Fun Facts About the 2010 Tax Season

Taxes!If you’re a personal finance stats junkie like me, you’d love the IRS Data Book. It is chock full of fun and interesting statistics that give you a glimpse of one of the more private havens in one’s life – their tax return. While you can’t sneak a peek at your neighbor’s return, you can guess some interesting facts about American society through our tax returns.

I take a romp through the IRS Data Book and pull out a few fun statistics that I found interesting, or surprising, and I hope you enjoy them too. All of the data is taken from the Excel spreadsheets for Fiscal Year 2010 but they also issue a PDF that summarizes some of the higher level statistics.

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More Fun Bank Failure Facts

Fail StampI really enjoy trivia posts and had a lot of fun researching facts to include on my fifty fun facts about bank failures post, so I thought I’d bring it back. This time I wanted to cut out all the other stuff, like FDIC insurance facts and “first bank failure” type facts, and just look at the list of failures themselves.

The statistics were calculated from the FDIC’s list of failed banks and we used data going back to 2000.

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 Personal Finance 

Fun Trivia Facts about the $500 Bill

Nowadays the highest denomination bill you can find is the $100 but back in the early 20th century, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing was printing bills as high as $100,000 (1934-35). There aren’t any high denomination bills left, after printing was officially discontinued in 1969 by President Nixon. It was an attempt to combat organized crime and there while they are still legal tender, their value to collectors far exceeds their face value nowadays. There aren’t many left though, so if you find one, take very good care of it!

Let’s have some fun facts!
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50 Fun Facts About Debt

National Debt ClockDebt.

Some see it as a tool to be used to help them improve their financial situation. Some see it as a temptation to get more than you should be allowed to. And some see it was an insidious monster lurking around the corner, waiting for you to slip and make a mistake. Some see it as something the never want to touch.

Today we’re not going to talk about any of that stuff. Today I want to share with you some “fun facts” about debt that you might find useful at your next trivia night!

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 Personal Finance 

Fun Facts About The Great Seal of the United States

Reverse of the One Dollar BillIf you’ve seen any conspiracy theory movies involving Freemasons or other secret societies, you probably remember numerous references to the Great Seal of the United States on the reverse of the one dollar bill. Stories about secret societies make for great movies but real life is probably less glamorous (it always is!). I thought it would be interesting to look at the seal, as many have done beforehand, and explain a little of the imagery.

The image on the left, with the pyramid, is considered the reverse (back) side of the seal. The image on the right, with the eagle, is considered the obverse (front) side. In 1776, Congress established a three-person committee to design the Seal, but they never completed the task. Over the next six years, two more committees were formed until a final design was assembled by Charles Thomson, secretary to Congress, in 1782.

Obverse Side

The most prominent part of the Seal is the bald eagle, representative of liberty and freedom. In his talons are an olive branch (the strong right talon) and a bundle of thirteen arrows (the weaker left talon), with the eagle always looking towards the olive branch. The olive branch represents peace while the arrows represent war, thus representing the fact that the power to declare peace and war were the right of Congress alone. The thirteen arrows represent the thirteen colonies and strength in unity. On the eagle’s chest is a shield with thirteen red (6) and white (7) stripes supporting the blue, signifying that it is the states (stripes) who support the federal government (blue). “E pluribus unum” (Out of many, one) is written on the ribbon clutched in the eagle’s beak, reinforcing the idea that the federal government comes out of the authority of the states. Finally, the constellation of thirteen stars breaking through the clouds signifies that this new federal government, with thirteen states, should take its place among the other sovereign nations.

Reverse Side

The reverse side is less exciting but has several bits of imagery worth checking out. First, of course, is the pyramid that dominates the Seal. The pyramid represents strength and duration, much like the great Pyramids at Giza still remain. The pyramid has thirteen levels, though that was explicitly called out in the original design. Atop the pyramid is the Eye of Providence, or God, to watch over. Over the eye, there is the Latin phrase “Annuit Cœptis,” which loosely translates to “favors undertakings.” It referred to Providence, or God, favoring the undertakings of the United States. The other Latin phrase, Novus ordo seclorum, translates to “New Order of the Ages.” Finally, the Roman numeral MDCCLXXVI, at the base of the pyramid, translates to 1776.

