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Taxes in Switzerland are quite complicated due to the multiple cantons. Each canton has its own rules and even its software to fill your taxes. Nevertheless, it is essential to know how the taxes work to be able to fill out your tax declaration.
I want to go over the details of how the Swiss Taxes work. We talk about the multiple levels of taxes in Switzerland. Also, we will cover how is your income taxed and how is your wealth taxed. We will also see what you can deduct from your income when you file your tax declaration and how to pay your taxes.
Of course, we cannot talk about taxes without optimizing taxes. That is probably the only reason people want to learn about taxes! In this article, I share all I know about optimizing taxes in Switzerland!
Stay tuned to learn all about the tax system of Switzerland and how to reduce your taxes!
Multiple levels of taxes
Switzerland is a federal republic. It means that each of its 26 cantons has some powers. In this particular case, it also means that each canton has a different way of collecting tax.
Depending on where you live, you will pay a different amount of taxes. Some of the deductions will also be different. And they all use various forms and different software to fill your taxes.
There are four levels of taxes in Switzerland:
- Federal Taxes: This tax is for the country itself.
- Canton Taxes: This tax is for the canton you are living in.
- Municipality Taxes: This tax is for the municipality you are living in.
- Church Taxes: This tax is for the church you are declared with. If you are not officially part of a Church, you will not pay these taxes.
All the taxes are collected and managed by each canton. Then, several different bills are issued based on the results of your tax declaration. It means the cantons are collaborating with the Swiss government and the municipalities.
For the Church Taxes, it will depend on your canton. In some cases, it is a percent of the amount of taxes you pay to the canton. In some cases, the municipality is responsible for collecting them.
In Switzerland, you will pay taxes on the income you get. For most people, this is the income from their salary. But then, all other sources of income must be added on top of the salary:
- Rental income
- Side Hustles
- Dividends from shares
The sum of your revenues gives you the gross income. Then, you can remove all the deductions from it, and it will provide you with taxable income. This taxable income is what matters in calculating your taxes. In most cantons, there is a scale of tax percentage based on yearly income.
You may have noticed that I did not mention capital gains. Indeed, Switzerland does not tax capital gains as income! They are taxed as wealth since your net worth will increase. But this is great since wealth tax is not very high. On the other hand, if you live from your investments, you will be considered a professional investor. And as such, your capital gains will be taxed as income.
For a married couple, the tax office will use the sum of both incomes. And there is a different scale for them.
For instance, in Fribourg, for a taxable income of 100’000 CHF, a single person will pay 10.825% of it. A couple with the same income would pay 8.20% of the taxable income.
Unlike other countries, you will also pay a tax on your net worth in Switzerland. That means that you will pay a certain percentage of your net worth as a fee to the government every single year!
Once again, this is not only your cash but the sum of your taxable wealth:
- Your savings and checkings accounts
- Your stocks and bonds
- Life Insurance Policies
- Real Estate
Your taxable wealth is the amount of these values. Sometimes, you can also deduct some things, mainly your mortgage.
Once again, this will depend on which canton you are living in. But most cantons use a scale with a different tax percentage based on your wealth level.
For instance, in Fribourg, for a wealth of 1.2 million CHF, you will pay 0.33% every year. In that case, it is 3960 CHF of taxes for your net worth. This amount is not negligible, especially if you intend to retire early. However, this is significantly lower than the income tax.
The Swiss Tax Service will directly withhold some of your income at a higher rate of tax than usual (35%):
- Interest on cash accounts
- Dividends from stocks and bonds
- Lottery gains
The tax office will directly withhold this at the source. You will only receive 65% of these incomes. However, if you declare in your tax declaration and the assets that generated it, the amount paid can be reclaimed. This reclaiming will go towards reducing the taxes that you need to pay. Therefore, it is imperative to declare these assets.
In some cases, you can also get back the taxes that you paid to other countries. The most common example is for taxes from the United States. Switzerland and the U.S. have a tax treaty. Because of that, you can reclaim the tax withholding on your dividends from U.S. companies.
