What taxes do we pay?

Professor Mehmet S. Tosun breaks down the different taxes Amercians pay

Professor Mehmet Tosun chatting with colleagues

4/3/2018 | By: Mehmet Serkan Tosun |

In the U.S., people are subject to three types of taxation: taxes on income, taxes on wealth, and taxes on consumption. Individual or personal income tax is a well-known example of a tax on income. Corporate income tax and payroll tax are other good examples. Property tax and estate tax are examples of taxes on wealth. Sales tax is an example of a consumption tax.

Taxes could be imposed at the federal, state or local levels. Taxes on income are typically imposed by both the federal and state (and in some cases even local) governments. Property tax is typically a local tax. Sales tax is imposed by state and local governments. There is no sales tax or any other broad-based consumption tax at the federal government level in the U.S., which makes U.S. the only industrialized country without a tax like that.

Composition of federal tax revenues by source in 2017 (from the Office of Management and Budget):

  • 48% Individual income tax
  • 35% Social insurance and retirement contributions
  • 9% Corporate income tax
  • 2% Excise taxes
  • 6% Other

Individual income tax makes up almost half of total federal tax revenue. Income tax is followed by social insurance and retirement contributions, which are payroll taxes that make up 35% of federal tax revenue. Unlike the individual income tax, corporate income tax contributes significantly less with a share of 9%. Excise taxes, taxes paid for the purchases of specific goods such as gasoline, make up only 2% of federal tax revenue.

While state and local governments may have separate income, payroll and sales taxes, not all states have all types of taxes. For example, seven states including Nevada do not have a state income tax, and two other states (New Hampshire and Tennessee) limit their state income tax to only dividend and interest income. State sales and use tax is by far the largest tax in Nevada, making up almost 30% of general fund tax revenue. Gaming taxes are the second largest tax revenue source, followed by modified business tax (a payroll tax), cigarette tax (an excise tax), commerce tax (gross receipts tax on businesses) and live entertainment tax.

Professor Mehmet S. Tosun, PhD

Dr. Tosun is a Professor of Economics and Chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Nevada, Reno. He is also the Barbara Smith Campbell Distinguished Professor of Nevada Tax Policy. Dr. Tosun received his Ph.D. in Economics from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. His main research and teaching expertise is in public finance.


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