Political Calculations
Unexpectedly Intriguing!
January 28, 2005

Update: Welcome Carnival of the Capitalists readers!

The recent appearance of "suitblogs" (see definition below) at both General Motors and Boeing marks a new development in the acceptance of blogging for business purposes. Of the two executives behind the blogs, GM's Bob Lutz does an excellent job in marketing his company's products to the Internet-linked auto enthusiast community, while Boeing's Randy Baseler's blog is essentially a more personalized corporate press release (a concurring review is available at Sound Politics.)

But blogs are capable of so much more! During my tenure at Boeing1, I had the opportunity to pioneer the use of the company's Intranet to manage production projects that involved work that had to be coordinated among team members dispersed at various company facilities throughout the Puget Sound, including sites at Everett, Renton, Seattle, Kent, Auburn and Frederickson.

Using internal web sites and e-mail to communicate project activity among project team members at each location, it quickly became apparent that the real power of the medium lay in being able to capture the knowledge of the project team members and disseminating it across the entire Boeing enterprise, both in space (over geographic distances) and in time (lessons learned in one project could be directly accessed in future projects, instead of relying on the "tribal knowledge" of project members).

For the projects I managed this way, all this knowledge capture was done by building and editing individual web pages in the days before blogging technology was even on the radar screen, and it was a real pain-in-the-neck to do. There was no nice, easy way to upload information directly to the web, and this obstacle blocked the proliferation of the practice. The loss to the company in being able to increase productivity through reducing learning curves can best be described as extraordinary in this regard. Worst, the losses go noticed because it's always been like that, so it becomes an unspoken cost of doing business.

Today, the technology behind blogging is changing everything. By automating the upload of enriched information in context (hypertext, images, data, etc.) directly to the web, and adding the ability to quickly and effectively search for relevant information, it is becoming easier than ever to both capture and disseminate real intellectual capital. The technology is on the cusp of being able to truly revolutionize how business within a company will be done - and it's much more than marketing.

Suitblog
:

noun, slang (2005): 1. A blog written by a business executive, or "suit". 2. A blog written about a set of garments.
Attribution: Ironman at politicalcalculations.com

Comment: If I Google it and I can't find it in English, I can claim credit for creating the word, right?

  1. Full Disclosure: Beginning in the early 1990s, I worked at Boeing for more than a decade, up until my job was effectively "killed" by terrorists in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001 and their effect upon the commercial aviation industry. At Boeing, over a third of the people at the commercial airplane company in 2001 have been laid off as a direct result of the attacks.

January 27, 2005

"Check your back" is the tagline to one of the best and funniest television advertisements airing early in this 2005 tax season. The commercial for Jackson Hewitt Tax Service features the fanciful interaction between one of Jackson Hewitt's tax preparers and his client. The client asks when he will receive his money, and the tax preparer responds that he should check his pocket. Voila, there's a check in the man's pocket!

Somewhat uncomfortably, perhaps from the sudden realization that Refund Anticipation Loans are generally not such a great deal, the man says he'll just get his coat, perhaps thinking it's best for him to clear out of there. The omniscient, all-powerful tax preparer tells him to check his back. The camera cuts back to the man, who looks down, sees that he is now wearing his coat, and becoming clearly unsettled by the preceding events, all of which have occurred without his overt awareness.

So I wonder, after reading Hugh Hewitt's site this morning, if Hugh is feeling about the same as the client from the commercial now. While I imagine many people could have missed the Club for Growth's press release yesterday announcing the creation of the Social Security Choice blog, I wonder how Hugh could have missed Blogfather's Glenn Reynolds' mention of the event yesterday as well, along with several dozen other blogs since.

There have also been other ongoing efforts to assemble an alliance of pro-Social Security reform bloggers, most notably at Patrick Ruffini's site, but the Club for Growth is clearly the first out of the chute in establishing an authoritative blog, which features contributions from several of the authors of the pro-reform blogs listed below:

Last, but hopefully not least, there is also my own contribution to the pro-Social Security reform blogosphere, which you many of you have already seen through the link from the most recent Carnival of the Capitalists.

