Wealth Tax: What It Is and How It Works

Broadly defined, a wealth tax is a tax on the difference between a person's assets and liabilities.
What Is a Wealth Tax and How Does It Work?

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What is a wealth tax?

A wealth tax is a tax on net worth, which is generally the difference between someone's assets and liabilities.

Tax Foundation. Wealth Tax. Accessed May 25, 2022.
Governments might assess a wealth tax one time, sporadically or on a regular basis, depending on their laws and policies.

The U.S. does not levy a general wealth tax. Revenue is instead collected through other forms of taxation such as income tax, property tax, and payroll tax.

Tax Foundation. Sources of U.S. Tax Revenue by Tax Type. Accessed Jun 9, 2022.

How is a wealth tax calculated?

A wealth tax is typically a tax on net worth. To calculate net worth, you'll subtract a person's liabilities from their assets, which you can broadly think of as negatives and positives in a ledger. So, for example, if somebody has $500,000 of assets and $300,000 of debt, that person’s net worth (or wealth) is $200,000. A 2% wealth tax would generate a $4,000 tax bill.

$500,000 (assets) - $300,000 (debts) = $200,000 (net worth).

$200,000 (net worth) x 2% (wealth tax) = $4,000 (taxes owed).

A few other notes:

  • Wealth taxes are complex and how they're calculated can vary from country to country.

  • A taxing authority might also exempt certain assets or liabilities from the wealth tax, and it might apply different tax rates to different levels of wealth.

  • Determining the value of a person’s assets can be tricky because assets can include things like houses, businesses, jewelry and other items.

Does the U.S. have a wealth tax?

The U.S. does not have a general wealth tax, but certain types of wealth can be subject to other forms of taxation. Estate taxes, gift taxes and inheritance taxes are examples of taxes on wealth that are typically assessed once or infrequently. The U.S. primarily generates revenue through taxing earned income.

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The difference between wealth and income

Wealth is the value of somebody's assets (cash; savings and investments; houses, cars and other property; insurance and pension plans, for example) minus the value of that person’s liabilities (mortgages, credit card debt or outstanding loans, for example). In other words, it’s what’s left over if you sold everything you owned and used the money to pay off every debt you have.

Income, on the other hand, is money received over a period of time, typically in return for a person’s time and expertise through work, or as interest or dividends. Paychecks are income. Money from renting out a property or dividend payments from a stock you own are other examples of income.

What is the difference between income tax and wealth tax?

Conceptually, an income tax is not the same thing as a wealth tax. Income taxes are taxes on money received over a period of time, typically in return for a person’s time and expertise (through work) or as interest or dividends.

What is my net worth?

A wealth tax is typically a tax on net worth. Use our calculator to find your net worth.

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