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All about wealth tax
July, 16th 2008

 Wealth tax is a tax levied on individuals, Hindu Undivided Families (HUFs) and companies who possess net wealth in excess of INR 1.5 million on March 31st of every year. The Wealth tax law specifies a list of assets that will be considered to be part of the taxable wealth of the assessee. Broadly, house property, motor cars, jewellery, cash in hand subject to limits, urban land, yachts, boats and aircrafts are the assets that will be liable to wealth-tax in India. Principally, wealth tax is levied on non-productive assets of assesses, and thus the above assets, where used for commercial purposes, will be excluded from taxation. The current rate of wealth tax is 1 percent on the net wealth of the assessee, exceeding the threshold limit of INR 1.5 million.

The value of taxable assets for the purpose of wealth tax would be their value as on the last day of the respective financial year (FY). Further, such value of assets (except cash) will have to be determined in accordance with the valuation norms laid down in the Wealth Tax Act. In determining the value of the assets, debts owed by the assessee in respect of assets chargeable to tax are reduced from the taxable value of the assets. Thus, where you have purchased your brand new Mercedes on 'easy monthly installments', the outstanding value of the loan as at March 31 of the FY will go on to reduce the value of the motor-car in the wealth tax computation. Further, while the tax base for wealth tax is restricted to individuals, HUFs and companies; their interest in partnership firms/ association of persons (AOP) to the extent such firms/ AOPs possess specified assets is included in their net wealth and subjected to tax.

Exemptions and clubbing provisions

In determining the wealth tax liability, one must be careful in examining whether an asset is liable to wealth-tax, as there are some exemptions that are available with respect to certain prescribed assets. For example, wealth-tax need not be paid in respect of one house of an individual/ HUF or on a plot of land which does not exceed 500 square metres. Neither does tax need be paid on any residential property that is let out for a minimum of 300 days in the relevant previous year, nor on any property which is held for business purposes. Motor cars that are held by an assessee for running them on hire or held as stock in trade are also not liable to wealth-tax. The same applies to jewellery that is held as stock in trade for the purpose of business. Other than the specified assets prescribed under the wealth tax law, no other assets such as investment in fixed deposits, shares or intangible property is subject to wealth tax in India.

 It is also important to note that one cannot evade wealth tax by transferring ownership of taxable assets among family members with a view to disperse the value of such assets which could subsequently reduce the tax burden. When an asset is transferred to a spouse or a minor child of the individual, or to any other person for the benefit of his spouse or minor child, without adequate consideration, even if the ownership of that asset does not lie with the individual, he will be liable to pay wealth-tax with respect to those assets. Thus, the diamonds that you gift your wife on your anniversary, besides burning a hole in your pocket, will cause you to pay wealth tax, as the jewellery is deemed to be your wealth.

Filing of returns

The Indian wealth tax law requires every person subject to wealth tax in India to file a physical wealth tax return with the Income-tax authorities by July 31 (September 30 for companies) of the year following the FY. Another factor to consider is that while Indian residents are liable to pay wealth tax on their global wealth i.e. on those assets situated outside India too, but non residents including foreign companies are liable to pay tax only on assets situated in India.

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