Federal Tax Rates and Tax Brackets: 2011-2020

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The U.S. federal tax system is progressive, meaning that it is based on the concept of one’s ability to pay. It is set up to take a greater percentage from high-income earners than from lower-income earners. These percentages then are broken down into seven tax brackets, each with its own tax rate that applies to different ranges of income.

The income spans adjust annually to keep pace with inflation, and the brackets and rates can change periodically as a result of legislation. In this article, we’ll break down exactly what those tax rates and brackets looked like in the decade from 2011 through 2020.

Key Takeaways

  • A U.S. tax bracket and its corresponding tax rates are based on what remains of an individual’s overall income after claiming tax deductions and adjustments to income.
  • The income spans that apply to each bracket vary between taxpayers based on their filing statuses.
  • Income spans are adjusted annually to keep pace with inflation—usually increasing a little each year—but the percentage rate that applies to each bracket can only be changed by legislation.
  • Legislation has changed the number of federal tax brackets over the years from six to seven, but the lowest rate has always been 10%.

How To Use Tax Bracket and Tax Rate Information

Tax rates and brackets fall into two categories that are often confused: average tax rate and marginal tax rate.

Your average tax rate is the percentage of your overall income that you pay in taxes. Say your taxable income is $50,000 and you owe $6,000 of that money in taxes to the U.S. government. Your average tax rate would be 12% ($6,000 divided by $50,000 works out to .12, or 12%).

But that doesn’t mean that every one of those $50,000 dollars is taxed at a 12% rate. Instead, your marginal tax rate is that which is imposed on your uppermost dollars of income. The first $9,950 of your taxable dollars would be taxed at 10% in the 2021 tax year, then your income from $9,951 through $40,525 would be taxed at the rate of 12%. Only the last remaining $9,475 would be taxed at 22%, which is your marginal rate.

Generally, a taxpayer’s average tax rate will be much lower than their marginal tax rate.

2020 Tax Brackets and Rates

  Single Married Filing Jointly Head of Household
10% $0 to $9,875 $0 to $19,750 $0 to $14,100
12% $9,876 to $40,125 $19,751 to $80,250 $14,101 to $53,700
22% $40,126 to $85,525 $80,251 to $171,050 $53,701 to $85,500
24% $85,526 to $163,300 $171,051 to $326,600 $85,501 to $163,300
32% $163,301 to $207,350 $326,601 to $414,700 $163,301 to $207,350
35% $207,351 to $518,400 $414,701 to $622,050 $207,351 to $518,400
37% More than $518,400 More than $622,050 More than $518,400

As mentioned, income thresholds for each tax bracket change annually. Each year, the income thresholds for each tax bracket are based on your filing status: single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household, and qualifying widow(er) with dependent child.

The most common filing statuses are single, married filing jointly, and head of household. Taxpayers who are eligible to claim the qualifying widow(er) status have the same tax rates and brackets as those who are married and filing joint returns. Married taxpayers who file separate returns share the same rates and brackets as single filers, up to a point. They reach the top 37% bracket at incomes of $311,025.

Thresholds for married taxpayers who file joint returns are effectively double those for single filers, at least in the lower brackets. This accommodates the potential for two earners. The difference then tightens up somewhat at higher income levels.

Likewise, the tax brackets for those who qualify for the head of household filing status are more generous than those that apply to single filers. Qualifying as head of household means the individual is considered unmarried, pays more than half the expenses of keeping up their home, and supports at least one dependent.

2019 Tax Brackets and Rates

  Single Married Filing Jointly Head of Household
10% $0 to $9,700 $0 to $19,400 $0 to $13,850
12% $9,701 to $39,475 $19,401 to $78,950 $13,851 to $52,850
22% $39,476 to $84,200 $78,951 to $168,400 $52,851 to $84,200
24% $84,201 to $160,725 $168,401 to $321,450 $84,201 to $160,700
32% $160,726 to $204,100 $321,451 to $408,200 $160,701 to $204,100
35% $204,101 to $510,300 $408,201 to $612,350 $204,101 to $510,300
37% More than $510,300 More than $612,350 More than $510,300

Continuing to use the $50,000 in taxable earnings example, this amount would have put you in the 22% tax bracket as a single filer in tax year 2019. However, you wouldn't have paid 22% on the entire $50,000. You would have paid just 10% on your income up to $9,700 that year, then 12% on your income from $9,701 up to $39,475. You then would have paid 22% on only $10,525 of your income, with the difference between $50,000 and the top dollar falling into the 12% bracket.