You are allowed to deduct many things from your taxable income and wealth. These will reduce your taxes. But they are not ways to optimize your taxes since you cannot act on them. But you should not forget to declare them to deduct them!
There are also some automatic deductions in most cases. For instance, in most cantons, a wealth below 20’000 CHF will not be taxed. And minimal income will not be taxed either due to automatic deductions.
First of all, you can deduct all the meals that you have to take outside because when you work. This deduction can make a significant reduction overall.
You can also deduct transportation to your work. If you take public transportation, you can deduct the price of your fares. And if you drive your car, you can deduct an amount per kilometer to your work. You have to justify that you have to use your vehicle. But this is pretty simple to explain generally.
If you have to spend days in other cities or countries for your work, you can also deduct that.
A very interesting deduction is the flat deduction of your professional fees. You can deduce 3% of your net income from your taxable income, no questions asked. There is a minimum of 2000 CHF and a maximum of 4000 CHF for this.
You can deduct your health insurance fees from your taxable income as well. However, there is a maximum that will be very easy to reach. For instance, in Fribourg, the maximum is 8760 CHF per couple. This deduction is slightly less than what we pay. But this is still an excellent deduction. You should not forget it! In 2021, this will increase in Fribourg.
Also, you can deduct your health fees from your income. However, there is a minimum of 5% of your income. I was never able to deduct any of my medical expenses, unfortunately. But if you can, you should do it!
If you are both working, you can also deduct childcare from your taxable income. As usual, there is a limit to how much you can deduct.
If both people in your couple work, you can also get an extra reduction. I think it is a bit weird. Because adding your two incomes together will result in higher taxes.
Depending on where you live, there may be extra deductions. For instance, in Fribourg, we can deduct some money for life insurance not tied to the third pillar. You need to study the taxes of your canton in detail to take advantage of as many things as possible.
In Zurich, you can deduct investing fees from your income. Generally, a 0.3% fee is admitted for this.
If you want, I have the complete list of tax deductions in Switzerland.
Reduce taxes in Switzerland
Except for the basic deductions mentioned before, there is not a lot we can do to reduce taxes in Switzerland.
However, there are a few things that you should know. These could be very helpful if you want to try to pay a smaller amount of taxes.
1. Use The third pillar
The first thing we can do is to invest in the third pillar.
Whether you invest in a bank or insurance, you can deduct these contributions from your taxable income. It can make a significant difference in how much taxes you pay. There is no reason not to invest in the third pillar currently. I believe that everybody should invest as much as possible into it. The limit you can contribute changes every year. In 2023, you can contribute 7056 CHF.
You cannot make a partial withdrawal of a third pillar account. It is mandatory to take the entire amount at once. However, you are allowed to have several third pillar accounts. That way, you can withdraw one yearly in the first five years of your retirement. These withdrawals are taxed based on a few levels. And the increase between levels is quite steep. Therefore, making smaller withdrawals each year can save you money!
2. Use The second pillar
On a related note, we can also contribute to the second pillar to reduce taxes. The extra contributions to the second pillar can also be removed from the taxable income. The problem with the second pillar is that the returns are not high. Most of the second pillars will pay about 1% interest. So most people prefer to invest in the stock market. However, it makes an excellent short-term investment because of the tax reduction. And it is a safe investment and could be useful to consolidate your portfolio.
While the second pillar sits in your pension company, you will not pay wealth taxes on it. So, you can delay its payment to lower your taxes for a few years. You are allowed to postpone the payment for at most five years. Of course, you should only do that if you are comfortable living five years in retirement without your second pillar.
Once you receive the second pillar, you have two choices, an annuity or a lump sum. From a tax point of view, the lump sum is better than the annuity. Once again, there are other things to take into consideration. But you will save taxes if you take the lump sum because wealth taxes are lower than income taxes in Switzerland.
3. Mortgage can lower your taxes
We have mentioned before that we can deduct mortgage payments from taxable income. Doing so effectively reduce the taxes you are paying. Therefore, you should avoid paying off your debt to reduce your taxes. Of course, you need to be careful to be still able to pay your mortgage payments in retirement.
