Using Tax Day as a Teachable Moment: Understanding Taxes, Napkin Finance, and Two Cents

Throughout April, we are celebrating Financial Capability Month by featuring a variety of financial education programs and resources that you can put to use in your classroom right away. The 17th in this series focuses on teaching taxes with resources including IRS’s Understanding Taxes, Napkin Finance, and PBS’s Two Cents.

This year we get two extra days to file our taxes since Tax Day falls on April 17th. (You can read an explanation for the adjustment here.) However, that still comes too early for many people. Why do so many people dread tax day? For some people, it is the need to pull together their financial documents. Others want to avoid paying taxes they owe for as long as possible – or perhaps begrudge their need to pay. However, some tax filers look forward to receiving a refund with great anticipation.

Students are often unaware of the role taxes play in their lives now and will play in the future. Public school students, for example, benefit daily from an education that is provided to them through taxpayer dollars. We all benefit from other public goods and services such as roads, law enforcement, public libraries, and medical research. Teaching students both why we pay taxes and the ins-and-outs of how we pay taxes is important. It helps them understand their role in the economy and prepares them for their role as a taxpayer and voter.

Luckily, there are a number of great, free resources available to help educators. Check out the following:

screenshot of the understanding taxes websiteUnderstanding Taxes from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS): Developed for high school teachers and their students, Understanding Taxes is a free resource with both a teacher and student site. The content is divided into two main sections: the whys of taxes (24 student lessons) and the hows of taxes (14 student lessons). There are also tutorials such as Do I have to claim my tips on my tax return? and simulations like Using Your W-2 to File Your 1040EZ.

Napkin Finance: How much space would you need to capture the essence of a complex financial topic? According to Napkin Finance, you need about the space of your average napkin. What started as a simple way to communicate financial concepts has grown into an entire financial education suite with over 200 napkins organized by topic or life event -each with additional information when you click the napkin. There are also short explanatory videos, podcasts and more. The tax section includes ten napkins on topics ranging from tax deductions to W-2 forms to tax refunds. Also, the site is available in Spanish.


Two Cents from PBS: PBS offers weekly video series on personal finance topics for millennials and Gen Z. Each of these short (four to eight minute) videos breaks down sometimes complex personal finance issues and makes them understandable and interesting to the audience. One of the most recent episodes answers the question, “How Do Your Tax Dollars Get Spent?” Others in the series include Insta-Everything and Which College Majors Give the Most Bang for Your Buck?

Disclaimer: Resources included on the Making Cents blog have been reviewed by Pennsylvania educators and deemed worthwhile for classroom or professional use. Inclusion does not indicate endorsement by the Pennsylvania Department of Education or Penn State University.

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