Yes, you are legally required to pay your taxes

March 1, 2023 GMT
This Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020 photo shows the W-4 form in New York. The Associated Press on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023 reported on false claims that there are no laws requiring people to pay their taxes. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)
This Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020 photo shows the W-4 form in New York. The Associated Press on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023 reported on false claims that there are no laws requiring people to pay their taxes. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

CLAIM: There are no laws requiring people to pay their taxes.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The Internal Revenue Service and several tax experts confirmed to The Associated Press that Title 26 of the U.S. Code requires individuals to pay income taxes. They said that faulty legal arguments claiming there’s no such law have been around for decades but have not been successful in court.

THE FACTS: With April’s federal income tax deadline approaching, social media users are reviving claims that paying taxes isn’t even legally required.

Many are sharing a short video compiling interviews from a number of purported experts, including a tax lawyer, a tax advisor and a former IRS agent -- all of whom claim they discovered through their own research that Americans aren’t obligated to pay income taxes because it isn’t spelled out in law.

“If there’s no law that binds us to paying taxes. The question I have is, why are we?” wrote one Facebook user who shared the more than three-minute video. The post has been liked or shared more than 5,000 times as of Tuesday.

But federal officials and tax experts dismiss the arguments as frivolous and say the law is clear: paying federal taxes is a requirement.

Raphael Tulino, a spokesperson for the IRS, directed the AP to a website it maintains to address many of the common claims made by those opposed to following tax laws, including the notion that paying federal income taxes is purely voluntary.

“The requirement to pay taxes is not voluntary,” the IRS’ response on the website reads. “Section 1 of the Internal Revenue Code clearly imposes a tax on the taxable income of individuals, estates, and trusts, as determined by the tables set forth in that section.”

The IRS also notes on its website that the obligation to pay income taxes is described in section 6151, which requires taxpayers to submit payment with their tax returns.

Jonathan Siegel, a professor at George Washington University’s law school who has written about income tax myths, agreed with the agency’s assessment.

“No, there isn’t even a grain of truth to the theories in the video, nor does it contain any new or surprising arguments,” he wrote in an email, directing the AP to his personal website breaking down income tax myths. “There is indeed a law that requires ordinary, working Americans to pay income tax, assuming they earn enough to be over the minimum income threshold.”

Federal tax laws are contained in the Internal Revenue Code, also known as Title 26 of the United States Code, Siegel explains on his website. The U.S. Code is the compilation of all the laws passed by Congress.

“The Internal Revenue Code is the law that requires people to pay taxes,” he writes on the website. “The most important statutory provision with regard to income taxes is the very first: section one of the tax code, 26 U.S.C. § 1. Section one imposes the income tax.”

Garrett Watson, a senior policy analyst at the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax policy research group in Washington, said tax protesters continue to misinterpret the IRS’ use of the phrase “voluntary compliance” in its publications as meaning paying taxes and filing tax returns isn’t legally required.

But the term refers to the notion that individuals are, at least initially, responsible for determining and paying the correct amount of tax and filling out the necessary forms, rather than the government determining the tax for them.

Watson also noted that legal arguments against paying taxes have been around for decades but have seen little success in courts.

In fact, one of the people featured in a widely circulating version of the social media video is Sherry Jackson, a former IRS employee and tax preparer who was convicted of willfully and intentionally failing to file tax returns.

The Georgia resident raised several common tax defier arguments in federal court but was ultimately sentenced to four years in federal prison in 2008.


This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.