Exempt treatment of financial intermediation services under a value-added tax: an assessment of alternatives

Edgar, T. 2001, Exempt treatment of financial intermediation services under a value-added tax: an assessment of alternatives, Canadian tax journal, vol. 49, no. 5, pp. 1132-1219.

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Title Exempt treatment of financial intermediation services under a value-added tax: an assessment of alternatives
Author(s) Edgar, T.
Journal name Canadian tax journal
Volume number 49
Issue number 5
Start page 1132
End page 1219
Publisher Canadian Tax Foundation (L'Association Canadienne d'Etudes Fiscales)
Place of publication Toronto, ON
Publication date 2001
ISSN 0008-5111
Keyword(s) Consumption taxes
Financial institutions
Financial services
Summary Most countries with a value-added tax (VAT) exempt financial intermediation services from the tax. While exemption is generally perceived to be undesirable, it is also widely regarded as unavoidable because of technical difficulties in applying VAT to these services. This article reviews the standard rationale for exempt treatment and then considers the relative merits of two recent challenges raised in the tax literature. The first challenge involves the application of cash flow taxation to financial intermediation services in a manner that is consistent with an invoice/credit VAT (which is the dominant form). The second challenge proposes a comprehensive system of zero-rating of financial intermediation services, which is supported by a characterization of the household consumption of such services as non-taxable. The author argues that each of these alternatives to an exemption system suffers from both theoretical and practical implementation difficulties that make maintenance of exempt treatment the preferred approach, at least in the short term. There is, however, a simpler alternative to these fundamental reform options, involving modification of just one aspect of an exemption system to relieve some of its more problematic aspects. Many of the interpretative problems and associated inefficiencies that plague an exemption system arise from the need to distinguish between taxable and exempt financial services. The author argues that these difficulties can be eliminated, to a large extent, by basing the distinction on the form of prices. In support of this approach, he points out that it is consistent with the underlying reasons for the application of exempt treatment. The author considers a number of other possible modifications, but these are either rejected outright or viewed with a healthy skepticism. For example, the author is critical of the apparent rationale for the application of cash flow taxation to property and casualty insurers. He also rejects proposals that accept some looseness in the formulaic allocation by financial intermediaries of the costs of business inputs between exempt and taxable services for input credit purposes. In his view, an explicit reliance on pricing structures to draw the boundary between exempt and taxable services is preferable to the provision of relief for blocked input tax credits of financial intermediaries. Finally, the author is skeptical of the case for a policy response intended to address the tax bias under an exemption system for financial intermediaries to insource supplies.
Language eng
Field of Research 150107 Taxation Accounting
HERDC Research category C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal
Persistent URL http://hdl.handle.net/10536/DRO/DU:30001269

Document type: Journal Article
Collections: Faculty of Business and Law
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