Tax Rate

What Is a Tax Rate?

A tax rate is the percentage at which an individual or corporation is taxed. The United States (both the federal government and many of the states) uses a progressive tax rate system, in which the percentage of tax charged increases as the amount of the person's or entity's taxable income increases. A progressive tax rate results in a higher dollar amount collected from taxpayers with greater incomes.

Key Takeaways

  • A tax rate is the percentage at which an individual or corporation is taxed.
  • The U.S. imposes a progressive tax rate on income, meaning the greater the income, the higher the percentage of tax levied.
  • Since the U.S. applies its tax rate in marginal increments, taxpayers end up being charged at an effective tax rate that is lower than that of the straight bracket rate.
  • Some other nations charge a flat tax rate or a regressive tax rate.

Understanding Tax Rates

To help build and maintain the infrastructures used in a country, the government usually taxes its residents. The tax collected is used for the betterment of the nation, of society, and of all living in it. In the U.S. and many other countries around the world, a tax rate is applied to some form of money received by a taxpayer. The money could be income earned from wages or salary, investment income (dividends, interest), capital gains from investments, profits made from goods or services rendered, etc. The percentage of the taxpayer’s earnings or money is taken and remitted to the government.

When it comes to income tax, the tax rate is the percentage of an individual's taxable income or a corporation's earnings that is owed to state, federal, and, in some cases, municipal governments. In certain municipalities, city or regional income taxes are also imposed. The tax rate that is applied to an individual’s earnings depends on the marginal tax bracket that the individual falls under. The marginal tax rate is the percentage taken from the next dollar of taxable income above a pre-defined income limit.

The marginal tax rate used by the U.S. government is indicative of its progressive tax system.

Effective Tax Rates

Let’s use an example to illustrate marginal and progressive tax rates. For individuals, the dollar threshold for each tax rate is dependent upon the status of the filer, whether s/he is single, the head of a household, married filing separately, or married filing jointly. The marginal tax brackets for 2021 are:

Tax Brackets, 2021
2021 Rate Married Joint Return Single Individual Head of Household Married Separate Return
10% $19,900 or less $9,950 or less $14,200 or less $9,950 or less 
12% $19,901 to $81,050 $9,951 to $40,525 $14,201 to $54,200 $9,951 to $40,525
22% $81,051 to $172,750 $40,526 to $86,375 $54,201 to $86,350 $40,526 to $86,375
24% $172,751 to $329,850 $86,376 to $164,925 $86,351 to $164,900 $86,376 to $164,925
32% $329,851 to $418,850 $164,926 to $209,425 $164,901 to $209,400 $164,926 to $209,425
35% $418,851 to $628,300 $209,426 to $523,600 $209,401 to $523,600 $209,426 to $314,150
37% Over $628,300 Over $523,600 Over $523,600 Over $314,150

The marginal tax brackets for 2022:

Tax Brackets, 2022
2022 Rate Married Joint Return Single Individual Head of Household Married Separate Return
10% $20,550 or less $10,275 or less $14,650 or less $10,275 or less
12% $20,551 to $83,550 $10,276 to $41,775 $14,651 to $55,900 $10,276 to $41,775
22% $83,551 to $178,150 $41,776 to $89,075 $55,901 to $89,050 $41,776 to $89,075
24% $178,151 to $340,100  $89,076 to $170,050 $89,051 to $170,050 $89,076 to $170,050
32% $340,101 to $431,900 $170,051 to $215,950 $170,051 to $215,950 $170,051 to $219,950
35% $431,901 to $647,850 $215,951 to $539,900 $215,951 to $539,900 $215,951 to $323,925
37% Over $647,850 Over $539,900 Over $539,900 Over $323,925
Source: Internal Revenue Service

A single individual who earns $62,000 in 2022 will be taxed as follows: 10% on the first $10,275; 12% on the next $31,501 (the amount over $10,275 up to $41,775); then 22% on the remaining $20,224 (the amount over $41,775 up to $89,075), all of which equals $9,256.90.