2018 Tax Brackets and Rates

  Single Married Filing Jointly Head of Household
10% $0 to $9,525 $0 to $19,050 $0 to $13,600
12% $9,526 to $38,700 $19,051 to $77,400 $13,601 to $51,800
22% $38,701 to $82,500 $77,401 to $165,000 $51,801 to $82,500
24% $82,501 to $157,500 $165,001 to $315,000 $82,501 to $157,500
32% $157,501 to $200,000 $315,001 to $400,000 $157,501 to $200,000
35% $200,001 to $500,000 $400,001 to $600,000 $200,001 to $500,000
37% More than $500,000 More than $600,000 More than $500,000

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) was enacted in December 2017 and most of its provisions went into effect in 2018. This legislation changed the tax rates, reducing most of them. As a result, most people paid less in taxes than they did for 2017 and earlier years.

One notable change that came about affected alimony. Prior to this year, alimony was taxable to the spouse who received it. The paying spouse could deduct the amount from their income. Alimony began contributing to the receiving spouse’s taxable income for divorces that became final after Dec. 31, 2018. So 2018 was the last year in which receiving spouses could dodge this tax bullet. Alimony has contributed to tax bracket income thresholds ever since.

2017 Tax Brackets and Rates

  Single Married Filing Jointly Head of Household
10% $0 to $9,325 $0 to $18,650 $0 to $13,350
15% $9,326 to $37,950 $18,651 to $75,900 $13,351 to $50,800
25% $37,951 to $91,900 $75,901 to $153,100 $50,801 to $131,200
28% $91,901 to $191,650 $153,101 to $233,350 $131,201 to $212,500
33% $191,651 to $416,700 $233,351 to $416,700 $212,501 to $416,700
35% $416,701 to $418,400 $416,701 to $470,700 $416,701 to $444,550
39.6% More than $418,400 More than $470,700 More than $444,550

The TCJA reduced the percentage rates of five of the seven tax brackets from what they were in tax year 2017. Only the 10% bracket and the 35% bracket remained the same, although they applied to different income spans. This was due to both the TCJA and inflation adjustments.

2016 Tax Brackets and Rates

  Single Married Filing Jointly Head of Household
10% $0 to $9,275 $0 to $18,550 $0 to $13,250
12% $9,276 to $37,650 $18,551 to $75,300 $13,251 to $50,200
25% $37,651 to $91,150 $75,301 to $151,900 $50,201 to $130,150
28% $91,151 to $190,150 $151,901 to $231,450 $130,151 to $210,800
33% $190,151 to $413,350 $231,451 to $413,350 $210,801 to $413,350
35% $413,351 to $415,050 $413,351 to $466,950 $413,351 to $441,000
39.6% More than $415,050 More than $466,950 More than $441,000

Changes were focused on income thresholds for each bracket in 2016. The changes weren't particularly significant, and they occur every year as thresholds are adjusted to accommodate inflation. The upper limits increase slightly to accommodate taxpayers earning a bit more, simply due to the economy.

Other provisions that are tweaked annually for inflation include standard deductions and the amounts of some tax credits.

2015 Tax Brackets and Rates

  Single Married Filing Jointly Head of Household
10% $0 to $9,225 $0 to $18,450 $0 to $13,150
15% $9,226 to $37,450 $18,451 to $74,900 $13,151 to $50,200
25% $37,451 to $90,750 $74,901 to $151,200 $50,201 to $129,600
28% $90,751 to $189,300 $151,201 to $230,450 $129,601 to $209,850
33% $189,301 to $411,500 $230,451 to $411,500 $209,851 to $411,500
35% $411,501 to $413,200 $411,501 to $464,850 $411,501 to $439,000
39.6% More than $413,200 More than $464,850 More than $439,000

The top income limit for the 10% tax bracket for single filers rose by only $50 from 2014 to 2015, but it increased by $200 for head of household filers.

Overall and comparatively, the changes in tax year 2015 were minimal. Only income thresholds were adjusted, while bracket percentages remained the same.

2014 Tax Brackets and Rates

  Single Married Filing Jointly Head of Household
10% $0 to $9,075 $0 to $18,150 $0 to $12,950
15% $9,076 to $36,900 $18,151 to $73,800 $12,951 to $49,400
25% $36,901 to $89,350 $73,801 to $148,850 $49,401 to $127,550
28% $89,351 to $186,350 $148,851 to $226,850 $127,551 to $206,600
33% $186,351 to $405,100 $226,851 to $405,100 $206,601 to $405,100
35% $405,101 to $406,750 $405,101 to $457,600 $405,101 to $432,200
39.6% More than $406,750 More than $457,600 More than $432,200

Tax bracket percentages remained the same in 2014, as well. Again, only the income spans changed, but they were a bit more generous in 2014 due to inflation.

