Taxation, Information, and Withholding: Evidence from Costa Rica
57 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2016
Date Written: March 14, 2016
This paper studies tax withholding on business sales, a widely used compliance mechanism which is ignored by public finance theory. A withholding scheme, whereby the payer in a transaction collects tax from the payee, is introduced in a standard evasion model with third-party reporting. If the taxpayer can fully reclaim the tax withheld, withholding is irrelevant to her evasion decision. However, in the presence of costly reclaim, low salience of enforcement or extensive margin compliance gaps, withholding can raise tax payment. To show this empirically, the study exploits a ten-year panel of income tax and sales tax records from 400,000 firms in Costa Rica, and over 20 million third-party information and withholding reports. First, an anatomy of compliance shows that firms are relatively compliant with third-party information on the extensive, intensive and payment margin. An event study then shows that coverage by third-party reporting leads to a 20-50 percent increase in reported taxable income. Finally, a difference-in-difference and regression discontinuity estimation of a withholding rate increase isolates the impact of withholding. A doubling of the withholding rate leads to a 33 percent increase in sales tax payment among treated firms and an 8 percent increase in aggregate sales tax revenue. The mechanisms are reduced misreporting and incomplete reclaim of the tax withheld. The large compliance impact of withholding rationalizes its widespread use in low compliance contexts.
Keywords: Private Sector Economics, Non Governmental Organizations, Economics and Institutions, Public Sector Management and Reform, Marketing, Private Sector Development Law
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