Much has been written about America’s relatively high corporate tax rate. Indeed, as this table from KPMG shows, the U.S. 2012 corporate rate of 40 percent (including both federal and state taxes) is about 37 percent higher than the OECD average of 25.25 percent.
At the same time, other reports point out that these numbers mislead, given that few companies actually pay federal income tax at the statutory rate. A 2011 report from the Congressional Research Service, “International Corporate Tax Rate Comparisons and Policy Implications,” found that the effective U.S. corporate rate, taking into account deductions, credits and the like, came in at 27.1 percent in 2008. That was slightly below the OECD weighted average of 27.7 percent.
Now, a new report by consulting firm PwC and The World Bank, “Paying Taxes 2013: The global picture,” looks not only at tax rates around the world, but also the time businesses spend complying with a country’s tax codes. It does this by taking a case study company, and looking at the ease with which it can pay taxes in 185 different economies, as well as the amount of the taxes themselves. The company was assumed to be an LLC operating in the economy’s largest city, performing general industrial or commercial activities, and employing 60 people.
The trends when it comes to both tax rates and tax compliance are mostly positive. In general, tax rates have declined over the past few years, although the drops seem to have stabilized. The case study company’s average total tax rate was 44.7 percent in 2012, down from 53.6 percent in 2004.
In addition, the administrative burden of paying an organization’s taxes also continues to slowly decline. In the eight years in which the study has been conducted, the time companies need to comply with tax regulations has dropped by about 54 hours.
Several other highlights from the study:
• While corporate income tax often receives the lion’s share of attention when corporate taxes are discussed, it accounts for just 36 percent of the total tax rate on average around the globe; the rest consists of taxes on labor as well as consumption and other taxes.
• The average “tax drag,” or the amount by which taxes themselves, as well as the work required to comply with tax regulations and stay abreast of tax law changes, has hindered growth was estimated at 1.15 percent per year between 2004 and 2011.
• Interestingly, reducing the work required to pay taxes may be more strongly linked with economic growth than cutting the tax rates. Governments interested in fostering business-friendly tax environments will want to consider the complexity of their tax codes, as well as the rates themselves.
• The laws and regulations governing tax payments have grown more similar across many economies, and the time to comply with these rules has declined. For instance, in 2004, it took the case study company 681 hours to handle its taxes in the worst quartile of countries; that number since has dropped to 497 hours. The average in 2012 was 267 hours.
How did the U.S. fare? While there’s room for improvement, the U.S. wasn’t an extreme outlier. The U.S. total tax rate was slightly higher than the global average, at 46.7 percent. The average time to comply, at 175 hours, was below the global average.