|An aspect of fiscal policy|
The background of dividend tax starts from the 16th Amendment to the United States Constitution(02.03.1913). It states that“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”Obscurity of this statement made Congress impose tax anything that can be considered income, including dividends company pays for its shareholders. At the beginning of the Amendment(1913-1953), dividends were exempt, except for four years from 1935 to 1939. Despite these tax exempt dividends time, various tax rates have been imposed on dividends for the past 60 years. Dividends began fully taxed except the first $50 earned, with the International Revenue Code in 1954. For the next 30 years, this policy has continued to exist, just changing the first amount of exempt tax.
In many jurisdictions, companies are required to withhold at least the standard tax, paying this to the national revenue authorities and paying out only the balance to the shareholders.
There has been controversy on the interpretation of dividend taxation. Many believe that the dividends shouldn't be accounted in terms of income. Depending on the jurisdiction dividend income along with interest income, collected rents, or other "unearned income" may also be taxed and is the subject of recurring debate as to whether or not these taxes should be eliminated.
Arguments in favor
A corporation is a legal entity that can own property, sue or be sued, and enter into contracts. The corporation is, therefore, separate from its shareholders with a "life" of its own. As a separate entity, a corporation has the right to use public goods as an individual does, and is therefore obligated to help pay for the public goods through taxes.
Professor Confidence W. Amadi of West Georgia University has argued:
- "The greatest advantage of the corporate form of business organization is the limited liability protection accorded its owners. Taxation of corporate income is the price of that protection. This price must be worth the benefits since, according to the Internal Revenue Service (1996), corporations account for less than 20 percent of all U.S. business firms, but about 90 percent of U.S. business revenues and approximately 70 percent of U.S. business profits. The benefits of limited liability independent of those enjoyed by shareholders, the flexibility of change in ownership, and the immense ability to raise capital are all derived from the legal entity status accorded corporations by the law. This equal status requires that corporations pay income taxes."
Although the above is an argument for corporate taxation as opposed to the taxation of dividends, arguments for the taxation of income from capital would apply to both and on that count it can be argued that from a social policy standpoint it is unfair, and unproductive economically, to tax income generated through active work at a higher rate than income generated through less active means. Also, because earned income derived from a corporation is also reduced by corporate tax paid, the application of a "double taxation" argument only in the passive unearned income argument, is logically inconsistent.
One issue with the above arguments in favor is that income must account for liabilities. If the corporation is treated as an entity separate from its shareholders then any of its gains are offset by equal growth of its liability to the shareholders (whom it owes all its assets). Thus net income is always zero and any tax would not be an income tax. If not separated from the shareholders, then corporate income tax is a sort of early withholding against expected future shareholders liability. Then the shareholders should get a deduction (from dividends and capital gains) for income taxed at the corporate level.
Critics, such as the Cato Institute, argue that a dividend tax amounts to unfair "double taxation". Double taxation refers to cases where tax is levied twice on the same income or gain, for example when a company incorporated in Country A has a branch in Country B, and both countries levy tax on the profits of the branch. This is often mitigated by tax treaties. The same can apply if an individual resident in Country A works in Country B, and both countries tax the employee's wages. But even within the same jurisdiction, profits can be taxed twice as when dividends, which are distributed corporate profits, are taxed in the hands of the shareholder, and the company has already paid a corporate tax on these same profits. This means that the shareholders, as owners of the profits, have already been taxed.
Cato's position is,
- "First, high dividend taxes add to the income tax code's general bias against savings and investment. Second, high dividend taxes cause corporations to rely too much on debt rather than equity financing. Highly indebted firms are more vulnerable to bankruptcy in economic downturns. Third, high dividend taxes reduce the incentive to pay out dividends in favor of retained earnings. That may cause corporate executives to invest in wasteful or unprofitable projects."
Economists use the term "double taxation" in reference to the tax on dividends due to the fact that dividend income is paid out of corporate profits and represent a portion of the profit stream owned by shareholders. Since corporate profits are taxed first at the corporate tax rate, they are taxed again when paid out as dividends (or capital gains, which are a derivative of corporate profits). Therefore, to find the true tax on capital, the corporate tax rate is added to the dividend tax and capital gains tax. This calculation is complicated by the fact that some shareholders own shares in tax-deferred accounts, which are ultimately taxed at the personal income tax level (often but not always higher than the capital gains or dividend tax rate) upon withdrawal. Since debt financing is often tax-deductible, companies are incentivized to borrow, thus reducing taxable income but leveraging the growth rate of profits and capital gains. The result of this activity is to increase the volatility of corporate profits and thus stock price movements, which increases the probability of bankruptcy.
