Tax exemption

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Tax exemption is the reduction or removal of a liability to make a compulsory payment that would otherwise be imposed by a ruling power upon persons, property, income, or transactions. Tax-exempt status may provide complete relief from taxes, reduced rates, or tax on only a portion of items. Examples include exemption of charitable organizations from property taxes and income taxes, veterans, and certain cross-border or multi-jurisdictional scenarios.


Tax exemption generally refers to a statutory exception to a general rule rather than the mere absence of taxation in particular circumstances, otherwise known as an exclusion. Tax exemption also refers to removal from taxation of a particular item rather than a deduction.

International duty free shopping may be termed "tax-free shopping". In tax-free shopping, the goods are permanently taken outside the jurisdiction, thus paying taxes is not necessary. Tax-free shopping is also found in ships, airplanes and other vessels traveling between countries (or tax areas). Tax-free shopping is usually available in dedicated duty-free shops. However, any transaction may be duty-free, given that the goods are presented to the customs when exiting the country. In such a scenario, a sum equivalent to the tax is paid, but reimbursed on exit. More common in Europe, tax-free is less frequent in the United States, with the exception of Louisiana. However, current European Union rules prohibit most intra-EU tax-free trade, with the exception of certain special territories outside the tax area.

Specific monetary exemptions

Some jurisdictions allow for a specific monetary reduction of the tax base, which may be referred to as an exemption. For example, the U.S. Federal and many state tax systems allow a deduction of a specified dollar amount for each of several categories of "personal exemptions". Similar amounts may be called "personal allowances". Some systems may provide thresholds at which such exemptions or allowances are phased out or removed. [1]

Exempt organizations

Some governments grant broad exclusions from all taxation for certain types of organization. The exclusions may be restricted to entities having various characteristics. The exclusions may be inherent in definitions or restrictions outside the tax law itself. [2]

Approaches for exemption

There are several different approaches used in granting exemption to organizations. Different approaches may be used within a jurisdiction or especially within sub-jurisdictions.

Some jurisdictions grant an overall exemption from taxation to organizations meeting certain definitions. The United Kingdom, for example, provides an exemption from rates (property taxes), and income taxes for entities governed by the Charities Law. This overall exemption may be somewhat limited by limited scope for taxation by the jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions may levy only a single type of tax, exemption from only a particular tax.[ citation needed ]

Some jurisdictions provide for exemption only from certain taxes. The United States exempts certain organizations from Federal income taxes, [3] but not from various excise or most employment taxes. [4]

Charitable and religious organizations

Many tax systems provide complete exemption from tax for recognized charitable organizations. Such organizations may include religious organizations (temples, mosques, churches, etc.), fraternal organizations (including social clubs), public charities (e.g., organizations serving homeless persons), or any of a broad variety of organizations considered to serve public purposes.

The U.S. system exempts from Federal and many state income taxes [5] the income of organizations that have qualified for such exemption. Qualification requires that the organization be created and operated for one of a long list of tax exempt purposes, [6] which includes more than 28 types of organizations and also requires, for most types of organizations, that the organization apply for tax exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service, [7] or be a religious or apostolic organization. [8] [9] Note that the U.S. system does not distinguish between various kinds of tax exempt entities (such as educational versus charitable) for purposes of granting exemption, but does make such distinctions with respect to allowing a tax deduction for contributions. [10] In November 2017, the GOP released a tax bill that would allow churches to keep their tax exemptions even if they endorse political candidates. [11]

The UK generally exempts public charities from business rates, corporation tax, income tax, and certain other taxes. [12]

Governmental entities

Most systems exempt internal governmental units from all tax. For multi-tier jurisdictions, this exemption generally extends to lower tier units and across units. For example, state and local governments are not subject to Federal, state, or local income taxes in the U.S. [13]

Pension schemes

Most systems do not tax entities organized to conduct retirement investment and pension activities for employees of one or more employers or for the benefit of employees. [14] In addition, many systems also provide tax exemption for personal pension schemes. [15]

Educational institutions

Some jurisdictions provide separate total or partial tax exemptions for educational institutions. [16] These exemptions may be limited to certain functions or income.

Other not-for-profit entities

Some jurisdictions provide tax exemption for other particular types of organizations not meeting any of the above categories.

