The wealth tax was one of the key highlights in Budget 2022. But how does the wealth tax work in Singapore, and who will be affected?
Leading into Budget 2022, the talk of the town has mostly revolved around the impending GST hike. However, another hot topic that has been making rounds is the wealth tax.
In fact, during a parliamentary debate in November 2021, Workers’ Party MP Jamus Lim had proposed a wealth tax of 0.5% to 2% based on the net worth of an individual.
And, in his Budget 2022 speech, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong all but confirmed that Singapore will implement a wealth tax. However, as a wealth tax comes with complex challenges, the government will instead be adjusting the wealth tax based on the current tax system: i.e. property tax and additional levy on luxury cars.
What is a wealth tax anyway?
In the broadest term, a wealth tax is a levy based on the sum of one's total net worth (total assets minus total liabilities/debts) in a year.
Unlike income tax, which is based on your income level, you pay a wealth tax based on your net value assets. This includes property, businesses, cars, investments, stocks, jewellery, artworks, cryptocurrencies, and others. In other words, you’ll be taxed higher if your net worth increases, and lower if your net worth falls.
The wealth tax is designed to tax the rich to narrow the wealth gap while increasing government revenue.
However, as mentioned above, implementing such a tax comes with complex challenges. Instead, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong has said that the government will be raising personal income tax, luxury car tax, and property tax for high-end properties. In other words, high-income earners, or those who own bigger or more expensive properties and cars will pay more in taxes.
Why does Singapore need a wealth tax?
One of the main reasons for introducing a wealth tax is to address the widening wealth gap in Singapore, a problem that has exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the incomes and livelihoods of many have been affected, reports have shown that the wealthy — particularly the ultra high net worth individuals (UHNWI) — have become wealthier. In fact, according to a Knight Frank report, the number of UHNWI in Singapore rose by 10.2% in 2021.
Furthermore, the pandemic has also strained our economy significantly, forcing the government to draw out S$53.7 billion from our reserves for two straight years to support the economy.
On top of coping with COVID-19 costs, the government also needs additional funds to support other long-term costs such as:
- Replenishing depreciating infrastructure
- Healthcare expenditures for an ageing population
- Investments in upskilling workers
So the additional public funds have to come from taxes.
However, the government has been raising taxes on properties and motor vehicles over the years. What’s more, we’re already paying income tax, GST (which will increase in 2023), COE, and stamp duties (which have also increased in the latest 2021 cooling measures), so further tax hikes would be extremely unwelcomed.
Therefore, taxing the rich for revenue seems like a rational and ‘fair’ policy, as they’re the least likely to feel the pinch. That being said, a wealth tax comes with several cons.
What are the cons of a wealth tax?
While taxing the rich may be an acceptable method to reduce income inequality and increase tax revenue, it may not be the best solution.
For starters, taxing the rich could propel wealthy taxpayers to migrate or move their assets overseas. This would result in a loss of tax revenue, which in turn will hamper economic growth, and reduce investments and savings in the country.
Case in point: France decided to abolish its wealth tax in 2018 after years of repeated tax revenue loss as a result of a mass exodus of its richest people between 2000 and 2016. In fact, most countries that had imposed a wealth tax have abolished them because the revenue collection was poor and unsustainable, among other things.
Administrating net value assets is also a nightmare for items such as jewellery and artwork as there isn’t an objective method to compute their value. Furthermore, these assets may change in value over time, making valuation even more difficult.
Another concern is that imposing a wealth tax would further encourage the wealthy to invest in assets that are not easily disclosable to avoid paying tax. For instance, they may move their assets from one location to another, open an offshore account, or invest in digital assets such as bitcoins which have limited government regulation.
Lastly, a wealth tax would be hard on those who are asset-rich but cash-poor. For example, someone who has a low income but owns a high-value asset such as property may have trouble coming up with the funds to pay a wealth tax.
How will the new property tax affect me?
Following Budget 2022, the 'wealth tax' in Singapore will be based on existing taxing systems, including increased property tax rates for high-end properties.
The property tax rates for residential properties will be raised in two phases starting from 2023.
Firstly, the tax rates for owner-occupied properties with an Annual Value (AV) of more than S$30,000 will increase from 4% to 16% currently, to 6% to 32% in 2023, and 6% to 32% in 2024.
Similarly, property taxes for non-owner-occupied properties, including investment properties, will be raised to 11% to 27% in 2023, from the current 10% to 20%. In 2024, the tax rate will be 12% to 36%. This means that owners of properties with higher AVs will be taxed more.
The good news is that if you’re an owner-occupier who currently lives in a HDB flat, or if you live in a condo or landed property with an AV of S$30,000 or less, you won’t be affected. (According to the Ministry of Finance (MOF), that’s 93% of owner-occupiers.)
Here are the latest owner-occupier tax rates, according to IRAS.
|AV||Effect 1 Jan 2015||Amount payable|
So according to the current tax rates, if you’re an owner-occupier with an AV of S$50,000, here’s how much you need to pay, based on the latest tax rate of 4%:
S$50,000 X 4% = S$1,800
However, the adjusted tax rate from 2023 onwards will be as follows.
|AV||Effective 1 Jan 2023||Property Tax Payable|
So, if your property has an AV of S$50,000, based on the revised tax rate from 2023, you will need to pay:
S$50,000 X 7% = S$3,500
This means that you would have to pay S$1,700 more.
If you’re buying a luxury vehicle
Aside from the increase in property tax, there will be a new tier for the additional registration fee (ARF) introduced for luxury cars that have an open market value (OMV) of S$80,000 and above. These will be charged with 220% tax based on their OMV.
For example, a Ferrari Roma, which has an OMV of around S$311,000 currently, will see an increase of 17.4% to $624,200, from $531,800 previously.
The new tax will apply to all new cars registered with certificate of entitlement (COE) obtained from the second COE bidding round on 23 February 2022.
If you’re a high-income earner
Lastly, high-income earners will also have to pay higher personal income tax, with effect from the year of assessment 2024 (from 1 January 2022 to 31 December 2023).
If you’re earning S$500,000 to S$1 million annually, you will be taxed at 23%, while those earning S$1 million and above will be taxed at 24%. This is up from the current tax rate of 22% for high-income earners earning S$320,000 and above.
So for example, if you’re earning S$500,000 a year, based on the current tax of 22%, you’ll need to pay:
S$500,000 X 22% = S$84,150
However, with the new revised income tax rates, here’s how much you need to pay instead:
S$500,000 X 23% = S$115,000
Good news if you’re earning S$320,000 to S$500,000 in a year — there won’t be any changes to your tax rate and you’ll still be taxed at 22%.
While the new tax rates may seem scary, they won’t affect you unless you’re a high-income earner, own an expensive property, or intend to buy a luxury car. In large, most of the population will be unaffected.
Read these next:
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Singapore Budget 2022: 4 Small Sacrifices You Can Make To Defray The Upcoming GST Hike
Singapore Budget 2022: 6 Ways It Will Impact You