So, if you ever wonder about the speed of the blogosphere in forming new blogs and alliances around areas of interest to you, remember to "check your back" first! If it isn't there, start your own!

January 26, 2005

Update: I have added a tool to do the math illustrated below!

Those are the words of Washington State Democratic Party Chair Paul Berendt, who wrote them in a note to supporters following the results of the manual recount in the Washington State Governor's race, attempting to justify Christine Gregoire's path to the state governor's mansion over Republican candidate Dino Rossi, who had previously won the original count as well as the mandatory machine recount.

It would seem to me that Paul Berendt has never had the responsibility of producing a product that demands high quality, where accuracy in how all the product's components fit and function together is paramount in ensuring that the product itself will not be defective. Apparently, neither has Democratic Party spokeswoman Lisa Cohen, who said of the election in King County:

"It's been the most closely observed election in our lifetimes, I think. What's very important to realize and keep in context is that King County and the other counties say that their accuracy rate is more than 99.9 percent."

So that got me thinking about how overall product quality may be determined. Here, the product is election results, which are made of the components of the votes totaled in each of Washington's thirty-nine counties. The 99.9% accuracy figure Lisa Cohen cites for each county can only be obtained by taking the total number of votes in each county, subtracting out the "errors," and then dividing the answer by the original number of votes counted. This math produces the accuracy rate for the election in each county, which also represents the probability that each component is accurate. The is the accuracy rate that Lisa Cohen has latched onto to represent the probability that the election results from the state's manual recount is both accurate and decisive.

One may calculate the overall probability that the certified results of the election represents the actual outcome by multiplying the accuracy rate of each component (or county) together. If we take each of the thirty-nine counties election accuracy rate to be 99.9%, the math for finding the overall election accuracy rate would be as follows:

Overall Accuracy Rate = (99.9%)39 = 96.1%

It would seem definitive from this result that Christine Gregoire is the winner.

Unfortunately for Christine Gregoire, Lisa Cohen and Paul Berendt, this result is completely wrong.

The reason the result is wrong is because errors at individual precincts within each county can become "washed out" at the county level. An example of this error "washout," may be found in the case of matching the number of voters to the number of ballots cast. Here, a precinct that has more voters than ballots cast can be offset by a precinct that has more ballots cast than voters. The accuracy of the election results produced at the county level will then appear to be better than it really is.

In reality, the individual components that are added together to produce election results are the vote totals from each precinct within the state, and this is the proper basis for determining the accuracy of the overall election results. King County alone has 2,600 precincts, so just applying the same 99.9% accuracy rate to each precinct within King County would produce the following result:

King County Accuracy Rate = (99.9%)2600 = 7.4%

In other words, the overall probability that the election results produced in King County are accurate is 7.4%, even though each precinct has an assumed vote counting accuracy rate of 99.9%. Considering the individual errors that are being found at each precinct/polling place in King County, it is highly unlikely that the county's accuracy rate is even that high. (Please don't get me started on the effect the shenanigans in Wisconsin are having on election accuracy there....)

The remaining calculation of the actual overall election accuracy rate in King County, and the rest of the state of Washington, is left as an exercise for Sound Politics' Stefan Sharkansky, who has just the database to do it.

Improving the accuracy and validity of election results is another matter. For those following events in Washington, Josef A.K. at Josef's Public Journal and Stefan Sharkansky continue to perform yeoman's work in shining the light on the efforts of public officials who are trying to provide cover and rally around embattled King County Elections Director Dean Logan, who has apparently begun outsourcing key components of his legally mandated duties to the public. Special kudos go to Stefan, who is going the extra mile by also taking on some of Logan's troublesome responsibilities in ensuring the integrity of elections in Logan's portion of Washington State.

It's good to know somebody is willing to work at it.


Update: At a February 9, 2005 press conference (reported here by Sound Politics' Stefan Sharkansky, King County Executive Ron Sims and Dean Logan claimed that King County had just 1,800 errors in 900,000 votes, representing an overall accuracy rate of 99.98%. Applying this accuracy rate across King County's 2,600 precincts in the math above would indicate that King County had a 59.4% chance of being truly accurate.