And, if you do not want to have debt, you should still pay it off. But it will increase your taxes! Almost nobody has a paid house in Switzerland. It is not efficient!
In Switzerland, you have two ways to amortize your mortgage:
- Direct Amortization: You will pay off your debt direct to your lender.
- Indirect Amortization: You will pay off your debt by contributing to a third pillar. Once you retire, the bank will use this amount to pay off your debt.
Indirect Amortization is better from a tax point of view. Indeed, you will keep more debt for a longer time. During this time, your debt will stay constant, and you can deduce the same mortgage interests from your taxable income until your retirement. That means you will pay fewer taxes for a longer time.
Now, you must be aware that most banks will not let you invest in any third pillar account. The bank lending you money will probably lock you with a bad third pillar. Therefore, you must consider the opportunity cost of not investing this money better. If you use the best third pillar in Switzerland, you could have high returns. However, if you invest in a bad one, it may give you very low returns.
4. You can deduct Renovations
There is a second thing you can do with a home or apartment to reduce taxes. In most cantons, you can deduct renovation fees from your taxable income. But there is a maximum and a minimum to that.
Therefore, you should avoid making two extensive renovations in the same year. You should spread them over several years. If you have small improvements, you should group them in the same year to reach the minimum.
5. You can deduct Donations
You can also donate some money away to reduce the taxes you pay. There are three ways for this. First, if you give your money to charity, you can deduct this from your taxable income. Then, you can also donate money to a political party. In both cases, there is a maximum you can deduct.
In some cantons, you can donate money to your family, for instance, your children. And you can deduct this from your taxes. For example, in the canton of Vaud, you can donate 50’000 CHF each year to your children free of tax. These donations will lower your net worth and, therefore, your taxes. However, you need to be careful about this. Make sure you are acting within the limits of the law!
6. Different municipality and cantons have different taxes
If you are serious about saving money on taxes, you may want to move to a new municipality or canton. It can make a huge difference.
In the canton of Fribourg, the municipality taxes are indexed on the cantonal taxes. You pay a percentage of your cantonal taxes in municipality taxes. In 2017, the cheapest municipality was Greng, with 32%, and the most expensive was Jaun, with 100%. If you paid 5000 CHF, you would pay 5000 CHF to Jaun and only 1600 CHF in Greng. This difference is 3400 CHF for moving to another municipality in the same canton.
The differences between cantons are also vast. A single person in Nidwald with a gross income of 100’000 CHF would pay about 10’000 CHF in taxes per year. But the same person would pay 18’000 CHF per year in Neuchatel. It is a very significant difference. And sometimes, the differences are even more substantial!
Now, you also need to consider the cost of living in the cantons before considering moving there. There may also be considerable differences in costs.
And you also need to consider the people you know where you live. I personally really like the place I am living right now. All my family and friends are close by! I would not want to move to another canton just for tax reasons. However, I could consider moving to another municipality. It is something we will consider if we buy a house.
Filling your Taxes
Now that you know all the tax basics, you can fill out your tax declaration. Unfortunately, since the taxes are different for each canton, so are the tax declarations. And each canton will provide different software as well to fill them. I cannot write a guide about all the tax software in Switzerland. It would take me a year. I may do it for the canton of Fribourg if there is enough demand for it.
But filing your taxes is not difficult. You need to be serious about it. You should check every number several times to be sure. I know people who made expensive mistakes with their tax declarations. For instance, a person I know did not deduct any transportation tohis work. It made a difference of more than 1000 CHF.
If you are unsure of what you are doing, do it with somebody that does it for a long time. The first time I did it, I did it with my father. And I have helped a few people since then!
You must fill your taxes every year at the beginning of the year. Generally, you will have about three months to do it once you receive the tax declaration. You will always fill out the declaration of the previous year. For instance, in 2019, you will fill your declarations for 2018. It makes sense since you do not yet know 2019!
There are two ways for this in most cantons. Either you fill out the paper form, or you use the software provided by your canton tax office. I prefer the software because it allows copying the data from year to year. And it will give you an estimate of your taxes at the end. It also allows you to simulate some changes and see the changes. But some people prefer the paper version.