Fun Facts

  1. The obverse side of the Great Seal is used to emboss the design onto Treaties and other official documents and stored in the Exhibit Hall of the Department of State.
  2. Benjamin Franklin wanted a wild turkey instead of the eagle, but that never made it into the final design.
  3. The Secretary of State is the official custodian of the Great Seal.
  4. In the original design submitted by one of the Great Seal committees, the eagle was a phoenix. The phoenix represented how the United States rose from the ashes of the Revolutionary War against England. The phoenix, however, never appeared on the official Seal.
  5. The Seal didn’t appear on the dollar bill until 1935.
  6. The shield on the Seal has 6 red and 7 white stripes while the United States flag has 7 red and 6 white stripes.
  7. On many flags and seals with shields, the shield is often supported by other figures. It was important that the shield be supported by the eagle, indicating the United States ought to rely on itself for support.
  8. God is refered to as Providence in the closing sentence of the Declaration of Independence: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
  9. Novus ordo seclorum, New Order of the Ages, comes from the fourth Eclogue of Virgil. Virgil was a very famous Latin poet and the Eclogues were one of three of his major works.
  10. The obverse side of the seal is very similar to the Seal of the President of the United States. There are some minor differences but the general imagery is the same with one exception. Until 1945, when President Truman signed Executive Order No. 9646 and specified the design of the Seal, the eagle faced right and towards the arrows.

Hope you enjoyed the trivia!


50 Fun Facts About The Stock Market

Everyone knows about the great crash in 1929, how we first coined the term Black Thursday (Oct 24th), Black Monday (Oct 28), and Black Tuesday (Oct 29)… but did you know that the Dow Jones Industrial Average wouldn’t recover to the 1929 peak until 1954? It took twenty-five years. Given the recent volatility and how records are being broken (Dow’s largest single day loss of 777.68 just two weeks ago was eclipsed yesterday by the largest single day gain of 936.42 points), I thought it would be appropriate to fire off some more stock market trivia facts.

Is the bull zigging today, or is he zagging?

Stock Market Bull

    Wall Street Firsts

  1. Wall Street was laid out behind a 12-foot-high wood stockade across lower Manhattan in 1685. The stockade was built to protect the Dutch settlers from British and Native American attacks.
  2. The “stock market” began in May 17th, 1792 when 24 stock brokers and merchants signed the Buttonwood Agreement.
  3. The buttonwood tree was simply the local name for the sycamore tree.
  4. The first stock ticker was invented by Edward A. Calahan in 1867.
  5. The Securities Exchange Act of 1934 creates the Securities and Exchange Commission, charged with the responsibility of preventing fraud and to require companies provide full disclosure to investors.
  6. Despite the New York Stock Exchange’s notoriety, it was not the first stock exchange in the United States. That distinction belongs to the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, which was founded in 1790.
  7. The Massachusetts Investors Trust was the first official mutual fund, created on March 21st, 1924.
  8. The Wellington Fund, created in 1928, was the first mutual fund to include stocks and bonds.
  9. Wells Fargo Bank established the first index fund in 1971. John Bogle would use it as the basis for building low cost index funds at The Vanguard Group.
  10. The first exchange traded fund, or ETF, was SPDR. It was cretaed in 1993 by State Street Global Advisors and tracks the S&P 500 stock index.
  11. New York Stock Exchange

