To help you make an informed decision in the presidential election, CBS News will be devoting a large part of our broadcasts between now and Nov. 4 to telling you where the candidates stand on major issues - from the war in Iraq to health insurance to education … and a lot more. Each piece will be an in-depth look at the issues facing the 44th president. First up: personal income taxes. CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason reports on how the proposed policies of Barack Obama and John McCain would affect you.
Of three Ohio families Mason met, there were three income levels and three tax bills.
Charles and Joi Beacham are from Pataskala, Ohio.
The Beachams have three kids, two of whom live with Charles' ex-wife. They just bought a foreclosed home. Charles runs his own office-supply delivery business. Joi has a new job as a teacher. They earned nearly $32,000 last year.
Kendra and Andy Foos live in Miamisburg, Ohio.
The Foos have three children, too. Andy is a construction manager. Kendra runs her own custom candy-wrapper business from home. They made nearly $64,000 last year.
Gilbert and Lisa Wilson live in Plain City, Ohio.
The Wilsons also have three kids. Lisa is a stay-at-home mom. Gilbert owns a computer network company. Their income: $213,000 on their last 1040.
CBS News went to Ohio to talk taxes because it is a critical swing state. The economy is the No. 1 issue there and the race is at a virtual dead heat.
The state has lost more than 200,000 jobs this decade - second only to Michigan.
"What's your sense of the state of the economy right now?" Mason asked the Foos.
"Ohhh," Kendra said.
"It's rough," Andy said.
At every income level, these families are feeling the pinch.
"I'm nervous. I'm seeing things change that I thought wouldn't," Charles Beacham said.
Lisa Wilson said: "Everything has gone up this year."
To the Foos family, being middle-class means being caught in the middle.
"There seems to be breaks for those with very low income. Lots of breaks for those who are very high income. And we are the ones that are constantly struggling," Kendra Foos said.
"We don't fit into any loophole," Andy said.
"In terms of taxes, what do you want from the next President?" Mason asked the Beachams.
"Relief," Joi said.
So, where do the candidates stand?
In June, Republican nominee John McCain said: "I don't want to send any more of your earning to the government my friends."
And Democratic nominee Barack Obama said: "We will provide real tax relief for the middle class by cutting taxes for 150 million Americans."
Sens. McCain and Obama differ sharply, starting with the bush tax cuts due to expire in 2010. McCain would make them permanent, while Obama would eliminate them for families making more than $250,000.
The cornerstone of Obama's tax plan is what he calle the "making work pay credit." It would give any worker making less than $150,000 a credit of $500 - up to $1,000 per family.
That tax credit would be refundable, which means even if you owe no taxes, you could still get a check from the government.
Obama would also create a similar college tax-credit for the first $4,000 of tuition. In return, a student would have to perform 100 hours of public service.
"We invest in you, you invest in America and together we'll march the country forward," Obama said in July.
He'd also give low-income families a 50 percent credit on up to $6,000 in child-care expenses. He'd eliminate income tax for seniors making less than $50,000 and impose a 2 percent Social Security tax on those making more than $250,000.
"That way we can extend the promise of Social Security without shifting the burden on to seniors," he said.
The centerpiece of the McCain plan is a tax break for families.
"We will double the personal exemption from $3500 to $7000 for every dependent for every family in America," McCain said in July.
For those making $50,000 or less, it would be effective immediately. For everyone else, it would phase in over the next 10 years.
McCain would also introduce a new refundable tax credit to pay for health care coverage. But he would eliminate your exemptions if your employer pays your health insurance.
On investments income, McCain would keep the tax rate at 15 percent. Obama would raise it to 20 percent for those earning more than $200,000.
Obama would raise the top tax rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent. The second-highest bracket would jump from 33 percent to 36 percent. McCain would leave these rates unchanged.
Finally, both candidates would raise the income trigger for the alternative minimum tax, which was targeted at the right, but is now trapping more and more middle-class families.
So what could these plans mean for the three families in Ohio?
Columbus accountant Matt Yuskewich ran the numbers for CBS News.
"They are all touched by the plans in some respect," Yuskewich said.
The Beachams, who made $32,000 last year, would see no change in their taxes under McCain - but the Obama plan would help them.
"The Beachams will be the beneficiary of a number of these refundable credits," Yuskewich said.
The family, which paid no taxes last year, would receive a check from the government for more than $2,200.
"What do you think of that number?" Mason asked them.
"That would work," Charles said.
Joi added: "That would be really nice."
The Wilsons are at the other end of the spectrum, earning $213,000. That puts them in the 28 percent bracket. If Gilbert's business improves, his income could push him into the 33 percent bracket, which under Obama's plan would jump to 36 percent of income.
"That would be painful. Another 8% of the income," Gilbert said.
That could be at least $5,000 more in taxes.
Finally, there's the Foos.
According to Yuskewich's calculations, McCain's dependent exemptions would cut the Foos' taxes by $225. Obama's "making work pay" credit would cut their tax bill by $500.
"Does that feel like enough to you?" Mason said.
"Doesn't seem like much," Kendra Foos said.
"It's not enough to make a real big difference. No.," Andy Foos said.
The Foos, who are both undecided, feel forgotten again.
"We're on our own. That's how I feel. There isn't anybody that's rooting for us," Kendra Foos said. "They're the ones in the middle that can take care of themselves."
And it's middle-class taxpayers like Andy and Kendra Foos who are expected to decide this election.