“Hello, single mother of two kids, here. My taxes went up significantly, meaning that I will not be able to do many of the things that matter to me and my family. But Happy Gaslighting Day to you, too, @GOP,” tweeted Asha Rangappa, a senior lecturer at Yale. The tweet was a reference to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: the sweeping Republican-backed tax plan Trump signed into law in December 2017. With her declaration came a chorus of single mothers who had also experienced an unexpected increase in their annual taxes. One woman responded with, “Exactly the same. Single mom of two, huge surge in taxes—like up $10k from what I paid last year. Hello, more consumer debt 2019. Owning the libs by hobbling the middle class. Good times, @GOP.” Another shared, “Single mom of 3 kids making under $60k & I owe for first time ever! #goptaxscam.”
For some mothers, and single mothers in particular, it seems, the increase came as a huge shock. Not just because most hadn’t expected it, but because Donald Trump—with the Republican Party behind him—has promised for months that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would provide massive tax cuts to Americans nationwide. So much so that Trump tweeted, “The Tax Cuts are so large and so meaningful, and yet the Fake News is working overtime to follow the lead of their friends, the defeated Dems, and only demean. This is truly a case where the results will speak for themselves, starting very soon. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!”
When Tax Day rolled around—the results did speak for themselves. But not as Trump expected. “Tax time is usually a time of relief for me,” explains Elizabeth, a chemist and single mom in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who asked that Glamour not use her last name. “I have always gotten a much-needed refund of $2,000-$3,000. This has allowed me to pay unpaid medical bills, and get my daughter necessary items like new clothes, since she still grows out of everything each season.” But this week, Elizabeth discovered she owed money to the government. She had to fork over $168 in federal taxes. She’s quick to point out that $168 is not a lot, in the grand scheme—but given that she expected to get a refund during tax season, it’s a major hit.
Kat Stratford, a structural engineer in Richmond, Virginia, and mother of one, had a similar experience. Stratford typically pays approximately $20,000 in taxes each year, but says this year she was required to pay an additional $8,000. Since she’d only been budgeting for her usual $20,000 amount, Stratford was completely blindsided by the increase. To pay the difference, she had to dig into funds set aside to take her child on a vacation. While she says she feels fortunate she only had to sacrifice a discretionary trip, many of her other single mom friends paid a greater cost:”One mom was putting repairs off on her car and hoping to use her federal tax refund to assist in the costly repairs. Another routinely used her refund to pay off credit card debt accumulated over the previous holiday season buying gifts for her kids. This friend now not only owes money to the IRS; she will now go into this coming holiday season in residual credit card debt. Without some relief, it will be devastating and crippling to their families.”
So what exactly happened? According to Kelly Phillips Erb, a tax lawyer and founder of Tax Girl, the problem is two-fold. First, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act issued changes that directly impact all parents—single or otherwise. One of them is that the TCJA eliminated personal exemptions—the amount of money you’re allowed to deduct for yourself, and dependents (which include your children) on your taxes. “Last year, the personal exemption amount was $4,050 per dependent,” Erb says. “So for example, in my family of five, I had $20,000 in personal exemptions last year, and this year I had none.” Instead of of personal exemptions, the TCJA offers increased “standard deductions.” “The updated standard deduction rates are $12,000 for individuals, $18,000 for heads of household, and $24,000. While this sounds like you’re getting an even greater deal, in some cases this amounts to less than when you could file with dependents,” she says.
The other issue impacts Americans across the board. “When the TCJA was passed, they issued a number of changes to the tax code, especially in regard to withholding,” Erb explains. “The withholding tables were wrong for the first quarter of 2018, and even when they were fixed, people didn’t know to account for the new withholding amounts. So ultimately, people weren’t putting enough away to pay their taxes.” A new report predicts that more than 30 million Americans will ultimately owe tax money this year, a huge increase from previous years.