But, STOP THE PRESSES! Stefan did the math on the spot and found that King County's actual accuracy rate is just 99.8% (or 900,000 minus 1,800, then divided by 900,000.) This would mean that the probability that King County's election results for the 2004 Washington State governor's race are accurate is just 0.5%!

You would think that after being pounded by blogs on a regular basis that they might start reading them....

January 21, 2005

Final Update!: There's a new version that takes the President's proposed reforms into account.

February 7, 2005 Update: Thanks to Patrick Ruffini, the returns from your PRA are now even better than what you may have previously calculated using this tool (and the tool now works for Firefox browsers too!) To spare you the programming details (%#@&!! decimal points), all is fixed and the full percentage of your income that you would set aside in a PRA is now figured in the math.

Update: Welcome Carnival of the Capitalists readers!

The current debate over the ability of the Social Security program to provide retirement benefits into the future and President Bush's proposal to allow individuals take a portion of their Social Security taxes and invest in Private Retirement Accounts they themselves control leads to a natural question: Which is better for you?

That's the question Political Calculations' Social Security (SS) vs. Private Retirement Accounts (PRA) comparison calculator seeks to help you answer!

The calculator below determines what the inflation-adjusted value of your investment options would be at the point at which you become eligible to receive full Social Security retirement benefits, as if your Social Security payments were really being set aside in a special account for you. The point at which you would be eligible to receive full benefits varies by your age when you retire - age 65 for those retiring before 2009, age 66 for those retiring between 2009 and 2027, and at age 67 for those retiring in 2027 or after. That said, let's begin with what you'll be expected to enter in the fields below, and where or how you can get the information:

Taxes Already Paid In

If you're age 25 or older, this information may be obtained from Page 3 of the Social Security statement mailed to you each year (if you're under 25, you may request your statement from the agency, or backtrack over your old paystubs or your previous years' tax returns to see your Social Security taxable income.) Add the amount of taxes that you paid and the amount of taxes that your employer paid on your behalf together for the total amount of Social Security taxes to enter in the field.

You should note that roughly 85% of this amount (actually 10.6% of your annual income) is actually set aside in the Old Age and Survivor Insurance (OASI) portion of Social Security, which is the part of the program that pays retirement benefits. This is the portion taken into account by the calculator for determining your "investment" returns. The remaining portion of your Social Security taxes goes into covering the costs of program administration and Social Security's Disability Insurance (DI) program.

Current Annual Income

Enter your annual income from wages and salaries in this field. This value will be used as the basis for determining the amount of Social Security taxes paid for your benefit in the future. I should also note that the calculator ignores the annual income cap ($90,000 in 2005) for Social Security taxes - not because it might be raised as part of a massive tax increase, as Mark Weisbrot has proposed, but because it's a non-factor for over 80% of those paying Social Security taxes (see Page 2 of this 791K PDF document for recent salary data from the U.S. Census).

Years Already Worked

Been in the rat-race for a while? Give yourself credit!

Years Until Retirement

Select the number of years between you and when you'll be eligible to receive full Social Security retirement benefits (to play the "what-if?" game, I've set 75 to be the maximum, you workhorse!)

Average Annual Raise

Okay, this is where your delusions of either grandeur or adequacy come into play, but the default value of 4.3% is taken as being 1.0% ahead of the annualized historical rate of inflation in the U.S.

Proposed PRA Percentage

Select the portion of your wage and salary income that goes into the OASI Trust Fund that you would like to set aside for your Private Retirement Account. Since the stock market is considered to be the riskiest investing option that will be available to PRA investors, only the best and worst case returns based on historical data from this option will be determined by the calculator. Over time however, long-term stock market investors may expect an inflation-adjusted 6.0%-7.0% average annual rate of return from their diversified investments. An annual rate of return of 6.5% has been used in the Average PRA Return calculated below.

