Taxable income

Taxable income

Taxable income is the portion of income that is the subject of taxation according to the laws that determine what is income and the taxation rate for that income. Generally, taxable income refers to an individual's (or corporation's) gross income, adjusted for various deductions allowable by statute. The main questions put by most individuals in any jurisdiction are "what makes up my taxable income" and what tax rates should be applied such that I can work out my tax liability to the state. For example, suppose within a year, one person earned $100,000 from work, made $50,000 profit from selling stock, and won the lottery for $1,000,000. This person has, prima facie, an income of $1,150,000. However, some of this income may be taxed at a lower rate, or perhaps not taxable at all. In most western countries, 100% of regular salary (above a certain threshold) is taxable and a portion of Capital Gain (ie profit from selling stock or real estate) is taxable.

Taxable income by country

United States

In the United States, taxable income is defined in Internal Revenue Code 63. The section sets forth that taxable income means gross income (which is broadly defined in Internal Revenue Code 61) minus whatever deductions are allowed by that chapter of the IRC. Section 63(a) provides that individuals may take itemized deductions to determine their taxable income, which allows them to add up their deductible expenses such as college tuition and charitable donations and then subtract that amount from their taxable income. Alternatively, section 63(b) allows the taxpayer to take a standard deduction in determining their taxable income, which reduces their taxable income by an amount set forth elsewhere in the IRC and then further subtracts the deduction for personal exemptions.

Please note that "income" itself is not defined in the Internal Revenue Code. Gross income is defined in section 61 of the Code, and in the case law interpreting the Code.


Section 63(a) taxable income = Gross Income - All deductions allowed (other than the standard deduction).

Section 63(b) taxable income = Adjusted Gross Income - Standard deduction (or Itemized deduction) - Personal exemptions.

The realization requirement

In most industrialized countries, in order for income to be recognized in the current year's gross income and thus taxable, the income must be realized.

United States

This realization requirement generally prevails in United States federal tax law. A well-known example is the Supreme Court case "Eisner v. Macomber," in which the class of all common shareholders of a corporation were all given proportionate stock dividends. As the dividends were in the form of a one-for-one stock dividend or stock split, none of the shareholders experienced any change in their economic position, thus there was no realization and no taxable income from the dividend issuance. Another example is the unrealized capital gains that an asset owner has. Until the owner sells or otherwise obtains cash from the asset we have no realization. However, an owner need not sell an asset to experience the economic effect of realization. For instance, a shareholder with unrealized gains could buy a put on the same stock and then borrow cash equal to the put's exercise price. This is the economic equivalent of realization and some tax systems recognize the use of derivatives to "cash in" on such gains.

ee also

*Taxable wages
*Income taxes
*Progressive tax
*Internal Revenue Code


United States


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