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2020-2021 Tax Brackets

Find out what tax bracket you’re in and how that impacts what you owe the government.

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The United States operates under a progressive tax code, which means — all things being equal — the more you earn, the more income taxes you owe. (Exceptions apply; we’ll visit that later.) Earned income — income you receive from your job(s) — is measured against seven tax brackets ranging from 10% to 37%.

The bracket you land in depends on a variety of factors ranging from your total income, your total adjusted income, filing jointly or as an individual, dependents, deductions, credits, and so on.

The good news is that it will not include, for the most part, the money the federal government handed out during the COVID-19 pandemic. None of the stimulus check money you received will be counted as income for your 2020 taxes and neither will the first $10,200 in unemployment benefits count as income if you made less than $150,000.

That should help everyone trying to squeeze into a lower tax bracket. Succeeding is difficult and requires a fair amount of planning, which is why it’s time to start thinking about doing your taxes early.

For instance, if you’re contributing to your company’s 401(k) plan, congratulations! You’re already making the tax code work for you. If you have rental property and you’re depreciating the dwelling against your rental income (even as the value of the property rises), huzzah! That’s another perfectly legitimate tax code win. Making regular contributions to a registered charity or nonprofit? Keep it up! Not only is your money helping your community, if you itemize, those donations are deductible.

Check Out Our Guide to COVID-19 Relief

Things Worth Remembering If You Haven’t Filed 2020 Taxes

Some items and notes for those who haven’t filed taxes on income they earned or received in 2020:

  • The tax filing deadline has been moved from April 15 to May 15, 2021. The deadline extension only applies to federal taxes.
  • Income from stimulus checks is not taxable.
  • Income for the first $10,200 of unemployment compensation is not taxable for people whose modified adjusted gross income is less than $150,000. Unemployment compensation over $10,200 is taxable.
  • The penalties and fines that normally accompany taxes filed late, will not be applied as long as you meet the May 17 deadline.
  • You can ask the IRS for a filing extension to Oct. 15 by filing form 4868 before May 17.
  • Even if you receive an extension, you still must pay taxes owed by May 17.

Upcoming Tax Brackets & Tax Rates for 2020-2021

Note: This can get a bit confusing. The filing deadline for the 2020 tax year is April 15, 2021. (Or October 15, 2021 if you apply for an automatic filing — but not paying — extension.) Which means you account for your 2020 tax bill in 2021. Add the fact that the IRS released the ground rules for 2021 taxes (for 2022 filing) in October 2020, and your head is swimming in a pool so perplexing that a state of confusion can be excused.

But wait. Come springtime, will Washington ponder another filing delay in response to a new or ongoing national emergency? You never know.

What we do know is the rates and brackets for the 2020 tax year are set.

Here is a look at what the brackets and tax rates are for 2020 (filing 2021):

2020 Tax Brackets (Due April 2021)
Tax rateSingle filersMarried filing jointly*Married filing separatelyHead of household
10%$0 – $9,875$0 – $19,750$0 – $9,875$0 – $14,100
12%$9,875 – $40,125$19,751 – $80,250$9,876 – $40,125$14,101 – $53,700
22%$40,126 – $85,525$80,251 – $171,050$40,126 – $85,525$53,701 – $85,500
24%$85,526 – $163,300$171,051 – $326,600$85,526 – $163,300$85,501 – $163,300
32%$163,301 – $207,350$326,601 – $414,700$163,301 – $207,350$163,301 – $207,350
35%$207,351 – $518,400$414,701 – $622,050$207,351 – $311,025$207,351 – $518,400
37%$518,401 or more$622,051 or more$311,026 or more$518,401 or more

*Qualifying widow(er)s can use the joint tax rates

Here is a look at what the brackets and tax rates are for 2021 (filing 2022):

