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Taxes can be pretty confusing, especially since the rules are always changing -- including the tax brackets.

Tax brackets put your income into buckets that are taxed at different rates. The brackets are updated every year to keep up with inflation, and the 2017 tax law has shaken them up even more.

Here's what you need to know about tax brackets for 2019 and beyond.

Why do we have tax brackets?

Tax brackets are an integral part of what's referred to as America's progressive tax system. As you earn more money, your income hits thresholds. At each threshold, the income above the line is taxed at a progressively higher rate.

When looking at the brackets, it's essential to remember that the income triggering each tax rate is your adjusted gross income, not the figure on your W-2.

In other words, your ultimate tax bill is based on your wages plus other income (such as from investing), minus deductions and credits.

The complexity has long resulted in calls for a simpler income tax system, such as a flat tax rate.

What are the current tax brackets?

These are the brackets for the taxes you pay in 2019, on income earned in 2018.

For individual taxpayers
Income Tax rate
Up to $9,700 10%
$9,701 to $39,475 12%
$39,476 to $84,200 22%
$84,201 to $160,725 24%
$160,726 to $204,100 32%
$204,101 to $510,300 35%
Over $510,300 37%
For couples filing jointly
Income Tax rate
Up to $19,400 10%
$19,401 to $78,950 12%
$78,951 to $168,400 22%
$168,401 to $321,450 24%
$321,451 to $408,200 32%
$408,201 to $612,350 35%
Over $612,350 37%

What does that all mean?

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Tax brackets can be very confusing.

Here's how the tax brackets work: If you file as a single and make $9,000, your tax rate is 10%. If you earn $30,000, your first $9,700 is taxed at 10%, while the remaining $20,300 carries a 12% tax. And so on.

As you make more money, you'll want to take steps to reduce your taxable income and drop down into a lower tax bracket. Directing some of your earnings into an individual retirement account (IRA) might do this.

You may need to speak with an accountant or tax professional, such as at the nearest H&R Block office.