Understanding which tax bracket to use when preparing one’s taxes requires knowing how much was earned during the year, as well as what filing status to use. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses a progressive tax system, meaning that the more a taxpayer earns the more tax will be owed.

There are five filing statuses: single, married filing separately, married filing jointly, head of households, and qualifying widow/widower with dependent child. There are also seven marginal income tax brackets, each assigned at a different tax rate.

Tax brackets are organized in a table, with tax rates shown on the Y-axis and filing statuses shown on the X-axis. Each cell in the table provides a range of incomes that are taxed at a particular tax rate for a particular filing status. When determining which tax bracket to use, a taxpayer should first calculate taxable income, which is income earned minus adjustments, deductions, and exemptions. The taxpayer should find which cell in the tax bracket chart that corresponds to that taxable income for his or her filing status. This is the tax bracket.

2014 Tax Brackets

Tax rate Single filers Married filing jointly or qualifying widow/widower Married filing separately Head of household
10% Up to $9,075 Up to $18,150 Up to $9,075 Up to $12,950
15% $9,076 to $36,900 $18,151 to $73,800 $9,076 to $36,900 $12,951 to $49,400
25% $36,901 to $89,350 $73,801 to $148,850 $36,901 to $74,425 $49,401 to $127,550
28% $89,351 to $186,350 $148,851 to $226,850 $74,426 to $113,425 $127,551 to $206,600
33% $186,351 to $405,100 $226,851 to $405,100 $113,426 to $202,550 $206,601 to $405,100
35% $405,101 to $406,750 $405,101 to $457,600 $202,551 to $228,800 $405,101 to $432,200
39.6% $406,751 or more $457,601 or more $228,801 or more $432,201 or more

Taxpayers pay a specific tax rate for a specific range of incomes, so there is not a flat tax rate applied to all income regardless of how much income is earned. Calculating the total amount of tax owed involves applying different tax rates to different income ranges. For example, a taxpayer who earns $50,000 and who files as single will be in the 25% tax bracket, but will pay a tax rate of 10% on the first $9,075 of income, 15% on income between $9,075 and $36,900, and 25% on income between $36,900 and $50,000.

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