Japanese Income Tax Returns
Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with. (re-worded version of one winner in the Washington Post modified word contest)
Tax season is upon us! For those of you who file your own Japanese tax return, you will get your package in the mail if you are already in the system. If you are not in the system, you can go to your closest tax office and get help after 15 February. The deadline for filing is: March 15 (Wednesday). (If you are due a refund, you can file much later without a penalty -- I let it go until July last year and I know of someone else who waited until August.) The place to file is at the tax office of your city. They also have people there to help you if you walk in with a bunch of questions and receipts in shoe boxes. But it is better to research a bit ahead of time. The key with filing taxes in your favor is to divulge as little information as possible.
Every year there are small changes, sometimes good, sometimes bad.
A Japanese company prepares its employees' tax returns, but any employee can file his own version if he believes some important information was omitted by the company. Company accountants can only submit what they know, and some are better than others at collecting all relevant information (deductions, etc.). If you are self-employed and earning money from several sources or you are working for only one company as an independent contractor (another way of saying you are self-employed) then you must prepare your own return yourself or with the help of an accountant.
Do not treat this matter lightly. Your tax return is a serious document on which many other things depend such as the level of your National Health Insurance premiums, your public daycare payments and whether or not you qualify for financial assistance as a single parent or in emergencies. Naturally, it is wise to show the lowest income possible on your tax return unless you intend to try and qualify for a bank loan. However, in Japan, as a foreigner without a permanent residency you are pretty much shut out of the loan market, unless you have a Japanese spouse as the chief bread-winner, so trying to qualify for a loan is not something too many of us are concerned about.
Most Japanese are unaware that they can file their own tax return on top of the return filed by their employer, and this obviously goes for foreigners also. If you run a side business out of your apartment or get divorced (as a woman with children), and your employer doesn't know it, you are probably entitled to some deductions that you aren't taking, and therefor are paying too much money to the government. AND since your national health insurance premiums, government daycare fees and ward taxes are all based on that initial tax return, you might then be paying too much for all those services as well. Also if you are in the position to receive child assistance money, you may be missing the qualifying income level because you aren't taking all the deductions you could on your tax return.
Anyone who thinks they need to amend their previous year's return must do so by 15 May of the next year's return. Example: your 1998 tax return can be amended and an additional refund can be received if done by 15 May 2000. After 15 May 2000, if the government owes you money for 1998, you lose it, if you fail to notify them by filling out the revision request before 15 May. IF you do an amendment, especially if it is showing a lower income than originally reported then you should take on the responsibility of notifying the various desks at your local government office for National Health Insurance (hoken), ward/residence tax, and any other service payments affected.
Here are some hints on filling out your tax return forms - in triplicate! You will need carbon paper and your gaijin card number and visa status. Also make sure that you have all of your little white wage slips from all employers that deducted taxes from your pay. They are required to issue you the slip by 15 Feb (I think). If you complete your return at your designated tax office, they provide carbon paper, stapler and calculators. Be sure to bring your bank account or postal savings account information since you will need this in order to receive any refund due.
Some tax offices and their phone numbers:
If none of the above sounds like the closest one to you, then call:
Japanese Tax vocabulary: (Compiled: 10 Feb. 1999)
Japanese Tax System IN ENGLISH provided by the Tax Bureau of the Ministry of Finance. This is a menu of about 7 links.
Most recently available English translation of "Comprehensive Handbook of Japanese Taxes 2010": http://www.mof.go.jp/english/tax_policy/publication/taxes2010e/index.htm
Your rights when you are audited by the tax office, published in The Japan Times : Bone up on your tax audit ninjutsu to fight back by Amy Chavez 2012 Sep 15
2012 Income Tax Guide for Foreigners (.pdf file): http://www.nta.go.jp/tetsuzuki/shinkoku/shotoku/tebiki2012/pdf/43.pdf
2013 Tax Reform Main Points in English was published on Jan 29(to be in place for tax year 2013) at: http://www.mof.go.jp/english/tax_policy/tax_reform/fy2013/tax2013a.pdf
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