The difference between your tax bracket and your tax rate is more than a trick question. For example, knowing your tax rate gives you an accurate reflection of your tax liability in relation to your total income. Knowing your tax bracket is useful for planning purposes. For instance, you may want to spread a Roth conversion over several years in order to stay within the income limits of a particular tax bracket.
So, what’s the difference between the two? The main difference is that a tax bracket is a range of income to which a specific tax rate applies, while your effective tax rate is the percentage of your income that you actually pay in tax. Put another way, not every dollar is taxed at the same rate. Your tax bracket shows the rate of tax on the last dollar you made during the tax year. Your effective tax rate reflects the actual amount you paid on all your taxable income.
For example, say you’re single and in the 25% bracket for 2016. That means your taxable income is between $37,650 and $91,150.
Yet the tax you pay is less than 25% of your income.
Why? Because the 25% tax rate only applies to the amount of taxable income within the 25% bracket. The tax on income below $37,650 is calculated using the rate that applies to income in the 10% and 15% brackets.
So, if your 2016 taxable income is $40,000, only $2,350 is taxed at 25%. The remainder is taxed at 10% and 15%, leading to a “blended” overall rate. The result: a tax bracket of 25%, and an effective tax rate of less than that.
Good tax advice can affect both your bracket and your rate. Want to know how?