Debt and Equity: What's the Difference? A Comparative View
99 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2009
Date Written: July 8, 2009
The divide between debt and equity belongs to the focal points of national and international tax law. Under domestic individual income tax law, it is crucial for the distinction between a creditor-debtor relationship and a full partnership of taxpayers jointly carrying on a business. Under domestic corporate income tax law, it is decisive for the application of a two-layer taxation of corporate profits and dividends. Under international income tax law, the allocation of taxing rights and the application of withholding taxation follows largely the distinction between debt and equity. Against this background, this article analyses on a comparative basis the major features of debt and equity under corporate law, accounting law and tax law in six jurisdictions (Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States). It becomes clear that the debt-equity divide is shaped differently for purposes of individual income taxation, corporate income taxation and international income taxation. While individual or corporate income taxation largely looks at the similarities between a full partner or a full shareholder on the one hand and the holder of a hybrid debt instruments on the other hand, international tax rules tend to include all sorts of profit-dependent payments under the rules for corporate profits and dividends. It remains to be seen whether the dependency of payments on contingent profits (or other proprietary elements of a business entity like turnover) forms a convincing rationale for the existing distinctions between debt and equity in the international tax arena or whether tax policy should opt for full or near equal treatment of these financial instruments.
Keywords: Debt, equity, business tax, international tax, corporate law, corporate tax
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