And that's all the Social Security vs. Private Retirement Account (SSvsPRA for short) comparison calculator needs to get started to estimate your potential investment returns:


Social Security and PRA Data
Input Data Values
Taxes Already Paid In ($USD)
Current Annual Income ($USD)
Years Already Worked
Years Until Retirement
Average Annual Raise (%)
Proposed PRA Percentage (%)

Lifetime Tax Payments to Social Security
Calculated Results Values
Total Social Security Taxes ($USD)
Total OASI Trust Fund Contribution ($USD)
Projected Investment Values at Year of Retirement
Calculated Results Values Difference from SS Only
Social Security Only Investment Value ($USD)
Worst Case PRA and Social Security Option ($USD)
Average PRA and Social Security Option ($USD)
Best Case PRA and Social Security Option ($USD)

The results above should indicate whether or not Private Retirement Accounts are a better option for you over the straight Social Security option. Also keep in mind that your participation in the PRA option is *voluntary*, and the program will be set up to continue devoting 100% of your Social Security taxes to the regular Social Security program unless you specifically enroll in the PRA option.

Want More Information?

Explanations are available for how the calculator determines the inflation-adjusted, annualized rates of return for your Social Security "investment" as well as the best and worst case investment returns to expect from your PRA account. The projected returns are calculated using a variant of the formula for determining the future value of an annuity.



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Update: Political Calculations has mapped the extremes in market performance for the S&P 500 too!

Compared to determining the effective return that an average "investor" can expect to earn from their "investment" in Social Security, working out the best and worst case investment returns from investing in the stock market turned out to be a breeze!

It turns out that there are whole bodies of scholarly work that have been done in this area with results that have been posted on the Internet. There are two sources I recommend. The first is an excerpt from mutual fund pioneer John Bogle's book, Bogle on Mutual Funds that shows the general trend between investment holding period and the best and worst case performance of the stock market between 1926 and 1992.

The second source, an interactive example provided by the Foundation for Investor Education, takes inflation-adjusted stock market performance data for a variety of holding periods from work done by Wharton School professor Jeremy Siegel, whose book, Stocks for the Long Run covers his research into the history of U.S. stock market returns since 1802. The following table shows Siegel's best and worst case historical stock market returns, which have been adjusted for inflation:

Inflation Adjusted Stock Market Annual Rates of Return
Holding Period (years) Worst Case (%) Best Case (%)
1 -38.6 +66.6
5 -11.0 +26.7
10 - 4.1 +16.9
20 + 1.0 +12.6
30 + 2.6 +10.6

I used Siegel's data to create the best and worst case, inflation-adjusted, stock market performance formulas below, using various regression techniques available in Microsoft Excel (and some other mathematical manipulation) to come up with the equations:

Best Case Stock Market Return = 62.212 * (Holding Period)-0.5167
Worst Case Stock Market Return = -49.742 * (Holding Period)-0.5587 + 10

In these equations, "Holding Period" represents the number of years that the stock market investment is held. Investors should note that Siegel's work is based on the performance of the entire U.S. stock market, which today may be best be tracked through the performance of the diversified Wilshire 5000 stock index. I've provided a simple calculator that performs this math below for reference:

Stock Holding Period
Input Data Values
Holding Period (Years)




Annualized Stock Market Rates of Return
Calculated Results Values
Best Case (%)
Worst Case (%)

Additional Note: Since the formulas are based on a limited number of data points, the results calculated will only approximate historical inflation-adjusted rates of return over time, with greater differences between historical and calculated results at very short holding periods, a result of the regression method. For long term results, the formulas also deviate from what would be expected due to the limited number of data points used to create the formulas (after 93 years, the worst case calculated return is higher than the best case calculated return!) As a result of this long term conflict with reality, I arbitrarily placed the effective long-term useful limit of the formulas at a holding period of 75 years for the Social Security versus Private Retirement Accounts comparison calculator, which should provide reasonably good approximations of returns without too great a discrepancy with what would actually occur in real market performance.

Update: Want to see what the future value of a fully diversified stock market investment might look like if you consecutively kept having the best or worst market performance over time? Take the Lemony Snicket vs. King Midas challenge today!

Update 30 July 2007: We've gone way beyond this tool! For the most recent analysis we've done, see our following posts:

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Determining the effective return that an average "investor" can expect to earn from their "investment" in Social Security turned out to be the most difficult part of developing the Social Security vs. Private Retirement Accounts comparison calculator.

