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Are There Really Americans Who Pay NO Taxes?

What do you get when you combine a presidental election year and tax day? For starters, you get a lot of wonks working themselves into a lather over the 50 or so percent of Americans who pay little to no income tax. It's convenient for these people to say "these Americans pay no taxes!" but in reality, there are likely only a handful of people in this country who legitimately pay zero in tax. Federal income taxes are one thing but sin taxes, property taxes and sales taxes are completely different, and even those who escape federal income tax are likely to pay at least something in other taxes.

That said, if you want to avoid taxes completely, maybe you can move to a sales-tax-free state, live on someone else's property and shoot your own dinner.


John Steinhoff, a certified public accountant in Great Falls, Mont., tells host Guy Raz that it is possible to live legally and pay virtually no taxes.

"In Montana, basically, you'd have to be unemployed; so no earned wages," Steinhoff says. "You don't own any real property, you wouldn't pay any sin tax — so no liquor, tobacco, anything like that — and the state of Montana doesn't have a sales tax, so you could still buy food and supplies and not pay taxes."

Looking for a place where that would be possible led to northwestern Montana, and to the home of Lisa Block. She lives there with her husband in an area of the Kootenai National Forest.

The couple live on property owned by Block's father-in-law, so they pay no property tax. They live in the country and take their own trash to the dump, so they don't pay any municipality taxes.

Block makes a modest living running a sewing shop out of their home, but doesn't earn enough income to qualify for a federal income tax. As far as food, they have that taken care of, too.

"My husband and I, we both hunt – deer, elk [and] antelope," Block told NPR's Raz by phone. "We raise our own beef, pork and chickens, and we put in a garden every year."

It turns out, however, that even in one of the remotest parts of America, Block still pays taxes: gasoline taxes for the truck and a state self-employment tax of about $300.

It's not much, but it is certainly not nothing.

Is avoiding tax worth living out in the forest with a shotgun?