Let’s assume you’re not a high-powered tax lawyer, nor a top-flight accountant who specializes in tax matters, large and small. Let’s assume you don’t get a thrill comparing marginal corporate tax rates and tax exemptions across developed and developing economies, looking for a suitable location for your client’s plant expansion. Let’s just say you want to know how much basically is left over from your paycheck, after the government takes its share. And you also want to know where folks are hiring, which in fact does have to do with marginal corporate tax rates. But let’s keep this simple. 

 

How do Canada’s tax rates compare with the rest of the developed world?

Revenue Canada sign By Xtabi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Revenue Canada Sign by Xtabi / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

To answer this question, we looked at suitable OECD economies; which groups together the developed economies of the world, from the US and Japan to South Korea which joined a decade or two ago, to more recent entries like Chile and Mexico. This makes sense because comparing Canada’s tax rates to those, say, in Bhutan or Kazakhstan is really a case of apples and oranges, to say the least. So how do Canada’s tax rates compare with similar OECD countries? Let’s find out.

 

A Few Basics

You’ve probably heard about marginal and average tax rates. An average tax rate is the total amount of taxes paid divided by taxable income. A marginal rate means the rate of tax you pay on the last dollar you earned. Why does this matter? Because under a progressive tax system – most of the developed and developing world have some sort of progressive tax system nowadays – as your income goes up, you tend to pay a higher tax rate. That means a waiter pays a lower tax rate on his income, especially if he doesn’t declare most of his tips, than a busy subcontractor in construction, who himself pays a lower rate than that high-powered tax lawyer, because she earns triple, or more, than what the subcontractor does. Your marginal tax rate depends, therefore, on what tax bracket you’re in. And that depends on how much income you earn. Tax systems can be incredibly complex with lots of tax brackets, but even worse, with all sorts of targeted exemptions. Things like interest and dividend income are treated differently, and all sorts of groups, like working families with kids, are given benefits within the tax system. It’s the government’s way of trying to micromanage the economy to produce whatever result they may be looking for. That usually means getting re-elected of course, by taking from some and giving to others. If you’re a libertarian who wants as little of the government in your life as possible, taxes are a frustrating and never ending facet of post-modern life. But this is not a guide on how to avoid taxes through clever use of exemptions and loopholes. This is just a review to help you see how Canada compares both in terms of income taxes – how much you keep, and corporate taxes – how much companies get to keep and hopefully reinvest and create new jobs.

 

Who Charges How Much Tax?

The following table compares income and corporate taxes across 14 OECD countries – based on OECD data from 2013 and 2014. We also include VAT or Sales taxes (but only at the national level, some regions in these countries have their own sales taxes, such as Canada and the United States). We’ve included Canada, of course, and the US from North America, Korea and Japan from Asia, Australia and New Zealand from the southern hemisphere with Chile representing both Latin America and the southern hemisphere,  with France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Sweden and Spain representing Europe.

country marginal income tax rate 1 marginal income tax rate 2 top marginal income tax rate¹ combined corporate tax rate vat
Australia 0% to $18,200 19% to $37,000 46.5% 30% 10%
Canada 15% to $42,707² 22% to $85,414 49.5% 26.3% 5%
Chile 5% to US$26,300³ 10% to US$43,800 39.5% 20% 19%
France 0% to €5,963 5.5% to €11,896 54.9% 34.4% 20%
Germany 0% to €8,130 14% to €250,730 47.5% 30.2% 9%
Ireland 20% to €32,800 41% for all income over €32,800 52% 12.5% 23%
Italy 23% to €15,000 27% to €28,000 47.3% 27.5% 22%
Japan 5% to US$18,000 10% to US$30,000 51.1% 37% 5%
Korea 6% to US$11,500 15% to US$43,500 41.9% 24.2% 10%
New Zealand 10.5% to $14,000 17.5% to $48,000 33% 28% 15%
Spain 12.75% to €17,707 16% to €33,007 52% 30% 21%
Sweden 0% to US$60,000 20% to US$84,000 56.7% 22% 25%
UK 20% to £32,010 40% to £150,000 47% 21% 20%
USA 10% to $8,925 15% to 36,250 47.7% 39.1% 0%

¹Includes social security contributions by employees.

²Canada has a tax credit of 1,623.30 which means the first approximately CAD$11,000 are tax free.

³In Chile’s case, as well as with Japan, Korea & Sweden, we converted to US dollars using an average exchange rate for 2014. All other countries are expressed in their national currencies or Euros. Chile also has a tax allowance of US$11,500 approximately.

Ireland, like Canada, has a tax credit of €1,650 meaning the first 10,000 plus Euros of income are tax free.

Italy also has a tax credit of €1,840 which means incomes of well over 10,000 Euros are tax free.

Spain has a personal allowance (exemption) of €5,151 and a tax credit of €400.

Sweden has a personal allowance (exemption) of US$2,000 approximately.

The UK has a personal allowance of £9,440.

The USA has a personal allowance (exemption) of $6,100

Sources: OECD personal income tax rates. OECD top marginal tax rates for employees. OECD corporate & value added taxes

One can make a few observations from our table. Overall, Canada compares quite favorably with most of the other countries. 

  • New Zealand, for example, might have a lower top marginal tax rate, but Canada edges it out in all other tax categories.
  • Australia does compare very favorably, especially for lower income earners, but its corporate and sales taxes are slightly higher.
  • Chile has a very reasonable tax structure, aside from a sales tax of 19% and the fact it is a small, Spanish-speaking economy.
  • The European countries come in pretty much as expected, fairly high tax rates, but Germany’s tax system is a bit of a pleasant surprise. Ireland is wonderful for corporate taxes but fairly harsh on individual wage-earners. The UK has higher taxes than one might expect from a Tory government, but there is a generous personal allowance for lower income earners.
  • Japan, and especially Korea, have pretty favorable tax regimes compared to Europe, but not as low-tax as Australia or Canada.
  • And then there’s the USA. It’s hardly a surprise that in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and the great recession, taxes are surprisingly, even shockingly, high. But that’s hardly news; the media in the USA, conservative and otherwise, have been hammering home how overtaxed Americans are. And they’re right. 

All in all, Canada has a very competitive tax system that only Australia, and arguably New Zealand and perhaps Chile, can compare with. And when it comes to attracting talented workers from around the globe, that doesn’t hurt.

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