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TAXES

Italy ranked among worst in Europe for tax burden on families

Working parents in Italy face some of the highest rates of taxation among developed countries, according to a new international report.

Italy ranked among worst in Europe for tax burden on families
Italy places a higher tax burden on families with children, according to a new report. Photo by JOSE JORDAN / AFP

Italian employees pay one of the highest rates of tax relative to income of all countries included in a new study by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), coming only behind Belgium, Germany, Austria and France.

The OECD report measured the ‘tax wedge’ or tax burden faced by both the employee and the employer in each country last year.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to raise a child in Italy?

The figure includes income tax paid by workers, and social security contributions, which in Italy are paid by both the employee and employer.

According to the findings, Italy’s tax wedge is especially high for families with children, compared to a single worker with no dependents, ranking fourth-highest in this case among the 38 OECD member countries.

Only France, Finland and Turkey came higher.

In most of the countries studied, there are tax benefits for families with children. That’s because “most OECD countries provide benefits to families with children through cash transfers and preferential tax provisions,” reads the report.

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But Italy recorded lower than average reductions, with a decrease of just 8.6 percentage points for family benefits – less than the OECD average of 10 percentage points.

That meant Italy ranked as having the fourth-highest tax wedge for an average married worker with two children, amounting to 37.9 percent in 2021, while the OECD average is 24.6 percent.

The Italian government has recently pledged to do more to help families with the cost of living, including by introducing the Single Universal Allowance (L’assegno unico e universale).

However, this payment replaces various so-called ‘baby bonuses’, meaning the government is scrapping lump sums of hundreds of euros previously paid to help new parents cover the cost of starting a family.

Looking solely at the net tax that a worker pays on income, the same category of employee paid an average tax rate of 18.3 percent in 2021, compared with the 13.1 percent OECD average.

In other words, the take-home pay of an average married worker with two children in Italy, after tax and family benefits, is 81.7 percent of their gross wage, compared to 86.9 percent for the OECD average.

The discouraging figures come after a recent report estimated the total cost of raising a child in Italy up to the age of 18 at €321,617.

For a single employed person with no children, Italy had the fifth-highest tax wedge, slipping slightly from fourth place in 2020.

The tax wedge came to 46.5 percent in 2021 for single workers, while the OECD average tax wedge was 34.6 percent.

READ ALSO: How much parental leave do you get in Italy?

The OECD also reports that, in Italy, contributions and income tax account for 84 percent of the tax wedge, compared to 77 percent on average.

Employment taxation has bounced back for most countries in 2021 following the Covid-19 pandemic, the findings showed.

“Increases to the tax wedge in 2021 have more than offset the sharp declines recorded in 2020 and have seen the tax wedge rebound to higher levels than in 2019, before the pandemic,” the report stated.

Taxation rates for Italian workers remain relatively high despite employment taxation reforms in 2021 that included cutting income tax for lower earners.

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MONEY

What you need to know about opening a bank account in Italy

There are a few things to know before choosing the right place to put your cash in Italy. Here’s our guide to finding the best bank for you.

What you need to know about opening a bank account in Italy

Money makes the world go round, they say, and even in notoriously cash-friendly Italy, your life will be a lot easier if you have somewhere to put it.

But with daunting paperwork, confusing opening hours and array of diverse offerings, interacting with Italian banks can be challenging.

Here’s our guide to opening a bank account in Italy to get you started.

Step one: Know what’s out there

I come from Canada, where you can count the number of big banks on one hand. That means Italy’s banking sector can be a little dizzying in comparison. At the time of writing, Italy has more than 20 banks with assets of more than €10 billion. 

Among the biggest names in Italy are Dutch-based ING, Germany-based Deutsche Bank, Italy’s own Unicredit, and the Banca Nazionale di Lavoro (now owned by France’s BNP Paribas).

READ ALSO: Which are the best Italian banks for foreigners?

Alongside these big national banks, there are regional providers like the Banca Popolare di Puglia e Basilicata or the Banco di Sardegna, which confusingly operate branches far from their respective homelands. As a result, it’s not uncommon to find a Pugliese bank next to a Venetian one in Lombardy, or encounter a local bank that has just a handful of branches throughout the country.

Consider the fees applied to transactions and cash withdrawals when choosing your Italian bank account. (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP)

Disrupting the banking world in recent years has also been the emergence of a whole new crop of online banks, like N26 and HYPE, which offer very low fees by operating no physical branches.