Reciprocal exemptions

Some jurisdictions allow tax exemption for organizations exempt from tax in certain other jurisdictions. For example, most U.S. states allow tax exemption for organizations recognized for Federal tax purposes as tax exempt.[ citation needed ]

Sales tax

Most states and localities imposing sales and use taxes in the United States exempt resellers from sales taxes on goods held for sale and ultimately sold. In addition, most such states and localities exempt from sales taxes goods used directly in the production of other goods (i.e., raw materials).

See also Sales taxes in the United States, tax-free shopping, tax holiday.

Exempt individuals

Certain classes of persons may be granted a full or partial tax exemption within a system. Common exemptions are for veterans, [17] clergymen [18] or taxpayers with children (who can take "dependency exemption" for each qualifying dependent who has lived with the taxpayer. The dependent can be a natural child, step-child, step-sibling, half-sibling, adopted child, eligible foster child, or grandchild, and is usually under age 19, a full-time student under age 24, or have special needs). [19] The exemption granted may depend on multiple criteria, including criteria otherwise unrelated to the particular tax. For example, a property tax exemption may be provided to certain classes of veterans earning less than a particular income level. [20] Definitions of exempt individuals tend to be complex.

In 1 Samuel 17:25 in the Hebrew Bible, King Saul includes tax exemption as one of the rewards on offer to whoever comes forward to defeat the Philistine giant Goliath.

In the Ottoman Empire, tax breaks for descendents of Muhammad encouraged many people to buy certificates of descent or forge genealogies; the phenomenon of teseyyüd – falsely claiming noble ancestry – spread across ethnic, class, and religious boundaries. In the 17th century, an Ottoman bureaucrat estimated that there were 300,000 impostors; In 18th-century Anatolia, nearly all upper-class urban people claimed descent from Muhammad. [21] The number of people claiming such ancestry – which exempted them from taxes such as avarız and tekalif-i orfiye – became so great that tax collection was very difficult. [22]

Exempt income

Most income tax systems exclude certain classes of income from the taxable income base. Such exclusions may be referred to as exclusions or exemptions. Systems vary highly. [23] Among the more commonly excluded items are:

Some tax systems specifically exclude from income items that the system is trying to encourage. Such exclusions or exemptions can be quite specific [29] or very general.[ citation needed ]

Among the types of income that may be included are classes of income earned in specific areas, such as special economic zones, enterprise zones, etc. These exemptions may be limited to specific industries. As an example, India provides SEZs where exporters of goods or providers of services to foreign customers may be exempt from income taxes and customs duties.[ citation needed ]

Exempt property

Certain types of property are commonly granted exemption from property or transaction (such as sales or value added) taxes. These exemptions vary highly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and definitions of what property qualifies for exemption can be voluminous. [30]

Among the more commonly granted exemptions are:

Conditions imposed on exemptions

Exemption from tax often requires that certain conditions be met.

Multi-tier jurisdictions

Many countries that impose tax have subdivisions or subsidiary jurisdictions that also impose tax. This feature is not unique to federal systems, like the U.S., Switzerland and Australia, but rather is a common feature of national systems. [32] The top tier system may impose restrictions on both the ability of the lower tier system to levy tax as well as how certain aspects of such lower tier system work, including the granting of tax exemptions. The restrictions may be imposed directly on the lower jurisdiction's power to levy tax or indirectly by regulating tax effects of the exemption at the upper tier.

Cross-border agreements

Jurisdictions may enter into agreements with other jurisdictions that provide for reciprocal tax exemption. Such provisions are common in an income tax treaty. These reciprocal tax exemptions typically call for each contracting jurisdiction to exempt certain income of a resident of the other contracting jurisdiction.

Multi-jurisdictional agreements for tax exemption also exist. 20 of the U.S. states have entered into the Multistate Tax Compact that provides, among other things, that each member must grant a full credit for sales and use taxes paid to other states or subdivisions. The European Union members are all parties to the EU multi-country VAT harmonisation rules.

