What Are Tax Brackets?

Updated for Tax Year 2021 / December 22, 2021 03:26 PM


OVERVIEW

The United States uses a progressive tax system, which means different portions of your income are taxed at different rates. Learn more about this system and how it impacts you in this article about tax brackets.


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 Understanding income tax brackets

Tax brackets show you the tax rate you will pay on each portion of your income. For example, if you are single, the lowest tax rate of 10% is applied to the first $9,950 of your income in 2021. The next chunk of your income is then taxed at 12%, and so on, up to the top of your taxable income.

The progressive tax system ensures that all taxpayers pay the same rates on the same levels of taxable income. The overall effect is that people with higher incomes pay higher taxes.

Your effective tax rate

While it's likely you will pay income tax at various rates or tax brackets throughout the year, the actual percentage of your income that goes to the IRS is often referred to as your effective tax rate. The rate you must pay on the last dollar you earn is usually much higher than your effective tax rate.

For example, if half of your income is taxed at 10 percent and the other half at 12 percent, then your effective tax rate of 11 percent means that 11 cents of every dollar you earned this year goes to the IRS.

Current tax brackets

For 2021, there are seven different tax brackets with tax rates of 10, 12, 22, 24, 32, 35, and 37 percent. How much you will actually owe depends on both your income and your filing status.

For example, if you are a single filer, you will pay 10 percent on the first $9,950 of income, but if you are married filing jointly, you and your spouse remain in that lower tax bracket until your income exceeds $19,900.

Deductions affect your tax bracket

Deductions are a way for you to reduce your taxable income, which means less of your income is taxed in those higher tax brackets. For example, if your highest tax bracket this year is 32 percent, then claiming a $1,000 deduction saves you $320 in taxes. However, if your top bracket is 12 percent, that same deduction only saves you $120 in tax.

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