It (see "arguments in favor" above) is sometimes argued by proponents of dividend taxation that employee wages are subject to the same double taxation, on the theory that corporate tax reduces the company's income available to pay wages, just as much as it reduces the amount available to pay dividends. However, employee wages are determined by employee contracts and the employer would therefore have to wait for the expiration of these contracts before wages can be lowered in response to a corporate tax bill increase. Shareholders, on the other hand, are entitled only to the residue of profits after meeting all other expenses, including corporate taxes. So if corporate taxes rise, the shareholder is entitled to less. Moreover, wages, unlike dividends, are deductible in the computation of corporate taxable profits, and so pass to employees with no amount deducted for tax at the corporate level. These factors make it a priori more likely for corporations to pass on an increased corporate tax bill to the shareholders, still, in the long term market pressures could in theory lead to at least some of the additional cost being passed on to employees.
Dividend tax policy
In 2003, President George W. Bush proposed the elimination of the U.S. dividend tax saying that "double taxation is bad for our economy and falls especially hard on retired people". He also argued that while "it's fair to tax a company's profits, it's not fair to double-tax by taxing the shareholder on the same profits."
Soon after, Congress passed the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 (JGTRRA), which included some of the cuts Bush requested and which he signed into law on May 28, 2003. Under the new law, qualified dividends are taxed at the same rate as long-term capital gains, which is 15 percent for most individual taxpayers. Qualified dividends received by individuals in the 10% and 15% income tax brackets were taxed at 5% from 2003 to 2007. The qualified dividend tax rate was set to expire December 31, 2008; however, the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005 (TIPRA) extended the lower tax rate through 2010 and further cut the tax rate on qualified dividends to 0% for individuals in the 10% and 15% income tax brackets. On December 17, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010. The legislation extends for two additional years the changes enacted to the taxation of dividends in the JGTRRA and TIPRA.
In addition, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act created a new Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) of 3.8% that applies to dividends, capital gains, and several other forms of passive investment income, effective January 1, 2013. The NIIT applies to married taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income over $250,000, and single taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income over $200,000. Unlike the thresholds for ordinary income tax rates and the qualified dividend rates, the NIIT threshold is not inflation-adjusted.
Had the Bush-era federal income tax rates of 10, 15, 25, 28, 33 and 35 percent brackets been allowed to expire for tax year 2012, the rates would have increased to the Clinton-era rate schedule of 15, 28, 31, 36, and 39.6 percent. In that scenario, qualified dividends would no longer be taxed at the long-term capital gains rate, but would revert to being taxed at the taxpayer's regular income tax rate. However, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (H.R. 8) was passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in the first days of 2013. This legislation extended the 0 and 15 percent capital gains and dividends tax rates for taxpayers whose income does not exceed the thresholds set for the highest income tax rate (39.6 percent). Those who exceed those thresholds ($400,000 for single filers; $425,000 for heads of households; $450,000 for joint filers; $11,950 for estates and trusts) became subject to a top rate of 20 percent for capital gains and dividends.
In Canada, there is taxation of dividends, which is compensated by a dividend tax credit (DTC) for personal income in dividends from Canadian corporations. An increase to the DTC was announced in the fall of 2005 in conjunction with the announcement that Canadian income trusts would not become subject to dividend taxation as had been feared. Effective tax rates on dividends will now range from negative to over 30% depending on income level and different provincial tax rates and credits. Starting 2012, the Government introduced the concept of eligible dividends. Income not eligible for the Small Business Deduction and therefore taxed at higher corporate tax rates, can be distributed to the shareholders and taxed at a lower personal tax rate.
In India, earlier dividends were taxed in the hands of the recipient as any other income. However, since 1 June 1997, all domestic companies were liable to pay a dividend distribution tax on the profits distributed as dividends resulting in a smaller net dividend to the recipients. The rate of taxation alternated between 10% and 20% until the tax was abolished with effect from 31 March 2002. The dividend distribution tax was also extended to dividends distributed since 1 June 1999 by domestic mutual funds, with the rate alternating between 10% and 20% in line with the rate for companies, up to 31 March 2002. However, dividends from open-ended equity oriented funds distributed between 1 April 1999 to 31 March 2002 were not taxed. Hence the dividends received from domestic companies since 1 June 1997, and domestic mutual funds since 1 June 1999, were made non-taxable in the hands of the recipients to avoid double-taxation, until 31 March 2002.
The budget for the financial year 2002–2003 proposed the removal of dividend distribution tax bringing back the regime of dividends being taxed in the hands of the recipients and the Finance Act 2002 implemented the proposal for dividends distributed since 1 April 2002. This fueled negative sentiments in the Indian stock markets causing stock prices to go down. However the next year there were wide expectations for the budget to be friendlier to the markets and the dividend distribution tax was reintroduced.
