Thursday, February 26, 2009

Abolishing Corporation Tax Makes More Sense

Apparently momentum is growing to abolish Australia's system of dividend imputation. In Australia companies pass on tax credits attached to their dividends to their Australian shareholders for Australian tax paid. As the corporation tax rate is 30% (note for Americans - much lower than US rates and we're worried it's too high!) a taxpayer in the 30% marginal tax bracket pays no tax on the dividend. Taxpayers in higher brackets pay 10 or 15% and taxpayers in lower brackets get a refund. Superannuation funds pay zero tax on these dividends instead of their 15% for ordinary income. If you claim expenses for holding your shares (like margin interest) you lower your effective tax rate further and boost your refund. Last year I got a nice refund due to this strategy.

Imputation is meant to avoid double taxation of dividends (the US has introduced "qualified dividends" with the same aim). The arguments against it in the article are valid. Another argument is that imputation discriminates against reinvestment in the business (or favors borrowing to invest) because credits can only be attached to dividends paid out. Australian taxpayers will favor dividends over capital gains.

Of course I would personally be disappointed by the elimination of imputation. I'd cut our allocation to Australian shares and boost our allocation to foreign shares dramatically as a result. I'm not sure that the comments in the article about this move boosting the Australian stock market are valid as most Australian shareholders would do likewise (while foreign investors would increase their allocation to Australia).

It'd make a lot more sense in my opinion to abolish corporation tax and simply tax dividends and capital gains equally in the hands of recipients. This includes foreign investors. Foreign investors currently face withholding taxes on dividends that don't have attached credits but not on so-called "franked dividends" and no tax on capital gains (though of course they may be taxed in their own country).

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