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What is Income Tax:

An income tax is a tax imposed on individuals or entities (taxpayers) that varies with respective income or profits (taxable income). Income tax generally is computed as the product of a tax rate times taxable income. Taxation rates may vary by type or characteristics of the taxpayer.

The tax rate may increase as taxable income increases (referred to as graduated or progressive rates). The tax imposed on companies is usually known as corporate tax and is levied at a flat rate. Individual income is often taxed at progressive rates where the tax rate applied to each additional unit of currency increases (e.g. the first $10000 of income taxed at 0%, the next $10000 taxed at 1%, etc…). Most jurisdictions exempt locally organized charitable organizations from tax. Income from investment income may be taxed at different (generally lower) rates than other income. Credits of various sorts may be allowed that reduce tax. Some jurisdictions impose the higher of an income tax or a tax on an alternative base or measure of income.

Taxable income of taxpayers resident in the jurisdiction is generally total income less income producing expenses and other deductions. Generally, only net gain from sale of property, including goods held for sale, is included in income. Income of a corporation’s shareholders usually includes distributions of profits from the corporation. Deductions typically include all income producing or business expenses including an allowance for recovery of costs of business assets. Many jurisdictions allow notional deductions for individuals, and may allow deduction of some personal expenses. Most jurisdictions either do not tax income earned outside the jurisdiction or allow a credit for taxes paid to other jurisdictions on such income. Nonresidents are taxed only on certain types of income from sources within the jurisdictions, with few exceptions.

Most jurisdictions require self-assessment of the tax and require payers of some types of income to withhold tax from those payments. Advance payments of tax by taxpayers may be required. Taxpayers not timely paying tax owed are generally subject to significant penalties, which may include jail for individuals or revocation of an entity’s legal existence.


The concept of taxing income is a modern innovation and presupposes several things: a money economy, reasonably accurate accounts, a common understanding of receipts, expenses and profits, and an orderly society with reliable records.

Early examples

The first income tax is generally attributed to Egypt.[1] In the early days of the Roman Republic, public taxes consisted of modest assessments on owned wealth and property. The tax rate under normal circumstances was 1% and sometimes would climb as high as 3% in situations such as war. These modest taxes were levied against land, homes and other real estate, slaves, animals, personal items and monetary wealth. The more a person had in property, the more tax they paid. Taxes were collected from individuals.[2]

In the year 10 AD, Emperor Wang Mang of the Xin Dynasty instituted an unprecedented income tax, at the rate of 10 percent of profits, for professionals and skilled labor. He was overthrown 13 years later in 23 AD and earlier policies were restored during the reestablished Han Dynasty which followed.

One of the first recorded taxes on income was the Saladin tithe introduced by Henry II in 1188 to raise money for the Third Crusade.[3] The tithe demanded that each layperson in England and Wales be taxed one tenth of their personal income and moveable property.[4]

Modern era

United Kingdom
William Pitt the Younger introduced a progressive income tax in 1798.

The inception date of the modern income tax is typically accepted as 1799,[5] at the suggestion of Henry Beeke, the future Dean of Bristol.[6] This income tax was introduced into Great Britain by Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger in his budget of December 1798, to pay for weapons and equipment for the French Revolutionary War. Pitt’s new graduated (progressive) income tax began at a levy of 2 old pence in the pound (1/120) on incomes over £60 (equivalent to £6,400 in 2019),[7] and increased up to a maximum of 2 shillings in the pound (10%) on incomes of over £200. Pitt hoped that the new income tax would raise £10 million a year, but actual receipts for 1799 totalled only a little over £6 million.[8]

Pitt’s income tax was levied from 1799 to 1802, when it was abolished by Henry Addington during the Peace of Amiens. Addington had taken over as prime minister in 1801, after Pitt’s resignation over Catholic Emancipation. The income tax was reintroduced by Addington in 1803 when hostilities with France recommenced, but it was again abolished in 1816, one year after the Battle of Waterloo. Opponents of the tax, who thought it should only be used to finance wars, wanted all records of the tax destroyed along with its repeal. Records were publicly burned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but copies were retained in the basement of the tax court.[9]
Punch cartoon (1907); illustrates the unpopularity amongst Punch readers of a proposed 1907 income tax by the Labour Party in the United Kingdom.

In the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, income tax was reintroduced by Sir Robert Peel by the Income Tax Act 1842. Peel, as a Conservative, had opposed income tax in the 1841 general election, but a growing budget deficit required a new source of funds. The new income tax, based on Addington’s model, was imposed on incomes above £150 (equivalent to £14,225 in 2019),[7]. Although this measure was initially intended to be temporary, it soon became a fixture of the British taxation system.

A committee was formed in 1851 under Joseph Hume to investigate the matter, but failed to reach a clear recommendation. Despite the vociferous objection, William Gladstone, Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1852, kept the progressive income tax, and extended it to cover the costs of the Crimean War. By the 1860s, the progressive tax had become a grudgingly accepted element of the United Kingdom fiscal system.[10]

United States

Main article: History of taxation in the United States

The US federal government imposed the first personal income tax on August 5, 1861, to help pay for its war effort in the American Civil War – (3% of all incomes over US$800) (equivalent to $22,800 in 2019).[11][12][13] This tax was repealed and replaced by another income tax in 1862.[14][15] It was only in 1894 that the first peacetime income tax was passed through the Wilson-Gorman tariff. The rate was 2% on income over $4000 (equivalent to $118,000 in 2019), which meant fewer than 10% of households would pay any. The purpose of the income tax was to make up for revenue that would be lost by tariff reductions.[16] The US Supreme Court ruled the income tax unconstitutional, the 10th amendment forbidding any powers not expressed in the US Constitution, and there being no power to impose any other than a direct tax by apportionment.

In 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution made the income tax a permanent fixture in the U.S. tax system. In fiscal year 1918, annual internal revenue collections for the first time passed the billion-dollar mark, rising to $5.4 billion by 1920.[17] The amount of income collected via income tax has varied dramatically, from 1% in the early days of US income tax to taxation rates of over 90% during WW2.

For most of the history of civilization, these preconditions did not exist, and taxes were based on other factors. Taxes on wealth, social position, and ownership of the means of production (typically land and slaves) were all common. Practices such as tithing, or an offering of first fruits, existed from ancient times, and can be regarded as a precursor of the income tax, but they lacked precision and certainly were not based on a concept of net increase.

Source: Wikipedia


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