Once you know everything you have entered, you can submit the tax declaration to your cantonal tax office. If you use the software, you may be able to send it electronically. At least I can do it in Fribourg.
One thing that many people find complicated is filling their taxes with stocks and dividends. In that case, I have a guide on how to file taxes with Swiss and foreign securities.
Paying your taxes in Switzerland
During the year, you will pay taxes for the current year. However, you do yet know precisely how much you will pay since you did not fill your tax declaration yet. You will pay advance payments on it. These are based on the amount of the previous year. You have the choice of paying these advance payments at once or month after month. There is a very small interest if you pay them at once. But it is rarely worth it to do it.
A few (or many) months later, after you send your tax declaration, you will receive the taxation decision. This decision will contain the final amount you have to pay. If you did not pay enough advance payments, you must pay extra taxes this month. You need to be careful about that. It can be a significant amount to pay in a single month. If your taxes will increase next year, you can also make a voluntary advance payment in addition to the pre-calculated advance payments.
Since Switzerland has a multi-level tax system, you will also receive several bills for your taxes:
- A bill for the federal taxes. It is generally the smallest of your taxes. You will usually receive a single invoice.
- A set of bills for the canton taxes. You will receive one bill per month.
- A set of bills for the municipality taxes. You will also receive one bill per month.
I would strongly advise you to pay these bills on time!
However, it is not the same in each canton. Some cantons issue a single bill that they then redistribute correctly. It is the case in the canton of Vaud, for instance. In the canton I live in (Fribourg), we receive the three bills I have talked about before.
Usually, the municipality is responsible for collecting the taxes for the church. So you should not receive a bill for the church tax. But again, I would not be surprised if some of the municipalities are issuing separate bills for the Church taxes as well.
If you want to estimate your taxes or run some simulations, there are a few tax calculators for Switzerland. Of course, they only provide an estimation. They will not contain all the possible deductions. And some are based on historical data, and the current rules may have changed. Nevertheless, it can still be useful.
The best tax calculator, in my opinion, is the official tax calculator from the Swiss administration. You will find a calculator for the federal taxes there. And they also provide links to find calculators for some of the cantons.
Comparis also has a nice tax calculator. It is also quite complete, but I find it more challenging. However, the results are quite interesting. The most significant advantage of this calculator is that you compare several municipalities with it. It can be useful if you plan to move to another municipality soon.
The last one I would like to mention is the tax calculator from UBS. It is the simplest of the comparator. It can be useful if you want to make some simple comparisons. However, I am not entirely sure about the results. When I run the calculator for myself, I get higher results than what I pay.
Remember that this is just an estimation. The only real amount of tax you will pay is on your tax result that you will receive a few months after you filed your taxes.
How many levels of taxes are there in Switzerland?
There are four levels of taxes: Federal, cantonal, municipality, and church. You will have to pay taxes to each of these levels. You will not have to pay Church Taxes if you are not registered with a Church.
Do I have to pay Church Taxes?
Yes, unless you ask to be officially removed from the Church. This must be done following the official way.
Do I have to pay Capital Gains Taxes in Switzerland?
No. Swiss residents do not pay taxes on capital gains. However, if you are considered a professional investor, you will pay capital gains taxes. In this case, capital gains will be taxed like income.
You should now have a good understanding of how Taxes in Switzerland work. Even though most people do not like this subject a lot, I believe it is essential. It is the only way to ensure that you are optimizing your taxes. You need to be careful when you fill out your tax declaration.
As you can see, there are many things that you can deduct from your taxable income and your taxable wealth. But there is not a lot you can do to increase these deductions.
However, there are some extra things you can do to decrease your taxes. The best way is to contribute to your second and third pillars. Another way is to optimize your mortgage for tax efficiency. If you have a house, you can organize renovations to increase your reductions.
If you want to reduce your taxes, you may want to read about contributing to the second pillar.
What about you? Do you have any tips for reducing taxes in Switzerland?
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