It's Almost Tax Day! See What All Your Hard-Earned Cash Actually Pays For

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"In this world," wrote Benjamin Franklin, "nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes."

As the April 18 tax filing  deadline closes in, millions of Americans are frantically confronting that latter (but hopefully not former) inevitability.

Let's be blunt: paying taxes isn't fun. After all, that's your hard-earned cash siphoned out of every paycheck. And for what, exactly? Where does it all go? And what do you get in return? It's not like the IRS gives you a detailed explanation of how your precious dollars are being spent.

Fortunately, a bunch of neat web apps allow you to create a personalized tax receipt showing an itemized list of the  federal programs and services your tax dollars are helping fund.

It's information that likely won't make paying taxes any less painful, but at least it'll shed a little light on what it is you're actually paying for. And, if it's any consolation, keep in mind that U.S. taxpayers on average pay significantly lower taxes than citizens in nearly every other wealthy nation in the world, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The Big Picture

Roughly 80 percent of all federal tax revenue comes directly from our paychecks, through income taxes and payroll taxes. In fiscal year 2014, the federal government spent $3.5 trillion (that's with 12 zeros), according to the CBPP. Of that, more than $3 trillion was financed by federal revenues (aka, our taxes). The remaining amount (about $485 billion) came from borrowing.


The three biggest areas of spending together accounted for about two-thirds of the entire federal budget:

1. Social Security (24 percent, or $851 billion), providing monthly retirement benefits to 39 million retirees, 8.4  million of their spouses and children, and 10.9 million disabled workers and eligible dependents.

2. Four health insurances programs (24 percent, or $836 billion), including Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Affordable Care Act marketplace subsidies. Medicare, which provides health coverage to around 54 million people who are over the age of 65 or have disabilities, accounted for nearly two-thirds of this amount.

3. Defense spending (18 percent, or $615 billion), funding defense and security-related international activities.

Drilling Down on Income Tax

Tax day is all about the individual income taxes you have to pay the government by April 15. These are the taxes on income from work, investments and other earnings. Income taxes collectively make up nearly half of all federal revenue, according to the National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan federal budget research group. They fund government programs and services that are not paid for by trust funds like Social Security and Medical, which are covered by payroll taxes.

Click the image at right to explore NPP's interactive tax receipt. Enter the amount of federal tax you paid to see an itemized list of where that money was spent in fiscal year 2015. You can also view the tax receipt for your own specific state. This estimation includes income tax only, not trust funds generated from sources like payroll taxes that can only be used for specific programs such as Social Security and Medicare.