2020-2021 tax brackets and federal income tax rates

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There are seven tax brackets for most ordinary income for the 2020 tax year: 10 percent, 12 percent, 22 percent, 24 percent, 32 percent, 35 percent and 37 percent.

Your tax bracket depends on your taxable income and your filing status: single, married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er), married filing separately and head of household. Generally, as you move up the pay scale, you also move up the tax scale.

2020 tax brackets (for federal income taxes due in May 2021 or October 2021 with an extension)
Tax rate Single Head of household Married filing jointly or qualifying widow Married filing separately
Source: IRS
10% $0 to $9,875 $0 to $14,100 $0 to $19,750 $0 to $9,875
12% $9,876 to $40,125 $14,101 to $53,700 $19,751 to $80,250 $9,876 to $40,125
22% $40,126 to $85,525 $53,701 to $85,500 $80,251 to $171,050 $40,126 to $85,525
24% $85,526 to $163,300 $85,501 to $163,300 $171,051 to $326,600 $85,526 to $163,300
32% $163,301 to $207,350 $163,301 to $207,350 $326,601 to $414,700 $163,301 to $207,350
35% $207,351 to $518,400 $207,351 to $518,400 $414,701 to $622,050 $207,351 to $311,025
37% $518,401 or more $518,401 or more $622,051 or more $311,026 or more

 

2021 tax brackets (taxes due April 15, 2022)
Tax rate Single Head of household Married filing jointly or qualifying widow Married filing separately
Source: IRS
10% $0 to $9,950 $0 to $14,200 $0 to $19,900 $0 to $9,950
12% $9,951 to $40,525 $14,201 to $54,200 $19,901 to $81,050 $9,951 to $40,525
22% $40,526 to $86,375 $54,201 to $86,350 $81,051 to $172,750 $40,526 to $86,375
24% $86,376 to $164,925 $86,351 to $164,900 $172,751 to $329,850 $86,376 to $164,925
32% $164,926 to $209,425 $164,901 to $209,400 $329,851 to $418,850 $164,926 to $209,425
35% $209,426 to $523,600 $209,401 to $523,600 $418,851  to $628,300 $209,426 to $314,150
37% $523,600 or more $523,600 or more $628,300 or more $314,151 or more

How federal tax brackets work

Tax brackets are not as intuitive as they seem because most taxpayers have to look at more than one bracket to know their effective tax rate.

Instead of looking at what tax bracket you fall in based on your income, determine how many individual tax brackets you overlap based on your gross income.

Figuring that out is easier in practice:

  • Example one: Say you’re a single individual who earned $40,000 in the year. Technically, you’d be aligned in the 12 percent tax bracket, but your income wouldn’t be levied a 12 percent rate across the board. Instead, you would follow the tax bracket up on the scale, paying 10 percent on the first $9,875 of your income and then 12 percent on the next chunk of your income between $9,876 and $40,125. Because you don’t make above $40,125, none of your income would be hit at the 22 percent rate.

That often amounts into Americans being charged a rate that’s smaller than their individual federal income tax bracket, known as their effective tax rate.

  • Example two: Say you’re a single individual in 2020 who earned $70,000. You would pay 10 percent on the first $9,875 of your earnings ($988); then 12 percent on the chunk of earnings from $9,876 to $40,125 ($3,630), then 22 percent on the remaining income ($7,287.50)
  • Your total tax bill would be $11,905.50. Divide that by your earnings of $70,000 and you get an effective tax rate of 17 percent, which is lower than the 22 percent bracket you’re in.

The brackets above show the tax rates for 2020 and 2021. The brackets are adjusted each year for inflation.

Marginal tax rate definition and example

Another way of describing the U.S. tax system is by saying that most Americans are charged a marginal tax rate. That’s because as income rises, it is taxed at a higher rate. In other words, the last dollar that an American earns is taxed more than the first dollar. This is what’s known as a progressive tax system.

The technical definition of a marginal tax rate would be the rate that each individual taxpayer pays on their additional dollars of income.

For example, if you’re a single filer who earned $45,000 in 2020, the first $9,875 of your income would be taxed at 10 percent, the next $30,250 would be taxed at 12 percent (making up the bulk of your income), while the remaining $4,875 of your income would be taxed at the 22 percent rate.

How to get into a lower tax bracket

Americans have two main ways to get into a lower tax bracket: tax credits and tax deductions.

Tax credits are a dollar-for-dollar reduction in your income tax bill. If you have a $2,000 tax bill but are eligible for $500 in tax credits, your bill drops to $1,500. Tax credits can save you more in taxes than deductions, and Americans can qualify for a variety of different credits.

The federal government gives tax credits for the cost of buying solar panels for your house and to offset the cost of adopting a child. Americans can also use education tax credits, tax credits for the cost of child care and dependent care and tax credits for having children, to name a few. Many states also offer tax credits.

While tax credits reduce your actual tax bill, tax deductions reduce the amount of your income that is taxable. If you have enough deductions to exceed the standard deduction for your filing status, you can itemize those expenses to lower your taxable income. For example, if your medical expenses exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income in 2021, you can claim those and lower your taxable income.

Tax tools

Written by
Sarah Foster
U.S. economy reporter
Sarah Foster covers the Federal Reserve, the U.S. economy and economic policy. She previously worked for Bloomberg News, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Daily Herald.
Edited by
Senior editorial director
Reviewed by
Senior wealth manager, LourdMurray