Tax-Filing in 2021: What Is My Tax Bracket?

Determining which federal income tax bracket your earnings fall into is surprisingly complex. But performing this calculation can be instrumental in helping you find strategies to reduce your federal tax bill and double-check any calculations done by a tax software program or tax preparer.

Tax brackets generally change every year, and the brackets for 2020 income taxes (those filed by April 2021) have been released. Here are the 2020 income tax brackets for federal taxes:

Explore the 2020 Income Tax Brackets

Below are the tax rates for the 2021 filing season for three common filing statuses. Dollar amounts represent taxable income earned in 2020:

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

How Tax Brackets Work

In general, there are seven tax brackets for ordinary income — 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37% — with the bracket determined by filers’ taxable income. The federal government uses a progressive tax system, which means that filers with higher incomes pay higher tax rates. It’s also graduated in such a way so that taxpayers don’t pay the same rate on every dollar earned, but instead pay higher rates on each dollar that exceeds a certain threshold.

To determine your federal income tax rate, you’ll need to know your filing status, income and the difference between your marginal and effective tax rate.

Read on for additional information about each of these tax-filing processes — and how to use them to reduce your bill or increase your tax refund this year.

[See: 9 Red Flags That Could Trigger a Tax Audit.]

Identify Your Filing Status

Before you know which tax bracket your income falls into, you have to know your tax-filing status. Common statuses include:

— Single.

— Married filing jointly.

— Married filing separately.

— Head of household.

The status you’ll use will depend on whether you’re single or married, have qualifying dependents and other aspects of your specific tax situation. Many married couples file taxes jointly, but some may choose to file separately to reduce their student loan payments or because they’re in the process of divorcing.

How to Determine Your Taxable Income

Full disclosure: This is difficult to do by hand, but it can be a worthwhile exercise.

First, calculate earnings from your work, side hustles, rental properties and other sources, then subtract any income that is considered an exclusion by the tax code, such as proceeds from a life insurance policy. That calculation will yield your gross income.

“Gross income is pretty much everything, and it’s defined in the law as income from all sources unless there’s an exception in the tax code,” says Chris Raulston, a Memphis, Tennessee-based wealth strategist at Raymond James.

Next, you’ll subtract certain tax adjustments, such as student loan interest and contributions to an individual retirement account, or IRA, to figure out your adjusted gross income.

[See: 15 Tax Questions — Answered.]

Feeling tired? You’re not done yet.

After determining adjusted gross income, you’ll need to subtract tax deductions. That involves deciding whether to take the standard deduction ($12,400 for single filers; $24,800 for married filing jointly) or itemize, which you do by manually subtracting below-the-line deductions, such as charitable contributions and mortgage interest.

Finally, you’ll have reached your taxable income and can determine your tax bracket using this number. To complicate things, certain investment income is taxed at a capital gains rate and not at the ordinary income rate. So, keep that in mind as you do this exercise.

Understand the Marginal Tax Rate vs. Effective Tax Rate

Say you’re a single filer who earned $50,000 in 2020 in taxable income. You’ll use the table to determine that you fall into the 22% tax bracket, which is known as your “marginal rate.” But that doesn’t mean you pay 22% of every taxable dollar to Uncle Sam. “Just because your income may fall into the 22% or 24% tax bracket, it doesn’t mean all your income is taxed at 22% or 24%,” says Mark Jaeger, the Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based director of tax development at tax software company TaxAct.

Instead, you’re paying 22% on any amount you earn above $40,125. So, your effective tax rate will actually look like this:

10% x $9,875 = $987.50

12% x $30,250 ($40,125 – $9,875) = $3,630

22% x $9,875 ($50,000 – $40,125) = $2,172.50

Your total tax liability will be the total of those amounts, or $6,790, which is a nearly 14% effective rate.

The 2019 Income Tax Brackets

If you’re filing an amended tax return or are curious about how tax rates have changed year over year, here are the tax changes for the 2019 tax year (2020 filing season):

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

[Read: How to File Back Taxes.]

The 2018 Income Tax Rates

Here are the tax rates for the 2018 tax year (taxes filed by April 2019):

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

Consider Ways to Lower Your Tax Rate

To lower their tax bill, filers may want to use strategies to place themselves in a lower tax bracket, especially if their taxable income falls right on the cutoff line between brackets.

Before the end of the tax year is the best time to consider moves such as delaying income or making contributions to certain accounts, such as health savings accounts and retirement funds, experts say. Work with your tax preparer or financial advisor to identify additional ways to lower your tax bracket. A financial professional may suggest “bunching” deductions, for example, to qualify to make itemized deductions and lower your tax bill.

Jaeger recommends considering making year-end charitable contributions if you’re considering itemizing. He also notes that, even if you don’t plan to itemize this year, you may be able to claim a charitable deduction on your taxes. That’s thanks to the coronavirus relief bill allowing a $300 above-the-line deduction for cash donations made to qualified public charities. You may also want to increase tax-deductible retirement contributions to an account such as a 401(k) or 403(b).

Bottom line: Knowing your tax bracket will help you better understand your tax bill and how to reduce it.

More from U.S. News

8 Ways You Can Prepare Now for Next Year’s Taxes

9 Red Flags That Could Trigger a Tax Audit

8 Steps for Investing a Tax Refund

Tax-Filing in 2021: What Is My Tax Bracket? originally appeared on

Update 10/15/20: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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