What would happen if the President refused to pay income taxes?

As it’s well known, the President pays income taxes every year, like all US citizens.

But I was always curious about what would happen if the President decided one year, for whatever reason, to simply not pay his/her income taxes. Would the IRS have the legal right to garnish the President’s wages for refusal to pay income taxes? Is there enough merit that the President could be impeached by Congress over this? Could the President even be arrested? :eek:

Yes, yes, and unlikely. Few people are arrested for merely not paying taxes. It normally takes continued defiance over a period of time before it reaches that state. However, in the abstract, the president can like any other citizen be arrested.

As far as I know, it’s not a crime to refuse to pay your taxes, so long as you complete a proper and honest tax return.

So if the president completed his return and then refused to pay, I don’t think he would be arrested. Would the IRS levy on his property/wages? Probably. And if he used his influence to stop it, he would probably be impeached.

Just my guess though.

Can he pardon himself? I know it wouldn’t immunize him from impeachment, but still.

The IRS is patient. They’d probably just wait until he left office, then hit him with a massive amount of fines and penalties. Pardoning himself wouldn’t help, because that would just get him out of the criminal part. He’d still owe all the money, and the IRS would send very large, unsympathetic men to collect it.


It’s not a crime to pay NO taxes (that is, if your proper and honest return shows that you owe nothing), but if you do owe the IRS money per your return and you just refuse to pay it, I think that you’ll be in trouble…

Think about this for one minute. How can it be legal to not pay your taxes, return or no return? The only point of the return is to calculate what you owe. The fact of your owing taxes is primary. The return only shows the amount. (It is always possible to not owe any taxes for a given year, of course, but that’s a side issue to amount.)

And for the ten millionth time, the Tax Protester FAQ.

Ah, you foolish & callow youth.

Have you forgotten that Taxes hath laid-low a Vice President?



In fairness, though, Agnew’s tax troubles stemmed from before he was VP. Not that his joining the Executive Branch (or is it the Legislative?) would have excused him from paying taxes while holding the office of VP.

You think about this for a minute. The US doesn’t have debtors’ jails anymore. The normal rule is that you can’t go to jail for not paying your debts. There are exceptions for child support. I’m not aware of an exception for income taxes. I may be wrong, however.

It may be unlawful to not pay your taxes, but I’m not aware that it’s a crime. People who are prosecuted for not paying their taxes usually either fail to file a return or file a fraudulent return.

26 USC § 7201. Attempt to evade or defeat tax

So yes, it’s a felony not to pay taxes.

I believe that the courts have read an “affirmative act” requirement into Section 7201.

As I said, normally you can’t be prosecuted just for owing money and not paying it. But I don’t have the time to research it and I could be wrong.

Spies v. United States, 317 U.S. 492, 494 (1943) seems to deal with the “affirmative act” aspect. I leave it to someone less intoxicated and more adept at reading case law than I to confirm if that’s the correct cite. I’d be willing to bet that a sitting POTUS “refusing” to pay income tax would be considered an affirmative act. Key word being “refusing,” not “failing” or “not paying.”

The problem with your argument is that paying taxes is not in any sense a debt. It is a mandatory and statutory legal obligation.

Maybe it’s just late, but I’m failing to grasp your distinction between something that it unlawful but not a crime. In what sense are you using “Crime”? Can you point to other instances of things that are unlawful without being crimes?

Yes, I already stipulated that it normally takes a pattern of noncompliance to lead to jail. However, by that time the amount of taxes owed has been made quite clear to the individual that taxes are owed, whether a return has been filed or not, and so not paying amounts to an affirmative refusal. In any case, the practical consequences are different from the technicalities of the law. You cannot get out of paying any taxes owed by any maneuvering. It is a crime.

And I say again, how could the tax system possibly work if it were legal to file a return and then just not pay? Why wouldn’t everybody in the country do that? The answer? They can’t do that because it is illegal to do that. Such a simple and obvious loophole doesn’t exist.

The normal rule doesn’t apply if you’re not paying a debt to the government.

Besides, I doubt the President even has the option of not paying. I’m sure the taxes on his salary is withheld like any other government employee’s. And his other assets are handled by blind trusts which would pay taxes as part of their routine financial managment duties.

What is a debt besides a legal obligation to pay money?

Defamation, breach of contract, parking illegally, some kinds of discrimination.

Why do most people pay their credit cards and their parking tickets?

Anyway, while it’s possible that simple nonpayment is a crime, the system could work just fine without any prosecutions for simple non payment.

Yes, you are right that usually it’s not a crime to not pay money. But in this case, federal income taxes are like child support in some states. You can be prosecuted criminally just for not paying what you owe.

Most debts are contractual obligations between private parties. Taxes are owed to the government and not paying them is defined as a crime by statute. If you don’t pay a bill to your plumber, you get sued. If you don’t pay a bill to the IRS, you get arrested (eventually).

It is not a crime to simply refuse to pay taxes, or to owe txes and be unable to pay. It is a crime to file false returns, hide income, or otherwise “evade” taxes. It is also a crime* to hide assets.*

You can’t be prosecuted simply for not paying, buit you can be prosecuted if you try and stop the IRS from siezing your assets.

Indeed, some declare Bankruptcy, and although that does not releive your Fderal Income tax debt, it usually gets the IRS off your ass. You have a right to declare bankruptcy, it even mentions it in the Constitution.

If you filed a honest return, owing large amounts of taxes, then said “I refuse to pay it” (and let the IRS take what they wanted) the IRS has 10 years to collect it. During that time if you earn anything (there are some minor exclusions) or have any assets (again, there are some minor exclusions) the IRS will take them.

But dudes don’t do that as it means for ten years you have to live like a homeless person. It’d be as bad as prison. Instead dudes lie and cheat- then they go to prison.

However, few dudes even then actually go to prison (unless you are the leader of a Tax Protestor ring). What usually happens is that after conviction, most dudes :see the light" and if they promise to file and pay all taxes and penalties, they are given a suspended sentence and time served. Most- when faced with more prison time- yeild and promise. Few remain adamant.