What is a Progressive Tax?

A progressive tax levies a larger percentage of a person’s income from those with greater incomes. This guide explains how this method of taxation can help ensure that people contribute what they can afford to society’s welfare.
What is a Progressive Tax?
What is a Progressive Tax?
A progressive tax system applies different tax rates to different income brackets, with lower rates for those with lower earnings and higher rates for those with higher incomes. Let's explore the relevant details surrounding a progressive tax.
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A progressive tax framework serves the same purpose as a financial equity regulation. You and another individual each purchase a bag of chocolates. Your tax liability may rise in proportion to your income. To accomplish this, a progressive tax levies a larger percentage of a person’s income from those with greater incomes. Learn more about how this method of taxation can help ensure that everyone contributes what they can afford to society’s common good and ensure economic fairness. Also, Beem is here to help you file taxes at the best prices, for both federal and state, across the country without any hidden charges.

What is a Progressive Tax? 

A progressive tax system applies different tax rates to different income brackets, with lower rates for those with lower earnings and higher rates for those with higher incomes. Tax brackets, which divide filers into groups based on annual income, are a standard tool for achieving this goal. The United States has a progressive income tax system with seven tax rates for 2022 and 2023.

High-income earners face a higher tax burden, reflecting that taxes should be proportionate to taxpayers’ ability to pay. In contrast, regressive taxes, such as sales tax, take a disproportionate percentage from low-income individuals. The United States has a mix of progressive and regressive tax systems.

Examples of Progressive Tax

With a yearly salary of $40,000, Sarah is subject to the 12% federal income tax bracket and must pay $4,549 in taxes. On the other hand, Alex has a federal tax liability of $36,249 because his income of $200,000 puts him in the 24% tax bracket. 

It illustrates the progressive character of the tax system, in which those with higher incomes, such as Alex, pay a more significant percentage of their income in taxes than those with lower incomes, such as Sarah. It exemplifies how taxation conforms to the principle of taxing individuals at affordable rates.

Advantages of a Progressive Tax

The benefits of a Progressive Tax System include:

Mitigates burden on low-income population

  • Helps low-income people put away more money for basic needs by lowering their tax burden.
  • Raising low-wage workers’ take-home pay stimulates the economy by increasing their purchasing power.

Increased Tax Collection

  • Produces more tax revenue than flat or regressive tax regimes.
  • Collects a sizable part of high-income people’s taxes, contributing to overall government revenue.

Equitable Public Service Funding

  • Ensures that people with significant resources contribute proportionally more to critical public services such as road repair and public safety.
  • Distributes funds for public services based on ability to pay, encouraging justice in resource distribution.

Social equity

  • Promotes social justice by matching tax payments to financial capacity.
  • Reduces economic disparity by imposing a more significant tax burden on those with more financial resources.

Responsive to Economic Differences

  • Adapts to economic disparities by modifying tax rates proportionally based on income levels.
  • Provides flexibility in responding to changing financial situations while maintaining an equitable allocation of the tax burden.

Promotes Progressive Economic measures

  • Backs measures that promote economic inclusion and alleviate wealth inequities.
  • Corresponds to broader economic aims of lowering income inequality and promoting a more equitable distribution of wealth.

Disadvantages of a Progressive Tax

The following are the disadvantages of the progressive tax system:

1. Incentive to Success: Some critics believe that progressive taxes discourage success by imposing higher tax rates on persons with more significant income. Some argue that this hinders entrepreneurial and professional endeavors, which could stifle economic progress.

2. Income Redistribution Concerns: Progressive taxes are viewed as a tool for income redistribution by critics, who are concerned that they penalize the wealthy and upper-middle class. Opponents claim that such redistribution is unfair and may impede economic aspiration.

3. Impact on the Middle Class: Proponents of progressive taxation argue that it also affects the middle class, potentially limiting their financial growth. The idea is that the middle class may bear an undue weight, impeding upward mobility.

4. Wealth Punishment Perception: Opponents believe the progressive tax system punishes success and wealth creation. This point of view may contribute to unfavorable feelings among high-income earners, influencing economic behavior.

5. Support for Low Taxes: Progressive tax critics often support a low-tax mindset and argue for limited government services. Lower taxes, they claim, encourage economic activity and give individuals more control over their financial resources.

6. Opposition to Government Services: Opponents of progressive taxation frequently oppose the accompanying government services that rely on increasing tax revenues. They advocate for a more restricted government role, claiming that lower taxation promotes individual liberty and a more efficient market.

What is the Purpose of a Progressive Tax?