See also

Related Research Articles

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Taxation in the United States Taxes are imposed in the United States at each of levels; taxes on income, payroll, property, sales, capital gains, dividends, imports, estates and gifts, as well as various fees

The United States of America has separate federal, state, and local governments with taxes imposed at each of these levels. Taxes are levied on income, payroll, property, sales, capital gains, dividends, imports, estates and gifts, as well as various fees. In 2010, taxes collected by federal, state, and municipal governments amounted to 24.8% of GDP. In the OECD, only Chile and Mexico are taxed less as a share of their GDP.

Sales tax Tax paid to a governing body for the sales of certain goods and services

A sales tax is a tax paid to a governing body for the sales of certain goods and services. Usually laws allow the seller to collect funds for the tax from the consumer at the point of purchase. When a tax on goods or services is paid to a governing body directly by a consumer, it is usually called a use tax. Often laws provide for the exemption of certain goods or services from sales and use tax, such as food, education, and medicines. A value-added tax (VAT) collected on goods and services is related to a sales tax. See Comparison with sales tax for key differences.

Tax deduction is a reduction of income that is able to be taxed and is commonly a result of expenses, particularly those incurred to produce additional income. Tax deductions are a form of tax incentives, along with exemptions and credits. The difference between deductions, exemptions and credits is that deductions and exemptions both reduce taxable income, while credits reduce tax.

Payroll tax

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A taxpayer is a person or organization subject to pay a tax. Modern taxpayers may have an identification number, a reference number issued by a government to citizens or firms.

A corporate tax, also called corporation tax or company tax, is a direct tax imposed by a jurisdiction on the income or capital of corporations or analogous legal entities. Many countries impose such taxes at the national level, and a similar tax may be imposed at state or local levels. The taxes may also be referred to as income tax or capital tax. Partnerships are generally not taxed at the entity level. A country's corporate tax may apply to:

An ad valorem tax is a tax whose amount is based on the value of a transaction or of property. It is typically imposed at the time of a transaction, as in the case of a sales tax or value-added tax (VAT). An ad valorem tax may also be imposed annually, as in the case of a real or personal property tax, or in connection with another significant event. In some countries a stamp duty is imposed as an ad valorem tax.

In the United States income tax system, adjusted gross income (AGI) is an individual's total gross income minus specific deductions. It is used to calculate taxable income, which is AGI minus allowances for personal exemptions and itemized deductions. For most individual tax purposes, AGI is more relevant than gross income.

A use tax is a type of tax levied in the United States by numerous state governments. It is essentially the same as a sales tax but is applied not where a product or service was sold but where a merchant bought a product or service and then converted it for its own use, without having paid tax when it was initially purchased. Use taxes are functionally equivalent to sales taxes. They are typically levied upon the use, storage, enjoyment, or other consumption in the state of tangible personal property that has not been subjected to a sales tax.

A gift tax is a tax imposed on the transfer of ownership of property during the giver's life. The United States Internal Revenue Service says that a gift is "Any transfer to an individual, either directly or indirectly, where full compensation is not received in return."

Tax withholding, also known as tax retention, Pay-as-You-Go, Pay-as-You-Earn, or a Prélèvement à la source, is income tax paid to the government by the payer of the income rather than by the recipient of the income. The tax is thus withheld or deducted from the income due to the recipient. In most jurisdictions, tax withholding applies to employment income. Many jurisdictions also require withholding taxes on payments of interest or dividends. In most jurisdictions, there are additional tax withholding obligations if the recipient of the income is resident in a different jurisdiction, and in those circumstances withholding tax sometimes applies to royalties, rent or even the sale of real estate. Governments use tax withholding as a means to combat tax evasion, and sometimes impose additional tax withholding requirements if the recipient has been delinquent in filing tax returns, or in industries where tax evasion is perceived to be common.

Sales taxes in the United States Overview of sales taxes in the United States of America

Sales taxes in the United States are taxes placed on the sale or lease of goods and services in the United States. Sales tax is governed at the state level and no national general sales tax exists. 45 states, the District of Columbia, the territories of Puerto Rico, and Guam impose general sales taxes that apply to the sale or lease of most goods and some services, and states also may levy selective sales taxes on the sale or lease of particular goods or services. States may grant local governments the authority to impose additional general or selective sales taxes.

For households and individuals, gross income is the sum of all wages, salaries, profits, interest payments, rents, and other forms of earnings, before any deductions or taxes. It is opposed to net income, defined as the gross income minus taxes and other deductions.

