|An aspect of fiscal policy|
A withholding tax, also called a retention tax, is a government requirement for the payer of an item of income to withhold or deduct tax from the payment, and pay that tax to the government. In most jurisdictions, withholding tax applies to employment income. Many jurisdictions also require withholding tax on payments of interest or dividends. In most jurisdictions, there are additional withholding tax obligations if the recipient of the income is resident in a different jurisdiction, and in those circumstances withholding tax sometimes applies to royalties, rent or even the sale of real estate. Governments use withholding tax as a means to combat tax evasion, and sometimes impose additional withholding tax requirements if the recipient has been delinquent in filing tax returns, or in industries where tax evasion is perceived to be common.
Typically the withholding tax is treated as a payment on account of the recipient's final tax liability. It may be refunded if it is determined, when a tax return is filed, that the recipient's tax liability to the government which received the withholding tax is less than the tax withheld, or additional tax may be due if it is determined that the recipient's tax liability is more than the withholding tax. In some cases the withholding tax is treated as discharging the recipient's tax liability, and no tax return or additional tax is required.
The amount of withholding tax on income payments other than employment income is usually a fixed percentage. In the case of employment income the amount of withholding tax is often based on an estimate of the employee's final tax liability, determined either by the employee or by the government.
Some governments have written laws which require taxes to be paid before the money can be spent for any other purpose. This ensures the taxes will be paid first, and will be paid on time as the government needs the funding to meet its obligations.
Typically, withholding is required to be done by the employer of someone else, taking the tax payment funds out of the employee or contractor's salary or wages. The withheld taxes are then paid by the employer to the government body that requires payment, and applied to the account of the employee, if applicable. The employee may also be required by the government to file a tax return self-assessing one's tax and reporting withheld payments.
Most developed countries operate a wage withholding tax system. In some countries, subnational governments require wage withholding so that both national and subnational taxes may be withheld. In the U.S., Canada, and Switzerland the federal and most state, provincial or cantonal governments, as well as some local governments, require such withholding for income taxes on payments by employers to employees. Income tax for the individual for the year is generally determined upon filing a tax return after the end of the year.
The amount withheld and paid by the employer to the government is applied as a prepayment of income taxes and is refundable if it exceeds the income tax liability determined on filing the tax return. In such systems, the employee generally must make a representation to the employer regarding factors that would influence the amount withheld. Generally, the tax authorities publish guidelines for employers to use in determining the amount of income tax to withhold from wages.
The United Kingdom (UK) and certain other jurisdictions operate a withholding tax system known as Pay as you earn (PAYE), which is more comprehensive. PAYE systems generally aim to collect all of an employee's tax liability through the withholding tax system, making an end of year tax return redundant. However, taxpayers with more complicated tax affairs must file tax returns.
Other domestic withholding
Some systems require that income taxes be withheld from certain payments other than wages made to domestic persons. The UK requires withholding of 20% tax on payments of interest by banks and building societies to individuals. A similar requirement is imposed in Ireland for deposit interest. The U.S. requires payers of dividends, interest, and other "reportable payments" to individuals to withhold tax on such payments in certain circumstances.
Most countries require that payers of certain amounts, especially interest, dividends, and royalties, to foreign payees withhold income tax from such payment and pay it to the government. Payments of rent may be subject to withholding tax or may be taxed as business income. The amounts may vary by type of income. A few jurisdictions treat fees paid for technical consulting services as royalties subject to withholding of tax. Income tax treaties may reduce the amount of tax for particular types of income paid from one country to residents of the other country.
Some countries require withholding by the purchaser of real property. The U.S. also imposes a 10% withholding tax on the gross sales price of a U.S. real property interest unless advance IRS approval is obtained for a lower rate. Canada imposes similar rules for 25% withholding, and withholding on sale of business real property is 50% of the price, but may be reduced on application.
The European Union has issued directives prohibiting taxation on companies by one member state of dividends from subsidiaries in other member state, except in some cases, interest on debt obligations, or royalties received by a resident of another member nation. See also European Union withholding tax.
Procedures vary for obtaining reduced withholding tax under income tax treaties. Procedures for recovery of excess amounts withheld vary by jurisdiction. In some, recovery is made by filing a tax return for the year in which the income was received. Time limits for recovery vary greatly.
