Is Romney's 15% Tax Rate That Crazy? Yes and no, experts say By Kevin Spak, Newser Staff Posted Jan 20, 2012 12:18 PM CST 38 comments Comments Mitt Romney speaks at the Republican presidential candidate debate at the North Charleston Coliseum in Charleston, SC, Jan. 19, 2012. (AP Photo/David Goldman) (Newser) – When Americans heard that Mitt Romney pays a 15% tax rate, most probably assumed that was less than they pay—and they're probably wrong. Romney, after all, wasn't talking about his tax bracket, but his effective tax rate, meaning what percentage of his income he actually winds up paying, USA Today points out. The average American's effective federal tax rate is just 11%, according to 2009 IRS data, and if you make less than $50,000, that falls to 5%. Yes, that's low—taxes are at a 40-year nadir, David Leonhardt of the New York Times points out. But most people think taxes are high, both because of weak wage growth and because they "sense, and not incorrectly, that others are benefiting from tax breaks unavailable to them," he writes. The wealthy have seen their taxes fall the most, and they also benefit more from deductions. And then there's the fact that capital gains—which likely make up most of Romney's income—are only taxed at 15%, a part of the tax code that "favors assets over wages," writes Jared Bernstein in the Christian Science Monitor. "I suspect few begrudge the wealth. What I think bothers people is the tax breaks on the wealth."