A progressive tax system ensures everyone pays their fair share of taxes to support essential public services, regulations, and infrastructure. Due to the correlation between tax rates and income, the tax burden is equitably shared among filers. Reducing the tax burden on lower-income households is a step toward achieving economic fairness. 

At the same time, the contribution of the wealthy grows in proportion to their income, relieving the poor of an unfair share of the financial load. The progressive tax system reflects a principle of fairness. It boosts overall tax collection by levying higher rates on larger incomes, contributing to a sustainable financing mechanism for critical public services.

What is a Progressive Tax?

What Makes a Tax System Progressive?

Instead of a flat percentage tax, a progressive tax system places less of an economic burden on those with lower incomes. There is an emphasis on keeping people’s purchasing power intact, as even a modest amount of money can significantly affect those with minimal financial resources. A tax system is progressive if higher-income people pay more of the total tax bill. A tax policy where rates range from 10% to 80%, as opposed to 10% to 30%, is an example of a more progressive tax system. The progressive tax structure aspires for equity by altering tax rates according to taxpayers’ monetary means.

How Do Progressive Taxes Impact Workers?

Workers are impacted by progressive taxation because they introduce increasing tax rates as income increases, creating a disincentive for increased effort. For example, if someone in the 12% tax bracket wants to work more hours or get a second job, they may join the 22% tax bracket, requiring more effort to fulfill after-tax income targets. 

Those with high incomes face additional challenges because of the potential impact of higher tax rates on their strategic decisions to minimize tax payments. Methods that fall within the law might be utilized, such as maximizing tax benefits and deductions. As a result, the progressive tax structure affects working individuals’ pre-tax incentives and post-tax strategies.

How Progressive Is the U.S. Tax System?

In 2018, 97.1% of all individual income taxes were paid by the wealthiest half of U.S. taxpayers, while the poorest half paid 2.9%. The tax burden on the top 1% has risen considerably over time, from 33.2% in 2001 to 40.1% in 2018. This information highlights the progressive nature of the federal income tax system in the United States.

If it were not progressive, different income groups would face a more equal tax burden. The current picture, on the other hand, reflects a planned trend, with the wealthy contributing a significantly bigger part of total tax collection. To file your taxes online for all income groups and across all tax forms to get the maximum refund.

Impact of Inflation on a Progressive Tax System

The purchasing power of money and the value of investments decline due to inflation, defined as a sustained price increase without a corresponding gain in living standards. 

Due to inflation, individuals subject to progressive tax rates pay more than the initially assigned value, which alters the desired balance within a progressive tax system. Inflation’s compounding effect on taxpayers, combined with the planned progressiveness of tax rates, can result in unintended increases in tax payments.

Progressive Tax vs. Regressive Tax

Progressive TaxRegressive Tax
Higher-income individuals pay a higher percentage of income.Low-wage populations provide a greater share of their income.
U.S. federal income tax system.Sales tax on goods and services.
It is aimed at reducing income inequality.It can exacerbate financial disparities, impacting lower incomes more.
If two individuals buy groceries, the wealthier pay higher income taxes.Both pay the same sales tax for identical groceries, but it constitutes a larger share of the poorer individual’s income.

Progressive Tax vs. Flat Tax

Progressive TaxFlat Tax
Tax rates increase with higher income levels.A fixed percentage applies to all income levels.
U.S. income tax system.Social Security payroll tax and Medicare tax.
Designed to reduce income inequality.Treats everyone equally in terms of the tax percentage paid.
Higher earners contribute a larger share of their income.All individuals, regardless of income, pay the same percentage.
Applies to earnings up to a capped amount.Considered flat up to the capped earnings level.
Applies to all covered wages without a wage cap.Levied uniformly on all covered wages, irrespective of income.


What is a progressive tax in UPSC?

For instance, someone making Rs. 1,00,000 annually might pay 10% in taxes, while someone making Rs. It is widely hailed as the fairest tax system possible. Progressive taxation is a significant part of the Indian Economy Syllabus on the UPSC IAS Exam.

Which country has a progressive tax?

The United States, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom have progressive tax systems. Based on taxes according to one’s ability to pay, these approaches compel people with higher incomes to contribute a more significant share of their profits to the government.

What is a synonym for progressive tax?

A “graduated tax” is a different term for a “progressive tax”. In both cases, the tax rate is graduated according to a person’s income level. Those with higher salaries are expected to contribute a more significant fraction of their income, which is consistent with the principle of taxation based on one’s ability to pay.

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Prem Kishan

A seasoned Product Manager who thrives on making a meaningful impact within the organization, Prem is deeply passionate about tackling intricate problems using cutting-edge technology and is a specialist in tax content.


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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