The pain of paying taxes

29-03-2009

In the past few weeks many Czech dailies have offered their readers supplements containing practical advice on two matters of immediate concern -how to survive the economic crisis and how to file your income tax return. In the Czech Republic the end of March is the deadline for people to declare their annual income and pay their taxes. In other words, a time dreaded by one and all.

Having been a student until very recently, I never really bothered about tax returns. I did have some jobs and earned some money but as a student you don’t pay tax if your income does not exceed a certain amount. When I started to earn a bit more than that I asked my mum’s friend who is an accountant to do it for me. I always thought taxes and insurance and everything that goes with it much too intricate and abstract for me to even try to understand. But, being a fresh graduate, I felt qualified as well as old enough to face the challenge. I went diligently to the revenue office many weeks before the deadline to pick up the special form. But just a quick glance at the six pink pages packed with columns plus another four white pages full of instructions cooled my initial enthusiasm down considerably. And as things turned out, I kept the form in my bag for several weeks, determined to tackle it at some point.

Last Monday afternoon I finally got down to the job. First, I went through the 4-page long instructions only to find that I understood very little. The papers seemed to have been written in a language of their own and the association with Orwell´s Newspeak is not far-fetched. I couldn’t help thinking about and envying the Scandinavian countries where it is quite common to have almost all documents, including even a small gallery guide, written in intelligible, user-friendly language. Well, that obviously isn’t something you can expect in a country where even residence permit applications for foreigners are printed in Czech with a tiny note saying that by his signature the foreigner voluntarily gives up his claim to an interpreter. Anyway. Apart from the incomprehensible language of the document, and the fact that I work for four different employers and have three different types of contracts, it was all those exceptions that made it quite confusing for me to understand which columns to fill in and which to leave blank. In the Czech Republic you can apply for lower tax if you are a student under the age of 26, if you are married to someone who earns on average less than CZ 5 600 a month, which is about EUR 204, or if you are disabled or in charge of a disabled person. Also when you give money to charity, save money in a pension fund, have a life insurance or loan interests, the taxable income decreases. To my surprise –and pleasure, since it concerns me - I found that you pay less on tax if you donate blood. For just one donation a year they decrease your taxable income by CZ 2 000.

Telling you about how I went to see one of the clerks at the revenue office, would take another Letter from Prague. Suffice it to say that this time everything turned out well for me – not only was I spared paying any tax but I will even be given a little money back.. But I’m afraid that’s unlikely to happen again. Being a student has many advantages, some of which we only fully realise and appreciate when we lose them.

29-03-2009