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Income Tax Rates in Italy

By Gareth Horsfall - Topics: Income Tax, Italy, Residency, Tax, Uncategorised
This article is published on: 23rd March 2015

You may wonder what is so significant about the number 28000 in Italy. Well, I will enlighten you in a moment.

The majority of expats I meet who decide to relocate to Italy are either Northern European or from Anglo Saxon’ countries (certainly those of you reading this E-zine) searching for some hot weather or wishing to sample the Mediterranean lifestyle. Whatever the motivations, it doesn’t really matter! Money-matters are the purpose of this E-zine.

It is often the case (but not always) that countries in the North of Europe and the USA have financial systems which encourage saving in tax-incentivised pensions, in savings or in retirement plans. Equally they often have preferential tax rates to encourage businesses/entrepreneurs to prosper in their early years when revenues are lower. The simple idea being that if you are incentivised to make provision for yourself and/or invest back into your business, then you will be less of a burden on the state in the future. Selling a business can also act as a kind of pseudo retirement plan in itself. This means that you lock a large part of your life savings into schemes/businesses which will provide you with an income later on in life. This would seem to be a sensible strategy for both government and individuals.

The problem we have is that when you move to Italy, there are few incentives to prepare for your future in the same way. In fact, the Government takes control of the majority of your life savings (either through INPS or other mandatory pension contributions) under which you have little or no control. In addition, there are few non-taxable income allowances which have the effect of reducing disposable income for individuals and reducing capital available for reinvestment just when a business needs it the most (more on tax rates in a moment).

My interpretation of this mechanism (I am sure there are much more complex political and social issues at hand here but I am merely trying to simplify elements of the system which affect you and I) is that by locking future savings into Government controlled systems, ie. INPS, the Government can charge income tax on these monies as “earned income” in the future and hence the Government provides itself with a guaranteed income stream on which it can calculate future spending plans (dubiously…. one might add)!

Which brings me on to income tax rates in Italy and the significance of 28000…

For expats in Italy, income tax is mainly applied to the following incomes:

  • Gross income from employment
  • Gross Pension income in Italy and from overseas
  • Net rental income from overseas property
  • 72% of dividends from Ltd. Company ownership

Now, in my experience, a lot of expats living in Italy have a property in their home country which they are renting out, have income from pensions or employment in their country of origin and, in some cases (but not many), are taking dividends from a Limited company which they may own abroad.

The financial planning issue here is that when all of these are added together they can often start to breach the higher levels of income tax (IRPEF) in Italy. The rates being as follow:

EUR 0 – 15,000      23%
EUR 15,001 – 28,000      27%
EUR 28,001 – 55,000      38%

And so on…

And here lies the significance of 28000 in Italy.

The average income tax rate on income below €28,000 per annum GROSS is approximately 25%.  This would seem reasonable but there are no non-taxable income tax allowances and so therefore tax starts from Euro Number 1. Once you start to breach the 28,000 EUR GROSS band and enter the more punishing 38% income tax band (if you add on regional taxes and others), then you are realistically into 40-42% on income over EUR 28,000 p.a.

So what is the solution? 

Well, once again it all comes down to the planning.

The first and most obvious solution is to spread your income. Where possible, spread your income as a couple – for example, putting houses into joint names and spreading the income tax burden. By spreading the income you are moving a part of it into a partner’s tax bracket. If one of you has a lower taxable income than the other, then it makes sense to utilise some of the lower earning partner’s income tax bands.

Also, think about how you might be able to release money from pensions. As a resident in the UK, you can withdraw 25% of a pension plan tax free. It makes sense to do that before you move. That same withdrawal as a tax resident in Italy would be considered taxable income and added to your other incomes in that year.

In the UK (from April 2015) and in the USA you may be able to cash in some or all of your retirement plan. This particular scenario might be more complicated if there is a tax charge involved, but if you are serious about planning to reduce tax liabilities in Italy, then taking a lower tax charge in your home country before you move might be better than being subject to higher ongoing income tax rates in Italy (This would need serious consideration before a decision were made, but it could be a possibility).

And lastly, move as much of your money to unearned income sources, ie. income from directly held investments/savings. In this way you are subject to a flat tax of only 26% on the capital gains and/or the income from those investments.

As a general rule if you can split a couples’ income, generate income from investments (not from retirement plans), and some from property rental you can bring your overall tax rate down to approximately 26-30%. A level which I think is more acceptable to most (a lot depends on your income requirements as well).

Of course, I have simplified the situation here and everyone’s circumstances are different, but the methodology is the same. How can you take advantage of the lowest tax rates possible by restructuring and spreading your finances to make them more effective in Italy?

Which brings me nicely back to my initial point:  The magic number is EUR28,000.

Italy does not, presently, seem to incentivise its residents to invest in long term retirement savings plans (in fact, in the Legge di Stabilita 2015 they are discussing taxing them even more!) and so a move to Italy breaks with Anglo Saxon/Northern European mentality, when thinking about how to plan for the future. Some of the best laid long-term plans can be scuppered when those decisions include a move to another country with a financial system based on totally different principles and systems.

If you plan on waiting for tax reductions or the EU to force changes, you could be waiting a long time. Planning your way around the system/s seems to be the optimum choice rather than waiting for the Government to do anything about it for you.

If you are already a resident in Italy and want to plan more effectively or are considering moving and wondering how you might plan things before you arrive, you can contact me directly on Tel: +39 333 649 2356, or please use the form below.

Article by Gareth Horsfall

Gareth HorsfallIf you live in Italy and or have financial interests in Italy you can contact Gareth Horsfall directly on: gareth.horsfall@spectrum-ifa.com to request more information about how he may be able to help you. Alternatively you can complete the form below and a message will be sent to him. If you would like to read more about Gareth's work you can follow his blog on tax and financial planning in Italy HERE

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