Tax Facts for Journalists (and Taxpayers)

April 11, 2012

Washington, D.C., April 11, 2012—The deadline for filing federal tax returns this year is April 17th, and with that date fast approaching, the Tax Foundation has compiled a few statistics to help journalists put the nation’s income tax system in perspective.

This edition of Tax Facts was compiled by Tax Foundation economist Will McBride. The following are based on the most recent Internal Revenue Service data for tax year 2010 and the IRS National Taxpayer Advocate’s 2011 Report to Congress.

  • 143 million tax returns were filed with the IRS in 2010, some of which represent households and married couples. 
  • Americans paid federal incomes taxes of $945 billion.
  • Only 85 million actually paid taxes out of the 143 million filers.  In other words, 58 million, or 41%, were non-payers.  96% of these non-payers made less than $50,000.
  • The IRS paid out $105 billion in refundable credits to filers who paid no income tax.
  • The effective tax rate for those making less than $50,000 was 3.5%, and their share of taxes paid was 6.7%.
  • The effective tax rate for those making more than $50,000 was 14.1%, and their share of taxes paid was 93.3%.
  • The effective tax rate for those making more than $250,000 was 23.4%, and their share of taxes paid was 45.7%.
  • 33% of tax filers itemized.
  • 25% of tax filers took the mortgage interest deduction, which reduced taxable income by $381 billion.
  • 27% of tax filers took the charitable donations deduction, which reduced taxable income by $158 billion.
  • 26 million filers took the refundable earned income tax credit, and they received $56 billion from the IRS despite having paid no income taxes.
  • 21 million filers took the refundable child credit, and they received $27 billion from the IRS despite having paid no income taxes.
  • 4 million paid the Alternative Minimum Tax.
  • The IRS estimates that it takes more than 7 billion hours to comply with the tax code each year.
  • The tax code is now 3.8 million words long.
  • Over the last ten years there have been about 4,428 changes to the tax code, or more than one a day, including about 579 changes in 2010 alone.

The Tax Foundation is a nonpartisan research organization that has monitored fiscal policy at the federal, state and local levels since 1937. To schedule an interview, please contact Richard Morrison, the Tax Foundation’s Manager of Communications, at 202-464-5102 or morrison@taxfoundation.org

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