Have you ever been asked for your approximate tax bracket by an advisor, attorney, financial provider, or even a Fidelity representative? Knowing your tax bracket can be useful in many scenarios, including when you open new accounts.
Of course, your tax bracket won’t tell you exactly how much you’ll pay in income tax the next time you file, but it can help you get a ballpark idea of the suitability of certain products for you or of likely tax consequences of your financial decisions.
It can also be useful if you’d like to estimate how much tax you will save by taking more in deductions. A taxpayer in the 35% tax bracket, for example, may save 35 cents in federal tax for every dollar spent on a tax-deductible expense, such as mortgage interest or charity.
Marginal tax rate: Your tax bracket explained
"Tax bracket" is an often-used term that is synonymous with your marginal tax rate. Your marginal tax rate is not, however, a simple percentage of your total taxable income. When you hear people say they are in a given bracket, such as 35%, that doesn’t mean that they pay 35% of their income to taxes.
What it does mean is that, when your income reaches specified thresholds, you pay gradually higher amounts of tax on those chunks of your income; the marginal tax rate percentage (such as 35%) is the rate applied to the highest portion. Therefore, another way of looking at marginal tax rate is the tax rate to which your last dollar of income is subject.
For example, see the hypothetical federal income tax scenario in the chart below. It assumes that, in 2013, your taxable income is $100,000 and you’re married, filing jointly, so:
- The first $17,850 of your income is taxed in the 10% tax bracket, resulting in $1,785 in tax.
- The next tier of income of $54,649 ($17,851 to $72,500) is taxed in the 15% tax bracket, resulting in $8,197.35 in tax.
- Then the highest tier of $27,499 ($72,501 to $100,000) is taxed at 25%, for $6,874.75.
Therefore, your tax would be a total of those amounts, or $16,857.10. Your marginal tax rate or tax bracket would be the highest tax rate for your income, or 25%.
Estimating taxable income
Since your tax bracket is based on your taxable income, you need to know or estimate that amount first.
Taxable income for the last year you filed can be found on your tax forms. If you need to estimate for this year or a future year, one simple method is to use the amount from the last time you filed, if you think the year may be similar. If not, make rough adjustments based on your expectations for the year in question.
Taxable income from the last year you filed can be found on:
- Line 43, if you filed Form 1040.
- Line 27, if you filed Form 1040A.
- Line 6, if you filed Form 1040EZ.
Finding your tax bracket
The tables below will help you estimate your tax bracket for 2013. Find the table for the status under which you usually file (single, married, head of household, etc.), and then find the range in which your taxable income falls.