Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Are Spanish self employed / autonomos overtaxed?

As a British accountant operating in Spain I sometimes feel the need to defend the Spanish tax system against accusations of (a) unfairness and (b) expensiveness.

At times that is a bit like trying to defend a war criminal or the English back four's performance in that World Cup defeat to Germany - because it is indefensible. Mostly though it is the Social Security system that is the real villain not income tax. There are two main problems with social security in Spain:

autonomos (Spanish self-employed) have to pay a minimum of 250€ before they can legally operate and this does not go down even if they earn a big fat €0 during any given period. A big disincentive that I have talked about before on this blog (Spain won't recover without encouraging its autonomos). But there is at least some leeway - see this article lower rates of Spanish social security in our Autonomo guide.

Also employers have to pay a whopping 30% or so in NI contributions making it ludicrously expensive and risky to hire anybody.

At least you get something for social security - health and pension rights. But what about Spanish income tax? When self-employed clients or small businesses start rolling their eyes at all the tax they must pay on top of those nasty social security contributions, I have to remind them of a few points:

- the contributions themselves are set against the self-employed's taxable income (thus reducing the effective cost of social security by up to 43%)
- the UK's top rate is now higher than Spain's (50% vs 43%)
- Spain's allowances are more generous (see Spanish tax rates)
- there is more scope to create tax efficiencies in Spain. Say no more.

Part of the resentment about autonomo tax comes from a misunderstanding of retenciones and the quarterly income tax that the self-employed have to pay. Without going into all the details, besides social security, autonomos must pay income tax every quarter and (sometimes) suffer a sort of PAYE on their invoices, where the customer deducts up to 15% and pays it to the tax office. But both of these types of tax are kinds of advanced income tax and the autonomo gets credit for them when they do their tax returns. Retenciones are offset against the quarterly tax bill and that in turn is credited against any tax payable when the annual Renta tax return is due. Quite often this can mean a tax rebate to the self-employed taxpayer.

That's enough defending the taxman. I can't keep it up for long.

1 comment:

  1. Hello I have a question perhaps you can answer.

    what do i do if I am employed by a Gibrlatar company but will be working 90% in spain and still will be a resident in Spain?

    I am assuming i still need to pay both my social security in Spain and income tax? (dec renta)? at the end of the year.

    how will the Spanish social security be dealt with? eg shall i register as atonomo in spain for that?

    it seems so complicated its insane?


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