  12. New York Stock ExchangeThe New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) began in 1817 as the brokers formed the New York Stock & Exchange Board (NYS&EB), renting rooms at 40 Wall Street and adopting a constitution.
  13. The twenty four brokers or firms became the first NYSE members, they were: Leonard Bleecker, Hugh Smith, Armstrong & Barnewall, Samuel March, Bernard Hart, Alexander Zuntz, Andrew D. Barclay, Sutton & Hardy, Benjamin Seixa , John Henry, John A. Hardenbroo , Samuel Beebe, Benjamin Winthrop, John Ferrers, Ephraim Hart, Isaac M. Gomez, Gulian McEvers, Augustine H. Lawrence, G. N. Bleecker, John Bush, Peter Anspach, Charles McEvers, Jr., David Reedy, and Robinson & Hartshorne.
  14. Anthony Stockholm was the first President of the NYSE.
  15. William McChesney Martin, Jr., became the first full time salaried president in 1938.
  16. Originally stocks were traded in what’s known as a “call market.” The President would read out each stock and the brokers would trade them. There was a morning session and an afternoon session.
  17. There are 2,764 listed securities on the exchange.
  18. It is fourth largest in terms of listings behind the Bombay Stock Exchange, the London Stock Exchange, and the NASDAQ.
  19. The NYSE was originally organized at the Tontine Coffee House, located at the northwest corner of Wall and Water Streets, at 82 Wall Street. Business was transacted there until 1817.
  20. The Tontine Coffee House was located across from the Meal Market, where enslaved workers could be hired or bought.
  21. The first listed company on the NYSE was the Bank of New York.
  22. In 1868, there were 533 seats on the NYSE.
  23. There are currently 1,366 seats available on the NYSE.
  24. On December 1st, 2005, the highest price was paid for membership in the NYSE at $4 million.
  25. Thirty days later, December 31st, the NYSE moves away from seats to annual trading licenses.
  26. Muriel Siebert was the first woman to own a seat on the NYSE in 1967.
  27. Joseph L. Searles III was the first African-American member of the Exchange in 1970.
  28. Merill Lynch & Co., Inc. became the NYSE’s first member organization in July 27th, 1971.
  29. The NYSE merged with publicly-traded Archipelago electronic stock exchanged, formed NYSE Group, Inc., and is now publicly traded under the ticker NYX.
  30. The longest period in which the exchange was closed occurred during WW1, when the NYSE was closed for four and a half months starting July 31st, 1914.
  31. The highest price per share stock on the NYSE is Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway (Class A).
  32. NYSE Volume Growth

  33. The NYSE has its first million share day (where a million shares are exchanged) on December 15th, 1886.
  34. Since October 10th, 1953, there has never been a sub-million share day.
  35. In 1961, the average daily volume of the NYSE breaks 4 million.
  36. Finally, in 1982, the NYSE has its first 100 million share day.
  37. By 1992, the average daily volume exceed 300 million shares.
  38. On October 28th, 1997, over a billion shares are exchanged.
  39. January 4th, 2001 – Volume breaks 2 billion.
  40. On February 27th, 2007, the NYSE has its largest volume day of record at over 4 billion shares.
  41. NASDAQ

  42. NASDAQ in Times SquareThe NASDAQ was created in 1971 and was the first electronic stock exchange, focusing on the trading of OTC stocks.
  43. NASDAQ stands for “National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation.”
  44. 2,500 stocks were traded that first day, February 8th, 1971.
  45. In 1998, the NASDAQ merged with the American Stock Exchange, which focused on options and derivatives, to form the NASDAQ-AMEX Market group but both exchanges still operate separately.
  46. The NASDAQ purchased the Philadelphia Stock Exchange for $652 million on November 7th, 2007.
  47. The highest price per share stock on the NASDAQ is none other than Google.
  48. Dow Jones Industrial Average

  49. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was created by Dow Jones & Company in 1896.
  50. The DJIA breaks 1,000 for the first time in 1971.
  51. The DJIA breaks 5,000 on November 21, 1995.
  52. The DJIA breaks 10,000 (for the first time) on March 19th, 1999 (and it just broke it the other way on October 6th, 2008).
  53. There are thirty companies on the DJIA, with the list constantly being revised. For example, Kraft Foods recently replaced AIG on the index (September 22, 2008).
  54. The oldest DJIA component is General Electric, added in November 7th, 1907.
  55. The newest DJIA component is Kraft Foods, added September 22nd, 2008.
  56. Yesterday (October 13th, 2008) marked the largest single gain of the DJIA of 936.42 points. To put that into perspective, the second largest gain was March 16th, 2000, the peak of the stock market boom, when it increased 499.19 points.
  57. As mentioned earlier, the largest single day drop was 777.68 on September 29th, 2008 when the House rejected the bailout bill the first time through. To put that one into perspective, the second largest drop was on September 17th, 2001, the first full day of trading following the attacks on September 11th. Incidentally, #3 on the big time falls was last Thursday, 10/8/2008, when it fell 678.91. Heck of a ride huh?
  58. Percentage wise though, these spikes and drops don’t break the top five in either category. Four of the top five largest single day gains were in the late 20s to early 30’s (the other one was in 1987). Three of the five largest losses occurred in 1929 (Black Thursday, Black Friday, and Black Monday) taking up spots #2 – #4. #5 was a drop in 1899 and #1 was the 22% haircut that was the Stock Market Crash of 1987. (list of largest daily changes in the DJIA)

