What is a Tax Bracket?

Tax Planning

Did you know that not everyone or every dollar earned is taxed the exact same amount?

This is because the United States tax system aims to be progressive. A progressive tax system tries to collect more tax from those who earn more. In essence, a million dollar earner pays more total tax as well as a higher percentage of their income in tax than someone who earns far less.

One of the ways our tax system achieves this is through tax brackets. A tax bracket is simply a range of incomes that are taxed at a set rate.

For the 2016 tax year, there are seven tax brackets of varying size with the lowest bracket being subject to a 10% marginal tax rate and the highest being subject to 39.6%.

Let’s see how this works in real life. If you’re a single filer who earns $60,000 a year after you take all the necessary exemptions, adjustments and deductions, the first $9,275 in earnings will be taxed 10%. From $9,276 to $37,650 you will be taxed 15%. On the rest, you’ll be taxed 25%. You are in the 25% tax bracket though your effective tax rate will be much lower.

If you are married filing jointly, the first $18,550 will be taxed 10%. Any amount over $18,550 to $75,300 is taxed at 15%.

The tax brackets are adjusted each year for inflation, so the 2016 tax brackets are higher than the 2015 tax brackets.

Earlier, I mentioned that there were exemptions, adjustments and deductions. What you earned from your job is considered ordinary or gross income but you are taxed on your adjusted gross income, which is your income minus those exemptions, adjustments, and deductions.

When you know your tax bracket, you can easily calculate how valuable different tax deductions are for you. If you are in the 25% tax bracket, a $1000 deduction will reduce your tax liability by $250.

Not all of your income is taxed based on these brackets. If you have long term capital gains and qualified dividends, that rate will depend on your tax bracket. If you are in 10% or 15% tax brackets, you pay 0% on long term capital gains and qualified dividends. If you are in the 25%, 28%, 33% and 35% brackets then you’ll pay 15%. Those in the highest bracket, 39.6%, will pay 20% on long term capital gains and qualified dividends.

Understanding how tax brackets work as well as which bracket you are in can help you make better informed financial decisions, but you don’t need to know how to calculate tax brackets when you use TurboTax.  TurboTax will automatically figure out your tax bracket based on your information and give you the tax deductions and credits you deserve.