Is Captain America a Tax Cheat?

Movies tend to overlook or ignore many aspects of everyday life. While I understand that movies require us to suspend our disbelief, as a self-confessed tax nerd, I just can’t ignore the flagrant disregard of tax rules. So, with the 2021 individual tax filing deadline coming up, it had me wondering, is America’s favorite comic book and movie hero a tax cheat? More specifically, has Captain America been delinquent in his responsibility to furnish full and complete tax returns for decades?

Bear with me here – if you haven’t seen any of the Captain America movies, there will be some spoilers. In the 2011 movie Captain America: The First Avenger, we learn that Steve Rogers enlisted in the United States Army and underwent an experimental super soldier program. Later, in 1945, after spending most of World War II touring the nation as “Captain America” and promoting war bonds, Steve disappeared and was presumed dead until he was discovered frozen in the Arctic more than 60 years later. I think it is safe to assume that, during the period he was frozen from 1945 until 2011, he filed no U.S. Individual Income Tax Returns.Did he do anything wrong?

Section 6012 of the Internal Revenue Code requires all individuals to file income tax returns if they have gross income in excess of certain minimums. In 1945, the threshold was $500. For 2021, this is much more complex – single individuals who are not dependents are required to file an income tax return if their gross incomes exceed $12,550. Failure to file a required tax return can result in significant penalties.

I know you’re probably thinking it’s no big deal because the IRS always had the authority to file a substitute tax return for Captain Rogers in 1945. You may also be thinking that no tax return would have been required while Rogers was incapacitated, because frozen people are not expected to file tax returns. However, I submit that Captain Rogers had intentionally failed to file tax returns for decades, potentially exposing himself to time in the slammer. This is because we learned in a sequel, Avengers: Endgame, that Captain America traveled backwards in time to the 1940s, secretly married Peggy Carter, and lived a long and normal life, even outliving his wife by many years. Even though he may have had good reasons to keep his identity concealed from S.H.I.E.L.D., Rogers still would have been required to file tax returns. No one, not even superhumans, can escape the requirements of the Internal Revenue Code! While we can accept superhuman abilities and time travel, disregarding tax rules is where I draw the line. Either that, or I wanted to spend an afternoon thinking about superheroes and taxes, and not just taxes.

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