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Taxing Times - Part one: Filling out your tax form
Who said there were only two things certain in life: death and taxes? Actually, there is a third one! One day in May or June, you will find that brown envelope in your letterbox. Tax season is back. If you are new to Belgium, that envelope holds your tax return. You will put it on the mantelpiece, it can wait … Don’t be fooled; that envelope releases the inner procrastinator in you and on the last day you will be chasing these little bits of paper.
For most, 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. The first time, things may be quite straightforward because you only have your salary to declare. And often the tax authorities already have the information you'll be reporting, as you will discover if you file online. However, once you are married, have a mortgage or pay your household help with “titres services”, filing a tax return takes time and concentration. It can take between three and five hours. But once you’re used to it, you can get the job done in about one to two.
What if you have not received a tax return?
If you have earned an income, or if you have had unearned income like interest or dividends, you probably need to report those in your 2015 tax return.
If you are new to filing a tax return in Belgium, know that you only have to declare the income. You do not have to calculate the tax yourself and you certainly do not need to attach a cheque to pay the tax. As you will have seen on your pay slip, your employer pays your salary net after social security and tax and usually, you do not have to pay more tax. If you have to pay tax, you will receive a bill in six to twelve months’ time (as will be discussed in part 4 of this series).
The taxman starts sending out the tax returns in April or May. If you have not received a tax return by the beginning of June, you should contact your local tax office and ask them to send you a form. If you have difficulties locating your tax office, check your commune's website or call them.
You can file your tax return online via tax-on-web. However, once you have been converted to filing online, the tax administration will not send you a tax return anymore.
When do you have to file?
If you file your tax return on paper, it must be filed by Tuesday, 30 June. That means the tax return must hit the letterbox of the tax office on June 30. Do not leave it to the last minute. Putting the tax return in the mail on the 25th may be too late.
If you file your tax return online, you have an additional two weeks until July 15, but, again, do not leave it to the last minute like everyone else. Tax-on-web tends to get overloaded ; you can get a forecast of the busy days here.
This is a short online guide to filing your tax return. If you need professional help, you can work with an accountant or a tax adviser. Not only do they have experience, they can also buy you time; they can file your tax return online until 29 October.
You should know that the tax authorities are also available to help. You can meet them in their office (the address is on your tax return) but they also set up shop on specific days in town halls and shopping centres. Be sure to take your tax return, your papers, pay slips, certificates for tax deductions (mortgages, life insurance, pension saving, donations, child care, maintenance pay, titres services, last year's tax bill, and the tax bill for the real estate tax (“précompte immobilier”). The tax authority representative certainly has a lot of experience, but he cannot give you more time; your tax return must still be filed before June 30 (on paper) or July 15 (online).
There is no shame in asking; about 1 million Belgians go and see the tax representative.
To file your first, second, third, etc. tax return
First, locate your fridge and put a nice bottle of white wine in it. You will have earned it when you are finished.
Now open that brown envelope; there is quite a lot of paper in it brown envelope. First, there is a booklet explaining the tax rules in a nutshell, then there is a “document préparatoire”, and finally there is the tax return. You cannot miss it, it is the pink document. In fact, it looks very much like one of those lotto forms. And just like with the Lotto, it is easy it get it wrong. Just seeing it is quite disheartening, with columns to fill. It is all a question of putting the right answer with the right code.
Now put that tax return back in the envelope and take the “document préparatoire”. That is a user-friendly guide to filling out the tax return. In fact, it used to be the tax return and it is now the template used in tax-on-web. You need to work out what income goes with which code and then you copy the codes and the information. We will go through it in some more detail in part 3.
When copying the codes on the tax return, a few suggestions: use a black or dark blue pen, write within the blocks, in capitals or in clear digits. Do not put in any unnecessary information or even ‘nil’. When you make a mistake, do not strike out, but use correction fluid. If you have to give more information, do not write it by hand, 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.
If you want to attach any documents justifying any deductions, you should attach it to the green page. It has your information and it is scanned with the attachments. However, you are not obliged to file these documents; you can keep them at home until the tax authorities ask for them.
Finally do not forget to date and sign the tax return; if you are married, both spouses must sign.
In part 2, we will look at filing online.
Marc Quaghebeur is a lawyer and partner at De Broeck, Van Laere & Partners
More information at www.taxation.be