Finance:Withholding tax

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A withholding tax, or a retention tax, is an income tax to be paid to the government by the payer of the income rather than by the recipient of the income. The tax is thus withheld or deducted from the income due to the recipient. 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, when the withholding is made in advance. 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. Such withholding is known as final withholding.

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, rather than risk the possibility that the tax-payer might default at the time when tax falls due in arrears.

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.

Income taxes

Wage withholding

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.,[1] Canada,[2] and others, the federal and most state or provincial 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.[3] Generally, the tax authorities publish guidelines for employers to use in determining the amount of income tax to withhold from wages.

The United Kingdom[4] and certain other jurisdictions operate a withholding tax system known as pay-as-you-earn (PAYE), although the term "withholding tax" is not commonly used in the UK. Unlike many other withholding tax systems, 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.

Australia operates a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) system, which is similar to PAYE. The system applies only at the federal level, as the individual states do not collect income taxes.[5]

Other domestic withholding

Some systems require that income taxes be withheld from certain payments other than wages made to domestic persons. Ireland requires withholding of tax on payments of interest on deposits by banks and building societies to individuals.[6] The U.S. requires payers of dividends, interest, and other "reportable payments" to individuals to withhold tax on such payments in certain circumstances.[7] Australia requires payers of interest, dividends and other payments to withhold an amount when the payee does not provide a tax file number or Australian Business Number to the payer. India enforces withholding tax also on payments between companies and not just from companies to individuals, under the Tax Deducted at Source (TDS) system. (Since April 2016, the United Kingdom has discontinued withholding tax on interest and dividends, though in some cases this income will become liable for taxation through other means).[8] Rwanda charges withholding tax on business payments unless the paying company obtains proof that the recipient is registered with the tax administration and that they have a recent income tax declaration.[9]

Social insurance taxes (social security)

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.[10] Some systems also require that employees pay such taxes.[11]

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.[12]

International withholding

Most countries require payers of interest, dividends and royalties to non-resident payees (generally, if a non-domestic postal address is in the payers records) withhold from such payment an amount at a specific rate.[13] Payments of rent may also be subject to withholding tax or may be taxed as business income.[14] 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.[citation needed] 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.[15] 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,[16] except in some cases,[17] interest on debt obligations, or royalties[18] received by a resident of another member nation.

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.

Remittance to tax authorities

Most withholding tax systems require withheld taxes to be remitted to tax authorities within specified time limits, which time limits may vary with the withheld amount. Remittance by electronic funds transfer may be required[19] or preferred.

Penalties for delay or failure to remit withheld taxes to tax authorities can be severe.[20] The sums withheld by a business is regarded as a debt to the tax authority, so that on bankruptcy of the business the tax authority stands as an unsecured creditor; however, sometimes the tax authority has legislative priority over other creditors.


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.[21] 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 also


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. See, e.g., IRS Form W-4.
  4. See HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) PAYE for employers: the basics
  5. See the Australian Tax Office's PAYG withholding web page for details and tools.
  6. See Irish Tax & Customs Deposit Interest Retention Tax.
  7. 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.
  8. Dividend Allowance factsheet HMRC, 17 August 2015
  9. "PwC Global Tax Summaries: Rwanda, Corporate – Withholding taxes". 26 July 2018. 
  10. 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.
  11. See, for example, 26 USC 3102.
  12. 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.
  13. See, e.g., 26 USC 1441–1446, IRS Publication 515, CRA Publication T4061.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. "EUR-Lex - 31990L0435 - EN". 
  17. Llorca, Salvador Trinxet. "Parent Subsidiary. Text and Cases.". 
  18. "L_2003157EN.01004901.xml". 
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. 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.

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