I've found content (especially from Irwin Schiff) that says there's no law requiring US citizens to pay income tax. Other sources claim that income tax is mandatory.

If there really is no law requiring me to pay, I'd like to know (for obvious reasons).

What law or laws do require me to pay? Or are there currently no such laws?

  • 44
    Irwin Schiff was tried and convicted of tax fraud three separate times, served multiple prison sentences, and died in prison. Why anyone would consider him a reliable source of legal advice is beyond my comprehension.
    – barbecue
    Oct 19, 2015 at 1:20
  • 4
  • Related: the 16th Amendment doesn't give Congress the ability to institute income taxes. It merely gives Congress the ability to spend the money at the federal level rather than distribute it to the state governments.
    – Mark
    Oct 19, 2015 at 6:05
  • 10
    @Mark The 16th Amendment says that "The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration." The notion that this doesn't give Congress the ability to institute income taxes is laughable.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 3, 2016 at 21:54
  • 1
    It seems that mentioning Schiff to the tax office is enough to make them very, very angry and to look at your tax affairs very, very closely which will be causing you trouble and money.
    – gnasher729
    Jul 19, 2017 at 7:33

4 Answers 4


The Internal Revenue Code found at Title 26 of the United States Code. Title 26 is the full compilation of all the laws passed by Congress relating to tax liability and every other legal obligation, definition, exemption, exception, etc. The Internal Revenue Code is the law that requires people to pay taxes and if you believe the folks who say it's only a legal requirement as assessed, they're wrong.

  • 11
    Well, what would be extortion if done by a private individual is not nearly the same when applied to the citizens of a nation state by its government, through laws enacted by its legislative body, the constitutionality of which is affirmed by its judicial branch.
    – gracey209
    Oct 18, 2015 at 20:14
  • 33
    It's extortion in the same sense that arresting someone is kidnapping -- it would be if done by someone else, but part of what makes a government a government is that it can do this. Incidentally, the specific general section making it a crime to not pay is section 7203.
    – cpast
    Oct 18, 2015 at 20:24
  • 5
    Then is it also extortion if a judge says "pay a $100 fine or go to jail?" It's fine if you want to call it extortion as a practical matter, but being required to pay your taxes does not constitute the crime of extortion. Laws, if not complied with voluntarily, are generally enforced with state sanctioned coercion. Oct 18, 2015 at 21:28
  • 10
    It wouldn't even be extortion if done by a private individual. A private individual can absolutely say "if you don't pay me the amount that you are required to pay me under the law, I will use the courts to get it and if a court agrees that you broke the law, you will be punished as the law requires". Oct 19, 2015 at 5:00
  • 3
    @psmears Cort Ammon was talking about changing citizenship, not just relocating.
    – barbecue
    Oct 19, 2015 at 11:56

There are even laws against acting on the various claims that are advocated by tax protesters. Typically these are referred to as "frivolous tax arguments," and make for entertaining reading.

  • 1
    upvoted for the entertainment value.
    – dwoz
    Oct 22, 2015 at 20:40
  • 1
    One interesting one is declaring yourself to be the religious leader of a new religion with you as its single member... And one comment says that (a) only the pope could make that claim successfully, and (b) if the pope was a US citizen, then this claim would actually work and he could avoid paying taxes! (It seems that no other world religion has a person in a similar position to the catholic pope).
    – gnasher729
    Jul 27, 2017 at 22:56

Some important specific references were buried in comments, so I thought I would promote them to an answer.

  • The general statement that income tax exists is in 26 USC 1:

    (a) There is hereby imposed on the taxable income of [...] every married individual [...] a tax in accordance with the following table...

    followed by similar statements for single taxpayers, heads of households, and the other filing statuses.

    (This reference comes from the link provided in LPRO's answer and helpfully highlighted by ohwillike.)

    One could argue that the mandatory nature of income tax is inherent in the word "tax". The Oxford Dictionary defines "tax" as "a compulsory contribution to state revenue...". Generally speaking, if a word used in a law isn't given an explicit definition, then it carries its common meaning, and courts will interpret and enforce it accordingly. If Congress hadn't meant the tax to be required, they would have used a different word than "tax".

  • 26 US 7203 makes it a crime to fail to pay taxes, punishable by fine and/or imprisonment. This is about the strongest way that a government can make something "required": by punishing people who don't do it.

    Any person required under this title to pay any estimated tax or tax [...] who willfully fails to pay such estimated tax or tax [...] shall, in addition to other penalties provided by law, be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than $25,000 ($100,000 in the case of a corporation), or imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both, together with the costs of prosecution.

    (Thanks to cpast for providing this reference.)


There is a law requiring payment of income taxes in the U.S. You can see the law here: http://www.jsiegel.net/taxes/NoLaw.htm.

For a rundown of numerous wrong arguments that U.S. citizens don't have to pay income taxes, and refutations of those arguments, see here: http://www.jsiegel.net/taxes/IncomeTax.htm

  • 2
    This is a link-only response. Please write an actual answer.
    – user4657
    May 31, 2017 at 19:18
  • The first reference is to 26 USC Sections 1, 61, 63, 6012(a), 6072 and 6151. The 16th Amendment to the United States passed by Congress on July 2, 1909, and ratified February 3, 1913, the 16th amendment gave the federal government the constitutional authority to enact those Federal income tax laws.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 12, 2018 at 14:19

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