Hence the dividends received from domestic companies and mutual funds since 1 April 2003 were again made non-taxable at the hands of the recipients. However the new dividend distribution tax rate for companies was higher at 12.5%, and was increased with effect from 1 April 2007 to 15%. Also, the funds of the Unit Trust of India and open-ended equity oriented funds were kept out of the tax net . The taxation rate for mutual funds was originally 12.5% but was increased to 20% for dividends distributed to entities other than individuals with effect from 9 July 2004. With effect from 1 June 2006 all equity oriented funds were kept out of the tax net but the tax rate was increased to 25% for money market and liquid funds with effect from 1 April 2007.
Dividend income received by domestic companies until 31 March 1997 carried a deduction in computing the taxable income but the provision was removed with the advent of the dividend distribution tax. A deduction to the extent of received dividends redistributed in turn to their shareholders resurfaced briefly from 1 April 2002 to 31 March 2003 during the time the dividend distribution tax was removed to avoid double taxation of the dividends both in the hands of the company and its shareholders but there has been no similar provision for dividend distribution tax. However the budget for 2008–2009 proposes to remove the double taxation for the specific case of dividends received by a domestic holding company (with no parent company) from a subsidiary that is in turn distributed to its shareholders.
In Korea, they regulates amount of possible dividends, payment time of dividends, and how to make decisions on dividends in the commercial law, since dividends are considered a outflow of profits from company. Currently, 15.4 percent of dividend tax is collected as soon as the dividend is paid(private : 14% of the dividend income tax, residence tax : 1.4% of the dividend income tax). Separate taxation is possible below ₩20 million(€15 million) of dividend income, and if it is exceed, they become subject to total taxation. In addition, if the financial income (interest, dividend income) exceeds ₩20 million, a report of total income tax must be made. In the relationship between shareholders and creditors, the main principle of the commercial law is that the rights of company creditors should take precedence over those of shareholders who have limited liability to the property of the company. Stockholders always want to receive more money, but from the firm point of view, if they allocate too much money, the reduction of equity capital could lead to the failure of the company. That's why government regulates the possible amount of dividends.
Australia, like New Zealand, has a dividend imputation system, which entitles shareholders to claim a tax credit for the franking credits attached to dividends, being a share of the corporate tax paid by the corporation. A recipient of a fully franked dividend on the top marginal tax rate will effectively pay only about 15% tax on the cash amount of the dividend. In effect, when distributed as dividends, the profits of a corporation are taxed at the average of the shareholders' marginal tax rates; otherwise they are taxed at the corporate tax rate.
In Armenia there hasn't been a dividend tax until the recently adapted tax law upon which citizens of Armenia pay 5% and non-citizens 10% of the annual income.
In Austria the KeSt (Kapitalertragsteuer) is used as dividend tax rate, which is 27,5% on dividends.
In Belgium there is a tax of 30% on dividends, known as "roerende voorheffing" (in Dutch) or "précompte mobilier" (in French).
In Brazil, dividends are tax-exempt.
In Bulgaria there is a tax of 5% on dividends.
In China, the dividend tax rate is 20%, but since June 13, 2005, 50% of the dividend is taxed.
In the Czech Republic there is a tax of 15% on dividends. Government in 2012 wanted to reduce double taxation on corporates income, but this did not pass in the end.
In Finland, there is a tax of 25,5% or 27,2% on dividends (85% of dividend is taxable capital income and capital gain tax rate is 30% for capital gains lower than 30 000 and 34% for the part that exceeds 30 000). However, effective tax rates are 45.5% or 47.2% for private person. That's because corporate earnings have already been taxed, which means that dividends are taxed twice. Corporate income tax is 20%.
In France there is a tax of 30% on dividends. 60% on the business owners.
In Germany there is a tax of 25% on dividends, known as "Abgeltungssteuer", plus a solidarity tax of 5.5% on the dividend tax. Effectually there is a tax of 26.375%.
In Hong Kong, there is no dividend tax.
In Iran there are no taxes on dividends, according to article (105).
In Ireland, companies paying dividends must generally withhold tax at the standard rate (as of 2007, 20%) from the dividend and issue a tax voucher to include details of the tax paid. A person not liable to tax can reclaim it at the end of year, while a person liable to a higher rate of tax must declare it and pay the difference.
In Israel there is a tax of 25% on dividends for individuals and 30% for major shareholders (=above 10%). if a company receives a dividend, the tax it 0%.
In Italy there is a tax of 26% on dividends, known as "capital gain tax".
In Japan, there is a tax of 10% on dividends from listed stocks (7% for Nation, 3% for Region) while Jan 1st 2009 - Dec 31 2012, by tax reduction rule. After Jan 1st 2013, the tax of 20% on dividends from listed stocks (15% for Nation, 5% for Region). In case of an individual person who has over 5% of total issued stocks (value or number), he/she can not apply the tax reduction rule, so after Jan 1st 2009, should pay 20%(15%+5%). There is a tax of 20% on dividends from Non-listed stocks (20% for Nation, 0% for Region).
