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Regressive Tax: Definition and Types of Taxes That Are Regressive


A regressive tax is a type of tax that takes a larger percentage of income from low-income earners than from high-income earners. It is the opposite of a progressive tax, which takes a larger percentage from high-income earners. Examples of regressive taxes include sales taxes, user fees, and property taxes.


The phonetic transcription of the phrase “Regressive Tax: Definition and Types of Taxes That Are Regressive” is as follows:/rɪˈgrɛsɪv tæks: ˌdɛfɪˈnɪʃən ænd taɪps ʌv tæksɪz ðæt ɑːr rɪˈgrɛsɪv/.

Key Takeaways

  1. Definition of Regressive Tax: A regressive tax is a type of taxation system where the tax rate decreases as the taxable income or amount increases. This means low-income individuals or entities typically bear a higher tax burden relative to their income. It’s the opposite of a progressive tax, where tax rates increase as income rises.
  2. Types of Regressive Taxes: There are several types of regressive taxes. Some of the most common ones include sales tax, value-added tax (VAT), excise tax, and property taxes. These taxes apply the same rate to all individuals regardless of their income level, making them bear a higher tax burden relative to their income.
  3. Impact of Regressive Tax: The impact of regressive tax systems can disproportionately affect lower-income individuals or entities. Because regressive taxes take a larger portion of income from low-income individuals compared to high-income individuals, they can contribute to income inequality. This is unlike progressive taxes, which aim to redistribute wealth more equitably amongst the population.


The term “Regressive Tax” is critically important in the fields of business and finance because it directly affects the distribution of tax burden across different income groups. A regressive tax is a type where the tax rate decreases as the taxable amount increases, thereby placing a larger burden on low-income earners than on high-income earners. This can have significant impacts on income inequality and economic disparity. Popular examples of regressive taxes include sales tax, user fees, and sometimes property taxes. Understanding these types of taxes, which are regressive in nature, is vital for policymakers, businesses, and individuals as they navigate financial planning, budgeting, policy development and discussions surrounding fair tax systems.


A regressive tax, in essence, primarily serves as a fiscal mechanism designed to distribute the tax burden in a way that reduces as the taxpayer’s income increases. This taxation type supports the monetary needs of a government while indirectly engendering an economic atmosphere conducive to increased consumer spending. Given that lower-income communities are obliged to pay a larger percentage of their income towards regressive taxes as compared to their more affluent counterparts, these communities would have less disposable income, and thereby less spending power, if these regressive taxes were not in place.

Under the umbrella of regressive taxes, we have categories such as sales taxes, property taxes, and excise taxes. Sales taxes are applied flatly across all goods and services, so people with lower income will find themselves allocating a larger percentage of their money towards these taxes. Similarly, property taxes, while determined by the value of one’s property, tend to take up a larger fraction of a low-income homeowner’s income. Excise taxes such as those imposed on cigarettes, alcohol, and gasoline are also deemed regressive, for although these taxes are the same for everyone, lower-income households feel the pinch more severely. The purpose of implementing such taxes is to amass revenue for public resources like roads, schools, healthcare, etc., and promote financial capability across a diverse income spectrum.


1. Sales Tax: Sales tax is considered a regressive tax because it applies the same tax rate to everyone, regardless of their income. For example, if a person who earns $10,000/year buys a computer worth $1,000 and the sales tax is 10%, they’ll have to pay $100 as sales tax. In comparison, if a person who earns $100,000/year buys the same computer, they are subject to the same $100 sales tax. The tax takes a larger chunk from a low-income earner than a high-income earner, making it regressive.

2. Excise Duty: Excise duties on goods like gasoline, tobacco, alcohol, and gambling are also regressive taxes. Here, low-income households spend a larger percentage of their income on these goods & services than high-income households, and thus they bear a higher tax burden. For instance, if a lower-income individual and a higher-income individual both buy the same amount of gasoline, the tax is the same but is more burdensome for the individual with the lower income.

3. Property Taxes: Property taxes can also be considered regressive, especially if they are not effectively linked to a property’s value. For instance, for those who are property-rich but income-poor – often senior citizens – high property taxes could claim a high percentage of their income. Even though the tax is proportional to property value, it’s not proportional to the income of the property owner, which makes it regressive in relation to income.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is a regressive tax?

A regressive tax is a tax system where the tax rate decreases as the taxable amount or income increases. This leads to a higher relative tax burden for low-income people compared to high-income individuals.

Can you name some types of taxes that are considered regressive?

Yes, some common examples of regressive taxes include sales tax, excise tax, and property tax.

How does a sales tax serve as a regressive tax?

Sales tax is considered regressive because it is applied uniformly to all consumers irrespective of their income levels. This means that a lower-income shopper will pay a larger percentage of their income for the same good than a higher-income shopper.

What is an excise tax and how does it contribute to regressive tax?

Excise taxes are levied on specific goods or services, such as alcohol, tobacco, and gasoline. They impact lower incomes more because these individuals spend a higher proportion of their income on such taxed goods.

How is property tax categorized as a regressive tax?

Property tax tends to be regressive as it is based on the value of properties that people own, rather than their income. Those with a lower income may have a higher proportion of their income going towards property tax.

Why are regressive taxes criticized?

Regressive taxes are often criticized for placing a disproportionate tax burden on low-income individuals, making it harder for them to increase their disposable income and potentially exacerbating income inequality.

Can regressive tax systems ever be fair?

Some proponents argue that regressive taxes can be fair, since they apply to all citizens equally irrespective of income. They also often fund public goods like infrastructure and social services which benefit all members of society.

Related Finance Terms

  • Flat Tax: A taxation system that applies a single tax rate to all levels of income.
  • Direct Tax: A tax imposed directly on an individual or organization, such as income tax or corporate tax.
  • Indirect Tax: A tax collected by an intermediary, such as a retail store, from the person who bears the ultimate economic burden of the tax, like sales tax or VAT.
  • Proportional Tax: Also known as a flat tax, this taxation system charges everyone the same tax rate, regardless of income level.
  • Excise Tax: A tax charged on a specific type of goods and services such as alcohol, tobacco, and fuel.

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