Saturday, 16 November 2013

Talking to the taxman

Spent most of yesterday going back and forth getting documents for the tax office. At work the other day, I had to fill in some forms about tax, and among the documents they had asked for was something about mortgage rebates. I'd got a postcard from the bank a few days earlier showing how much I'd borrowed and how much I still owed, with the words shomeisho, beloved of bean counters, at the top. When I showed the postcard to the kind and long-suffering lady who deals with these things, she asked where the other form was. The one the tax office should have sent me.

When it comes to tax I'm deeply ambivalent. Not only in the literal sense of the word: that I have both a strong feeling that tax should be paid and a strong preference not to pay it myself. In the more widely used sense of the word, I really don't want to have to worry about it. I don't want to spend my time thinking about ways to avoid or reduce it, and I don't want to spend hours digging through documents and filling out forms. Take a slice of my money and I don't mind--it's just little bits of paper and bits of metal. But please don't take away my precious time.

Especially when it's a rainy day in November.

On my first visit to the tax office, I innocently asked whether they had my form, and it transpired that I had not applied for tax relief on my mortgage. On this journey I had taken as many documents as I thought I'd need. I had not brought enough. A kind young man gave me an envelope with a long list of items to check.

I went back home again, picked up what extra documents I could, and then some, and prepared myself for a journey to the city hall for a document proving my residence, then back to the tax office, with an option of having to go up the hill to the local legal affairs bureau in case the deeds I had to my house were not good enough. Often documents will only be accepted if they have been issued within three months.

When I got back to the tax office, another man began to process my papers. There was a bit of discussion about when exactly we moved in. They will give ten years of tax relief, so this becomes an important issue. We actually moved in on 22nd December, 2012, so our tax relief began in that year, and we received tax relief for the remaining week of it, even though our loan didn't start until 10th January 2014, so the tax relief was zero. I had some memory of deciding our official moving date, and wondered whether I had registered the actual change of address in January 2014. It turns out I'd registered our move in December. There may have been a good reason for doing this, but it was probably just my determination that I wanted to move within that year. In the event, it cost a year of tax relief.

Also he asked where the deeds for the land were. It turns out that if you buy land, then build on it within two years, your loan on the land is also eligible for tax rebate. We bought the land in November, 2010, two years and one month before we moved in. This is another cost of our delayed building.

He also asked about Eco points. Yes, we did get Eco points, and no, I don't have the documents for them, I have a huge drawer full of documents pertaining to the house and cannot bring all of them. I probably should put all the documents relating to money together. Anyway, I had to go back home again and get the document showing how many Eco points there were. I pointed out that we didn't actually get the Eco points, but they all went to the builders. He wanted some proof for this too.  

He kindly suggested I could come back Monday, but no, I have work on Monday, so I'd be back later. 

He also asked me to bring my bank book. This was a good sign since it meant they were likely to be paying me something!

A couple of hours later, he'd put all the data in, and was talking me through the printed-out form showing how everything was calculated. The lower amount of the cost of the house and the remaining unpaid loan was used for the rebate calculation, so in the end the eco points didn't make any difference. 

Filing returns is not compulsory in Japan, except for earnings over 200,000 yen. Ambivalence is fine as long as you know you're not breaking the law. I have had an issue with some money I get for translation work for the city's art gallery. This is less than I need to declare for my income tax, so for the past couple of years I haven't declared and have been leaving my tax returns to the place I work. The last time I did file, the difference was only a thousand yen, which didn't seem worth the hours I had put in. But the city notices that the amount they paid me is not on my income tax, which they base city tax on, and insist that I declare it to them.  

So, in the process of filing my tax returns, the translation work went back in, along with an estimate of the expenses to earn that. I think that put me into a higher tax bracket. Anyway, as he was going through each step of the calculation, I was beginning to wonder whether the punch-line would be that the tax I had already paid was almost the same as what I should pay, and they would be paying the difference of 53 yen. 

In fact, I will get about 200,000 yen back, which should be arriving in my bank soon, so the day was not completely wasted. That was for last year, and a similar amount may come back for this year, and will not be taken out of my salary each month for the next seven years. Not bad for a day's work, and at the same time how terrible to think of it in those terms.