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Easy way to fill in the tax forms

There are many (perfectly legal) ways to make tax easier and pay less

1 April 2011

All French residents face the chore of filling out their tax forms: however, there are many (perfectly legal) ways to make it easier and pay less, tax guru Robert Matthieu says.

The latest edition of his book Payer Moins d’Impôts Pour les Nuls has 500 pages of tips on every situation involving French tax. He said: “It’s the fruit of 30 years of work: each day I note down a tip. There are around 1,000 of them in the book, and not just for income tax. Even though it is especially on our mind at this time of year, tax is all-year-round.”

Here is a selection of Mr Matthieu’s suggestions to make declaring your income less taxing:

When you are filling out your income tax form, if you are not sure if you should declare something or not, take a piece of paper and write at the top: “Mention express”, then write: “Je pense ne pas avoir à déclarer tel revenu ou pouvoir déduire telle charge pour un tel motif” (I think that I don’t need to declare such and such an income or I think I can deduct such and such an expense, for the following reason). If you are subsequently found to have made a mistake, you will not have any interest payments for late declarations as long as you acted in good faith.

Use a rescrit: “This is very useful, but little-known,” Mr Matthieu said. In some respects, it is similar to the idea above, but it is suited to more complex issues and you must make use of it before the declaration date. This involves writing to the tax office asking them to make a ruling about a point concerning tax rules that you are
unsure of. You can do this either by post or email. The answer you get is definitive. However, Mr Matthieu said, should you not have received one in time when you come to make a declaration, much as with the mention express, if you are later found to have made a mistake and it precisely concerns the issue you asked about, then there will be
no interest payments required if you have to rectify it. The ancestor of the modern rescrit was a response from a Roman emperor to a provincial governor, Mr Matthieu said.

Declare your income on the internet at ww.impots.gouv.fr: You get longer to declare and you do not have to include any documents justifying your figures (receipts etc), though you should keep them in case there are queries. Note you can only do it from the second year of paying French tax, as you need some numbers that feature on your last avis d’imposition (income tax statement): the numéro de télédéclarant, numéro fiscal and revenu fiscal de référence. However the €20 tax reduction that applied to first-time internet-declarers last year has been removed.

Tax reduction for education expenses: On the back page of the main declaration form, under réductions, remember to fill in the section asking for the number of children in
secondary or higher education (whether collège, the first stage of secondary school; lycée, the final stage; or “ens. sup.”, higher education). This will give you a reduction towards costs of schooling.

Pre-filled declarations: If you get one of these, because you are an employee, do not just assume the tax office put the right figures in. Check it.

Right to be wrong: If you forget to mention up to five per cent of your income, the tax office turns a blind eye; however, you must have acted in good faith.

Keep documents: Keep your important receipts and bank statements etc for at least three years. After that, the tax office can no longer check up on your declaration. If you send any to the tax office as proof of something, send a copy, not the original.

Do not play dead: If the tax office asks for a clarification, reply promptly and do not assume they will forget about it if you ignore them. You risk penalties.

The quotient system: If you have been made redundant or have retired, and have been given a payment corresponding to this, you can pay less tax on it if you ask to benefit
from the “quotient”. You need to write the amount of the payment in the section headed revenus exceptionnels ou différés, and attach a letter explaining the nature of the income.

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