2021 Tax Brackets (Due April 2022)
Tax rateSingle filersMarried filing jointly*Married filing separatelyHead of household
10%$0 – $9,950$0 – $19,900$0 – $9,950$0 – $14,200
12%$9,951 – $40,525$19,901 – $81,050$9,951 – $40,525$14,201 – $54,200
22%$40,526 – $86,375$81,051 – $172,750$40,526 – $86,375$54,201 – $86,350
24%$86,376 – $164,925$172,751 – $329,850$86,376 – $164,925$86,351 – $164,900
32%$164,926 – $209,425$329,851 – $418,850$164,925 – $209,425$164,901 – $209,400
35%$209,426 – $523,600$418,851 – $628,300$209,426 – $314,150$209,401 – $523,600
37%$523,601 or more$628,300 or more$314,151 or more$523,601 or more

*Qualifying widow(er)s can use the joint tax rates

» Jump to: 2019 tax brackets

Tax Brackets & the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 guides current tax policy. Among its notable achievements:
  • Number of brackets remained steady at seven.
  • Four of the lowest five marginal rates dropped between one and four points; the top rate sank 2.6 points, to 37%.
  • Modified bracket widths.
  • Eliminated the personal exemption, but nearly doubled the standard deduction.
  • Indexed brackets and other provisions to the Chained Consumer Price Index (C-CPI) measure of inflation (including the standard deduction, which for 2020 stands at $12,400 for single filers, $18,650 for heads of household, and $24,800 for joint filers and some surviving spouses).
  • Retains the charitable contribution deduction.
  • Caps the mortgage interest deduction to the first $750,000 in principal value.
  • Deduction for state and local income, sales, and property taxes limited to a combined $10,000.

While taxpayers still may use itemizing if their total deductions work to their advantage (which it tends to do for the highest earners), boosting the standard deduction was designed to simplify calculations for the vast majority of filers — and it worked. For the 2018 tax year, 90% of households opted for the standard deduction, up from 70% in recent previous years (Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center).

How to Determine Your Tax Bracket

As mentioned above, determining your tax bracket hinges on two things: filing status and taxable income. Here are some useful details:

The IRS recognizes five different filing statuses:
  • Single Filing – Unmarried, legally separated and divorced individuals all qualify all single.
  • Married Filing Jointly – A married couple agrees to combine income and deduct the allowable expenses.
  • Married Filing Separately – A married couple files separate tax returns to keep an individual income lower. This is beneficial in certain situations like repaying student loans under an income-driven repayment plan.
  • Head of Household – Unmarried individuals who paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for the year and have a qualifying person living with them in their home for more than half the year.
  • Qualifying Widow(er) – A widow(er) can file jointly in the year of their spouse’s death. A qualifying widow(er) has a dependent child and can use the joint tax rates and the highest deduction amount for the next two years after their spouse’s death.

How to Calculate Taxable Income

Arriving at your taxable income requires a bit of arithmetic.
Begin with your gross income, which is all the money you earned during the tax year: income from jobs, from owning a business, retirement (pension, 401(k) withdrawals, Social Security), rents, and/or investment earnings.

Next up: determining your adjusted gross income (AGI). These are adjustments taken before any deductions are applied. These may include student loan interest, moving expenses, alimony you paid, tuition and fees, as well as contributions to a traditional IRA, among others. Subtract these expenses from your gross income to arrive at your AGI.

Finally, apply deductions.

Again, you may itemize your deductions by listing eligible expenses, or you may take the standard deduction. Everyone qualifies for the standard deduction, but if you think your allowable deductions exceed the standard deduction — you’re paying a lot in home mortgage interest; your property or state income taxes are high; medical expenses take a big bite out of your budget — it would be make sense to take the time to itemize your deductions and see if it exceeds the allowable standard deduction.

The standard deduction for the 2020 tax year, due May 17, 2021
  • Single filers: $12,400
  • Married filing jointly: $24,800
  • Married filing separately: $12,400
  • Heads of households: $18,650

Once of all that is calculated and subtracted from your AGI, you’ve arrived at your taxable income. But calculating how much you will pay in taxes isn’t as simple (or as punishing) as taking that number and multiplying it by your tax rate.

How Tax Brackets Work

As mentioned earlier, the United States follows a progressive income tax system. In that scheme, not all income is treated equally.

