Marginal Tax Rate

The proportion of tax imposed on an individual’s incremental income in the U.S. is determined by their marginal tax rate. It is vital to comprehend this system of progressive taxes to optimize financial strategy.
Marginal Tax Rate
Marginal Tax Rate
Gaining a thorough understanding of the marginal tax rate is essential for navigating the intricacies of the American tax system and enabling people to improve their financial resiliency.
In this article

The marginal tax rate is an essential concept in taxation that plays an essential part in understanding how income is taxed at different levels. A progressive tax system creates a complex framework affecting individuals and corporations because marginal tax rates climb as income does. In this blog, please take a closer look at the marginal tax rate and how taxes are affected by it. Also, check out Beem to file your federal and state taxes without any hidden charges and get the maximum refund.

What Is the Marginal Tax Rate?

Marginal tax rate means the percentage of tax levied to the last dollar of income earned. In other words, it is the rate at which your income in the highest tax bracket is taxed. The concept is essential in progressive tax systems, where tax rates increase as income rises.

Statutory Marginal Tax Rates

Statutory marginal tax rates are those set by law or statute that determine how much tax an individual or corporation owes based on their income. These rates are often structured in brackets, with different rates applying to different income ranges. As income increases, individuals or businesses move into higher tax brackets and face higher marginal tax rates on the additional income.

For example, in a simplified progressive tax system with three brackets:

  • Income up to $30,000 is taxed at a rate of 10%.
  • Income between $30,001 and $70,000 is taxed at a rate of 20%.
  • Income above $70,000 is taxed at a rate of 30%.
  • If someone earns $50,000, their marginal tax rate would be 20% because that is the rate applied to the last dollar of their income in the second bracket.

It’s important to distinguish between marginal tax rates and average tax rates. The average tax rate is the total tax paid divided by total income, while the marginal tax rate is the rate applied to the last income unit.

Marginal Tax Rate Example

Let’s consider a simplified example to illustrate the concept of marginal tax rates. In this example, we’ll assume a progressive tax system with three tax brackets:

  • Income up to $30,000 is taxed at a rate of 10%.
  • Income between $30,001 and $70,000 is taxed at a rate of 20%.
  • Income above $70,000 is taxed at a rate of 30%.

To find Alice’s marginal tax rate, we consider the additional tax she would pay if her income increased by $1. If her income were $50,001 instead of $50,000, only that additional dollar would be taxed at 20%.

So, the marginal tax rate for Alice in this example is 20%.

In summary, the marginal tax rate is the rate at which the last income unit is taxed. It’s essential to understand this concept in progressive tax systems where different portions of income are subject to different tax rates.

What Is the Effective Tax Rate?

The effective tax rate is the percentage of an individual’s or company’s income that is ultimately paid in taxes, providing a comprehensive view of overall tax liability. It is calculated by dividing the total tax paid by the total income earned. Unlike the marginal tax rate, which applies to the last dollar earned, the effective tax rate considers the entire income and provides a more accurate measure of the overall tax burden.

What Separates Effective Tax Rates from Marginal Tax Rates?

CriteriaEffective Tax RateMarginal Tax Rate
DefinitionThe percentage of total income paid in taxes.The rate applied to the last unit of income earned.
CalculationTotal Tax Paid / Total IncomeTax on the next dollar of income
ScopeProvides an overall view of the entire tax burden.Focuses on specific income levels within tax brackets.
Influence on DecisionsReflects the average tax burden across all income.Influences decisions at the margin, considering the impact of additional income.
ProgressivenessReflects the impact of deductions, credits, and exemptions on the overall tax liability.Helps understand the impact of moving into a higher tax bracket.
ExampleIf someone pays $10,000 in taxes on $100,000 income, the effective tax rate is 10%.If the marginal tax rate is 20%, an additional $1,000 of income incurs $200 in taxes.
FocusProvides a broad perspective for tax planning and financial analysis.Important for understanding the cost and benefits of incremental income.

What is Flat Tax?

A flat tax is a taxation system that applies a consistent tax rate to all income levels, regardless of the taxpayer’s earnings. This system maintains a consistent tax percentage without progressive increases based on income brackets. It simplifies tax calculations and aims for fairness by treating everyone equally, but critics argue it might disproportionately impact lower-income individuals.

Marginal vs. Flat Tax

CriteriaMarginal TaxFlat Tax
DefinitionTax rates increase as income rises, applying different rates to various income levels.Imposes a constant tax rate on all income levels, irrespective of earnings.
Rate StructureProgressive – rates increase with income.Uniform – a single tax rate for everyone.
ComplexityMore complex due to multiple tax brackets and varying rates.Simplifies tax calculations significantly.
FairnessAdjusts taxes based on income levels, aiming for a fairer distribution of the tax burden.Treated as fair by applying the same rate to everyone, but might affect lower earners more.
IncentivesInfluences decisions at the margin by taxing additional income at higher rates.Provides less influence on behavior due to a consistent tax rate.
ExamplesU.S. federal income tax system has multiple brackets with varying rates.Some countries have implemented flat tax systems, such as a single 20% tax rate for all income levels.
negative marginal tax rate
Marginal Tax Rate 2

What is a negative marginal tax rate?

A negative marginal tax rate occurs when the effective tax rate on additional income is less than zero. In specific scenarios, government programs or tax credits can create a situation where individuals receive more benefits or credits than the additional income earned. This can negatively impact the overall tax burden, providing a subsidy for earning more income.

If you’re exploring your tax situation, it’s advisable to consult with a tax professional or use online tax filing services for accurate guidance. Free online tax filing platforms can streamline the process and help ensure compliance with the latest tax regulations.

What is the highest marginal tax rate?

The highest marginal tax rate varies by country and can change due to legislative decisions. For example, the highest marginal federal income tax rate in the United States has historically been above 37%. Still, additional state taxes might also apply, leading to an even higher combined rate.

Does the marginal tax rate include Social Security and Medicare?

Regarding Social Security and Medicare, these programs are funded separately in the U.S. The marginal tax rate for income tax does not directly include Social Security and Medicare taxes. However, individuals are subject to separate payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare, not calculated using marginal rates but fixed percentages on earned income up to a specific limit.

Are capital gains tax rates marginal?

Regarding capital gains tax rates, yes, they can be considered marginal. Capital gains taxes are applied to the profits from trading assets like stocks or real estate. They’re usually taxed at different rates based on the asset’s length. For example, short-term capital gains (assets kept for less than a year) are taxed at ordinary income tax rates, while long-term capital gains have their own set of tax rates, which can vary based on the individual’s income bracket.


In conclusion, the marginal tax rate is an essential indicator in tax systems that plays a role in how taxes are generally distributed, and economic decisions are made. People move through different income bands, and knowing how extra money is taxed helps them organize their finances and provide incentives for their behavior. Use Beem to get a quick and accurate estimate of your federal and state taxes and get the maximum refund.


For U.S. companies, what is the marginal tax rate?

In the United States, corporations are subject to a federal corporate income tax rate of 21%.

What distinguishes the tax rate from the marginal tax rate?

The entire tax amount divided by the total income is the average tax rate. For instance, a household’s average tax rate is 15% if its total income is $100,000 and it pays $15,000 in taxes. The tax paid on additional income is the marginal tax rate.

What is California’s marginal tax rate?

With a marginal tax level of 12.3%, California has the highest individual tax rate. Additionally, it levies an extra 1% tax on income over $1 million.

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This page is purely informational. Beem does not provide financial, legal or accounting advice. This article has been prepared for informational purposes only. It is not intended to provide financial, legal or accounting advice and should not be relied on for the same. Please consult your own financial, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transactions.

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