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What is value-added tax?

What is value-added tax?

Value added tax (VAT) is a consumption tax system levied on goods and services as they move through various stages of the supply chain, from initial production to the point of sale.

Unlike traditional sales taxes imposed only at the final sale, VAT is collected at each step where value is added, rather than taxing the entire product's value.

VAT is used to raise government revenue in more than 160 countries although, the United States is not one of them. It is most commonly found in the European Union (EU).

How value-added tax works

Value-added tax operates as a consumption-based taxation mechanism that influences the entire production and distribution process of goods and services.

VAT imposes a goods and services tax on the value incrementally added at each stage, starting from production and concluding at the final sale to the end consumer.

This tax is a fundamental component of many countries' tax income tax system configurations. 

VAT example 

Let’s imagine there is a bakery business where various baked goods like bread, cakes, and pastries are produced and sold in an imaginary country of Genevieve. Let's explore how Value Added Tax (VAT) works in this scenario:

The bakery purchases ingredients like flour, sugar, eggs, and butter from suppliers, totaling $100.

At a 10% VAT rate, the suppliers charge an additional $10 as VAT ($100 * 0.10), and so the bakery pays a total of $110 for the ingredients, including $10 VAT.

The bakery then uses these ingredients to create baked goods. No additional VAT is added during this production stage.

After baking, the bakery sells cakes for $20 each. With a 10% VAT rate, customers are charged an extra 10% of the selling price as VAT.

For each cake sold, $2 is collected as VAT ($20 * 0.10) and the bakery sells 10 cakes, making a total revenue of $200. The bakery collects $20 in VAT from customers.

At the end of a specific period, the bakery reports and pays the VAT collected minus the tax paid on business-related purchases.

  • VAT Collected from Customers: $20
  • VAT Paid on Ingredients: $10
  • Net VAT Payable: $20 - $10 = $10

In this example, the bakery owes the government $10 in VAT.

This amount represents the difference between the VAT collected from customers and the VAT paid on business inputs (ingredients).

The bakery functions as a collector of VAT on behalf of the government.

Remember, VAT is a consumption tax, and its ultimate tax burden falls on the end consumer. The businesses involved in the supply chain are intermediaries for collecting and remitting the tax.

This illustration simplifies the VAT process, while real-world VAT systems can be more intricate due to varying rates, exemptions, and regulations.

Businesses who need to register for VAT

Businesses operating globally have specific value-added tax (VAT) registration obligations.

Nonresident businesses without a physical presence in a country may need to register for VAT based on their business activities.

For example, the UK mandates VAT registration if VAT taxable turnover for the last 12 months exceeds £85,000, but even businesses with lower turnovers can voluntarily register.

Certain activities, like hosting events, can trigger VAT registration, even below the turnover threshold.

Timely administrative and compliance costs of registration are vital to avoid penalties and legal issues.

VAT registration criteria differ per country, emphasizing the need for businesses to comply for smooth operations and penalty avoidance.

Value-added tax rates

VAT rates are country-specific, similar to how sales tax varies across state and local governments in the US.

In the European Union, basic rules ensure consistency while allowing flexibility. Member countries must have a standard VAT rate (minimum 15%) and can implement up to two reduced rates (minimum 5%).

Value-added tax rates reflect national priorities, adapting to unique contexts. While the EU provides guidelines, other countries shape their rates based on their needs and tax authorities.

You can access a list of VAT rates on PWC.com.

Is VAT a direct or indirect tax?

Value-added tax (VAT) is an indirect tax. It is categorized as such because it is collected and remitted by the seller rather than being directly paid by the consumer to the federal government.

This fundamental characteristic of VAT sets it apart from direct taxes, which are paid directly by individuals or entities to the government, such as income tax.

VAT refund

A VAT refund allows non-resident travelers to reclaim VAT on eligible purchases in countries with a VAT system.

The process involves requesting a refund form from the shop, meeting a minimum purchase amount (e.g., around 175 euros in the EU), and proving non-resident status with a passport.

Certain items qualify, but not food, hotels, or some attractions. Shops might charge processing fees.

To benefit from this, complete forms accurately, get them stamped, and mail them to provided addresses for refunds. Some travel hubs offer immediate refunds.

Businesses can also get tax credits or refunds for purchases used in VAT-subject goods/services production. Compliance and proper documentation are crucial.

While advantageous, a VAT refund demands effort. Travelers and businesses need to weigh benefits against administrative tasks and shopping preferences.

VAT vs sales tax system?

Value-added tax (VAT) and retail sales tax are two distinct taxation systems with differing methods of collection and implications for businesses and consumers. 

VAT is a tax that targets the value added to a product or service at every stage of production or distribution.

This means that as goods or services move through various supply chain steps, the tax is collected on the incremental value created at each stage.

In contrast, sales tax is imposed solely at the final point of sale, directly affecting the retail price of the product or service.

Manage international finances with BILL

International payments with BILL can help you streamline your workflow, keep all your business finances in sync, and save money. Manage expenses, including international fees and taxes, such as VAT, easily with BILL. 

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