Which, as long as we lack an appetite for a flat tax plan, makes a certain amount of sense — as we shall attempt to demonstrate.

When someone talks about being in the 24% bracket, then, that doesn’t mean all of their taxable income endures the same 24% bite, but instead only their taxable income above a certain amount (depending on filing status).

This is the headache-inducing beauty of the American system of marginal rates.

Marginal Tax Rates

Marginal tax rates refer to the rate you pay at each level (bracket) of income. Increments of your income are taxed at different rates, and the rate rises as you reach each of the seven “marginal” levels in the current system. This means you may have several tax rates that determine how much you owe the IRS.

Said another way, earnings stack upon earnings as the year goes on, much like an inverted pyramid. Whether your taxable income is $40,000 a year, $400,000, or $40 million, the first $10,000 you earn is taxed the same (10%). The same goes for the next $30,000 (12%). And so it goes through the various levels until the brackets top out at 37% ($518,401 for single filers).

Under this system, everyone who has earned income pays at least a little bit — everyone has “skin in the game” — but higher earners pay higher rates on their top-end taxable income.

Effective Tax Rates

The actual percentage of your taxable income you owe the IRS is called an effective tax rate. To calculate your effective tax rate, take the total amount of tax you paid and divide that number by your taxable income. Your effective tax rate will be much lower than the rate from your tax bracket, which claims against only your top-end earnings.

Alternative Minimum Taxes (AMT)

Enacted by Congress in 1969 and running parallel to the regular income tax, the alternative minimum tax (AMT) was originated to prevent certain high-income filers from using elaborate tax shelters to dodge Uncle Sam.

Under AMT, assorted deductions and tax preferences allowed by the regular income tax are disallowed and added back into the taxpayer’s income, resulting in an alternative minimum taxable income (AMTI). An exemption amount (based on filing status) is applied, and the result is multiplied by the applicable AMT bracket to produce a tax amount.

AMT brackets are 26% and 28%. Since 2015, AMT exemption amounts — the figure subtracted from AMTI — have been adjusted for inflation.

In short, AMT payers calculate their income twice — regular rules, AMT rules — and pay the higher amount owed.

Before you reach for the Advil, two things: Genuinely wealthy filers have tax accountants to figure this stuff out. The rest of us can rely on reasonably priced tax software.

2020 Alternative Minimum Tax Exemptions
Filing StatusExemption AmountPhase Out
Single Individuals$73,900$518,400
Married Filing Jointly$113,400$1,036,800

Source: Internal Revenue Service

Capital Gains Tax

Remember all that business a few years back when billionaire investor Warren Buffett lamented that his effective income tax rate was lower than that of his secretary? That’s simply because his secretary, who was not scraping by, was earning regular income; she got a paycheck. Buffett’s income came from investing: putting money at risk to help companies grow, and, thus, making his money grow along with them.

Because Congress traditionally has recognized the value of at-risk capital to the health of the U.S. economy, long-term capital gains — gains from securities sold after having been held for at least a year — are taxed at rates lower than comparable ordinary income. Tax brackets for long-term capital gains (investments held for more than one year) are 15% and 20%. An additional 3.8% bump applies to filers with higher modified adjusted gross incomes (MAGI).

If you held an investment for less than one year before selling it for a gain, that is classified as a “short-term capital gain” and you pay the same rate as ordinary income.

Long-Term Capital Gains Tax Rates for 2020
Tax rateSingle filersMarried filing jointly*Married filing separatelyHead of household
0%$0 – $40,000$0 – $80,000$0 – $40,000$0 – $53,600
15%$40,000 – $441,450$80,000 – $496,600$40,001 – $248,300$53,601 – $469,050
20%Over $441,450Over $496,600Over $248,300Over $469,050

Kiddie Tax

Sorry, parents. There’s no hiding income in your children’s names. The so-called “kiddie tax” adheres to unearned income for kids under the age of 19 and college students up to the age of 24.

Youngsters with accounts that earn more than $1,100 in dividends and interest in 2020 will be liable for taxes according to the rates applied to trusts and estates — quickly escalating brackets that range from 10% (up to $2,600) to 37% (more than $12,950).

