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Why doesn't anyone look at the combined federal and [Your State] tax rate, grouped by bracket? Let's say like the Federal + New York tax rates?

Wouldn't this determine the incremental amount of total tax paid per additional dollar of taxable income, and you will be able to see where the biggest jumps in tax rates are? The perfect use case would be finding a ideal amount that you should contribute to a Traditional 401k/IRA to get your taxable amount below that amount.

It just doesn't really make sense to look at federal and state tax brackets separately without combining them together? I can't find any combined graphics anywhere for any state.

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    Remember that tax rates quoted are generally marginal tax rates; crossing a bracket means that the additional income is taxed higher, not that it all is.
    – keshlam
    Apr 5, 2023 at 3:55
  • @keshlam yep i definitely have that in mind, however, after it makes sense to try your hardest to not make the leap into that higher category (most notably the >$182K mark) when it comes to things like contributing more to a ira/401k or not
    – Katsu
    Apr 5, 2023 at 5:27
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    @Katsu But you understand that because the tax rates are bracketed, there's not a "jump" in tax due when your income crosses a bracket boundary? In general the tax break is continuous the more you put in, so I'm not sure what you're trying to "optimize".
    – D Stanley
    Apr 5, 2023 at 18:31
  • Yes there is? Lets say I make $100 taxed at the combined amount of 23.5%, but the next $50 I make will be taxed at 35%. I know the total combined tax rate will only be like ~25%, but still I would want to put that additional $50 in my 401k instead. If the next $50 I make would only be taxed at 25%, then I might not mind as much.
    – Katsu
    Apr 6, 2023 at 1:34
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    @Katsu - I would expect someone making 182k to not really worry about a $5 difference in their tax bill.
    – codeMonkey
    Apr 6, 2023 at 18:24

2 Answers 2

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You can see all the state rates and brackets at the Tax Foundation website. What you can see is that for the highest income tax states, the brackets actually don't change all that much:

  • CA: 9.3% from 66K to 13.3% from 1M (4% diff in total between brackets)
  • NY: 6% from 80K to 10.9% from 25M (10.3% from 2.5M more relevant - 4.3% diff in total between brackets)
  • HI: 8.25% from 48K to 11% from 200K (2.75% in total between brackets)

list goes on.

Compare that to Federal tax brackets:

  • 35% for incomes over $231,250 ($462,500 for married couples filing jointly);
  • 32% for incomes over $182,100 ($364,200 for married couples filing jointly);
  • 24% for incomes over $95,375 ($190,750 for married couples filing jointly);
  • 22% for incomes over $44,725 ($89,450 for married couples filing jointly);
  • 12% for incomes over $11,000 ($22,000 for married couples filing jointly).

from 22% at 44.7K to 35% at 231K you get 13% difference in total. Over three times more than the CA and NY diffs.

So naturally, people are optimizing for the Federal tax brackets.

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  • Additional thought: for traditional retirement funds, the state where you withdraw the funds may not turn out to be the one you expected. Not an issue for Roth, admittedly.
    – keshlam
    Apr 5, 2023 at 11:28
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Why doesn't anyone look at the combined federal and [Your State] tax rate, grouped by bracket?

I'm certain some people do consider state income tax brackets, but for many people its not a relevant/significant factor when it comes to IRA/401k contribution decisions:

  • 40% of states have either a flat state income tax rate or no income tax.
  • Of the states that do have brackets many have relatively small marginal increases.
  • Higher income individuals have limited pre-tax contribution options (IRA not deductible above certain income) and are more likely to have already exhausted the options they do have.
  • For many people, the decision about IRA/401k contribution amounts hinges on what they can afford to have locked away for retirement vs needing now, so there isn't much flexibility to contribute more.

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