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How Income Taxes Work

Paying taxes is on everyone’s mind, rarely in a good way. Knowing some pithy facts about our tax system and how you fit in may not make you feel any better. But, it could even help you plan.

  1. The IRS receives over 140 million individual tax returns and collects over $950 billion in taxes.
  2. The biggest tax deductions are those for taxes paid to state and local governments. Next biggest are for interest, especially on home mortgages.
  3. The average tax refund is almost $3,000, $2,953 to be exact. In all, over $325 billion in tax refunds are paid out.
  4. Want to aim really high and try to crack the $10 million mark? More than 11,000 individual tax returns reported adjusted gross income above $10 million.
  5. As a percentage of adjusted gross income, people earning $100,000 to $200,000 pay an average federal tax rate of only 12%. Those earning $200,000 to $500,000 pay 19.6%. Don’t confuse marginal rates with average rates. The former is what you pay on your very last dollar.


The income tax process is fairly straight forward. The tax process starts with income & usually most income which is received is taxable. Income from work, interest, pensions, and investments as well as other sources are included in a taxpayer’s gross income. The income from all these sources are added together to arrive at the taxpayer’s gross income.

What is not considered as income?
Gifts, worker’s compensation benefits, child support payments, inheritances, cash rebate from a dealer or manufacture or inheritances?

Adjustments are subtracted from gross income. They might include retirement plan contribution, alimony, half of self-employment & moving expenses, among other items. This results to adjusted gross income.

Deductions are subtracted from adjusted gross income. Tax payers have two choices regarding deductions: The standard or itemized deductions, whichever is greater. The standard deductions vary based on filing status:


Filing status Married filing jointly Married filing separately Single filers Head of household
Standard deduction amounts  








Itemized deductions could include state and local taxes, certain unreimbursed job expenses, charitable contributions, interest on a home mortgage & the cost of having your taxes prepared, among other things.

The personal exemption is subtracted once the deductions have been subtracted. For the tax year 2017, personal exemption amount is $4,050 regardless of filing status. The result here is taxable income which leads to gross tax liability.

The IRS reports that about 40% of the taxpayers use tax preparation software. Source: IRS, 2017

But, it’s not over yet.

The tax credits are subtracted from gross tax liability. Tax payers might receive credits from variety of items, including energy-saving improvements. This results to the taxpayers Net Tax.

Understanding tax process is one thing and the work is another. Remember this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. Please do consult a tax professional for information regarding your individual situation.

Estimated Tax Payments

If you earn income which is not subject to withholding, such as interest, dividends, income from self-employment, rent, alimony, investment gains, awards and prices then you may have to pay estimated tax payments.

You might also have to pay estimated taxes if your income tax withholding on pension, salary, or other income which is not enough, or if you had a tax liability for the prior year.

Please do consult a tax expertise regarding your individual situation.



You must include your expected adjusted gross income, taxable income, taxes, deductions, and credit for the year to calculate your estimated tax.
Consider using your prior year’s federal tax return as a guide.


You may pay estimated taxes online, by phone or even through the mail.
If you are filing as a partner, a sole proprietor, S corporation shareholder or a self-employed individual & expect to owe tax of $1.000 or more when you file a return, you should use Form 1040-ES, estimated tax for individuals, to calculate and pay your estimated tax

The year is divided into four payment periods for estimated tax purposes each with a specific payment due date. If at all you fail to pay taxes by the due date of each payment periods, you would be charged a penalty, even if you are due a refund when you file your income tax return.

Most tax payers would generally avoid the penalty if at all they owe less than $1,000 in taxes after subtracting their withholdings and credits, or if they at least paid 90% of tax for current year, or 1000% of tax shown on return for the prior year, whichever is smaller.

Accurate, up-to-date financial records and consultations with your tax guru can also help you make timely estimate.