It is Tax Filing Season in Singapore once again. From now till 15th April 2016 (18th April if you are e-filing), individuals are required to file their income tax so that the taxman determines what share of your 2015 earnings it is entitled to.
For many it is a simple enough process, easily accomplished during the half time of a soccer match. For others, it is painful because of the complexity. Yet many others (myself included) go through the motion year in year out without giving it much thought.
So here is an attempt to deconstruct the process.
- Who Pays Income Tax
Anyone who receives more than $20000 in taxable income for the year 2015 is required to pay Income Tax. According to IRAS, the rates are progressive and high income earners are taxed more as a proportion of their income. The actual rates are as follows.
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Based on the table, an individual with $30k of chargable income will pay $200 (0.67%), while someone earning $1 million will have to stump up $178 350 (17.8%) for IRAS. Sounds about fair.
2. NFS. AIS. NOA. What are they in plain English?
First of all, it helps to understand how the process works.
IRAS needs to determine how much money we have made in 2015 so as to send us an income tax bill. The ‘filing’ of tax returns is essentially us telling IRAS how much we have made and what kind of rebates we qualify for. After this information is made known to them, they will then send us a tax bill before September. This tax bill will be our Notice of Assessment (NOA).
Rather than have individuals telling IRAS how much we have made, IRAS has gone to the employers direct and have them provide salary information. Participation in the Auto Inclusion Scheme (AIS) is compulsory for companies with more than 10 employees. If your employer is under the AIS (search here if you are unsure), you do not need to provide your income figures. IRAS already knows how much you earn.
And because IRAS knows exactly how much you earn, and they also know from your past records that you do not have other sources of income, they have gone one step further and initiated the No-Filing Service (NFS). There is no action required on your part if you have been selected to be part of the NFS. You would have received either a mail or an SMS informing you of that.
3. To File or Not to File, that’s the Question?
If you have received notification asking you to file, you have to file. This is regardless of whether you have received income in the previous year or if your employer is part of the AIS. IRAS just wants to hear from you I guess.
If you have received notification asking you not to file, you do not have to file.
If you are in doubt, log in to have a look see.
4. What about Tax Relief? What am I entitled to?
Not every single cent of your income is taxable. There is an entire range of tax reliefs available for the taxpayer to reduce his or her taxable income.
The one most applicable to all is CPF contributions. For every dollar one earns, 20 cents goes into our CPF account
which most people will never see again due to the increasing minimum sum which will provide for our retirement. CPF contributions are non taxable. The amount you contribute to your CPF will be excluded from your income by IRAS.
For myself, I am also entitled to tax rebates on my two kids. In total, they bring down my taxable income by $8000.
Other reliefs worth mentioning include the Life Insurance Relief, where the amount spent on life insurance premiums entitles you to a deduction and also the CPF Cash Top Up Relief which operates similarly.
For someone whose taxable income is $80k a year, he would be paying $3350 in tax. Assuming he does a CPF cash top up of $7000 which is the maximum permissible, he would have reduced his taxable income down to $73k, bringing his tax bill down to $2860 for a savings of $490. For many, this is a good way to ‘reallocate assets’ and save on tax.
For individuals who are required to file, it is important to include the correct reliefs in your tax returns. For those who are not required to file their returns, you are required to inform IRAS of any discrepancies upon receipt of your NOA.
5. I hear of donations being tax deductible. How do I make use of that to reduce my tax bill?
Every dollar you donate to a registered charity (also known as IPC, Institute of Public Character) reduces your taxable income by 250%. In the spirit of SG50, all donations from 2015 to 2018 will register a 300% tax deduction.
(Edit: Reader WR has kindly pointed out that only donations for 2015 will register a 300% tax deduction. From 2016 onwards, it falls back to 250%)
In other words, if you were to make $3000 in donations this year, your taxable income will reduce by $9000. If your taxable income is more than $320k and you fall into the highest bracket, this $9000 reduction will see you paying $1800 (20% of $9000) less to the taxman. Hence, your ‘outlay’ on the $3000 donation is effectively only $1200.
For the vast majority of salaried employees who fall under the more ‘normal’ tax brackets, the savings will be lesser. It is possible to drop a bracket via donations, but because of our progressive tax structure, it is impossible for the savings to exceed the actual donation amounts.
6. Capital Gains, Dividends and Rental Income. Are they taxable?
There is no Capital Gains Tax in Singapore. Retail investors do not need to declare profits from the sale of shares. Neither do they need to do so for properties (small caveat, unless the taxman labels you as a property trader).
Dividends are handouts by companies that report profits from their operations. In computing their profits, companies would have taken into account their revenue, expenses and tax payable. Hence, dividend are derived after tax considerations and are deemed to have been taxed at source.
There is no requirement for retail investors to declare dividends received in filing their tax returns.
Rental income is taxable and it is the responsibility of the owner to accurately declare. If you are a property owner deriving rental income from your property, there is a range of expenses that will qualify for rebates as well. It pays to review them and ensure that they do not go to waste.
For years I have not given much thought to income tax issues. I used to see it as a chore. (I still do actually).
But in preparing for this article, I have spent some time reviewing the IRAS website and reading recommendations. I come to the conclusion that taxes (and all the other aspects of personal finance and investing) is one’s own responsibility and that no one would or should care for your money issues more than yourself.
The points which I felt were useful and I wished someone had told me before, I have raised them in this article. If there is anything else you feel is important, do give me a shout out.