Taxes Definition: Types, Who Pays, and Why

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Taxes Definition: Types, Who Pays, and Why

Investopedia / Joules Garcia

What Are Taxes?

Taxes are necessary payments imposed by a government agency, whether local, regional, or national, on people or companies. Taxation funds government operations such as public works and services such as roads and schools, as well as programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

In economics, taxes are levied on whomever bears the cost of the tax, whether the entity being taxed, such as a corporation, or the end users of the firm’s products. Taxes to consider from an accounting standpoint include payroll taxes, federal and state income taxes, and sales taxes.

Key Takeaways

  • Taxes are mandatory contributions collected by governments.
  • In the United States, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) collects federal income taxes.
  • There are several types of taxes, the majority of which are levied as a percentage of a monetary exchange (for example, when income is earned or a sales transaction is completed).
  • Property taxes, for example, are levied based on the assessed value of a held item.
  • Understanding what causes a tax situation may help people manage their finances in order to reduce the burden of taxes.

Understanding Taxes

A government frequently taxes its individual and corporate citizens to help pay public works and services, as well as to create and maintain a country’s infrastructure. The revenue collected is utilized to benefit the economy and everyone who live in it.

Income taxes are levied on money received by a taxpayer in the United States and many other nations across the globe. The money might be salary income, capital gains from investment appreciation, dividends or interest received as extra income, payments paid for products and services, and so on.

Tax revenues are used to fund public services and government operations, as well as Social Security and Medicare. As the enormous baby boomer generation has aged, Social Security and Medicare have demanded an increasing share of overall federal tax income spending. Tax policy has long been a source of political contention in the United States.

A tax entails taking a portion of the taxpayer’s earnings or money and remitting it to the government. Payment of taxes at government rates is mandatory, and tax evasion—the intentional refusal to pay one’s full tax liabilities—is penalized by law. (However, tax avoidance—actions designed to reduce your tax burden and increase after-tax income—is completely lawful.)

Most governments use an agency or department to collect taxes. In the United States, this function is performed federally by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) (IRS).

Types of Taxes

There are several very common types of taxes:

  • Income tax is a proportion of earned income that is paid to the state or federal government.
  • Payroll tax is a percentage of an employee’s wages withheld by an employer and paid to the government on the employee’s behalf to support Medicare and Social Security programs.
  • Business tax is a proportion of corporate earnings levied by the government as a tax to finance federal initiatives.
  • Sales tax—a tax placed on some products and services that varies according to jurisdiction.
  • Property taxes are levied depending on the value of land and property assets.
  • Tariffs are tariffs put on imported products in order to boost domestic firms.
  • Estate tax—a tax levied on the fair market value (FMV) of property in a person’s estate at the time of death; the entire estate must exceed state and federal government standards.
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Tax systems differ greatly across countries, therefore it is critical for people and organizations to thoroughly research a new location’s tax regulations before making money or doing business there.

We shall look at different tax circumstances in the United States in the following sections. In general, the federal government collects income, corporate, and payroll taxes; the state collects income and sales taxes; and municipalities or other local governments collect property taxes.

Income Tax

The United States, like many other countries, has a progressive income tax system, which means that a larger proportion of tax revenue is collected from high-income people or businesses than from low-income individual earners. Taxes are levied using marginal tax rates.

The marginal tax rate that a taxpayer will pay is affected by a number of circumstances, including their filing status (married filing jointly, married filing separately, single, or head of household). The filing status a person chooses may have a substantial impact on how much tax they pay. The source of a taxpayer’s income also influences taxes. It’s important to understand the language of the various income kinds since it might impact how money is taxed.

Capital gains taxes are very important for investors. These are federally levied and imposed taxes on the profit made when you sell an item that has risen in value.

The rate of profit taxation is determined by the length of time the asset was kept. Short-term capital gains (on assets sold within one year of acquisition) are taxed at the owner’s ordinary income tax rate, whereas long-term gains (on assets held for more than a year) are taxed at a lower capital gains rate, on the theory that lower taxes will encourage high levels of capital investment. Tax documents should be kept to prove the term of ownership at the time the assets were sold and the tax return was submitted.

Payroll Taxes

An employer withholds payroll taxes from an employee’s paycheck and remits the money to the federal government to finance Medicare and Social Security programs. Employees will pay 1.45% of all salaries into Medicare in 2022, and 6.2% into Social Security on the first $147,000 earned.

Anyone earning more than $200,000 as a single filer (or $250,000 for married couples filing jointly) must contribute an extra 0.9% to Medicare.

Payroll taxes include both an employee and an employer part. The employer remits both the above-mentioned employee part and a duplicate amount for the employer portion. Employer rates for Social Security up to the wage base level are 6.2%, while Medicare rates are 1.45% on all earnings. As a result, the total amount sent is 15.3% (6.2% employee Social Security plus 6.2% employer Social Security plus 1.45% employee Medicare plus 1.45% employer Medicare).

Both payroll taxes and income taxes are taken from an employee’s paycheck and sent to the government. Payroll taxes are primarily used to support the Social Security and Medicare programs. Self-employment taxes, which help finance Social Security and Medicare, require self-employed individuals to pay the equivalent of both the employee and employer portions of payroll taxes.

