What are the Different Income Tax Brackets?

Brendan McGuigan

Income tax brackets at the federal level change year to year, sometimes drastically, depending on what policies the government has chosen to implement. There are currently six different income tax brackets, based on your income as either a single filer, a married couple filing jointly, a married couple filing together, or a head of household. Generally the shift in taxes at the lower income tax brackets is fairly minor year to year, but occasionally a large shift will be implemented, either raising or lowering the tax burden on a particular bracket. The brackets themselves also shift year to year, so that a certain income may land you in one bracket one year, and a different bracket the next.

In some cases, it may be more advantageous for a married couple to file income tax separately.
In some cases, it may be more advantageous for a married couple to file income tax separately.

In 2008 there were six income tax brackets for single filer, ranging from a $0 US Dollar (USD) bracket to a $357,700 USD and up bracket. The first bracket, ranging from $0 USD to $8,025 USD had a tax rate of 10%; the second bracket, ranging from $8,025 USD to $32,550 USD had a tax rate of 15%; the third bracket, ranging from $32,550 USD to $78,850 USD had a tax rate of 25%; the fourth bracket, ranging from $78,850 USD to $164,550 USD had a tax rate of 28%; the fifth bracket, ranging from $164,550 USD to $357,700 USD had a tax rate of 33%; and the sixth and final bracket, covering all incomes of $357,700 USD and up had a tax rate of 35%. While the tax rates remained the same for different filing statuses, the brackets themselves shifted.

Constitutional responsibility to raise revenue for the operation of the US government lies with the United States Congress.
Constitutional responsibility to raise revenue for the operation of the US government lies with the United States Congress.

For example, in 2008 a person filing as head of household would fall into the third bracket if they made between $43,650 USD and $112,650 USD, reflecting the fact that they have to support extra members. A married couple filing jointly would fall into the third bracket if they made between $65,100 USD and $131,450 USD, close to double the single filer range. And a married couple filing separately would fall into the third bracket if they made between $32,550 USD and $65,725 USD.

Income tax brackets determine an individual's or married couple's income tax rate.
Income tax brackets determine an individual's or married couple's income tax rate.

In 2009 the tax rates have remained the same as they were in 2008, although the brackets have shifted slightly. The upper range on the first bracket, for example, has gone to $8,350 USD, on the second bracket has gone to $33,950 USD, and qualification for the sixth bracket has gone up to $372,950 USD. These shifts are fairly minor, and largely just account for inflation.

More drastic shifts can be seen comparing years further back. For example, in 2000 there were only five brackets, with the lowest current bracket being essentially eliminated. The tax rate itself was quite a bit different: for the first bracket 15%, 28% for the second, 31% for the third, 36% for the fourth, and 39.6% for the fifth. The fifth bracket included anyone who made $288,350 USD or more, so that the current income tax brackets are much more favorable to high earners. For example, a person making $300,000 USD in 2000 would have paid 39.6%, or $118,800 USD; in 2008 that same person would fall in the fifth bracket, with a tax rate of 33%, or $99,000 USD, a savings of $19,000 USD.

Couples may base the decision on whether to get married due to tax benefits.
Couples may base the decision on whether to get married due to tax benefits.

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