And lastly, there’s the post office: Poste Italiane, in an unholy alliance of paper-based bureaucracy, also operates a consumer bank notorious for slowing down postal lines everywhere.

Knowing the lay of the land will help you pick out the best offering for your life and location. Consider your choice carefully. When we arrived, we chose N26 for its low fees and easy sign-up. But soon, we needed a bigger bank that could offer services like a fideiussione (renter’s guarantee).

Choosing the right bank is about more than knowing if it has a branch in your area — as you settle, a bank’s mortgage offerings, insurance, or high-interest savings accounts may become more important to you.

Step two: Decide what account you need

Technically, if you’re over the age of 18, you’re eligible to open an account in Italy — but most account types are only available to residents, which includes foreign nationals who are here because of a valid job offer or degree program.

The most common account type is a conto corrente or current account (a checking account for American readers). These accounts are designed with daily transactions in mind, meaning there are often opportunities to save on fees by maintaining a minimum deposit or balance.

Ask an expert: Which are the best UK banks for Brits living in Italy?

To earn higher interest, you can place your savings in a conto di risparmio or savings account, which offer fewer transfers and transactions in exchange for higher interest. There is also the conto di deposito, a more restrictive but even higher-interest savings account designed for parking your money just to earn.

Lastly, there are conti correnti esteri, foreign accounts, which can offer deals on wire transfers or allow you to use your home currency and save on exchange fees. These accounts don’t require you to be an Italian resident, making them a good choice for people staying for an indeterminate time.

Step three: Review costs

There’s a reason some of Italy’s nicest buildings belong to banks — this country’s banking fees are among the highest in Europe.

Though comparisons are hard to come by, in 2009 the European Commission found that fees in Italy could be four or five times the amount for the same accounts in the Netherlands, Ireland, or Germany.

But choose the right offer, and they don’t have to be — one analysis found these fees could vary by as much as 10 times between banks.

On average, a typical current account cost nearly €95 per year in 2022, with high-interest savings accounts costing even more. But that average dropped to just €25 for online-only accounts like those offered by N26.

A branch of Unicredit bank in Milan. (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP)

In exchange for these fees, banks offer a range of different services — everything from higher interest to lower transaction fees.

Most banks won’t charge a setup fee, but may charge to issue you with your first debit or credit card. Other services, like cheques, wire transfers, or even ATM withdrawals above a monthly limit are likely to be met with other fees.

Il Sole 24 Ore, one of Italy’s leading financial newspapers, has an online tool that will help you compare bank offers, automatically deducting your expenses from your anticipated interest to show you exactly how much your account is likely to cost.

Make sure to read the fine print — some “fee-free” accounts are promotional offers and expire after a year or so, leaving you paying hefty fees. Others look expensive, but are free if you maintain a low minimum balance or make monthly deposits of just a few hundred euro.

Step four: Visit a branch or sign up online

Now that you know the account type and bank you’re looking for, you can dive into the paperwork.

For a variety of reasons, it’s generally best to wait until you are in Italy to open your account — even in the case of online accounts or conti esteri. Banks will want to mail you your card and know a fixed address in Italy, and you will need an Italian tax code (codice fiscale) to get started in any case.

For online accounts like N26 and HYPE, paperwork is often minimal and requires filing out a few online forms and uploading your ID. 

In physical banks, by contrast, it can be quite extensive, involving a lot of fine print in Italian. If your language skills are poor, consider bringing a friend who can help you review your contracts, or select a bank that you know offers counter service in English.

To open an account, you’ll need the following documents:

  • ID or a passport;
  • Codice fiscale;
  • Residency permit (or, if you’re a non-resident, proof of address like a bill or piece of certified mail); and
  • Proof of your employment income (i.e., a contract or tax return).

Businesses will also need to provide the company’s registration certificate, a certificate of good standing, and statements of the financial status of all shareholders with more than a 20 percent stake in the company.

Take these to your local branch to get the process started. Make sure to check your local bank’s opening hours first — Italian banks are notorious for taking long lunches and closing early in the afternoon.

Closing an account

If you’ve decided it’s time to say goodbye to your bank, it’s unfortunately not quite as simple as visiting a branch.

In most cases, you will need to send a registered letter or raccomandata to your local branch before you show up in person, including signatures from everyone on the account.

And as usual, make sure to read your contract carefully — some banks will even charge a fee to close your account.

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