Putting It All Together: Calculating Your Tax Bill

To calculate how much you owe in taxes, start with the lowest bracket. Multiply the rate by the maximum amount of income for that bracket. Repeat that step for the next bracket, and continue until you reach your bracket. Add the taxes from each bracket together to get your total tax bill.

For example, the single filer with $80,000 in taxable income would pay the lowest rate (10%) on the first $9,875 ($988) (s)he makes; then 12% on anything earned from $9,786 to $40,125 ($4,013); then 22% on the rest, up to $80,000 ($8,773) for a total tax bill of $13,774.

Effectively, this filer is paying a tax rate of 17.2% (13,774 ÷ 80,000 = .172), which is less that the 22% tax bracket our taxpayer actually is in.

But, wait. Effective tax rates don’t factor in any deductions, so if you wanted get closer to what percentage of your salary goes to Uncle Sam, try using your adjusted gross income. Assuming the single filer with $80,000 in taxable income opted for the standard deduction ($12,400), the amount of his AGI that went to the IRS was 14.9% — a far cry from 22%.

For a final figure, take your gross income before adjustments. Add back in your allowable “above the line” deductions — for example, retirement and health savings account contributions; certain business-related expenses; alimony paid — and divide your tax bill by that number. The overall rate for our single filer with $80,000 in taxable income might be closer to 12% or even lower.

You have questions. Make sense? Confusing? Who came up with this idea? We have answers. Sort of. Heck, yes. The usual suspects: Elected officials consulting with staff and, duh, lobbyists.

State and Local Tax Brackets

States and cities that impose income taxes typically have their own brackets, with rates that tend to be lower than the federal government’s.

California has the highest state income tax at 13.3% with Hawaii (11%), New Jersey (10.75), Oregon (9.9%), and Minnesota (9.85%) rounding out the top five.

Five states and the District of Columbia (8.95%) have top rates above 7%, with Illinois (7.99%, up from 4.95% currently) scheduled to join them if Gov. J.B. Pritzker gets his way.

Seven states – Florida, Alaska, Wyoming, Washington, Texas, South Dakota and Nevada – have no state income tax.

Tennessee and New Hampshire tax interest and dividend income, but not income from wages.

Not surprisingly, New York City lives up to its reputation for taxing income with rates ranging from 3.078% to 3.876%; remarkably, the Big Apple is not the worst. Most Pennsylvania cities tax income, with Philadelphia leading the way at 3.89%; Scranton checks in at 3.4%. Ohio has more than 550 cities and towns that tax personal income.

How Tax Brackets Add Up

In 2019, the IRS collected more than $3.5 trillion in Federal taxes paid by individuals and businesses; individuals accounted for about 56% of that total.

The agency processed more than 253 million individual and business returns; a whopping 73% of returns were filed electronically. Of roughly 154 million individual tax returns, 89% were e-filed.

Individuals and businesses claimed nearly 121.9 million refunds totaling more than $452 billion. The vast majority of these totals — 119.8 million refunds amounting to more than $270 billion — went to individuals.

How to Reduce Taxable Income & Drop into a Lower Tax Bracket

Two common ways to reduce your tax bill are by using credits and deductions. The first is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the amount of tax you owe. The second trims your taxable income, possibly slipping you into a lower tax bracket.

Tax credits come in two types: nonrefundable and refundable.

Nonrefundable credits are deducted from your tax liability until your tax due equals $0. Examples include the child and dependent care credit, adoption credit, saver’s credit, mortgage interest tax credit, and alternative motor vehicle credit.

