Exempt Income

What Is Exempt Income?

Exempt income refers to certain types of income that are not subject to income tax. Some types of income are exempt from federal or state income tax, or both. The IRS determines which types of income are exempt from federal income tax and the circumstances for each exemption. States have their own rules defining what counts as exempt income.

Key Takeaways


  • Exempt income is not subject to taxation.
  • Some income may be exempt at the state level but taxed at a federal level.
  • Income from some types of investments, like municipal bonds, qualifies as exempt income.
  • Distributions from Roth 401(k)s and Roth IRAs are also tax-exempt.
  • Income from benefits, such as employer-sponsored supplemental disability insurance and most benefits from employer-sponsored health insurance plans, are exempt from taxes.

Understanding Exempt Income

There are several types of income and benefits that are nontaxable under certain circumstances. Several health-related benefits are tax-exempt, including benefits from employer-sponsored supplemental disability insurance purchased with after-tax dollars, private insurance plans funded with after-tax dollars, most benefits from employer-sponsored health insurance plans, and worker's compensation.

Gifts that exceed a certain value can trigger a gift tax on the person providing the gift. However, any gift worth less than $15,000 (for 2021) and $16,000 (for 2022) is exempt from income tax. Regardless of value, certain gifts, including tuition and medical expenses paid for someone else, and charitable donations, are income tax exempt. Charitable contributions are also tax-deductible. 

Exempt income rules underwent changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) signed into law in December 2017. For example, the TCJA eliminated personal exemptions from tax years 2018 to 2026 but roughly doubled the standard deduction.

For the 2021 tax year, the standard deduction for single taxpayers and married couples filing separately is $12,550. The standard deduction is $25,100 for married couples filing jointly and $18,800 for heads of households. For the 2022 tax year, the standard deduction for single taxpayers and married couples filing separately is $12,950. The standard deduction is $25,900 for married couples filing jointly and $19,400 for heads of households. 

When you file your taxes, you can choose between taking the standard deduction or itemizing your deductions. Examples of itemized deductions include medical expenses, mortgage interest, and charitable donations. Itemizing typically makes sense for higher-income earners who have large expenses to deduct.

Examples of Exempt Income

Distributions from health savings accounts (HSAs) are only exempt from income tax if they are used for qualified medical expenses. Qualified distributions from Roth 401(k) plans and Roth IRAs funded with after-tax dollars are tax exempt. 

Other investments may also be protected from income tax. For example, interest earned from municipal bonds is exempt from federal income tax and state income tax if you reside in the state where the bond was issued. Capital losses from sold investments can also reduce your taxable income by up to $3,000 per year.

If someone dies and you are the beneficiary of a life insurance benefit, that is also nontaxable income (although it may make you subject to estate tax).

The estate tax, often referred to as the death tax, applies to a certain portion of an estate only after it exceeds a certain threshold. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act raised that threshold to $11.2 million for single filers and $22.4 million for married couples filing jointly; in 2022, the exemption is scheduled to rise again to $12.06 million for single filers and $24.12 for married couples filing jointly.

The Tax and Jobs Act also raised the exemption and phase-out levels for the alternative minimum tax (AMT), which is typically levied on individuals earning income above a certain threshold. 

What Types of Income Are Tax Exempt?

Income from municipal bonds and distributions from Roth 401(k)s and Roth IRAs are tax exempt. In 2022, gifts worth less than $16,000 are not subject to income tax. Income from employer-sponsored benefits—including supplemental disability insurance and most benefits from employer-sponsored health insurance plans—are also exempt.

Is Unemployment Income Taxed?

Unemployment benefits are treated as ordinary income by the federal government, but not all states tax unemployment income.

How Much Is the Gift Tax?

The gift tax ranges between 18% and 40% and is based on the size of the taxable gift. In 2022, it is only triggered on annual gifts above $16,000.

Article Sources
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  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 525: Taxable and Nontaxable Income." Pages 18-19.

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "Frequently Asked Questions on Gift Taxes."

  3. Tax Policy Center. "How Did the TCJA Change the Standard Deduction and Itemized Deductions?"

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 501 - Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information." Pages 23-24.

  5. Internal Revenue Service. “IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax Year 2022.”

  6. Internal Revenue Service. "Roth Comparison Chart."

  7. Internal Revenue Service. "Roth IRAs."

  8. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 969, Health Savings Accounts and Other Tax-Favored Plans."

  9. Internal Revenue Service. "Topic No. 409 Capital Gains and Losses."

  10. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 550: Investment Income and Expenses." Pages 11, 66.

  11. Tax Policy Center. "How Did the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Change Personal Taxes?"

  12. Tax Policy Center. "How Did the TCJA Change the AMT?"

  13. Internal Revenue Service. “Instructions for Form 706: Table A—Unified Rate Schedule."

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