If fifty(plus) interesting trivia facts about the stock market isn’t enough, there is a wealth of stock market trivia at

(Photo: babblingdweeb, brianglanz, victoriapeckham)


Fifty Fun Facts About Bank Failures

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation SealWhile I was researching the differences among thrifts, banks, and credit unions, I stumbled onto a bunch of bank failure related trivia that piqued my interest.

Most of the states are pulled from a listing available at the FDIC’s page for bank failures. To reach the search function, click on the “Bank & Thrift Failures” link in the blue menu located at the top. You can search by year, I just pulled down everything from 1934 to present and pushed it to an Excel spreadsheet. I added some razzle and dazzle (pulled out state names, used pivot tables) to augment the trivia I found online. You can download the spreadsheet ([download#2#nohits]) and play with it yourself if you’d like (I pulled out the pivot tables for the sake of download size).

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 Personal Finance 

50 Fun Facts About Taxes

It’s April 15th and today I will not write a single thing about last minute tax moves (you’re too late) or about the tax stimulus (just fill out a tax return and put in your direct deposit information) or anything boring like that. You don’t want to be like that guy to the right, right? Nope! Today will be a day of fun and we can start it off with fifty fun facts!

Some of these facts, I can guarantee, will not be fun. There will be a mix of tax history, some current tax laws, some mind boggling statistics that will likely piss you off; but at least we’ll start you off with some of the weirdest tax laws and funny trivia! You’ll read some of them and say, “Hmm… okay, kind of interesting, but not actually fun.” However, some of them will be fun or your money back! Let’s get started.

Weird Tax Laws

  • Drug Tax Stamps – In at least 23 states there is a tax on illegal drugs. When you buy an illegal drug, like marijuana or even moonshine, in Tennessee, you have 48 hours to report it to the Department of Revenue to pay your tax and get a stamp for the substance. No identification is needed, though there are a dozen cop cars sitting outside the office. (Just kidding about the cop cars, I have no idea)
  • North Carolina has had a illegal drug tax stamp law in place for 15 years, only 79 people have purchased stamps since 1990 (most of those were stamp collectors, or complete and utter morons).
  • If the law sounds absurd, it’s only because of the way it was worded. The real end result is that people are taxed on drugs found in their possession when they’re busted. This creates a new revenue stream for the state or county and I can’t say I can argue with that.
  • “Jock tax” – Levied on athletes who earn an income competing in a particular city or state. California first levied this tax on athletes from Chicago in 1991 after the Chicago Bulls beat the LA Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals. What a bunch of sore losers.
  • Alabama has a 10 cent tax on a deck of playing cards.
  • Blueberries from Maine are subject to specific tax too, anyone who grows, purchases, sells, handles, or processes blueberries in Maine has to pay a penny and a half tax per pound.
  • “Fountain soda drinks” in Chicago are taxed at 9%, if it comes in a bottle or can then it’s only taxed at 3%.
  • Peter the Great in Russia once taxed beards (he doesn’t do much taxing anymore). There was also a tax on souls, hats, boots, beehives, basements, chimneys, food, clothing, birth, marriage, and burial.
  • In the UK, everyone under the age of 75 pays a TV license fee £126.50 for color TVs and £42.00 for black and white TVs (it in part pays for state run networks like the BBC). If you are legally blind, you only owe half that fee.
  • According to the UK’s Tax Avoidance Schemes Regulations 2006, “it is illegal not to tell the taxman anything you don’t want him to know, though you don’t have to tell him anything you don’t mind him knowing.” What!?
  • Royal Navy ships that enter the Port of London must pay a barrel of rum in tax to the Constable of the Tower of London. All visitors to my house must pay a case of beer in tax to me.