Income taxes in the United States are imposed by the federal, most states, and many local governments. The income taxes are determined by applying a tax rate, which may increase as income increases, to taxable income, which is the total income less allowable deductions. Income is broadly defined. Individuals and corporations are directly taxable, and estates and trusts may be taxable on undistributed income. Partnerships are not taxed, but their partners are taxed on their shares of partnership income. Residents and citizens are taxed on worldwide income, while nonresidents are taxed only on income within the jurisdiction. Several types of credits reduce tax, and some types of credits may exceed tax before credits. An alternative tax applies at the federal and some state levels.

International taxation is the study or determination of tax on a person or business subject to the tax laws of different countries, or the international aspects of an individual country's tax laws as the case may be. Governments usually limit the scope of their income taxation in some manner territorially or provide for offsets to taxation relating to extraterritorial income. The manner of limitation generally takes the form of a territorial, residence-based, or exclusionary system. Some governments have attempted to mitigate the differing limitations of each of these three broad systems by enacting a hybrid system with characteristics of two or more.

Corporate tax in the United States

Corporate tax is imposed in the United States at the federal, most state, and some local levels on the income of entities treated for tax purposes as corporations. Since January 1, 2018, the nominal federal corporate tax rate in the United States of America is a flat 21% due to the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. State and local taxes and rules vary by jurisdiction, though many are based on federal concepts and definitions. Taxable income may differ from book income both as to timing of income and tax deductions and as to what is taxable. The corporate Alternative Minimum Tax was also eliminated by the 2017 reform, but some states have alternative taxes. Like individuals, corporations must file tax returns every year. They must make quarterly estimated tax payments. Groups of corporations controlled by the same owners may file a consolidated return.

Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act

The Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act of 1980 (FIRPTA), enacted as Subtitle C of Title XI of the Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1980, Pub. L. No. 96-499, 94 Stat. 2599, 2682, is a United States tax law that imposes income tax on foreign persons disposing of US real property interests. Tax is imposed at regular tax rates for the taxpayer on the amount of gain considered recognized. Purchasers of real property interests are required to withhold tax on payment for the property. Withholding may be reduced from the standard 15% to an amount that will cover the tax liability, upon application in advance of sale to the Internal Revenue Service. FIRPTA overrides most nonrecognition provisions as well as those remaining tax treaties that provide exemption from tax for such gains.

The alternative minimum tax (AMT) is a tax imposed by the United States federal government in addition to the regular income tax for certain individuals, estates, and trusts. As of tax year 2018, the AMT raises about $5.2 billion, or 0.4% of all federal income tax revenue, affecting 0.1% of taxpayers, mostly in the upper income ranges.

Property tax in the United States

Most local governments in the United States impose a property tax, also known as a millage rate, as a principal source of revenue. This tax may be imposed on real estate or personal property. The tax is nearly always computed as the fair market value of the property times an assessment ratio times a tax rate, and is generally an obligation of the owner of the property. Values are determined by local officials, and may be disputed by property owners. For the taxing authority, one advantage of the property tax over the sales tax or income tax is that the revenue always equals the tax levy, unlike the other taxes. The property tax typically produces the required revenue for municipalities' tax levies. A disadvantage to the taxpayer is that the tax liability is fixed, while the taxpayer's income is not.