In Luxembourg, only 50% of dividends paid out by corporations is subject to tax in the hands of an individual tax payer at the applicable marginal tax rate. Therefore, dividends are taxed at up to 20% if received from a corporation that is subject to tax and up to 40% if received from a corporation that does not satisfy the "subject to tax" test.
In the Netherlands there's a tax of 1.2% per year on the value of the share, regardless of the dividend, as part of the flat tax on savings and investments. Major shareholders (over 5%) are subject to a 25% dividend tax, they can deduct the 1.2% tax rate over the value, so 25% is their effective tax rate. In 2017 the Third Rutte cabinet announced that they would end the Dividend tax.
In Norway dividends are taxed as capital gains, at a flat 27% tax rate. However a "shelter deduction" is applied to the dividend income to compensate for the lost interest income. The size of the shelter deduction is based on the interest rate on short term government bonds and was 1.1% in 2013. For example, if NOK 100,000 has been invested in a company stock that gave a dividend of NOK 4,000, the shelter deduction is NOK 1,100 (1.1% of NOK 100,000) and the remaining NOK 2,900 is taxed at 27%.
In Pakistan income tax of 10% as required by the Income Tax Ordinace, 2001 on the amount of dividend is deducted at source. A surcharge of 15% on income tax is withheld and will be duly paid by the company to Government of Pakistan as per Income Tax (Amendment) Ordinance, 2011.
In Poland there is a tax of 19% on dividends. This rate is equal to the rates of capital gains and other taxes.
In Romania there is a tax of 5% paid to private investors and 16% when paid to companies, on dividends since 1 February 2017. Additionally, private investors must pay a 5.5% healthcare tax on earnings from dividends.
In Slovakia, tax residents' income from dividends is not subject to income taxation in the Slovak Republic pursuant to Article 12 Section 7 Letter c) for legal entities and to Article 3 Section 2 Letter c) for individual entities of Income Tax Act No. 595/2003 Coll. as amended. This applies to dividends from profits relating to the calendar year 2004 onwards (regardless of when the dividends were actually paid out). Before that, dividends were taxed as normal income. The stated justification is that tax at 19 percent has already been paid by the company as part of its corporation tax (in Slovak "Income Tax for a Legal Entity"). However, there is no provision for residents to reclaim tax on dividends withheld in other jurisdictions with which Slovakia has a double-taxation treaty. Foreign resident owners of shares in Slovak companies may have to declare and pay tax in their local jurisdiction. Shares of profits made by investment funds are taxable as income at 19 percent. Resident natural persons have to pay 14% of received dividends as health insurance with maximum payment of €14.000, non-resident natural persons and companies are not subject of this "capital gain health tax".
In Belgium, as from 1st of January 2018 dividends received is fully tax exempt (only 95% so far).
In Sweden there is a tax of 30% on dividends.
In Taiwan, the dividends are taken into account in the taxation of one's gross income, though varying from one stock to another, there is a specific deduction rate to the gross income tax if one holds this corresponding stock on the in-dividend date (once per year). Beginning from January 2013, there will be an additional 2% "tax" on all dividends, serving as the supplemental premium for the second-generation National Health Insurance (NHI) of Taiwan.
In Turkey there is an income tax withholding of 15% on dividends.
In the United Kingdom, companies pay UK corporation tax on their profits and the remainder can be paid to shareholders as dividends. From April 2016, the first £5,000 of dividend income is untaxed, regardless of the taxpayer's other income; dividends above this amount are taxed at 7.5%, with higher rates for those with higher incomes.
Related Theory-Modigliani-Miller's dividend irrelevance
Financial management theories call much debate on how dividend policies affect corporate values. There is a mixture of claims that the value of a company increases as it increases its dividend payments and claims that the value of a company decreases. It is a theory that even the dividend policy is irrelevant to the value of the company. They asserted that dividend policies are basically meaningless because they have no effect on corporate values under the control of the entire capital market. However, this theory has a problem that it is based on unrealistic assumptions. Corporate dividend policy is a very important issue for shareholders, as most countries treat dividends and capital gains differently in income tax. In many countries, ordinary income tax rates are applied for dividends, while far lower tax rates apply for capital gains. This means that the tax authorities are imposing some sort of dividend penalty on the payment of dividends, so shareholders prefer a relatively light tax burden to an in-house reservation. Despite this existence of dividend penalties, many companies have chosen a significantly higher dividend rate, which is contradictory to their theoretical expectations(dividend puzzle). Although numerous studies have been done to solve the mystery of dividends, they have yet to get clear answers.
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- United States
- Double Taxation Double Speak: Why Repealing Dividend Taxes Is Unfair from Dollars & Sense magazine
- The new U.S. dividend tax cut traps from Tennessee CPA Journal
- IRS Publication 17 on taxation of dividends