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Belgian income tax returns for families
In Belgium, the tax return is a tax return for the whole family. Parents file jointly and declare their children’s income, unless they had a student job or receive maintenance.
Filing jointly or separately?
Spouses and registered partners (in Belgium they are called legal cohabitants / wettelijke samenwonenden) don’t get to choose whether they file jointly or separately. Couples who live together but have not registered their partnership file separate tax returns.
Filing jointly should not make a lot of difference; the tax is calculated for each separately on their own earnings and unearned income (rent, interest, dividend, etc). That is why the draft tax return has a different column and different codes for the income of each spouse or (registered) partner. The husband puts his information in the column on the left, the wife on the right. The codes are basically the same, starting with 1 for the husband and 2 for the wife or partner. Same sex partners or spouses use the left column for the older partner.
Income from investment income that is owned by both spouses must be split in two, that is the case for the cadastral revenue of property that is let out, for interest on joint bank accounts, etc.
The tax bill also has two columns, one for each spouse or partner; the income is added up for each, and each has his own personal allowance of €8,860 (for 2019), which results in a tax reduction of €2,215.
You do not pay more tax when you file jointly
The tax is calculated for each spouse or partner separately. In fact, when one spouse or partner isn't working, 30% of the other’s income is deducted, and taxed with the stay-at-home partner/spouse. That part is then taxed at a lower tax rate. This is called the "marital deduction", and it is limited to €10,940 (in 2019)
Even if the tax is calculated separately, the tax bill shows one figure as the tax due or the tax to be reimbursed. The reimbursement will go on the bank account stated in the tax return, and usually that is a joint account.
However, if tax is due, who has to pay that tax? You should be able to work out who has to pay how much tax because the tax is calculated in two separate columns. In case of doubt, you can always ask the taxman to tell you exactly how much tax each of you owes him. That makes it easier to settle accounts later with your ex.
And the children?
Children do not need to file an income tax return: if they have any income, it is added to, and taxed with, their parents’ income. If it is bank interest or dividends, the tax has normally been deducted by the bank, but if it is income on an overseas account, it has to be declared by the parents (see p. 23). A separate tax return must be filed for the children who receive maintenance or if they had a student job as follows.
The parents must not declare the maintenance they receive for their children on their tax return. Maintenance is income for the children. Nevertheless, a separate tax return must not be filed for the children if they are under 16, unless they receive more than €11,075 in maintenance. If the children receive more maintenance or if they are over 16, they must file a tax return of their own.
Students who have a job will normally not have to file a tax return. If they meet the conditions and have a valid student agreement (check student@work), the taxman knows how much they earned and he will send them a provisional tax calculation (see p. 5) but only if they earned more than €12,657.14. Not all remuneration is taxable: they are entitled to a 30% standard deduction and the first €8,860 is tax exempt.
The situation is different when the student also receives maintenance; 80% of the maintenance is taxable on top of the net remuneration from the student job. If they receive a simplified tax return, they have to correct that before 30 June and declare the maintenance. If they did not receive one, they have to file a tax return and declare the gross remuneration and the full maintenance.
Children who receive more than €3,330 in maintenance or personal financial means are not dependents any more. If they live with a single parent, the threshold is €4,810. The first €2,780 from a student job is disregarded, so that a student can earn up to €8,133.9 before she loses her status as a dependent (€9,984 for a single parent).
More from our 2020 income tax guide
- When do I need to file my Belgian income tax return?
- Online or on paper?
- Filing online
- Understanding the paper tax return
- Checklist: What documents do you need?
- The return in detail
- Belgian income tax: There's nowhere to hide
- A guide to cross-border taxation
- Belgian income tax returns for families
- Help! Where to get assistance with your tax return
- Understanding your Belgian income tax bill
- How do I appeal?
- This guide was written by Marc Quaghebeur, an international tax lawyer and partner at Cabinet DAVID. It is a general introduction based on current understanding of the law. It is not to be taken as a suitable alternative for individual advice.