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What is a Tax Table?

Updated for Tax Year 2020 / July 1, 2021 09:23 AM


OVERVIEW

If you're not sure how much to report on your taxes or how to calculate the correct amount, a tax table may come in handy. Read on to learn more about what exactly this table is, how to use it, and where you can find one.


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Tax tables are a tool the IRS provides to make it easy to calculate the exact amount of taxes to report on your federal income tax return when filing by hand. States with state income tax returns also provide tax tables to aid in this portion of the tax preparation process.

Each tax table page includes taxable income ranges and their respective tax amounts based on your filing status. The tax tables display different tax amounts for each filing status and income range.

For the 2020 tax year, the IRS provides 12 pages of tax tables that cover taxable income ranging from $0 but less than $100,000. People with taxable income of $100,000 or over will need to use the IRS's tax computation worksheet instead.

You must know two key tax factors to use the IRS's tax tables to calculate your tax amount: your taxable income and your filing status. It’s also important to note certain situations will require you to use information other than the tax tables to calculate your tax amount. For instance, if you have qualified dividends or capital gains, you may pay taxes at different tax rates for these types of income. These worksheets are used to make adjustments before arriving at your final tax amount.

Calculating your taxable income

It's important not to confuse your taxable income with your gross income or adjusted gross income (AGI). There is no line item on a tax return called gross income, but the term is commonly used to refer to your total income before any deductions or adjustments.

You can find your AGI on line 11 of your 2020 Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR. It's calculated by taking your total income from line 9 and making adjustments based on the results from Schedule 1 and any other applicable adjustments. The total income on line 9 already includes the additional income items from Part I: Additional Income of Schedule 1. For example, these items may include:

  • Taxable refunds, credits, or offsets of state and local income taxes
  • Business income or loss
  • Unemployment compensation

The adjustments you need to make to get from line 9 to line 11 are found in Part II: Adjustments to Income of Schedule 1. For example, some adjustments may include:

In 2020 and 2021, you may also be able to deduct certain charitable contributions before arriving at your adjusted gross income.

Taxable income comes even later in the tax preparation process and is located on line 15 of your 2020 Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR. The line that your taxable income can be found on may change from year to year, so ensure that you're using the correct line if you're filing a tax return from a different year. Taxable income is calculated by starting with your adjusted gross income and then subtracting your standard or itemized deductions and any qualified business income deduction you might have.

Finding your filing status

You'll find the place to indicate your filing status at the top of Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR. Your filing status is determined on December 31 of the applicable tax year. If you got married on December 30 of the tax year, you could file either married filing jointly or married filing separately. But you can't file as single even though you were single for most of the year.

How to use a tax table

Using the IRS's tax tables is straightforward once you know your taxable income and filing status.

The tax tables display the single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, and head of household filing status options. If you're a qualifying widow or widower, you should use the married filing jointly column on the table.

First, find the line that corresponds to your taxable income for the year. Once you find that, look to the right and use the number in the column associated with your filing status to input the tax amount on line 16 of Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR.

Tax tables can be found in several official IRS documents. Each set of document may have the tax tables on different pages. The below example uses the tax tables found in the 2020 1040 and 1040-SR Tax and Earned Income Credit Tables publication. Based on these tables, a single person with a taxable income of $35,027 would turn to page 7 of this document. They would then find the line corresponding to their taxable income, which is a taxable income of at least $35,000 but not greater than $35,050. Next, they'd look to the right on this line to the number in the single-filing status column. This number, 4,006, would then be input on line 16 of Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR as the tax amount.

Keep in mind that this is not your final tax owed. Further down on the tax return form you will continue making other adjustments for tax credits, federal income tax withheld, and more.

Properly calculating your taxable income and tax amounts is important. The IRS will double-check your math for errors. If you end up owing more tax than you paid, you may be subject to interest and penalties on the unpaid amounts. If you calculate that you paid too much during the year you are eligible for a refund of the overpaid amount.

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