Refundable credits are paid out in full, no matter what your income or tax liability. Examples include the earned income tax credit (EITC), child tax credit, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

Which of these tax credits apply to your situation?
  • Child tax credit. Trim your bill by up to $2,000 for each qualifying minor child in your household. Score a $500 credit for a non-child dependent (a parent you support, perhaps).
  • Child and dependent care credits generally can return 20% to 35% of up to $3,000 of childcare and related costs for youngsters under 13, a spouse or parent who’s incapacitated, or another dependent so you can work. For two or more dependents, you can claim against up to $6,000 in care-related expenses.
  • Earned income tax credit returns up to $6,728 for married taxpayers filing jointly with three or more qualifying children.
  • The Adoption Credit of $14,440 applies to the adoption of a child with special needs; the maximum credit for other adoptions equals the amount of qualified expenses up to $14,440. Phaseouts apply as income rises.
  • The Lifetime Learning Credit encourages ongoing educational studies, but is subject to income limitations.
  • The Saver’s Credit, or retirement savings contributions credit, allows low-income filers to reclaim up to half of their contributions to a qualified retirement savings account (limits apply).
  • A residential energy credit can return up to 26% of the installation cost of solar energy systems, such as solar water heaters and solar panels.

Deductions, on the other hand, reduce your taxable income. Accumulate enough of them in qualifying number or amount, and you can slide a tax bracket or two.

Popular deductions include:
  • Mortgage interest, tracked by and reported to you by your lender, reduces taxable income by the amount of interest you pay (up to the first $750,000 of the mortgage for homes purchased after Dec. 15, 2017).
  • Contributions to a 401(k) — up to $19,500, or $26,000 if you’re 50 or older — comes off the top of your gross income.
  • Traditional IRA contributions are deductible, but how much you can sock away depends on assorted factors, including whether you have a retirement plan at work and how much you earn.
  • Student loan interest deductions, student loan interest payments, up to $2,500, can be deducted.
  • Charitable gifts to qualified nonprofits — from churches to the Salvation Army to the United Way to your college alumni association — in cash, securities, or property, is deductible.
  • Medical expenses — qualified, unreimbursed medical expenses that are more than 7.5% of your AGI can be deducted.
  • State and local taxes, up to $10,000 for married filers — $5,000 for single filers — for a combination of property taxes, state and local income taxes, or sales taxes, may be deducted.
  • Health Savings Account contributions, for filers with high-deductible health coverage, are deductible — up to $3,550 for individual coverage, and up to $7,100 for family coverage. Withdrawals are tax-free, too, if they’re used for qualified medical expenses.
  • Self-employment expenses for freelancers, contractors, and other self-employed people are, with restrictions, deductible.
  • Home-office expenses, when they are used regularly and exclusively for business-related activities, can be deductible. These include rent, utilities, repairs, maintenance, real estate taxes, and other related expenses. Limitations apply.
  • Educator expenses, up to $250, may be deducted by teachers or other eligible educators.
  • Gambling losses can be claimed as a deduction, but only up to the amount won.

Previous Years Tax Brackets

Taxes were originally due April 15, but as with a lot of things, it changed in 2020. The tax deadline was extended to July 15 in order to let Americans get their finances together without the burden of a due date right around the corner.

Here is a look at what the brackets and tax rates were for 2019:

2019 Tax Brackets (Due July, 15 2020)
Tax rateSingle filersMarried filing jointly*Married filing separatelyHead of household
10%$0 – $9,700$0 – $19,400$0 – $9,700$0 – $13,850
12%$9,701 – $39,475$19,401 – $78,950$9,701 – $39,475$13,851 – $52,850
22%$39,476 – $84,200$78,951 – $168,400$39,476 – $84,200$52,851 – $84,200
24%$84,201 – $160,725$168,401 – $321,450$84,201 – $160,725$84,201 – $160,700
32%$160,726 – $204,100$321,451 – $408,200$160,726 – $204,100$160,701 – $204,100
35%$204,101 – $510,300$408,201 – $612,350$204,101 – $306,750$204,101 – $510,300
37%$510,301 or more$612,351 or more$306,751 or more$510,301 or more

*Qualifying widow(er)s can use the joint tax rates

About The Author

Bill Fay

Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it in 2012, helping birth Debt.org into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering the high finance world of college and professional sports for major publications, including the Associated Press, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His interest in sports has waned some, but he is as passionate as ever about not reaching for his wallet. Bill can be reached at [email protected].

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