Yes, the Top 1 Percent Do Pay Their Fair Share in Income Taxes

Author: Frank Holmes
Date Posted: April 28, 2015 Read time: 9 min

In January 2014, I posted what has unexpectedly become one of my most widely-read articles, “What Does It Take to Be in the Top 1 Percent? Not as Much as You Think.” Seeing as it’s now over a year later and most of us have already either filed our federal income taxes or applied for an extension, I thought it would make sense to follow up on last year’s post and tackle a commonly-held misconception about how much the top 1 percent really contributes.

A good place to start is a February 2015 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, which found that a whopping 72 percent of respondents felt that “some wealthy people don’t pay their fair share” in federal income taxes.

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, of course. But in this matter, the facts tell a different story. On the contrary, top-earning Americans pay such a huge percentage of income taxes that the country’s lowest earners don’t have to.

According to the Tax Policy Center, those in the top quintile of earners were responsible for paying 83.9 percent of all income taxes in 2014. Those in the bottom quintile, on the other hand, “paid” a negative rate of -2.2 percent.

How Federal Taxes Were distributed in 2014
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To get an even greater sense of just how much top earners pay in taxes, let’s unpack some of the data from the top row, which represents those who earn over $134,300 per year.

At the very pinnacle of this bracket—the 1 percent—is where you’ll find the Bill Gateses and Warren Buffetts and Larry Ellisons. About 3 million Americans—or roughly the entire population of Chicago, the third-most populous U.S. city—are members of this often-maligned group of people. According to the Congressional Budget Office, they have an average annual income of $1,031,900 after paying an average federal individual income tax rate of 29 percent. Collectively, they account for about 17 percent of total U.S. income ($13.7 trillion in 2014), and yet their share of all income taxes paid ($1.4 trillion in 2014) amounts to 46 percent.

If you do the math, you’ll find that these 3 million Americans were responsible for contributing approximately $644 billion in tax revenue in 2014.

Below is another way to visualize it. The combined percentage of those who make between $0 and $49,999 (and who reported filing their income taxes in 2013) is 63.4 percent. Yet they contribute only 6.2 percent of all income taxes.

On the other end of the spectrum, the combined percentage of those who earn $100,000 and above is only 15 percent. Yet they contribute over three quarters of all income taxes.

The Top Wealthiest Americans Pay Half of All Income Taxes
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To be clear, I am not insinuating that low-income earners don’t pull their own weight. It only stands to reason that because they make less, they pay less in taxes. I am merely trying to refute the misconception that the wealthy “don’t pay their fair share,” as the Pew Research poll revealed. Indeed they do, as all of the data show.

Seeking Tax-Free Income

In fiscal year 2014, the government drew in $1.4 trillion, an all-time record.

Income Taxes Paid Annually, Adjusted for Inflation
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Close to half of its revenue—46 percent, to be exact—depended on citizens dutifully paying their taxes.

This has been the case since at least 1945. Even as the share of corporate taxes has shrunk and payroll taxes increased over the course of seven decades, the share of individual income taxes has remained pretty steady in the 40- to 50-percent range.

Individual Income Taxes Have Remained the most Important Source of Revenue
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Indeed, it’s every American’s duty to pay his or her fair share, but there are ways to responsibly minimize one’s tax burden.

One such way that’s favored by high net worth individuals is by investing in municipal bonds, which go untaxed at the federal level and often at the state and local levels.

Our Near-Term Tax Free Fund (NEARX) invests in investment-grade munis with an average maturity on the short end of the curve, which is where investors want to be when the Federal Reserve comes around to raising interest rates.

The fund, which has a time-tested history of no drama, holds four stars overall from Morningstar, among 179 Municipal National Short-Term funds as of 3/31/2015, based on risk-adjusted return. It’s also delivered a rare 20 years of positive returns. Out of 25,000 equity and bond funds, only 30 have managed to achieve this same feat.

Near-Term Tax Free Fund Annual Total Return
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Explore the Near-Term Tax Free Fund!

Please consider carefully a fund’s investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. For this and other important information, obtain a fund prospectus by visiting or by calling 1-800-US-FUNDS (1-800-873-8637). Read it carefully before investing. Distributed by U.S. Global Brokerage, Inc.

Total Annualized Returns as of 03/31/2015
  One-Year Five-Year Ten-Year Gross Expense Ratio Expense Cap
Near-Term Tax Free Fund 2.38% 2.59% 3.10% 1.21% 0.45%

Expense ratio as stated in the most recent prospectus. The expense cap is a contractual limit through December 31, 2015, for the Near-Term Tax Free Fund, on total fund operating expenses (exclusive of acquired fund fees and expenses, extraordinary expenses, taxes, brokerage commissions and interest).Performance data quoted above is historical. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Results reflect the reinvestment of dividends and other earnings. For a portion of periods, the fund had expense limitations, without which returns would have been lower. Current performance may be higher or lower than the performance data quoted. The principal value and investment return of an investment will fluctuate so that your shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Performance does not include the effect of any direct fees described in the fund’s prospectus which, if applicable, would lower your total returns. Performance quoted for periods of one year or less is cumulative and not annualized. Obtain performance data current to the most recent month-end at or 1-800-US-FUNDS.

Morningstar Rating


Morningstar ratings based on risk-adjusted return and number of funds
Category: Equity Precious Metals
Through: 3/31/2015

Morningstar Ratings are based on risk-adjusted return. The Morningstar Rating for a fund is derived from a weighted-average of the performance figures associated with its three-, five- and ten-year Morningstar Rating metrics. Past performance does not guarantee future results. For each fund with at least a three-year history, Morningstar calculates a Morningstar Rating based on a Morningstar Risk-Adjusted Return measure that accounts for variation in a fund’s monthly performance (including the effects of sales charges, loads, and redemption fees), placing more emphasis on downward variations and rewarding consistent performance. The top 10% of funds in each category receive 5 stars, the next 22.5% receive 4 stars, the next 35% receive 3 stars, the next 22.5% receive 2 stars and the bottom 10% receive 1 star. (Each share class is counted as a fraction of one fund within this scale and rated separately, which may cause slight variations in the distribution percentages.)

Past performance does not guarantee future results.

Bond funds are subject to interest-rate risk; their value declines as interest rates rise. Though the Near-Term Tax Free Fund seeks minimal fluctuations in share price, it is subject to the risk that the credit quality of a portfolio holding could decline, as well as risk related to changes in the economic conditions of a state, region or issuer. These risks could cause the fund’s share price to decline. Tax-exempt income is federal income tax free. A portion of this income may be subject to state and local taxes and at times the alternative minimum tax. The Near-Term Tax Free Fund may invest up to 20% of its assets in securities that pay taxable interest. Income or fund distributions attributable to capital gains are usually subject to both state and federal income taxes.

Although Lipper makes reasonable efforts to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the data contained herein, the accuracy is not guaranteed by Lipper. Users acknowledge that they have not relied upon any warranty, condition, guarantee, or representation made by Lipper. Any use of the data for analyzing, managing, or trading financial instruments is at the user’s own risk. This is not an offer to buy or sell securities.

A bond’s credit quality is determined by private independent rating agencies such as Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch. Credit quality designations range from high (AAA to AA) to medium (A to BBB) to low (BB, B, CCC, CC to C).

All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor.