Tax Breaks

Where You Rank as a Taxpayer

Do the rich pay their fair share of taxes? How about you? Our handy tool will help you answer these questions.

You'll be hearing a lot about tax inequality during the 2020 presidential campaign season. All the Democrats seeking their party's nomination are talking about taxing the rich more heavily. There's no shortage of proposals to impose "wealth taxes," raise the top income tax rate, increase estate taxes, and eliminate tax breaks for the wealthy. On the other side, President Trump will point to those parts of the 2017 tax reform law that help many middle- and lower-income taxpayers, such as supersizing the standard deduction, doubling the child tax credit, and lowering rates across the board. Before casting your ballot, you'll have to decide for yourself if our tax system is "fair" and whether some groups should pay more (or less) in taxes.

Then there's your own situation. No matter how "rich" or "poor" or "middle class" you are, are you bearing your "fair share" of the nation's tax burden? Do you have the faintest idea what portion you pay ... beyond a gnawing feeling that it's too darn much?

To help answer your questions about tax equality, we created a tool to show how the nation's taxable income and the country's federal income tax bill are distributed among its citizens. Our tool uses the latest IRS data to shine a bright light into what are too often murky shadows.

We'll also show you how your own income stacks up against that of your fellow Americans.

Are you ready to see where you fit in? With our simple calculator, enter a single number from your tax return, and you'll instantly know the answer.

A look at the big picture

The latest numbers from the IRS—based on data from 2017 tax returns—show what it takes to be among the top 1% of income earners: At least $515,371 of adjusted gross income. That's $34,567 more than it took to buy into this rarified status a year earlier. The 1.4 million returns reporting this elite income status accounted for 21% of the total adjusted gross income reported on 2017 returns.

That's right. One percent of taxpayers reported about one-fifth of all income. And that same tiny group kicked in more than 38% of all the federal income taxes paid.

How much do you need to make to be in the top 50% of earners? Just $41,740.

Fall below that level, and you are in the bottom half, along with about 71 million of your fellow taxpayers. All told, that group earned just 11.3% of the AGI reported on 2017 federal returns. And they paid about 3% of all the income taxes paid.

Use our calculator to see if you're in the top 1%, 5%, 10%, 25% or 50% . . . or the bottom 50% of income earners.

Our income and tax-burden breakdowns come from information reported on 2017 individual income tax returns. Income categories are based on adjusted gross income, which is basically income from taxable sources minus certain deductions—including deductible contributions to IRAs, alimony paid and student loan interest—but before subtracting the value of exemptions (before the 2018 tax year) and either the standard or itemized deduction.

Income Category2017 AGIPercent of All IncomePercent of Income Taxes Paid
Top 1%Over $515,37121.0%38.5%
Top 5%Over $208,05336.5%59.1%
Top 10%Over $145,13547.7%70.1%
Top 25%Over $83,68269.1%86.1%
Top 50%Over $41,74088.8%96.9%
Bottom 50%Below $41,74011.3%3.1%

Source: Internal Revenue Service data

(Note that these figures include only federal income taxes. According to Treasury Department estimates, most wage earners will pay more in payroll taxes—Social Security, Medicare and unemployment taxes—than they do in income taxes.)

Most Popular

The Perfect Storm for Retirees
retirement planning

The Perfect Storm for Retirees

Today’s retirees could face a perfect storm because they are living longer and spending more time in retirement, while at the same time losing access …
April 18, 2021
The Wrong Way to Achieve Wealth
personal finance

The Wrong Way to Achieve Wealth

For some down-to-earth, basic advice on money and life, I have a book to recommend: “Your Total Wealth: The Heart and Soul of Financial Literacy.”
April 17, 2021
Child Tax Credit 2021: Who Gets $3,600? Will I Get Monthly Payments? And Other FAQs
Coronavirus and Your Money

Child Tax Credit 2021: Who Gets $3,600? Will I Get Monthly Payments? And Other FAQs

People have lots of questions about the new $3,000 or $3,600 child tax credit and the advance payments that the IRS will send to most families in 2021…
April 14, 2021


Taxes Aren't Due Yet, But You Might Want to File Now Anyway
tax deadline

Taxes Aren't Due Yet, But You Might Want to File Now Anyway

Even though this year's tax deadline has been extended, there are still plenty of good reasons to file your taxes now.
April 16, 2021
Monthly Payments of the 2021 Child Tax Credit Will Begin in July
Coronavirus and Your Money

Monthly Payments of the 2021 Child Tax Credit Will Begin in July

After doubts about whether it was up to the task, the IRS says it's on schedule to start sending monthly child tax credit payments this summer.
April 13, 2021
10 Questions Retirees Often Get Wrong About Taxes in Retirement

10 Questions Retirees Often Get Wrong About Taxes in Retirement

You worked hard to build your retirement nest egg. But do you know how to minimize taxes on your savings?
April 7, 2021
When Are 2021 Estimated Tax Payments Due?
tax deadline

When Are 2021 Estimated Tax Payments Due?

If you're self-employed or don't have taxes withheld from other sources of taxable income, it's up to you to periodically pay the IRS by making estima…
March 31, 2021