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What is Income Tax?

Income tax is a financial obligation imposed by governments on the earnings of businesses and individuals within their jurisdiction. In essence, the money you earn in a year through various sources could be subjected to income tax. Both federal and some state governments levy this type of tax.

Role of Income Tax in Government Revenue

Governments use income taxes as a major source of revenue. This income aids in funding public services, paying government obligations, and providing goods for the citizenry. It's not only the federal government that levies these taxes - many states and local jurisdictions also charge income taxes. This revenue is crucial for maintaining the societal infrastructure and ensuring the smooth functioning of the state apparatus.

Types of Income Subject to Tax

Different forms of income can be subjected to income tax. For instance, as an employee, income tax is typically withheld from your paychecks. The company estimates your annual earnings and sets aside a portion for tax obligations. However, employment isn't the only source of taxable income.

Income generated from non-primary occupation sources such as real estate income, dividends from stocks, and bonds can also be taxed. Hence, income tax applies to all reported income, barring some exceptions where the individual can file for exclusions, deductions, and tax credits.

Progressive Tax System

In the United States, the income tax system follows a progressive structure. This means that the rate of taxation increases proportionally with the increase in income. However, it's important to clarify that this doesn't imply that all your income gets taxed at a singular, higher rate.

Here's an example for clarification: Imagine that you have an annual taxable income of $500,000 and the tax bracket for this income is 40%. It does not mean the entire $500,000 will be taxed at 40%. Instead, there are tiers for the tax rates leading up to that bracket. Each segment of your income falling into each tier is taxed at the corresponding rate. Consequently, the effective tax rate for a high-earning individual may be less than the nominal 40%.

Tax Obligations for the Self-Employed and Businesses

Business income taxes apply to various business entities, including corporations, partnerships, small businesses, and the self-employed. For self-employed individuals, the responsibility of filing quarterly income tax returns lies with them, as there is no employer to withhold taxes.

Businesses, on the other hand, withhold income tax on behalf of their employees. There may be instances where the annual tax withheld differs from the actual tax obligation due to deductions or irregular income patterns. In such cases, if the individual owes more tax than what has been withheld, the IRS can resort to wage garnishment or property liens. Conversely, if the withheld tax exceeds the obligation, the individual will receive a tax refund.

Income tax plays a significant role in government revenue, public services, and societal infrastructure. As tax rates and regulations may change annually or per the political environment, it's always a good idea to stay updated by checking the IRS website or consulting with a tax professional. While paying income tax may seem a burden, it's an essential contribution towards the betterment of society.


Income tax is paid to the government based on the amount of income earned. There are federal income taxes, and some states have their own income taxes, too.

As an employee for a company, income taxes will be withheld from paychecks using the company’s best estimation of your annual earnings. At the end of the year it may turn out that they withheld too much, and the government may give you a tax refund for what was overpaid.

Income can come from sources other than an individual’s main occupation, such as real estate income and dividends from stocks and bonds. Income taxes are levied on all reported income for which the individual does not file exclusions, deductions, and tax credits.

In the United States, income tax is a progressive tax, meaning the rate of taxation increases the more income is brought in. Some people misunderstand how a progressive tax works.

Let’s say you make $500,000 in taxable income one year and the tax in that bracket is 40%, just for illustrative purposes. The entire $500,000 is not going to be taxed at 40%.

There are tiers for the tax rates leading up to that bracket, and whatever amount of money falls into each tier will be taxed at the rate which applies to it. Lower amounts of income are taxed at lower rates, so the effective tax rate for the person making $500,000 a year will be less than 40%, ignoring any other taxes like state taxes, social security taxes and Medicare taxes.

Self employed people must file their own quarterly income tax returns, but companies withhold income tax on behalf of their employees. Sometimes it turns out at the end of the year that due to deductions or an irregularity in income that the person may owe more or less income tax than has already been withheld. If it is more, and it is not paid for a while, the IRS can garnish wages or put liens on property.

If it is less, the person will receive an income tax refund in the form of a check. Tax rates may change year to year and along with the political environment, so check the IRS website for current tables.

What are Federal Tax Brackets?
What is Federal Income Tax?
What is Income Tax Payable?

Disclaimers and Limitations

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