Tax History & Facts

  • The first income tax ever was in 1404 in England.
  • The first property tax in the United States was in 1798 and it was on land, houses, and slaves.
  • The first US income tax started during in the Civil War to help raise money back in 1862.
  • The first federal tax office in the US was the Office of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue in 1862, what a coincidence!
  • The 16th Amendment, ratified in 1913, established the first permanent US income tax.
  • Four states rejected the amendment: Connecticut, Florida, Rhode Island, and Utah.
  • Two never considered/discussed it: Pennsylvania, Virginia
  • Everyone pays income tax. 🙂 [this fact is decidedly not fun, I concede this]
  • There are over 7 million words in the tax law and regulations. That beats the Gettysburg address, the Declaration of Independence, and the Holy Bible all rolled into one (269+1,337+773k).
  • There were 402 tax forms in 1990, by 2002 that number had jumped to a staggering 526.
  • My personal favorite is Form 6478 – Credit for Alcohol Used as Fuel. (I don’t think the IRS really counts beer as fuel, though it does keep me going sometimes)
  • According to CCH, the number of pages in the tax code and regulations went from 26,300 in 1984 to an astonishing 54,846 in 2003. Those 1.2M tax preparers are smiling every year.
  • The IRS sends out over 8 billion pages in forms and instructions every single year, that’s nearly 300,000 trees (now they use recycled paper).
  • The easiest form, the 1040EZ, has thirty-three pages of instructions.
  • Tax Freedom Day was April 23rd in 2008, a few days earlier than last year because of the tax stimulus rebate.

Tax Collection & Forms

  • You know how everyone hates the taxman? Did you know that in 1789, the start of the French Revolution, tax collectors were sent to the guillotine? Poor folks were just doing their jobs… it’s not like they enjoyed it!
  • Too bad those French tax collectors didn’t live in Greece a few thousand years earlier, back then the tax professionals were considered the most noble man in society (perhaps that’s why they were given the slice in France, the French Revolution wasn’t particularly friendly to “nobles”)
  • 21% of paper returns have errors, 0.5% of e-file returns have errors; do your taxes electronically.
  • In 2003, 78% of returns received refunds to the tune of $205B and an average of $2,073 per return.
  • The first e-file (electronic transmission of a tax return) occurred on January 24, 1986…
  • By 1989, taxpayers in 36 states could e-file their taxes…
  • By 1990, everyone could.
  • For each $100 that the IRS collects, it costs only thirty-nine cents. While you might hate them, tell me what other agency runs with such efficiency? The answer is probably none.
  • The Cato Institute estimates that there are approximately 1.2M tax preparers in the country.
  • AMT was designed to snag 155 wealthy taxpayers in 1969. (Yeah, they created a whole new tax to get 155 people!)
  • Technically, income tax is voluntary (but not optional)!
  • There are 114k employees at the IRS, that’s more than the CIA or the FBI.
  • According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, in 2006, 53.7% of all federal income taxes were paid by those earning $200k+. Those between $100k and $200k paid out 28.3% of income taxes. That means 82% of taxes paid are by those making more than $100k. (link)
  • Taken in aggregate, those earning less than $40k paid 0%.

Facts That Will Piss You Off

  • A Government Accountability Office report released in 2004 showed that…
    • 61% of US corporations paid no income tax between 1996 and 2000.
    • 94% of US corporations paid less than 5% their total income in taxes.
    • US corporations paid, on average, $11.88 in taxes for every $1,000 in gross receipts.
    • 38% of big companies ($250M+ assets or $50M+ revenue) paid no taxes.
    • in 1943, 39.8% of taxes collected came from corporations; only 7.4% in 2003.
  • From 1996 to 1998, these companies paid zero taxes: AT&T, Bristol-Myers, Squibb, Chase Manhattan, Enron, ExxonMobil, General Electric, Microsoft, Pfizer and Phillip Morris. (link)
  • In 1998, these companies received a total of $1.3B in rebates (despite making $12B in pre-tax profits): Texaco, Chevron, CSX, PepsiCo, Pfizer, J.P. Morgan, Goodyear, Enron, General Motors, Phillips Petroleum and Northrop Grumman. (link)

Now that you’re all fired up… I will leave with one final quote, most often mis-quoted (except right now, duh!). Benjamin Franklin, on November 13, 1789, wrote the following to Jean-Baptiste Leroy: “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

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