  1. 26 USC 151, Allowance of deductions for personal exemptions. The amount per exemption is $3,650, subject to phase-out. UK tax free personal allowances vary.
  2. As an example, UK charities law defines the types of organizations which may qualify as registered charities, and places limits on their actions.
  3. 26 USC 501(a). The exemption from Federal income tax is longstanding. This exemption formed part of the Revenue Act of 1894. The 1894 Act was the first broadly applicable U.S. tax on corporate income, but was soon declared unconstitutional. Since ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1913, the exemption for charitable, religious, and educational organizations has been included in all subsequent Federal income tax law. See Belknap, Chauncey, "The Federal Income Tax Exemption of Charitable Organizations: Its History and Underlying Policy," 1954, reprinted (very large file) as pages 2025-2043 of the Research Papers of the Commission on Private Philanthropy and Public Needs, Volume IV, 1977.
  4. 26 USC Subtitle D excise taxes are imposed on particular goods or services, generally without exemptions. Certain of these taxes apply primarily to tax exempt organizations. See, e.g., 26 USC 4911, tax on excess expenditures to influence legislation. 26 USC 3101 and 3301 generally impose social security and unemployment taxes on all organizations. Note that income from certain types of services, such as services as a minister, may be exempt from the definition of income for these taxes. Employees of certain nonprofit and governmental organizations are eligible to participate in different sorts of deferred compensation plans than employees of other organizations. Compare 26 USC 401, IRS Publication 560 and others vs. 26 USC 403(b), IRS Publication 571.
  5. Note that under the U.S. system each state is entitled to raise its own taxes. 43 of the states impose a [state income tax]. Some states incorporate or make reference to Federal definitions for parts of their tax laws. See, e.g.,[ citation needed ].
  6. 26 USC 501(c)
  7. 26 CFR 1.501(a)-1(a)(2).
  8. 26 USC 501(d).
  9. See IRS Publication 557.
  10. Tax exempt entities with gross receipts over US$25,000 are required to file annual tax returns on Form 990. Those with less than $25,000 must file a simplified return. The IRS granted an extension of time for such organizations to file for 2009 until October 15, 2010. Charities falling under that revenue threshold have had no regular filing mandate in the past. One list of small organizations is at
  11. Weaver, Dustin (2017-11-02). "GOP tax bill would allow churches to endorse political candidates". TheHill. Retrieved 2017-11-02.
  12. For a discussion of UK taxation of charities, see the 1999 Review of Charity Taxation Consultation Document.
  13. 26 USC 115 specifically excludes from taxable income all income of states or municipalities, as well as income of public utilities. This operates as an exemption from tax for state and municipal governments.
  14. Examples include: a) The United States taxes beneficiaries of trusts, not trusts (with exceptions), but exempts under 26 USC 402 beneficiaries of a pension trust meeting certain qualification; b) Canada ; c) The United Kingdom exempts income and gains of a registered pension scheme from taxation under Income Tax Act section 186, as discussed in the Registered Pension Scheme Manual.
  15. See, e.g., 26 USC 409 providing exemption to owners of Individual Retirement Accounts until funds are distributed.
  16. See, e.g., Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education chart of exemptions and benefits for private higher education institutions.
  17. See, e.g., New York City's veterans property tax exemption.
  18. See, e.g., [26 USC 107] which excludes from income the rental value of a parsonage provided by a church to a clergyman
  19. Presti and Naegele Newsletter, February , 2012.
  20. See the New York City rule cited above.
  21. Canbakal, Hülya (2009). "The Ottoman State and Descendants of the Prophet in Anatolia and the Balkans (c. 1500–1700)". Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient. 52 (3): 542–578. doi:10.1163/156852009X458241.
  22. Acun, Fatma (2002). "The Other Side of the Coin: Tax Exemptions within the Context of Ottoman Taxation History". Bulgarian Historical Review. 1 (2).
  23. Contrast 26 USC 101-140 exclusions from gross income to UK non-taxable income.
  24. See International tax for a discussion of territorial tax systems. Most systems exclude from the tax base income of nonresidents from sources outside the taxing jurisdiction. U.S. states and Canadian provinces provide for formulary apportionment of certain business income to achieve a similar result. See, e.g., the Multi State Tax Compact, discussed in a note below.
  25. See, e.g., 26 USC 911, 912.
  26. See, e.g., 26 USC 103, excluding from U.S. Federal taxable income certain types of interest income received on bonds issued by states or political subdivisions thereof.
  27. See, e.g., 26 USC 104, excluding compensation for sickness or injury.
  28. The transfer of such property is often taxed separately to the transferor or the transferee. See Estate tax and Gift tax.
  29. See, e.g., 26 USC 131 relating to certain foster care payments.
  30. See, e.g., the Texas Sales Tax rules, providing very specific lists of items that are exempt from sales tax. For shortened list of examples of such, see the Grocery and Convenience Stores flyer from the state.
  31. See, e.g., the Homestead Exemption granted in Florida.
  32. See, e.g., Japan's prefecture taxes, UK local rates, etc.[ citation needed ].