From Lauryn Hill to Wesley Snipes: Why do black celebs have trouble paying their taxes?
From 2005 to 2007, while still relatively hidden from public view, singer Lauryn Hill made over $1.5 million. However she paid no taxes on that income, a charge to which she plead guilty this past week in a New Jersey courthouse. While a statement released from Hill’s camp made it clear that the star intends to pay the taxes in a timely manner, Hill joins an infamous club: black celebrities who don’t pay their taxes.
Hill’s defense for not paying taxes is honest, though also a bit dubious: according to a post on her personal Tumblr blog, she needed to withdraw herself from the “climate of hostility, false entitlement, manipulation, racial prejudice, sexism and ageism” that is pop culture.
“I conveyed all of this when questioned as to why I did not file taxes during this time period,” Hill goes on to explain. “Obviously, the danger I faced was not accepted as reasonable grounds for deferring my tax payments, as authorities, who despite being told all of this, still chose to pursue action against me, as opposed to finding an alternative solution.”
Lauryn Hill should absolutely do what she needs to protect her family, but not paying taxes? Perhaps she was so consumed by the false entitlement of celebrity that she believed she could get out of the responsibility every other adult American has to shoulder.
Even despite her effort to withdraw from society, Hill’s celebrity automatically drew attention of the federal government — they were bound to come for their money at some point. The Internal Revenue Service has made it clear that the wealthy receive greater tax scrutiny, and making examples of celebrities is practically a hobby: it reminds the rest of us of the penalties of not paying your taxes.
Unfortunately (and perhaps to a conspiracy theorist, by no coincidence at all) black celebrities comprise some of the most frequent examples of tax evasion. Former A-list superstar Wesley Snipes is currently holed up in a Pennsylvania federal prison for failing to pay nearly $17 million in taxes. Ron Isley finished a 3 year sentence in 2010 for tax evasion. Lil’ Kim is said to owe over $1 million to the IRS. Singer Kelis owes over $300,000 in taxes. Younger celebrities aren’t immune to the issue either — Rev Run’s daughters Angela and Vanessa Simmons reportedly owe the government nearly $450,000.
Unlike Lauryn Hill’s elaborate explanation, most celebrities don’t pay taxes because they simply don’t plan to. Unlike us salaried people, celebrity payouts arrive in lump sum checks without taxes deducted. Saving 30 percent from that money for the eventual tax bill that will arrive in April would seem like logical financial planning, but naturally the lure of big ticket purchases is often too tempting to resist.
Another issue is poor management — celebrities trusting others to stay on top of their finances instead of keeping track of it themselves. This is a common issue that continues to spring up despite the numerous cautionary tales warning against shady money managers. As the saying goes, good help is hard to find.
Black celebrities seem to be disproportionally affected by tax drama, a byproduct of black people simply lacking financial understanding in general. Unfortunately, financial savvy is a skill that we continue to struggle with, often tempted by lifestyle purchases instead of lifestyle savings plans.
Follow Kia Miakka Natisse on Twitter at @miakka_natisse