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Wisconsin Watch partners with Gigafact to produce fact briefs — bite-sized fact checks of trending claims. Read our methodology to learn how we check claims.


Billionaires pay a federal income tax rate much higher than 8%, according to the latest data.

The smallest income group the IRS reports on is the top 0.001% of income earners. The taxpayers who filed those 1,575 returns in the 2020 tax year paid an average rate of 23.73%, according to a January 2023 analysis of IRS data by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation.

Speaking Aug. 15, 2023, in Milwaukee, President Joe Biden alluded to a report from his administration estimating the wealthiest 400 families paid an average of 8.2% of their income in federal income taxes.

But the estimate was theoretical. It included earnings on unsold stock as income. Stock gains are not taxed until stocks are sold, though at a lower rate than wages.

University of California, Berkeley, economists estimated that in 2018 the 400 richest families paid a rate of 23% in federal, state and local taxes.

This Fact Brief is responsive to conversations such as this one.


Tax Foundation Summary of the Latest Federal Income Tax Data, 2023 Update

White House What Is the Average Federal Individual Income Tax Rate on the Wealthiest Americans?

PolitiFact Joe Biden’s dubious math on the federal income tax burden Biden’s Tax Rate Comparison for Billionaires and Schoolteachers

CBS News America’s richest 400 families now pay a lower tax rate than the middle class

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Tom Kertscher joined as a Wisconsin Watch fact checker in January 2023 and contributes to our collaboration with the The Gigafact Project to fight misinformation online. Kertscher is a former longtime newspaper reporter, including at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who has worked as a self-employed journalist since 2019. His gigs include contributing writer for PolitiFact and sports freelancer for The Associated Press.