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What are the tax brackets?

8 min read

8 min read

Tax questions often have complex answers, and the question of federal tax brackets is no different. When someone asks about the tax brackets in 2023, they could be referring to a number of different types of rates. Is it the capital gains tax rate, dividend tax rate, marginal tax rate, Medicare tax rate, Social Security tax rate, the withholding tax rate on bonuses (what some people think of as a “bonus tax rate”) you’re looking for?

Not sure which one? Don’t worry! We’ll outline the types of tax rates and the situations when you’ll encounter them in this post.

The basics on federal income tax rates

couple reviewing the federal tax brackets

Federal income tax rates are divided into seven segments (commonly known as income tax brackets). You pay increasing income tax rates as your income rises. If you’re trying to determine your marginal tax rate or your highest federal tax bracket, you’ll need to know two things:

  • Your filing status: The filing status options are to file as Single, Married Filing Jointly, Married Filing Separately, Head of Household, or Qualified Widow.
  • Your taxable income: Believe it or not, your taxable income doesn’t equal your wages. Rather, it’s the total of your taxable income sources (like wages, investment interest, and retirement distributions) minus any adjustments and tax deductions. Most income is taxed using these seven tax brackets, except for certain capital gains and dividends.

Need help determining this number? Find out how to calculate your taxable income.

Tax brackets 2023

If you’re wondering, “What tax bracket am I in?” The tax bracket-specific income ranges can shift slightly each year due to inflation adjustments, so you’ll want to reference the year when you review income tax brackets. Here we outline the 2023 tax brackets.

For each bracket, the second number is the maximum for that tax rate and the first number in the next bracket is over the highest amount for the previous rate. For instance, the 10% rate for a single filer is up to and including $11,000. The 12% rate starts at $11,001.

Tax RateFor Single Filers and Married Filing SingleFor Married Individuals Filing Joint Returns/Qualifying WidowersFor Heads of Households
10%$0 – $11,000$0 – $22,000$0 – $15,700
12%$11,000 – $44,725$22,000 – $89,450$15,700 – $59,850
22%$44,725 – $95,375$89,450 – $190,750$59,850 – $95,350
24%$95,375 – $182,100$190,750 – $364,200$95,350 – $182,100
32%$182,100 – $231,250$364,200 – $462,500$182,100 – $231,250
35%$231,250 – $578,125$462,500 – $693,750$231,250 – $578,100
37%$578,125 – more ($346,885 or more for MFS)$693,750 or more$578,100 or more
Source: Internal Revenue Service

Tax brackets in 2022

What happens if you didn’t file your taxes for 2022 yet? The rates are a bit different. Take note.

Tax RateFor Single Filers and Married Filing SingleFor Married Individuals Filing Joint ReturnsFor Heads of Households
10%$0 – $10,275$0 – $20,550$0 – $14,650
12%$10,275 – $41,775$20,550 – $83,550$14,650 – $55,900
22%$41,775 – $89,075$83,550 – $178,150$55,900 – $89,050
24%$89,075 – $170,050$178,150 – $340,100$89,050 – $170,050
32%$170,050 – $215,950$340,100 – $431,900$170,050 – $215,950
35%$215,950 – $539,900$431,900 – $647,850$215,950 – $539,900
37%$539,900 or more ($323,000 or more for MFS)$647,850 or more$539,900 or more
Source: IRS

Understanding how federal income tax brackets work

The nuances of federal income tax brackets can seem complex on first glance. So, if you’re asking yourself, “how do tax brackets work?”, here’s more detail.

Once you know your filing status and amount of taxable income, you can find your tax bracket. However, you should know that not all your income is taxed at that rate. For example, if you fall in the 22% tax bracket, not all your income is taxed at 22%. Why is that? The reason is that the U.S. income tax system uses a graduated tax system, designed so that individual taxpayers pay an increasing rate as their income rises as outlined in the tax brackets above.

Let’s look at Sarah, whose filing status is “Single” and who has a taxable income of $50,000 (her total income is $63,850 ($50,000 + $13,850 standard deduction).

Using the 2023 information above, we can determine Sarah’s total tax in the following steps:

  1. Figure out the amount of tax for each segment of taxable income. Sarah will pay:
    • 10% on the first $11,000 of taxable income
    • 12% on the next $33,725 ($44,725-$11,000)
    • 22% on the remaining $5,275 ($50,000-$44,725)
  2. Add the taxable amounts for each segment ($1,100 + $4,047 + $1,160.50) = $6,307.50

For 2023 tax returns, Sarah will pay $6,307.50 in tax. But that’s not the only way to describe Sarah’s taxes. We could also talk about her average tax rate and marginal tax rate.

