Infographic: Overall Tax Rates For Single, Married Filers

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VisualizingEconomics has a nice series of infographics that explore how various income-based taxes change with your adjusted gross incomes. It uses 2009 IRS numbers, but should still remain relevant to today. Below is a snapshot of a married filing jointly couple with two kids and one income (click to enlarge):

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  1. Take a peek at There are many variations of ROI depending on sex, age, marital status in the Cato web site, but in no case does the higher earner see return rates as large as the lower income earner. The portion of the tax (“contribution”) one makes is limited by income (and thus drawing the description as ‘regressive’, but the maximum payout is also capped. If, as the program runs out of money, additional taxes on Social Security benefits are implemented, they are likely to be put on the higher earners. They are also the ones that are most likely to have their benefits reduced. Both further erode the return the high earners will make. Not that this shouldn’t be our policy to address the problem of having a trust fund full of IOU’s and expenditures in excess of income, but a regressive tax? Hardly.

  2. Thanks. It would be great to have a histogram of # of families within each income bracket — $0-50K, 50-100K, etc. I’ll have to explore VisualizingEconomics.

  3. This chart (and others like it) pretty much prove that rich people DON’T pay less taxes. They don’t even pay a lower percentage than the middle class. I’m an accountant and I’ve been trying to tell people this for years, and no one believes me. They all believe they are paying MORE taxes than the ultra-rich. Are most of the people I come across dumb, or is this a common perception?

  4. Mike,

    The charts above don’t really “prove” anything — the only thing it shows is the relationship between marginal tax rates and income, assuming only the standard deduction. It would be much more interesting and informative to see a graph depicting actual taxes paid as related to income.

    There are misperceptions on all sides, mostly stemming from the fact that very few people truly understand their own tax picture and the way that marginal rates actually work, much less the various ways in which our incredibly complicated tax system is applied to others. Tax returns are private information, and the lack of transparency breeds mistrust and a widespread assumption that “other people” have found a way to pay less.

  5. Hi Pete,

    It’s true that the tax system is complex and we don’t have transparency specifically into what others are paying. We also don’t get data all that fast from the IRS.

    Many years ago, before you could do electronic filing of taxes yourself, I was working part time at one of the big tax preparation chains. A couple came in who wanted us to transmit their return. The had income over a quarter of a million. The lived at one of Chicago’s prestigious lake front addresses (and felt it necessary not only to declare that they were double parked (so hurry up) but that their BMW was double parked). Tax liability zero. A lot of ‘losses’ in their S corporations.

    Of course the poor use the system to their advantage too. I did the tax return of a gentleman who was a parking attendant. He lived with his grandmother in his grandmother’s house. He had no children. After we finished the return he returned to work and called me. What about the earned income tax credit? Hmm. We had established that he paid nothing for the housing but all of a sudden his grandmother was a dependent. All his co-workers were getting the credit. I believe he came in and amended his return but I told him I wouldn’t.
    But it’s pretty apparent though that the higher income brackets pay most of the taxes. The Tax Foundation reports:
    “In 2007, the top 1 percent of tax returns paid 40.4 percent of all federal individual income taxes and earned 22.8 percent of adjusted gross income. Both of those figures—share of income and share of taxes paid—are significantly higher than they were in 2004 when the top 1 percent earned 19 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI) and paid 36.9 percent of federal individual income taxes.”

    Nothing wrong with doing what you legally can to reduce your taxes. But should keep in mind that often losses can’t be deducted in tax advantaged accounts (so keep the riskier investments out of the 401K – just what is not risky seems to get harder and harder to define) and that some investments can hit you with crazy fees to avoid taxes (some annuity / life insurance programs). If the best thing about an investment is it’s tax benefits, then be really concerned.

  6. Pete,

    Mike is 100% correct. They pay more as a percentage and as a total dollar figure.

    People who make lower incomes have so little tax liability it’s ridiculous. I read something on CNN a while back that stated 50% of Americans pay NO income taxes. 50%!!!!!!!

    Tim used the example of a small business owner having 250k in income but no bottom line…the tax code is written to help that happen. That person probably employed 4 or 5 people and paid FICA, FUTA, worker’s comp taxes, bonds, etc., etc., etc., not to mention the fact that he paid salaries to the employees, plus benefits, etc. He would be kidding himself to say that there was no taxes that guy paid, or to say that was unfair. Without people like that guy, the US would be in a sad state.

  7. Ted Valentine says

    These graphics are not accurate. The SS and Medicare rates need to be doubled, and you will see flattening of average rates really across the board. Those earning over $106,800 get a tax break of 12.6% for income above that, which essentially pays for the increase in marginal income tax.

  8. Ty, Some people at both ends of the income spectrum (and probably the middle too) sometimes stretch the boundaries. The zero tax liability couple was living large and getting the tax break from some Florida land investments, not running a company. Unquestionably the higher income people (generally) pay a higher tax rate.

    Ted. The graphic already shows the reduction in the SSN and Medicare rates. You can see the drop in the graph. The SSN as a % of income continues to go down because it stops after reaching (an ever increasing annual) threshold. To include just the payment without the direct benefits overstates the so-called regressive nature. Low-income people do better on the program than the higher income as they receive a higher % return on their ‘investment’. This is not only the case now but the gap is highly likely to increase as the program runs out of money.

    Doubling just the SSN / Medicare contribution alone (assuming you are factoring in self employment or employer paid contributions) also ignores the employer paid taxes overall. The impact on the individual employee is correctly stated. Self employed people can deduct half of their contribution which makes simply doubling the rates misleading even in that situation.

  9. Ted Valentine says


    Any employee making under the income cutoff can look on their W2 and double the social security and medicaid tax paid, and that will be the true amount they actually paid for those categories.

    That half is hidden and considered deductible on the income tax side does not mean that people are not still contributing that as tax.

    Best regards.

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