Wages, Tips & Compensation non Exclusion
By: Bill E. Branscum
Copyrights 2002

This argument asserts that wages, tips, and other compensation received for personal services are not income, because there is allegedly no taxable gain when a person “exchanges” labor for money. Under this theory, wages are not taxable income because people have basis in their labor equal to the fair market value of the wages they receive; thus, there is no gain to be taxed.

Some take a different approach and argue that the Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution did not authorize a tax on wages and salaries, but only on gain or profit.

For federal income tax purposes, “gross income” means all income from whatever source derived and includes compensation for services. I.R.C. § 61. Any income, from whatever source, is presumed to be income under section 61, unless the taxpayer can establish that it is specifically exempted or excluded. In Reese v. United States, 24 F.3d 228, 231 (Fed. Cir. 1994), the court stated, “an abiding principle of federal tax law is that, absent an enumerated exception, gross income means all income from whatever source derived.”

The Sixteenth Amendment provides that Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes on income, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration. U.S. Const. amend. XVI. Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the income tax laws enacted subsequent to ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment in Brushaber v. Union Pacific R.R., 240 U.S. 1 (1916). Since that time, the courts have consistently upheld the constitutionality of the federal income tax.

All compensation for personal services, no matter what the form of payment, must be included in gross income. This includes salary or wages paid in cash, as well as the value of property and other economic benefits received because of services performed, or to be performed in the future.
Furthermore, criminal and civil penalties have been imposed against individuals relying upon this frivolous argument.

Relevant Case Law:

Commissioner v. Glenshaw Glass Co., 348 U.S. 426, 429-30 (1955) – referring to the statute’s words “income derived from any source whatever,” the Supreme Court stated, “this language was used by Congress to exert in this field ‘the full measure of its taxing power.’ . . . And the Court has given a liberal construction to this broad phraseology in recognition of the intention of Congress to tax all gains except those specifically exempted.”

Commissioner v. Kowalski, 434 U.S. 77 (1977) – the Supreme Court found that payments are considered income where the payments are undeniably accessions to wealth, clearly realized, and over which a taxpayer has complete dominion.

United States v. Connor, 898 F.2d 942, 943-44 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 497 U.S. 1029 (1990) – the court stated that “[e]very court which has ever considered the issue has unequivocally rejected the argument that wages are not income.”

Lonsdale v. Commissioner, 661 F.2d 71, 72 (5th Cir. 1981) – the court rejected as “meritless” the taxpayer’s contention that the “exchange of services for money is a zero-sum transaction . . . .”
McCoy v. United States, 88 A.F.T.R.2d (RIA) 7116, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18986 (N.D. Tex. Nov. 16, 2001) – the court rejected the taxpayer’s argument that wages received were not income and described this position as meritless.

Cheek v. United States, 498 U.S. 192 (1991) – the Supreme Court reversed and remanded Cheek’s conviction of willfully failing to file federal income tax returns and willfully attempting to evade income taxes solely on the basis of erroneous jury instructions. The Court noted, however, that Cheek’s argument, that he should be acquitted because he believed in good faith that the income tax law is unconstitutional, “is unsound, not because Cheek’s constitutional arguments are not objectively reasonable or frivolous, which they surely are, but because the [law regarding willfulness in criminal cases] does not support such a position.” Id. (emphasis added). On remand,
Cheek was convicted on all counts and sentenced to jail for a year and a day. Cheek v. United States, 3 F.3d 1057 (7th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1112 (1994).

Reading v. Commissioner, 70 T.C. 730 (1978), aff’d, 614 F.2d 159 (8th Cir. 1980) – the court said the entire amount received from the sale of one’s services constitutes income within the meaning of the Sixteenth Amendment.

United States v. Richards, 723 F.2d 646, 648 (8th Cir. 1983) – the court upheld conviction and fines imposed for willfully failing to file tax returns, stating that the taxpayer’s contention that wages and salaries are not income within the meaning of the Sixteenth Amendment is “totally lacking in merit.”

United States v. Romero, 640 F.2d 1014, 1016 (9th Cir. 1981) – the court affirmed Romero’s conviction for willfully failing to file tax returns, finding, in part, that “[t]he trial judge properly instructed the jury on the meaning of [‘income’ and ‘person’]. Romero’s proclaimed belief that he was not a ‘person’ and that the wages he earned as a carpenter were not ‘income’ is fatuous as well as obviously incorrect.”

Abrams v. Commissioner, 82 T.C. 403, 413 (1984) – the court rejected the argument that wages are not income, sustained the failure to file penalty, and awarded damages of $5,000 for pursuing a position that was “frivolous and groundless . . . and maintained primarily for delay.”

Cullinane v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 1999-2, 77 T.C.M. (CCH) 1192, 1193 (1999) – noting that “[c]ourts have consistently held that compensation for services rendered constitutes taxable income and that taxpayers have no tax basis in their labor,” the court found Cullinane liable for the failure to file penalty, stating that “[his] argument that he is not required to pay tax on compensation for services does not constitute reasonable cause.”

I welcome your comments, questions and suggestions.

© Copyright 2002 - Bill E. Branscum. All Rights Reserved.