Tax collectors are using carrot-and-stick approach

The preferred payment method, tax officials say

The finance ministry is taking actions to increase collection of sales taxes and to crack down on those who understate income taxes.

Once again the ministry, officially the Ministerio de Hacienda, plans a lottery. This time the lottery will offer prizes to those who use credit or debit cards in everyday transactions.

The ministry said that a comparison between sales reported by bars, stores and restaurants and reports from credit card agencies disclosed a 30 percent difference. In other words, merchants have been understating their credit card sales to the tune of 200 million colons, nearly $400,000, in just this one study.

The ministry and its tax collector, the Dirección General de Tributación, are trying to urge a higher use of credit cards. Although the ministry did not say so, many merchants do not assess sales tax when a customer pays cash. The deal never makes it to the company’s financial records, and no sales tax or income tax is paid.

Merchants are supposed to issue facturas for each sales. These are invoices that are numbered and uniquely identified to the merchant.

The last time that the ministry offered a lottery citizens were asked to submit facturas they had obtained as a result of purchases.

Ministry workers studied the facturas to make sure they conformed to existing laws.

The villain is not always the merchant in such off-the-books transactions. Clerks may simply pocket the money if they do not have to provide a factura, which also constitutes a record for the employer.

Under the ministry plan, each credit- or debit-card user will accumulate points for each 3,000 colons of purchases. These points or what the ministry is calling acciones, are basically electronic tickets for participation in the lottery.

The ministry said that 2,121 prizes are available.

The points begin to accumulate Aug. 1, and the first drawing is Sept. 14, said the ministry.

The ministry said it expected to improve sales tax collection with higher credit card use and the lottery. The agency estimated the amount of new income at 26 billion colons or about $52 million.

The Cámara Nacional de Bancos, the Asociación Bancaria Costarricense and credit-card issuing companies are assisting the ministry with the lottery.

The ministry also said that the computerized systems by which it tracks taxes are being improved and that it has entered into an agreement with the government of Spain for technical cooperation.

As a result of its credit card study that showed underpayments, the ministry has launched 700 audits and has contacted some 1,700 tax-paying entities about stepped up controls that will be instituted toward the end of this calendar years.

The ministry already enforces a system that requires taxpayers to report by Nov. 30 for the preceding fiscal year major purchases and major transactions that produce income. Tributación computerizes and matches up these reports to provide individual income reports for each taxpayer. Then workers compare the data to what taxpayers have submitted.

The stepped-up effort to collect sales and income taxes is related to the Laura Chinchilla administration’s proposals for new taxes. Opposition lawmakers in the legislature have said there is no need for new taxes when the government is not doing a good job of collecting current taxes.

The ministry also has said it is conducting audits of professional football players and private educational institutions. Some 29 individuals who appear to have underreported income already have been notified. The ministry said that 15 well-known educational institutions will be audited because the amount of their income is disproportionate to the amount they have declared as net income for tax purposes.

In one case, a school that had 1.13 billion colons in income paid 845,000 colons in income taxes, the ministry said. That is a tax of $1,684 on gross income of $2.25 million.

This entry was posted in Costa Rica News. Bookmark the permalink.