For starters, the whole Old Age and Survivor Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund within Social Security (the part of the program that pays retirement benefits) is set up to pay the program's current recipients as soon as the money collected through your dedicated payroll taxes hits the books. The taxes collected in excess of those required to pay off the current recipients of Social Security are used to either pay the program's administrative costs or are otherwise siphoned off into other federal spending programs. The "siphoned" funds are actually borrowed by the U.S. government, which replaces the funds in the OASI Trust Fund account with "special-issue" interest-bearing Treasury bonds.

This all sounds well and good, but the portion of your payroll taxes that actually gets "invested" this way is just a small fraction of what you (and your employer on your behalf) paid in, and is getting lower and lower as the number of people receiving benefits increases. When you also consider that the actual returns for each recipient are tied to a series of factors that can vary wildly (age when benefits are first received, life expectancy, marital status, etc.), it becomes extraordinarily difficult to work out what the actual return on your individual investment might be. That the administrators of Social Security are reluctant to calculate an average individual rate of return because of these issues only further complicates the matter.

But why not?! Fortunately for me, others have looked at the same issue, and have come up with what the average Social Security investor's effective rate of return on contributions to the OASI Trust Fund account on their behalf might look like. The data in the following table was taken from a MSN Moneycentral article by Tom Woodruff, and illustrates the average rate of return for "investors" who retired in the indicated year:

Social Security's Effective Annualized Rate of Return
Year of Retirement Annualized Rate of Return
1940 135%
1950 24%
1960 15%
1970 10%
1980 8%
1990 6%
2000 4%

I took this data, and used several different regression techniques to work out a mathematical formula using Microsoft Excel that can be used to estimate the effective rate of return from Social Security into the future. Of course, the formula below is only as good as the limited number of data points used to determine it, and the best "fit" between formula and data came when I excluded the 1940 data point (Editor's Note: That doesn't mean the 1940 isn't there at all, it has just been slightly shifted from where it was. Here's the proof: enter 1940.0001, or some other similarly small offset from 1940, for the YEAR in your calculator when you enter the formula. Keep trying new "YEARS" until you reach a rate of return of 135%. It turns out to be a pretty good trade-off between Microsoft Excel's curve-fitting and the projected boundary conditions!):

Rate of Return = -11.009 * LN(YEAR-1940) + 48.589

In the formula above, "YEAR" is the expected year of retirement and "LN(YEAR-1940)" represents the natural logarithm of the number of years between the expected year of retirement and 1940. I selected this particular equation as being representative of the general trend for two reasons:

  1. Since Social Security is primarily a "pay-as-you-go" program, I believe that any estimation of the average rates of return in the program should reflect when the program's cash flow turns negative.

  2. The formula conservatively reflects the expected trend in the Social Security program by turning negative in 2023, just five years after current projections indicate that program outlays will exceed revenues. It also projects that the rates of return will grow worse slowly over time, which I believe to be the best case scenario for "investors" in the program.

You can compare the data table above with results from the formula, or project your effective return in the future with this simple calculator:

Expected Year of Retirement
Input Data Values
Year


Annualized Social Security Rate of Return
Calculated Results Values
Your Effective Rate of Return (%)

Note: The negative cash-flow situation described above doesn't mean that the benefits paid out will be cut beginning in 2018. What will happen is that the OASI Trust Fund administrators will begin spending down the fund's principal, cashing in the special-issue treasury securities to meet its obligations, which will also reduce the effective rate of return of the "investment" as this real source of investment revenue is consumed. This practice will continue until the trust fund is depleted, which is currently expected in 2042. At that point, the payments out will be forced to equal the taxes in, and benefits will need to be cut or the difference made up from other sources, such as general tax revenue or additional government borrowing, assuming no changes are made in the funding of the program.

Update (February 25, 2005): A special hat tip goes out to pat m., who, via the comments at Patrick Ruffini's blog pointed to a useful table from the Social Security Administration that provides the year-by-year future projection of the value of the special-issue treasuries maintained in the OASI Trust Fund under the agency's intermediate cost assumptions. The Trust Fund, which in 2004 contained some $1,684 billion dollars, will continue growing at a rapid clip up until 2018, and then will continue growing at slower and slower rates until it reaches a peak value of slightly over $6,599 billion dollars in 2028. Amazingly, the table indicates that the Trust Fund will be fully depleted by 2042, just 14 years later, in order to continue sustaining the promised retirement benefits of the baby boom generation. This cash burn rate is phenomenal when you consider that it will have taken the Trust Fund over 44 years (from 1984 to 2028) to reach its peak!

