Overview of the Federal Tax System and Its Effect in 2008

Source: U.S. Congress, Joint Committee on Taxation

The Senate Committee on Finance has scheduled a public hearing for April 15, 2008, entitled “Tax: Fundamentals in Advance of Reform.” This document,1 prepared by the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, provides a summary of the present-law Federal tax system as in effect for 2008.

The current Federal tax system has four main elements: (1) an income tax on individuals and corporations (which consists of both a “regular” income tax and an alternative minimum tax); (2) payroll taxes on wages (and corresponding taxes on self-employment income); (3) estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer taxes, and (4) excise taxes on selected goods and services. This document provides a broad overview of each of these elements.2 A number of aspects of the Federal tax laws are subject to change over time. For example, some dollar amounts and income thresholds are indexed for inflation. The standard deduction, tax rate brackets, and the annual gift tax exclusion are examples of amounts that are indexed for inflation. In general, the Internal Revenue Service adjusts these numbers annually and publishes the inflation adjusted amounts in effect for a tax year prior to the beginning of that year. Where applicable, this document generally includes dollar amounts in effect for 2008 and notes whether dollar amounts are indexed for inflation.

In addition, a number of the provisions in the Federal tax laws have been enacted on a temporary basis or have parameters that vary by statute from year to year. For example, the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 extended a number of expired or soon to expire provisions on a temporary basis. In addition, many of the provisions of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 initially were to expire at the end of 2010; some provisions of that Act have been modified subsequently or made permanent. For simplicity, this document describes the Federal tax laws in effect in 2008 and generally does not include references to provisions as they may be in effect for future years or to termination dates for expiring provisions. A list of expiring tax provisions may be found in Joint Committee on Taxation, List of Expiring Federal Tax Provisions 2007-2020, (JCX-1-08), January 11, 2008.

Full report (PDF; 101 KB)

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