed wasn’t much—about $200—but without it I wouldn’t have been able to pay my rent. I took out a payday loan that cost me $30 every two weeks. It took about eight weeks to get clear of the loan, resulting in a cost of $120 to borrow $200 for two months.

If you’re middle class and think of it in terms of interest rate, that repayment cost sounds appalling usurious. And it is. But as the poor will tell you, man does not live on APR alone. Having to pay an extra $120 was cheaper than having to find a new place to live. Yes, it was a bad deal. But it was better than all my other choices.

That is why I believe every serious critique of payday lending needs to be accompanied by a serious proposal to help those who are trapped by such “poverty problems.” An excellent example of an alternative approach is the one offered by Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Richmond, Virginia. One of their church members, Nina McCarthy, was initially trapped in the vicious payday lending circle:

MolinaCover - CopyCLP Academic has now released A Treatise on Money, a newly translated selection from Luis de Molina’s larger work, On Justice and Right (De iustitia et iure). The release is part of the growing series from Acton: Sources in Early Modern Economics, Ethics, and Law.

Molina (1535–1600) was one of the most eminent theologians of the Jesuit order in the sixteenth century. Known widely for developing a theory of human freedom of action (and in turn, a new religious doctrine now known as Molinism), Molina was also the first Jesuit to make major contributions to economic thought through a major treatise (On Justice and Right).

In the book’s introduction, Rudolf Schuessler offers more on the historical context and Molina’s contribution therein. As Schuessler explains, Molina’s views on freedom impacted his entire approach to economics and helped “set the pace for Jesuit economic thought.”

Jesuit economic thought in the seventeenth century gravitated toward individual freedom and displayed a keen appreciation of the market economy while upholding moral restrictions for market activities in a flexible and low-profile form. These features of Jesuit economic thought are of great—although not universally recognized—importance because the Jesuits were the teaching order par excellence in early modernity. Almost all early modern economic thinkers in Catholic countries were taught by the Jesuits, and Molina had the privilege to set the agenda for his order’s economic thought…

…By summarizing and discussing the state of the art of his time, Molina sets the pace for Jesuit economic thought. After the demise of the scholastic tradition and the temporary abolition of the Jesuit order in the eighteenth century, the respective doctrines traveled on back roads into the nineteenth century where they influenced the Austrian school and the marginalist revolution in economics. Molina and his contemporaries were the first to apply the laws of supply and demand systematically to money markets, and as a result conceived the quantity theory of inflation. They began to understand the role of risk, of liquidity, and of time preference in economic contexts, as well as the institutional role of property rights. For this they still deserve our attention.


speculationThe practice of speculation draws mixed reactions among Christians, as some believe it is intrinsically evil and others see great good coming from it. Over at Legatus Magazine, Acton’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, hopes to shed some light on whether or not Christians should engage in speculation. The Roman Catholic Catechism condemns specific types of speculation, but Gregg argues that the practice could be justified in other situations not addressed by the Catechism. However, before Christians accept or reject it, it’s important that we understand this financial tool in all its complexity. Gregg quotes the Catholic Catechism:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies “speculation in which one contrives to manipulate the price of goods artificially in order to gain an advantage to the detriment of others” as “morally illicit” (CCC #2409).. This wording indicates that there are legitimate forms of speculation, though these are left unspecified.

He continues:

The justice of different choices denoted as “speculative” depends upon the specifics of a given choice. Speculation that relies, for instance, upon telling falsehoods is wrong because choosing to lie is, in Christian terms, always wrong. It would be equally unjust for a financial firm to try and manipulate the futures market by expressing to others excessive optimism or negativity about the prospects for a given commodity.


parsonage (1)A federal court of appeals has rejected an atheist group’s lawsuit seeking to strike down a 60-year-old tax provision protecting ministers, notes the Becket Fund. The ruling allows ministers of all faiths to continue receiving housing allowances. “This is a great victory for separation of church and state,” said Luke Goodrich, Deputy General Counsel of the Becket Fund of Religious Liberty. “When a group of atheists tries to cajole the IRS into raising taxes on churches, it’s bound to raise some eyebrows. The court was right to send them packing.”

Aside from the question of constitutionality, the clergy exemption raises a question that many people — whether religious or not — are likely to be wondering: Why exactly do ministers receive a tax exemption for their housing allowance?

To answer the question we must first consider how taxation of church property, including clergy housing, has historically been considered.

We’ve developed a bit of a backlog of audio to release over the course of the summer and fall, so today we begin the process of shortening that list by sharing some recent lectures from the 2014 Acton Lecture Series with you.

On August 26, Acton was pleased to welcome Ron Blue to Grand Rapids for an address entitled “Persistent Generosity.” Ron has spent almost 50 years in the financial services world and the last 35 working almost exclusively with Christian couples. What he has observed is that those who are long term consistent in their generosity exhibit three characteristics that have nothing to do with money: they are content, confident, and able to communicate with each other, their children, and advisors if they use them. In this address, Ron shares his personal experience and impressions drawn from 50 years in the financial sector, gives unique financial advice from a faith-based perspective, and shares the two questions that must be answered and one decision that must be made in order to exhibit the characteristics of persistently generous people.

On October 2, we welcomed Gerard Lameiro to the Mark Murray Auditorium to address an audience on the topic of “Renewing America and Its Heritage of Freedom: What Freedom-Loving Americans Can Do to Help.” In his address, Lameiro commented on what freedom is and what it is not, and then walked through a substantial, solid, and moral case for freedom, acknowledging that God is the author of all liberty and that truth, human dignity, and morality are inextricably linked to freedom. You can find more information on Lameiro and pick up a copy of his latest book (which shares the title of his lecture) at his website, and you can listen to him on the Radio Free Acton podcast right here.

CREAMIn a talk he gave at Kuyper College for the launch of the new business leadership major some years back, Vincent Bacote made an insightful observation about the “people in the room” where things were decided leading up to and during the Global Financial Crisis. What if, he wondered, the Christians who were certainly there had the resources (intellectual, moral, and spiritual) to do something about the direction that things were headed?

I also wrote about how we need to recognize that the church already occupies Wall Street (as well as all streets!) and the task of moral formation that this reality entails.

But this call to “occupy” Wall Street is perhaps as complex and challenging an arena of cultural engagement and cultural development as there is. This incisive piece from Michael Lewis outlines some of the “occupational hazards” of that particular call.