Note: The footnotes to the table indicate that under the agency's high cost assumptions, the Trust Fund will be depleted as early as 2031.

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January 16, 2005

Before I get into what's in development here at Political CalculationsTM, I want to thank all you who have visited this blog in the short 1-1/2 months that have passed since going online. I greatly appreciate your patronage, and I hope that you have found the tools and discussion I've presented so far to be both useful and entertaining.

That having been said, here is what you can expect in the next several weeks:

I hope you stick around, and considering that the vast majority of you have discovered this site through the Carnival of the Capitalists, I hope to participate again there soon as well.

January 13, 2005

A North Carolina Superior Court judge has ruled that the re-vote for North Carolina Agricultural Commissioner is unnecessary (HT: Timothy Goddard) and has called off a second state-wide election for the post.

The ruling came after winning candidate Republican Steve Troxler demonstrated with affidavits from 1,000 voters from Carteret County, whose votes were among 4,438 that had been lost in a voting machine, that he had a definitive margin of victory (which Political Calculations showed here back on December 30, 2004!)

While the incumbent, Democrat Britt Cobb may still appeal the ruling, the clarity of the statutes governing elections in North Carolina don't offer much hope for the state Democratic Party's attempt to perform an end-run around the law. Superior Court Judge James Spencer noted in his ruling that the Democrat-weighted election board had appeared to place partisan politics ahead of the proper protocol for conducting the election:

"(The) court does observe that there comes a time when the passion of partisan politics must give way to the integrity of the electoral process. The people of North Carolina deserve and have a right to expect it and the integrity of our system of government demands it. That time, if not long past, is now."

If only they could place electoral process integrity ahead of nakedly partisan political interests in Washington, where extraordinary irregularities in the 2004 state governor's election do justify conducting a special election to determine the legitimate outcome of the race.

January 11, 2005

One of my favorite things to do is to read the Sunday paper. After I pick it up in the driveway on Sunday morning, I'm compelled to go through and read the whole thing, and I do mean the *whole* thing: articles, comics, classifieds (well, okay, maybe I just scan the classifieds) and even the advertising inserts. I really do go through all the SmartSource coupons, the Best Buy/Circuit City/etc. electronics ads, the JCPenney/Sears/department store sales circulars, and even the inserts from discounters like Wal-Mart, K-mart and Target.

So, I was surprised to find that Target had placed a special advertising insert in my Sunday Arizona Republic this past week, above and beyond their usual weekly advertising insert, this one promoting the company's Community Giving efforts.

What makes this insert unusual is the context. As an MBA student, I can appreciate that this kind of advertising is directed toward developing a positive image of the company. It's the kind of thing you see incorporated in a publicly traded company's annual report (see page 14), where the objective is to "sell" the company to its current and potential stockholders. It's the kind of thing you see when a company wants to convince a community that it's a good neighbor, usually when it plans on expanding into an established neighborhood (reference: Wal-Mart). And it's also the kind of thing you can expect to see when a company has damaged its reputation, and as a consequence, has also damaged its business as well. And so, I believe this last possibility is the reason why Target's special promotion has appeared among the advertising inserts of my Sunday paper.

There's no arguing that Target is generous to its chosen charities. Ultimately though, the company's problem is not about whether or not Target is a charitable company itself, it is about the company's decision to sever a long-term relationship with the Salvation Army. By declining to allow the charity to continue conducting fund-raising outside its stores during the holiday season, Target has, in effect, declined to allow its own customers to have the easy opportunity to contribute to the charity, and that has led to the self-inflicted damage to the company's reputation, and by extension, its business.

