It’s called “the art of deduction” and it is making sure multi-millionaires pay less tax than ordinary wage earners.
Research by the Australia Institute released today shows some Australian earners pay more than $170,000 a year on tax advice, and that it is a lucrative investment.
The research says that in 2011-2012, 75 individuals who earned more than $1 million in pre-tax, gross income paid no tax.
They had deployed deductions so large their taxable income was reduced to below the tax-free threshold.
And among the deductions were claims for excess franking credits, a so-called tax refund the ALP wants to eliminate.
Also among their deductions was the bill for getting someone to manage their tax affairs. Labor wants to cap such deductions at $3000.
They spent around $174,201 on this management, and the research says this was managing 23 times more than fellow wealth earners whose taxable income stayed above $1 million.
The research figures make clear most of us might spend at most a few hundred dollars on advice and end up paying more tax than the very well off who exploit what the Australia Institute calls “unfair loopholes”.
“What these taxation statistics show us is that most people who pay for help managing their tax affairs spend a few hundred dollars, but there is a very small minority who are spending considerable sums of money to manage their tax affairs,” says Matt Grudnoff, senior economist at the Australia Institute.
“These people are more likely to have large gross incomes and some of them have been very successful in reducing the amount of tax they pay.
“When these unfair tax loopholes, such as refunding excess franking credits are rorted by wealthy individuals they should be closed as soon as possible.
“Doing so will not only make the taxation system fairer and more progressive, it will also discourage the largely unproductive industry focusing on finding and using complex tax loopholes.”
The AI uses the findings to brand the tax advice industry as “problematic not only because it undermines our progressive income tax system, but also because it is highly inefficient”.
“Money spent avoiding tax could be more productively spent elsewhere and some of our brightest people spend their energies on unproductive work when they could be producing more socially desirable goods and services,” say the findings.
The research found those with both a gross and taxable income over $1 million spent on average $7,476 on managing their tax affairs.
Those with a gross income over $1 million but had reduced their taxable income to under $1 million spent $26,124.
Those with a gross income over $1 million but enough deductions to
reduce their taxable income below the tax-free threshold and paid zero tax, paid $174,201 on managing their tax affairs.
This is 23 times more than those whose taxable income stayed above $1 million.
— Malcolm Farr is news.com.au’s national political editor. Continue the conversation @farrm51