Why People Pay Taxes

“Ugh, taxes.”

If that’s how you sound, you’re not alone. In a 2021 survey from Gallup, about half of all people in the U.S. said they felt their tax bill was "too high." … But at the same time, about half of respondents also said that the amount they pay is fair.

So we decided to take a look at where our money is going. If we’re ponying up, what’s it being spent on? Here's a breakdown of where the money goes, and what you have to gain from filing your taxes. (Also: here’s how you get free tax prep.)

Our tax dollars pay for all kinds of things, many of which we enjoy on a daily basis without even realizing it. That includes everything from highways to schools, to firefighters and national parks.

Here’s where the government spent the most in 2020 (basically, this is what taxes paid for):

  1. Health — 16.75%
  2. Medicare — 16.01%
  3. National Defense — 15.03%
  4. Social Security — 14.43%
  5. Income security (including SNAP, you may know this as food stamps) — 11.7%

Some of the other items on the list that you might not think of included space exploration (!!) and flight, and scientific research.

How do you feel about your taxes now?

Now, check out how YOU benefit from paying taxes – and how to get money back.


Sarah Brady is a personal finance writer and credit expert with nine years of experience helping individuals and entrepreneurs improve their financial wellness. Sarah writes advice articles for Experian, Investopedia and LendingTree, and she's been published by Credit Karma and syndicated by Yahoo! News and MSN. She is a former educator and counselor for the City of San Francisco's affordable home buying programs, as well as a former HUD-Certified Housing Counselor and NFCC-Certified Credit Counselor. Sarah can be contacted at sarahcbrady.com.

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