Will Target's effort at damage control by public relations and marketing work? I'm sure that over a long period of time that customers offended by Target's policy change will return to its stores, but only after that long time has passed. I believe that Target is missing a real opportunity to repair it's image and brand identity in the short term by not acknowledging its errors in this matter, especially its fundamental error in understanding the expectations of its customers. Until it does so, I believe Target will continue to underperform its full potential, as both a corporation and as a corporate citizen. Something to think about if you're a shareholder.

January 4, 2005

Update (3 January 2006): A new tool for determining tax withholding from your paycheck for 2006 is now available!

As in every year since 1913, 2005 promises to offer a lively discussion of how income taxes impact the daily lives of people in the U.S. As such, I'm pleased to present Political Calculations' first major contribution to that ongoing discussion in the blogosphere, which I hope will help form a base for points of future reference:

Your 2005 Paycheck Estimator

This tool will determine the amount of U.S. Federal Income, Social Security and Medicare taxes to be withheld for wages and salaries earned in 2005, as determined through the percentage method outlined in the IRS's Employer's Tax Guide (Publication 15 Circular E, which is available online as a 373.1K PDF document. The paycheck estimator also takes into account the amount of pre-tax 401(k) or 403(b) plan contributions you make as well as your pre-tax flexible spending account contributions for health care and dependent care expenses before figuring the amount of taxes to withhold. This tool will also determine the net amount of pay left over after all these income "extractions". You can even see what your paycheck will look like after a raise! Best of all, there's no relationship with that Ben Affleck movie, so you're already coming out ahead....


Basic Pay Information
Input Data Values
Current Annual Pay ($USD)
Pay Period
Federal Withholding Information
Input Data Values
Filing Status
Number of Withholding Allowances
401(k) or 403(b) Contributions
Input Data Values
Pre-Tax Contributions (%)
After Tax Contributions (%)
Flexible Spending Account Options
Input Data Values
Annual Contribution to Health Care Spending Account
Annual Contribution to Dependent Care Spending Account
What if you had a raise?
Input Data Values
Desired Raise (%)





































Basic Income Data
Calculated Results Values
Proposed Annual Salary ($USD)
Paycheck Amount ($USD)
Federal Tax Withholding Amounts
Calculated Results Values
U.S. Federal Income Taxes ($USD)
U.S. Social Security Taxes ($USD)
U.S. Medicare Taxes ($USD)
401(k) or 403(b) Contributions
Calculated Results Values
Pre-Tax Contributions ($USD)
After-Tax Contributions ($USD)
Total Contributions ($USD)
Flexible Spending Account Contributions
Calculated Results Values
Health Care Spending Account ($USD)
Dependent Care Spending Account ($USD)
Take Home Pay Estimate
Calculated Results Values
Net Paycheck Amount ($USD)

There are other such paycheck calculators on the Internet - most notably at PaycheckCity.com, H&R Block or at Turbotax. Of these tax calculating resources, the most up-to-date tools are available at PaycheckCity.com, especially if you also need to determine the amount of state income tax withholding that will be taken out of your paycheck.

Of course, if you live in Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington or Wyoming, you either have no state income taxes or you have no state income tax withholding requirements, and the paycheck estimator above will provide you with something near your actual take-home pay.

Update: Welcome Carnival of the Capitalists readers!

P.S. Thank you to the fine folks at Roth & Company for linking the 2005 Paycheck Estimator. Also, for those seeking the services of a good CPA, the Roth & Co. folks have posted some valuable advice on their blog.


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Welcome to the blogosphere's toolchest! Here, unlike other blogs dedicated to analyzing current events, we create easy-to-use, simple tools to do the math related to them so you can get in on the action too! If you would like to learn more about these tools, or if you would like to contribute ideas to develop for this blog, please e-mail us at:

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Materials on this website are published by Political Calculations to provide visitors with free information and insights regarding the incentives created by the laws and policies described. However, this website is not designed for the purpose of providing legal, medical or financial advice to individuals. Visitors should not rely upon information on this website as a substitute for personal legal, medical or financial advice. While we make every effort to provide accurate website information, laws can change and inaccuracies happen despite our best efforts. If you have an individual problem, you should seek advice from a licensed professional in your state, i.e., by a competent authority with specialized knowledge who can apply it to the particular circumstances of your case.