Taxes withheld may be eligible for a foreign tax credit in the payee's home country.
Many countries (and/or subdivisions thereof) have social insurance systems that require payment of taxes for retirement annuities and medical coverage for retirees. Most such systems require that employers pay a tax to cover such benefits. Some systems also require that employees pay such taxes.
Where the employees are required to pay the tax, it is generally withheld from the payment of wages and paid by the employer to the government. Social insurance tax rates may be different for employers than for employees. Most systems provide an upper limit on the amount of wages subject to social insurance taxes.
Remittance to government
Most systems require that taxes withheld must be remitted within specified time limits, which time limits may vary with the total amount so held in trust. Remittance by electronic funds transfer is often required.
Nearly all systems imposing withholding tax requirements also require reporting of amounts withheld in a specified manner. Copies of such reporting are usually required to be provided to both the person on whom the tax is imposed and to the levying government. Reporting is generally required annually for amounts withheld with respect to wages. Reporting requirements for other payments vary, with some jurisdictions requiring annual reporting and others requiring reporting within a specified period after the withholding occurs.
- See U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Publication 15, which includes withholding tables for income tax. State requirements vary by state; for an example, see the New York state portal for withholding tax.
- See Canada Revenue Agency Publication T4001. Canada Revenue Agency also provides significant online guidance accessible through a web index, including an online payroll tax calculator.
- See, e.g., IRS Form W-4.
- See HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) PAYE for employers: the basics and references therein. Note that HMRC requires employers to implement PAYE based on tax codes assigned by local HMRC offices to the employee.
- See the Australian Tax Office's PAYG withholding web page for details and tools.
- See HMRC key information on interest. The withholding may be avoided by those whose income is below the tax-free allowance by filing Form R85 with the payee.
- See Irish Tax & Customs Deposit Interest Retention Tax.
- 26 USC 3406, Backup Withholding. Withholding applies to individuals who have not provided the payee a tax identification number or failed to certify that they are is subject to backup withholding or with respect to whom the IRS has notified the payee that backup withholding applies. The rate of withholding tax is the fourth lowest rate of tax for individuals.
- See, e.g., 26 USC 1441-1446, IRS Publication 515, CRA Publication T4061.
- For example, U.S. rules provide that rentals that rise to the level of a trade or business are not subject to withholding taxes, but other rental income may be subject to 30% withholding tax. An election may be available under 26 USC 871(d) or an applicable tax treaty.
- 26 USC 897 and 26 USC 1445. The lower rate of withholding is requested by filing IRS Form 8288-B by the sale closing date.
- The parent/subsidiary directive.
- Parent Subsidiary Directive, by Salvador Trinxet Llorca
- The interest and royalties directive.
- See for example 26 USC 3111; ATO Publication 71038, Super: What employers need to know. Some systems, for example, New South Wales, Australia levy a payroll tax independently of a social insurance system.
- See, for example, 26 USC 3102.
- These limits may vary by country and year. For 2009, the U.S. income limit on the retirement portion (6.2%) of social security tax was $106,800, versus $102,000 for 2008, and there was no limit on the medicare portion (1.45%) of the tax; see Publication 15, supra. Canadian wages subject to Canada Pension Plan were limited to $46,390 of the excess over $3,500 for 2009, at a tax rate of 4.95%; see Publication T4001, supra. UK National Insurance contributions are due for earnings above the Earnings Threshold (£110 weekly) up to a limit that varies depending on other coverage.
- The U.S. requires remittance electronically within no later than the following business day when the balance of unremitted amounts exceeds $100,000, and other thresholds apply; see IRS Publication 15, supra, p. 23. Canada requires remittance within three business days of the end of the quarter-monthly period in which withholding occurs for Threshold 2 remitters; see CRA Publication T-4001, supra., p. 3.
- Penalties of up to 100% may be assessed against a withholding agent under 26 USC 6672 for intentional failure to withhold and remit. The penalty may be assessed against any person, including a corporate officer or employee, having custody or control of the funds.
- See IRS and CRA publications, supra.
- See, for example, IRS Form W-2 and CRA Form T4 with respect to employees, and IRS Form 1042 and CRA Form NR4 with respect to payments to foreign persons.