The upper threshold for single filers rose by $150 from what it was in 2013. But head of household filers were again limited to a $200 increase from what the threshold was the year before.

2013 Tax Brackets and Rates

  Single Married Filing Jointly Head of Household
10% $0 to $8,925 $0 to $17,850 $0 to $12,750
15% $8,926 to $36,250 $17,851 to $72,500 $12,751 to $48,600
25% $36,251 to $87,850 $72,501 to $146,400 $48,601 to $125,450
28% $87,851 to $183,250 $146,401 to $223,050 $125,451 to $203,150
33% $183,251 to $398,350 $223,051 to $398,350 $203,151 to $398,350
35% $398,351 to $400,000 $398,351 to $450,000 $398,351 to $425,000
39.6% More than $400,000 More than $450,000 More than $425,000

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA) became law on Jan. 3, 2013. The legislation introduced a new top income tax bracket of 39.6% in tax year 2013, which stayed in place for five years through 2017. Prior to this year, there were only six tax brackets.

2012 Tax Brackets and Rates

  Single Married Filing Jointly Head of Household
10% $0 to $8,700  $0 to $17,400 $0 to $12,400
15% $8,701 to $35,350 $17,401 to $70,700 $12,401 to $47,350
25% $35,351 to $85,650 $70,701 to $142,700 $47,351 to $122,300
28% $85,651 to $178,650 $142,701 to $217,450 $122,301 to $198,050
33% $178,651 to $388,350 $217,451 to $388,350 $198,051 to $388,350
35% More than $388,350 More than $388,350 More than $388,350

The last year in which just six tax brackets existed was 2012, with the highest topping out at 35%. The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 was still in effect in 2012. This legislation would remain in effect until ATRA took over in January 2013.

The rule of thumb that married taxpayers who filed jointly would enjoy twice the thresholds as single filers was in place at this time, but it applied only up to the 28% bracket. The same ceilings applied to joint filers, heads of household, and single filers to top off the 33% bracket and the 35% bracket.

2011 Tax Brackets and Rates

  Single Married Filing Jointly Head of Household
10% $0 to $8,500 $0 to $17,000 $0 to $12,150
15% $8,501 to $34,500 $17,001 to $69,000 $12,151 to $46,250
25% $34,501 to $83,600 $69,001 to $139,350 $46,251 to $119,400
28% $83,601 to $174,400 $139,351 to $212,300 $119,401 to $193,350
33% $174,401 to $379,150 $212,301 to $379,150 $193,351 to $379,150
35% More than $379,150 More than $379,150 More than $379,150

The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 ruled in 2011. Still, the 33% and 35% bracket income thresholds were again the same for single, married filing jointly, and head of household filers. Only the income spans increased from the year before to accommodate inflation.

Taxes Before 2021

The legislation mentioned above played a role in changing tax brackets and tax rates, but they weren't the only ones to have significant impacts on taxpayers. Most notably, President Ronald Reagan signed the Tax Reform Act in 1986, introducing some of the greatest changes to the tax code in more than 30 years. It was just the third major upheaval to tax law since 1918. It included more than 300 changes, and it took the government three years to ensure all of the rules were in place.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do I know what tax bracket I am in?

Your tax bracket is your marginal tax bracket—the one in which your uppermost dollar of your taxable income places you. But it's important to remember that not all your income is taxed at this rate. For example, you're subject to three different tax rates if your taxable income is $50,000 as a single filer.

What is the relationship between tax rates and tax revenue?

While a tax rate is a level at which a government imposes taxes, tax revenue is the overall tax money the government collects from all sources. It extends far beyond the income tax that's imposed on individual citizens. Tax revenue includes sales taxes, payroll taxes, and corporate and business taxes, as well as tax on property and transfers of property, such as by gift or inheritance.

What are capital gains tax rates?

Capital gains are income you receive when you sell an asset for more than your cost basis in it. These gains can be taxed at different rates. You'd pay the same tax rate according to your marginal tax bracket if you held the asset for one year or less before selling it. You'd pay a more advantageous long-term capital gains tax rate if you owned it for more than a year: 0%, 15%, or 20%, depending on your modified adjusted gross income.

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