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Types of Taxes

There are dozens of different types of taxes. Some are levied on income, some on personal property and some on goods and services. Learn about each below.

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” One can argue about the extent and quality of the civilization that we receive for our tax dollars, but it can’t be denied that we do pay a lot for it.

In fact, when every tax is tallied – federal, state and local income tax (corporate and individual); property tax; Social Security tax; sales tax; excise tax; and others – Americans spend 29.2 percent of our income in taxes each year.

There are many different kinds of taxes, most of which fall into a few basic categories: taxes on income, taxes on property, and taxes on goods and services.

Taxes on Income

The federal government, 41 states and many local municipalities levy income taxes on personal and business revenue and interest income. In most cases, income tax brackets are progressive, meaning that the higher the income, the higher the rate of taxation. Federal rates for the 2021 tax year range from 10 to 37%. State and city rates are generally much lower. In addition, most systems allow individuals to reduce their tax bill with various credits, deductions and allowances. Businesses pay taxes on their net income.

In addition to federal income taxes, the U.S. government also mandates that employers subtract payroll taxes from their workers’ paychecks each pay period, and then match the sums deducted. These payments are called FICA taxes because they are authorized by the Federal Insurance Contribution Act. Total FICA taxes on individual workers are 7.65 percent of income; 6.2 percent goes to fund the nation’s Social Security system, while 1.45 percent goes to Medicare. Self-employed individuals are liable for the entire 15.3 percent, although one half of that amount can be taken as an above-the-line business deduction on a person’s income tax return.

Capital gains taxes are those paid on any profits made from the sale of an asset and are usually applied to home sales, stock and bond transactions. The capital gains tax rate for 2021 is 0%, 15% or 20%. Your rate depends on the amount of your taxable income. The higher your income, the higher your rate. Profits made from the sale of real estate are also subject to a capital gains tax. Single homeowners may exclude up to $250,000 of capital gain on the sale of a home, as long as the home was a principal residence for at least two of the five years before the sale; married couples filing jointly can exclude up to $500,000.

Estate taxes can be considerable, but less than one-tenth of 1 percent of taxpayers have to pay them, which means 99.9% of us don’t have to worry about this. The estate tax exempts the first $11.7 million for an individual and $23.4 million for a married couple. Estate taxes are imposed on the transfer of property upon the death of the owner. They were created to prevent the perpetuation of tax-free wealth within the country’s most affluent families. The maximum top estate tax rate is 40%. Many states also impose their own estate tax, sometimes known as an inheritance tax. Opponents of these types of taxes believe that they are an unfair confiscation of wealth passed on to an heir and call them “death taxes.” A tax related to the estate tax, and assessed in a similar manner, is the gift tax, levied on a transfer of wealth during a person’s lifetime. The first $15,000 of a gift is excluded from the tax.

Learn more about income tax.

Taxes on Property

Property tax, sometimes known as an ad valorem tax, is imposed on the value of real estate or other personal property. Property taxes are usually imposed by local governments and charged on a recurring basis. For example, homeowners will generally pay their real estate taxes either once a year or as a monthly fee as part of their mortgage payments.

Real estate taxes are often subject to fluctuation based upon a jurisdiction’s assessment of the worth of a property based on its condition, location and market value, and/or changes to the amounts apportioned to various recipients of the tax. For example, if residents of a community have voted to increase the millage rate (the amount per $1,000 that is used to calculate taxes) for a school system, homeowners could see an increase in the tax levied on their properties. Conversely, if property values have fallen due to adverse economic circumstances, home taxes may decrease.

Other items that may be subject to a property tax are automobiles, boats, recreational vehicles and airplanes. Some states also tax other types of business property such as factories, wharves, etc.

Taxes on Goods and Services

The sales tax is most often used as a method for states and local governments to raise revenue. Purchases made at the retail level are assessed a percentage of the sales price of a particular item. Rates vary widely between jurisdictions with 45 state collecting sales tax. Southern states like Tennessee (9.55%), Louisiana (9.52), Arkansas (9.51) and Alabama (9.22) have the top combine state and average local sales tax rate. Washington State also is in that group at 9.23%.

Local sales tax, typically administered by a city or county, are collected in 38 states. Surprisingly, the local sales tax in some places is higher than the state tax rate. For example, the average local sales tax rate in Alabama is 5.22% while the state sales tax is 4.0% for a combined total of 9.22%.

Believe it or not, the top combined city and state sales taxes is 11.5% that’s paid in Gould, Ark. Chicago, Long Beach (CA) and Glendale (CA) are all a distant second at 10.25%. Los Angeles (9.5%) and New York City (8.875%) are far behind.

It’s worth noting that taxes also vary on the type of item bought. For example, a pair of shoes may be taxed at one rate, restaurant food at another, while some items, like staple commodities bought at a grocery store, may not be taxed at all. Also, the same shoes may be taxed at a different rate if sold in a different state or county.

Some believe that sales taxes are the most equitable form of taxation, since they are essentially voluntary and they extract more money from those who consume more. Others believe that they are the most regressive form of taxation, since poorer people wind up paying a larger portion of their income in sales taxes than wealthier individuals do.

Excise taxes are based on the quantity of an item and not on its value. For example, the federal government imposes an excise tax of 18.4 cents on every gallon of gas purchased, regardless of the price charged by the seller. States often add an additional excise tax on each gallon of fuel.

User fees are taxes that are assessed on a wide variety of services, including airline tickets, rental cars, toll roads, utilities, hotel rooms, licenses, financial transactions and many others. Depending upon where someone lives, a cellphone, for example, may have as many as six separate user taxes, running up the monthly bill by as much as 20 percent.

So-called sin taxes are imposed on items like cigarettes and alcohol. For example, the cigarette tax in Connecticut and New York is $4.35 per pack, highest in the nation. In Georgia, the same tax is 37 cents a pack.

Luxury taxes are imposed on certain items, such as expensive cars or jewelry. For example

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 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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