The head of Norway’s tax authority, Hans Christian Holte, was urging his fellow Norwegians on Thursday to carefully review their tax returns for 2015 that were released at midnight. By 8am, more than half a million already had, overloading the tax department’s online service.
“It’s a bit like the traffic on the roads during the Easter holidays,” Holte mused on national radio Thursday morning. When everyone hits the road at the same time, he noted, it gets clogged up.
That’s what happened when taxpayers in Norway, eager to see how much money they may get refunded or how much more they owe, logged in to check their individual tax returns that already are mostly filled out. Employers, banks, stock brokerages and a host of other businesses and oganizations are required by law to electronically notify tax authorities of everything from wages to account balances, interest paid, donations made and other financial matters that affect taxes. Holte’s organization, Skatteetaten, then calculates a preliminary estimate of whether taxpayers have paid in too little or too much, with refunds paid out in June for those filing online.
Not only is that estimated bottom line of great interest to the vast majority of Norwegians, Holte, his colleagues and accountants in general strongly urge all taxpayers to double-check the figures on their tax returns. The numbers should reflect exactly what taxpayers already have received on year-end bank account statements, and it’s the taxpayer’s responsibility to be sure they’re correct. Taxpayers must file or sign off on their completed Selvangivelse (the tax return, which literally means “to give of yourself”) by April 30, or May 31 for small business owners.
The rush of taxpayers logging in prompted the customary overload but it eventually let up, though, and by mid-morning, the tax authority’s system was functioning as normal. Of Norway’s 4.7 million wage earners, retirees and self-employed, 3.6 million will only receive their tax returns electronically this year. Tax authorities have a goal of eventually eliminating paper tax returns.
Refunds average NOK 11,000
According to Skatteetaten’s estimates, fully 80 percent of Norwegian taxpayers (around 2.6 million) were in line to receive tax refunds this year, of a bit over NOK 11,000 (USD 1,300) on average. Asked why so many people had too much tax withheld last year, or paid in too much, Holte said it usually is because of unreported changes in personal economy such as a new job, the loss of a job or other changes on the domestic front. Some Norwegians even prefer to pay in more than necessary, because they like receiving a refund just before the summer holidays.
Around 800,000 Norwegians were getting the message on Thursday that they owe taxes, with outstanding amounts averaging NOK 30,000. “These taxpayers generally have a more complicated economy that others, but they also tend to be better prepared to pay the tax bill,” Holte told state broadcaster NRK.
He estimated that several hundred thousand Norwegians don’t bother to check their tax returns, and that’s legal but can be risky. “Even though we have lots of information that’s already filled out on the forms, they’re not necessarily complete,” Holte said. “Taxpayers may be entitled to deductions we’re not aware of, like interest paid on private loans, or travel expenses that can be written off in connection with work.” Some people also have had major medical expenses that may be deductible, or have bank accounts or loans abroad that aren’t yet included.
Overseas financial data is now starting to be shared across borders, though, and this year marks the first time that Skatteetaten can include savings and loan information, for example, from Denmark for the roughly 6,600 people living in Norway with assets in Denmark.
Assets held by residents of Norway in other countries are expected to eventually show up on tax forms as well, as a result of international tax agreements. Until then, those obligated to file taxes in Norway are supposed to provide the information themselves.
Tax returns in Norway have become so automated for most people now, that tax authorities claim it’s “never been easier to settle your tax.” Those needing help can use the tax authority’s step-by-step guide and others found on their website skatteetaten.no (external links).