What Are Marginal Tax Rates?

Debates over federal tax policy can be complicated enough. This explanation of "marginal tax rates" tries to sort through one element of taxes that is often used to exaggerate tax rates. Marginal tax rates are the set percentage rates that kick in at different income levels, as opposed to the actual overall percentage of taxes that are paid on income. Marginal Tax Rate Single Filer Income 15 % Less than $26,250 28 % $26,251 - 63,550 31 % $63,551 - 132,600 36 % $132,601 - 288,350 39.6 % More than $288,351 To calculate the actual percentage of income paid - the effective tax rate - divide the amount of taxes paid into the amount of income to arrive at yet a different percentage than the marginal percentage. EXAMPLE: If J. Avrag earns $29,000, her tax on the first $26,250 is 15%, or $3,973.00 and her tax on the remaining $2,750 is 28%, or $770.00. Her total tax is: [(.15) x (26,250)] + [(.28) x (29,000-26,250)] = (3,973.00) + (770.00) = $4,743 ... 16% of her total income. This is one of the traps to avoid in discussions of the estate tax - the oft-cited "unfair" marginal tax rate of 55% in taxes on an estate is rare because of the existence of deductions and exclusions that usually reduce most, if not all, of the income below the amount where that highest rate kicks in.
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