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Happy returns? Filling out your tax form – Part 1

16:47 10/06/2013
It’s that time of year again. The dreaded big brown envelope is staring at you from the mantelpiece, daring you to get it over and done with. Tax season is a time which releases the inner procrastinator in us. Of course, filing a tax return takes time and concentration. The first time, if you have earnings and own house, it can take some three to five hours. Once you’re used to it you can get the job done in about one to two hours. For most of us, filing a tax return should not be complicated. It is just a question of copying the numbers from one piece of paper onto another one. And often the taxman already has the information you provide him with, as you will discover if you file online. If you are new to filing a Belgian tax return, what do you need to know?

If you had an income in 2012, you have to declare that income in your 2013 tax return. You should have received a tax return form in April or May; if you have not received your tax forms by the end of May, you should contact your tax office and let them know.

You do not have to calculate the tax yourself and you do not send a cheque to pay for the tax.  Most of the tax has been deducted from your income during the year.  If you need to pay tax, the taxman will send you the tax assessment, i.e. the bill demanding payment, in the first half of 2014 with an invitation to pay within two months.

You can file your tax return on paper or online.

On paper

If you file your tax return on paper, it must be filed by Wednesday, June 26. That means the tax return must be at the scanning centre on June 26; do not leave it to the last minute. Putting the tax return in the mail on the 25th will be too late.

Furthermore, you will get the feeling that everything is done to discourage you from doing so; it is daunting. The tax return looks most very much like a pink lottery ticket. And just like with the lottery, you can easily get it wrong.

You need to work out what income goes with which code and then copy the codes and the information into the tax return form. To help you complete the tax return, you receive a guide with takes you through the different options and which makes it easier to put the right number next to the right code.

By default, you receive the guide for Part 1. But there is also a Part 2. Generally speaking, Part 2 is for people who use an accountant to file their tax returns: company directors, partners in a partnership, freelancers, or self-employed professionals, and if you have investment income.  If you need Part 2, you need to contact your tax office to receive it. However, you may not need it, as there is one single tax return; besides you can find a copy on internet.

The guide is basically the old tax return form that has been used for decades and is being updated every year.  It groups all sorts of income and deductions to make it easier and, if you need assistance, there is a booklet explaining what sort of income is declared where and what the conditions are for a tax deduction. Then it is just a question of copying codes and numbers.

A few suggestions: use a black or dark blue pen, write within the blocks, in capitals or clear digits. Do not write in unnecessary mentions or ‘nil’. Do not strike out, but use correction fluid. If you have to give more information, you need to write it by hand, and the scanners have difficulties with handwriting. I would suggest that you attach a printed page with the information so that your additional information is on file immediately.

Finally do not forget to date and sign the tax return; both spouses must sign.  You do not need to file all the justification documents, but you must keep them at home until the taxman asks for them.

The Belgian tax authorities have been scanning tax returns for some seven or eight years now and they have overcome the initial bugs. Still, you need to check that the numbers on the bill correspond to the information in your tax return.  If that is not the case, contact your tax office to see if they are willing to rectify the figures. If not, you have to file an appeal with the directorate.


If you file your tax return online via “tax-on-web”, you have an additional three weeks until July 17, but, again, do not leave it to the last minute like everyone else. "Tax-on-web” does get overloaded.  Note that if your accountant or tax adviser files the tax return, he or she has until October 16 to do so.

Tax-on-web is not something you do lightly or in a hurry. You need your electronic ID-card, an ID-reader and your secret PIN code. If you do not have these, you need to register with the Ministry of Finance to identify yourself on Tax-on-web. You will need some identification: your national register number (on your SIS card and on the back of your ID card) and the number of your ID card. You will be asked to choose a username and password and by way of confirmation you receive an email with a link. You then you have 30 days to confirm by clicking on that link. About ten days later your ‘token’, as they call it, arrives by mail. That is a set of 24 personalised codes with names like GESARU or BISOCU.  When you log on to Tax-on-web, or when you sign, you will be asked to identify you with, say, code 13 (just an example).

When you open your own Taxbox, what you see looks like the guide for filing that comes with your paper your tax return. On each page you can click for online help, add a comment or append PDF-files. The help files do not offer much more than the explanatory booklet. And when the tax authorities have the information, those boxes will be filled out. That is the case for the identity of your dependent children, the cadastral income of your house, your salary and the wage withholding tax or your service cheques…

What is appealing about Tax-on-web is that you can do it from any computer at any time and you can stop, save and continue when you want. You can take your time filling out your tax return at your own pace. Just remember to save the interim versions. This may be useful if you need to double check something. If you make a mistake, the Taxbox will point it out. Not all mistakes are errors, however, and it can be frustrating if you can’t move on. 

Another advantage of tax-on-web is that you don’t need to file all the justification documents that you normally file with your return. You can scan them and send them as a PDF file, but you can just as well keep them at home until the taxman asks for them.

Before you send off the information, you can calculate how much tax you will have to pay. It is a rough estimate because it does not take into account complicated issues like cross border workers, overseas income, etc. If you filed your tax return on Tax-on-web last year, you will find last year’s tax return in a PDF format.

Finally, you need to sign the electronic tax return. Spouses and partners who file a joint tax return must log on and sign separately with their own access codes or electronic ID-card. Once you have signed your tax return, you receive a confirmation of the date of filing. I would suggest you print it or save a copy. You can always check the summary of your tax return in your Taxbox. It is not a bad idea to save a copy as well.  If you file online, don’t send a copy of the confirmation or the PDF summary. 

Once the tax return it is filed, you can still correct your tax return online until July 17. If you need to change anything after that date, you need to contact your local tax office. 

Marc Quaghebeur is a lawyer and partner at De Broeck, Van Laere & Partners

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Written by Marc Quaghebeur