The Basics of Income Taxes
For almost 100 years, Americans have been paying federal income taxes. In return, the government has defended our freedom, built highways, preserved natural resources and funded programs that have helped all Americans. Over those same years, the income tax law itself and the rules surrounding the law have become huge, complex and confusing. Many have found that professional income tax advisors and software programs are essential for preparing tax returns and just dealing with all the financial issues associated with income taxes.
To help make filing and paying your personal and business taxes as quick and easy as possible, BB&T offers several services. We have teamed up with Intuit® to offer TurboTax Online, a simplified way to prepare and file your tax returns and help maximize your refund. We also offer Online Tax Payment to make paying federal taxes hassle-free. In a few simple steps, you can pay online using your BB&T Check Card or a BB&T credit card. You’ll even earn points if you are enrolled in BB&T Visa Extras or BB&T Rewards.
This article does not replace the expert advice of professionals but rather explains some of the basics so you can better understand how our income tax structure works, how it can affect your financial decisions, and how you can be a more-informed income tax payer.
Our tax system
Our income tax system is generally described as a progressive, marginal rate system. This means that as we earn more income, we pay higher rates of tax on that income. To better understand this, consider the following three components – how much is taxed, what tax rates apply, and how we pay the tax. Then, unfortunately, there are all the additional rules.
How much is taxed – or what is taxable income?
When you prepare your tax return (Form 1040) or gather information for your return accountant, you probably start by identifying all your income for the year. This includes your wages (reported on Form W-2 and supplied by your employer), dividends, and interest (reported on Form 1099 and supplied by your bank, credit union, brokerage firm, and others), any capital gains you had during the year (determined your own records or supplied by a mutual fund or brokerage firm), and income from self employment, retirement plan distributions, Social Security income, and other sources. You then get reductions for deductible IRA or retirement plan contributions and a couple of other items.
The next step is to determine your deductions. The tax law allows itemized deductions for state and local taxes, interest paid on mortgages, charitable contributions, medical expenses that exceed certain levels, and a few other items. If you do not have large amounts of itemized deductions, you can take a "standard deduction". After all the needed calculations, you arrive at your "taxable income".
How is your taxable income taxed?
There are different tax rate schedules depending on your filing status. Most taxpayers fall into the categories of "Single" filers or "Married Filing Jointly" filers. Here are the tax rate schedules for single and joint returns for 2010.
Income Tax Rate Schedules for 2010
2010 Single Return Rate Schedule
|Taxable income levels||Tax rate|
|0 to $8,375||10%|
|$8,376 to $34,000||15%|
|$34,401 to $82,400||25%|
|$82,401 to $171,850||28%|
|$171,581 to $373,650||33%|
2010 Married Filing Jointly Rate Schedule
|Taxable income levels||Tax rate|
|0 to $16,750||10%|
|$16,751 to $68,000||15%|
|$68,001 to $137,300||25%|
|$137,301 to $209,250||28%|
|$209,251 to $373,650||33%|
You should also note that the 2003 Tax Act brought the tax rates on long-term capital gains and qualifying dividends down to 15%. This new tax rate is scheduled to be in effect for all tax years through 2010. The rate on gains for taxpayers in the 10% and 15% brackets will be 5%. The 15% tax rate for dividends applies to most dividends from investments but does not cover receipts that are "interest" in nature, like those from money market funds and fixed income mutual funds. It also does not apply to distributions from real estate investment trusts.
Depending on your situation, there may also be a few "credits" that can be applied to reduce your taxes for things like foreign taxes and certain education expenses. The net result is your income tax liability for the year.
Paying your income taxes
Your employer withholds federal income taxes from your paychecks and forwards those funds to the government. This is reflected in your Form W-2 along with your earnings and Social Security withholding. The amount of income tax they withhold is based on the Form W-4 on which you identify the number of "exemptions" you claim. The larger the number of exemptions, the less they withhold.
Some individuals also end up making quarterly estimated income tax payments if they suspect their withholding will not be sufficient. There can be interest and penalties if the total of your withholding and estimated payments are too little.
You then compare your income tax liability with the total payments you have already made and the difference is what you owe or the amount of refund you should receive.
This article has only provided some of the very basics of our income tax laws. The Alternative Minimum Tax, special distributions from retirement plans, stock options, and changes in marital status are just a few of the hundreds, if not thousands, of other issues that can complicate your situation.
Each person's situation is different, the rules are complex, and the consequences of not following the rules can be severe. Be sure you get the tax advice you want and need from a qualified professional.