Corporate Taxes

Corporate taxes are levied on the taxable income of a business. The processes for calculating a company’s taxable income are as follows:

In the United States, the corporation tax rate is now 21%. The corporation tax rate was 35% prior to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017.

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President Biden is eager to increase corporate taxation. Options include raising the corporation tax rate to 26.5% or keeping it at 21%, as well as imposing a 15% minimum tax on firms with more than $1 billion in book income to their shareholders.

Sales Taxes

Sales taxes are levied at the point of sale, when a client pays for an item or service. The company collects sales tax from customers and remits it to the government.

Each state has the authority to levy its own sales taxes, so they differ depending on where you live. There is even space for towns and counties to utilize their own rates as long as they follow their state’s taxation guidelines.

Tennessee had the highest average state and local sales tax rate in 2021, at 9.55%. Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon were the only states without a state sales tax, however Alaska did allow towns to collect a local sales tax.

Property Taxes

The real estate ad valorem tax is a popular property tax in the United States. A millage rate is used to compute real estate taxes; it indicates the amount per $1,000 of assessed value of a property. The assessed value of a property is decided by a property assessor chosen by the local government. Reassessments are usually carried out every one to five years.

Property tax rates vary greatly by jurisdiction, and many jurisdictions tax intangible personal property such as automobiles and boats.

New Jersey had the greatest property tax receipts per capita in fiscal year 2018, at $3,378. (If the District of Columbia were included with the 50 states, it would rank higher, at $3,740 per capita.) Alabama has the lowest per capita rating of $598.


Tariffs are taxes levied by one nation on products and services imported from another. The goal is to increase the price of products and services imported from other nations in order to stimulate local purchasing.

Tariffs are classified into two types: fixed fee tariffs, which are charged as a set cost depending on the kind of goods, and ad valorem tariffs, which are charged as a proportion of the item’s worth (like the real estate tax in the previous section).

Tariffs are difficult politically, with disagreements about whether the policies operate as intended.

Estate Taxes

Estate taxes are only payable on estates that exceed the statutory exclusion level. The federal exclusion limit in 2022 is $12.06 million. Surviving spouses are not subject to estate taxes.

The estate tax is calculated by dividing the taxable estate by the exclusion limit. A $14.7 million estate, for example, would owe estate taxes on $2.64 million.

The estate tax is a graduated marginal rate that ranges from 18% to 40%. The estate tax is charged at a maximum rate of 40% on the part of an estate that exceeds the exclusion limit by more than $1 million.

State exclusion limitations may be lower than the federal government’s, but no state taxes estates worth less than $1 million. Massachusetts and Oregon have exemption limitations of $1 million. State rates vary from federal rates as well. The highest state estate tax rate, imposed in Hawaii and Washington in 2021, will be 20%.

Some states have their own estate or inheritance tax, with exclusion limitations that vary from the federal government’s.

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Estate taxes vary from inheritance taxes in that they are levied before assets are distributed to recipients. The recipient is responsible for paying the inheritance tax. There is no federal inheritance tax, and six states impose inheritance taxes as of 2021: Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Tax Delinquency

Each tax has a unique due date and reporting requirement. Some, such as sales taxes or tariffs, are collected immediately during or prior to a transaction. Others operate on a defined recurring schedule, with a due date that repeats on a certain day or day/month combination (i.e. property taxes being due the first day of April).The deadlines for comparable sorts of taxes will change amongst regulatory bodies (i.e. different counties will have different property tax due dates).

Various penalties may be imposed for failing to submit the required amount of a tax to the taxation authorities. Tax penalties for the different taxes stated above may include:

  • A penalty assessment that results in a single levy or charge.
  • An interest charge with progressive penalties dependent on the length of the delinquency.
  • A lien imposed on underlying assets if the delinquent party is unable to pay their obligations.
  • Access or service denial for transaction-related taxes (i.e. tariffs).
  • Seizure of corporate property or encumbrance on company property for business-related taxes.

Why Do We Pay Taxes?

Most governments rely on taxes as their major source of income. This money is used to build and maintain public infrastructure, including roads, as well as to support public services like as schools, emergency services, and social programs.

How Do Income Taxes Work in the U.S.?

Taxation in the United States rises gradually as an individual’s income rises. In the United States, there are now seven federal tax bands, with rates ranging from 10% to 37%.

Who Needs to Pay Taxes?

The taxpayer will be determined by the kind of tax and the corresponding regulations. Federal income tax law, for example, normally only applies to those who have earned a specific level of income or adjusted gross income. Corporate taxes may be restricted to firms that have done business in a specified region or that have been established to conduct business inside a given nation. Each tax is handled differently, and there are many exceptions and conditions for who is subject to the tax.

What Are Different Types of Taxes?

Taxes may be categorised in a variety of ways. Transactions may be subject to taxes (i.e. sales taxes or tariffs).Other taxes are levied against net financial profits (i.e. individual income taxes or corporate income taxes).There are other taxes imposed as a result of one-time or non-recurring occurrences (i.e. estate taxes, capital gains taxes).

The Bottom Line

There are numerous different sorts of taxes that are used in various ways. Understanding what causes a tax situation may help people manage their finances in order to reduce the burden of taxes. Annual tax-loss harvesting, which seeks to balance investment gains with investment losses, and estate planning, which works to protect inherited income for heirs, are two techniques that may assist.

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