So, what’s the difference between all these different percentages and rates?  Read on and we’ll explain, continuing to use Sarah as an example.  

Income Tax Rate Terms

The terminology around income tax brackets and tax rates can be confusing at times. To clarify what’s meant, let’s review a few relevant terms that relate to this topic.

  • Income tax rate: The various percentages at which taxes are applied
  • Income tax brackets: The ranges of income to which a tax rate applies (currently there are seven as shown above).
  • Marginal tax rate: The rate at which the last dollar of income is taxed. Sarah’s marginal tax rate is 22%.
  • Effective tax rate: The total tax paid as a percentage of total income taxed.
  • Average tax rate: This is the same as the effective tax rate.  For Sarah, we can think about her average tax rate in two ways. For the $50,000 of taxable income, her tax rate is 12.6%. If we think about the average based on all of her income, it would be 9.8%.

There is another way to think about average tax rate: If you’re looking for the average federal income tax rate that most taxpayers pay, that’s a harder number to pin down as it changes every year.  You can also review average tax rate details in this chart.

In addition to these definitions, it’s helpful to understand that the table above shows ordinary tax rates. However, ordinary tax rates don’t apply to every type of income. For other types of income, they follow a different rate structure than the table above. We’ll outline those next.

Other types of tax rates

Now, let’s get to the other tax rates. There are a few places where you might find these categories, like on your investment or broker statements.

Capital gains tax rates and dividend tax rates

When you receive a quarterly investment statement, it may show that you were paid capital gain distributions or dividends. The statement will also show if you sold stock or mutual funds, which would result in capital gain or loss. To know what dividend or capital gain tax rate applies here, you should also look at the timeframes involved.

  • Long-term capital gains refer to assets sold for a profit that were held for more than one year. The specific rates depend on your taxable income, but it’s not the same as the percentages listed above. Use the table lower in this section to determine your rate.
  • Short-term capital gains refer to assets sold for a profit that were held for one year or less. These gains are taxed just the same as ordinary income, so you can refer to the federal income tax rates above.
  • Qualified dividend income refers to income held for a certain period. For a dividend to be a qualified dividend, you must have held the asset for more than 60 days during the 121-day period starting 60 days before the ex-dividend date. Qualified dividend income is taxed the same rate as long-term capital gains, so it will also follow the rates shown in the table below.
  • Ordinary dividend income refers to income that doesn’t meet the qualified dividend income criteria above. These dividends, just like short-term capital gains, are taxed as ordinary income. Refer back to the federal income tax rates above.
  • Capital gain distributions are taxed similarly to qualified dividends.

2023 tax rates: Long-term capital gains (LTCG) and Qualified dividend income (QDI)

Tax Rate
For Single, Unmarried Individuals, Taxable Income Taxable Income Over…For Married Individuals Filing Joint Returns Taxable Income Over…For Heads of Households, Taxable Income Over…
20%$492,300 ($296,900 for MFS)$553,850$523,050
Source: Internal Revenue Service

Note: Gains on the sale of collectibles (e.g., antiques, works of art and stamps) are taxed at a maximum rate of 28%.

Social Security tax rate and FICA tax rates

When you look at your paycheck, you can see taxes that are taken out of your take-home pay for various reasons. We’ll cover those in this section.

Social Security and Medicare taxes fall under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes. When you want to know the FICA tax rate, you should refer to the two categories below.

Currently, the:

  • Social Security tax rate is 6.2%. This is for the employee portion of these taxes. Employers also pay half of these taxes, so you can add another 6.2% to get the total Social Security tax rate.
  • Medicare tax rate is 1.45%. This is for the employee portion of the taxes.

There are some limits and exceptions to Social Security and Medicare tax rates. Get the details in our payroll tax article.

Bonus tax rate (bonus tax withholding rate)

The last category of taxes you might see on your paycheck stub is for any bonus or supplemental wages you received. What most people think of the bonus tax rate is actually a percentage of tax withheld from pay in certain circumstances: prizes and awards, certain commissions, overtime pay, back pay, and reported tips.

The bonus tax withholding rate is a flat 22% as long as the amount paid is under $1 million. If it’s over that amount, the bonus tax rate jumps to 37%. Keep in mind, the FICA taxes mentioned above will also apply to your bonus payment.

What if the bonus tax withholding rate is higher than your income tax bracket? You’ll be able to account for that on your tax return and possibly receive money back as a refund if too much was withheld.

Have questions about tax rates?

If you’re looking to understand how various federal tax rates will affect your tax filing outcome, check out H&R Block’s income tax calculator so you can plan ahead.

If you want to understand how the changes to the tax brackets affect you or learn how you may be able to lower your taxable income, learn more about the ways to file your taxes with H&R Block.

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