Another individual who earns $160,000 will be taxed 10% on the first $10,275; 12% on the next $31,501; 22% on the next $47,300 (the amount over $41,775 up to $89,075); then 24% on the remaining $70,924 (the amount of income that falls between $89,075 and $170,050), all of which equals $32,235.38.

Following this example, the single taxpayer who falls under the third marginal tax bracket will pay less tax than the single filer who falls in the fourth and higher bracket.

A marginal tax rate means that different portions of income are taxed at progressively higher rates.

Although these taxpayers fall in the third and fourth marginal brackets, they do not pay flat rates of 22% and 24%, respectively, on all of their income due to the nature of the marginal tax calculation. If they did, the first individual would pay 22% x $62,000 = $13,640; and the second will pay 24% x $160,000 = $38,400. In total, individual A in fact pays at an effective rate of 14.9% ($9,256.90 ÷ $62,000) and the individual with the higher income pays a rate of 20% ($32,235,38 ÷ $160,000). These rates are called the effective tax rates and represent the actual percentage at which the tax is levied during a tax year.

Sales and Capital Gains Tax Rates

Tax rates don’t only apply to earned income and corporate profits. Tax rates can also apply on other occasions when taxes are imposed, including sales tax on goods and services, real property tax, short-term capital gains tax, and long-term capital gains tax. When a consumer purchases certain goods and services from a retailer, a sales tax is applied to the sales price of the commodity at the point of sale. Since sales tax is governed by individual state governments, the sales tax rate will vary from state to state. For example, the state sales tax rate in Georgia is 4%, while the tax rate in California is 6%, as of 2021.

Since additional income gained from investments is categorized as earnings, the government also applies tax rates on capital gains and dividends. When the value of an investment rises and the security is sold for a profit, the tax rate that the investor pays depends on how long s/he held the asset. The tax rate on the capital gain of a short-term investment (an investment held for one year or less) is equal to the investor’s ordinary income tax. So, an individual who falls into the 24% marginal tax bracket will pay 24% on his or her short-term capital gains.

The tax rate on profits from investments held longer than a year ranges from 0% to 20%. For taxable years beginning in 2022, individuals with taxable income below $41,675 pay 0%. Individuals with taxable income between $41,675 and $459,750 pay 15%, and investors with income above $459,750 pay a 20% tax rate on capital gains. Qualified dividends are subject to the same tax rate schedule that applies to long-term capital gains. Non-qualified dividends have the same tax rates as short-term capital gains.

Tax Rates Abroad

Tax rates vary from country to country. Some countries implement a progressive tax system, while others use regressive or proportional tax rates. A regressive tax schedule is one in which the tax rate increases as the taxable amount decreases.

The proportional or flat tax rate system applies the same tax rates to all taxable amounts, that is irrespective of income levels. Bolivia and Greenland are examples of countries that have this system of taxes in place.

Article Sources
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  1. Internal Revenue Service. "IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax Year 2021." Accessed Dec. 28, 2021.

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax Year 2022." Accessed Dec. 28, 2021.

  3. Georgia Department of Revenue. "Sales Tax Rates: General." Accessed Dec. 28, 2021.

  4. California Department of Tax and Fee Administration. "History of Statewide Sales and Use Tax Rates." Accessed Dec. 28, 2021.

  5. Internal Revenue Service. "Topic No. 409: Capital Gains and Losses." Accessed Dec. 28, 2021.

  6. Internal Revenue Service. "Rev. Proc. 2021-45," Page 8-9. Accessed Dec. 28, 2021.

  7. PricewaterhouseCoopers. "Greenland Individual—Taxes on Personal Income." Accessed Dec. 28, 2021.

  8. PricewaterhouseCoopers. "Bolivia: Individual Taxes on Personal Income." Accessed Dec. 28, 2021.

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