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Tax Rates & Brackets Explained

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In 2018 the tax code changed to lower many of the tax rates and widen some of the tax brackets. And that combination means that more of your income is taxed at lower rates. A beaker can help us see how this works.

The lines mark the tax rates. The spaces between the lines are the tax brackets – they show the range of income taxed at each rate. As your income moves up, only the portion that falls within the next bracket is taxed at the higher rate, and your final tax bill is a blend of the different rates.

Let’s look at an example with a married couple filing jointly. Together they make $195,850, but, that number is reduced by their deductions. They can take either the standard deduction or they can itemize, and subtract whichever is greater.

We’ll use the standard deduction, for a taxable income of $171,050. As we pour those taxable dollars into the beaker, they cover the first, second and third brackets. While 22% is the highest rate they pay it doesn’t apply to all of their income. When we add up the taxes due from each bracket, their total is $29,211.

And when we divide the tax they owe by their total income, we get their effective tax rate of 14.9%. And that’s the rate that really matters.

Consult your tax or financial planning professional to see how the 2018 changes to the tax law may impact your personal situation. For more tips on managing your taxes efficiently, watch the other videos in this series, or visit


Tax rates and brackets are often misunderstood, but they both influence how much income tax you will pay. Learn how they work, how the 2018 changes to the tax law impacted rates and brackets, and what the new bracket ranges are for 2020.

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Important Disclosures

This information does not constitute and is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax, legal, or investment planning advice. Where specific advice is necessary or appropriate, Schwab recommends consultation with a qualified tax advisor, CPA, financial planner, or investment manager.

Examples provided are for illustrative purposes only and not intended to be reflective of results you can expect to achieve.


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