Corporate tax

A corporate tax, also called corporation tax or company tax, is a tax on the income or capital of corporations or analogous legal entities. Many countries impose such taxes at the national level, and a similar tax may be imposed at state or local levels. The taxes may also be referred to as income tax or capital tax. Partnerships are generally not taxed at the entity level. A country's corporate tax may apply to:

Company income subject to tax is often determined much like taxable income for individuals. Generally, the tax is imposed on net profits. In some jurisdictions, rules for taxing companies may differ significantly from rules for taxing individuals. Certain corporate acts, like reorganizations, may not be taxed. Some types of entities may be exempt from tax.

Countries may tax corporations on its net profit and may also tax shareholders when the corporation pays a dividend. Where dividends are taxed, a corporation may be required to withhold tax before the dividend is distributed.


A corporate tax is a tax imposed on the taxable income of a corporation that are taxed at the entity level in a particular jurisdiction. Net taxable income for corporate tax is generally the financial statement income with modifications, and may be defined in great detail within each country's tax system. Such taxes may include income or other taxes. The tax systems of most countries impose an income tax at the entity level on certain type(s) of entities (company or corporation). The rate of tax varies by jurisdiction. The tax may have an alternative base, such as assets, payroll, or income computed in an alternative manner.

Most countries exempt certain types of corporate events or transactions from income tax, for example events related to formation or reorganization of the corporation, which are treated as capital costs. In addition, most systems provide specific rules for taxation of the entity and/or its members upon winding up or dissolution of the entity.

In systems where financing costs are allowed as reductions of the tax base (tax deductions), rules may apply that differentiate between classes of member-provided financing. In such systems, items characterized as interest may be deductible, perhaps subject to limitations, while items characterized as dividends are not. Some systems limit deductions based on simple formulas, such as a debt-to-equity ratio, while other systems have more complex rules.

Some systems provide a mechanism whereby groups of related corporations may obtain benefit from losses, credits, or other items of all members within the group. Mechanisms include combined or consolidated returns as well as group relief (direct benefit from items of another member).

Many systems additionally tax shareholders of those entities on dividends or other distributions by the corporation. A few systems provide for partial integration of entity and member taxation. This may be accomplished by "imputation systems" or franking credits. In the past, mechanisms have existed for advance payment of member tax by corporations, with such payment offsetting entity level tax.

Many systems (particularly sub-country level systems) impose a tax on particular corporate attributes. Such non-income taxes may be based on capital stock issued or authorized (either by number of shares or value), total equity, net capital, or other measures unique to corporations.

Corporations, like other entities, may be subject to withholding tax obligations upon making certain varieties of payments to others. These obligations are generally not the tax of the corporation, but the system may impose penalties on the corporation or its officers or employees for failing to withhold and pay over such taxes. A company has been defined as a juristic person having an independent and separate existence from its shareholders. Income of the company is computed and assessed separately in the hands of the company. In certain cases, distributions from the company to its shareholders as dividends are taxed as income to the shareholders.

Corporations property tax, payroll tax, withholding tax, excise tax, customs duties, value added tax, and other common taxes, are generally not referred to as “corporate tax.”

U.S. Corporation defined

Main article: Corporation

Characterization as a corporation for tax purposes is based on the form of organization, with the exception of United States Federal[1] and most states income taxes, under which an entity may elect to be treated as a corporation and taxed at the entity level or taxed only at the member level.[2] See Limited liability company, Partnership taxation, S corporation, Sole proprietorship.

Members of the corporate entity are generally not subject to tax on the entity's earnings until such earnings are distributed. By contrast, most jurisdictions tax partnerships at the member level and not the entity level and tax the partnership's earnings as they are earned, rather than when they are distributed.


Corporations may be taxed on their incomes, property, or existence or equity structure by various jurisdictions. Maryland imposes a tax on corporations organized in that state based on the number of shares of capital stock issued and outstanding. Many jurisdictions instead impose a tax based on stated or computed capital, often including retained profits.

Most jurisdictions tax corporations on their income, like the United Kingdom[3] or the United States[2] The United States tax all types of corporate income at the same rate, but provide different rates of tax depending on income levels or size of entity.[2]

The United States tax corporations under the same framework of tax law as individuals with differences related to the inherent natures of corporations and individuals or unincorporated entities, as individuals are not formed, amalgamated, or acquired, and corporations do not incur medical expenses except by way of compensating individuals.[4]

Many systems allow tax credits for specific items, allowed for foreign taxes on the same income and for withholding tax.

Most systems tax both domestic and foreign corporations. Often, domestic corporations are taxed on worldwide income while foreign corporations are taxed only on income from sources within the jurisdiction. Many jurisdictions imposing an income tax impose such tax income from a permanent establishment within the jurisdiction.

Taxable income

Most systems impose income tax at a specified rate of tax times taxable income, which may be decreased due to tax exemption.

The United States define taxable income for a corporation as all gross income, i.e. sales plus other income minus cost of goods sold and tax exempt income less allowable tax deductions, without the allowance of the standard deduction applicable to individuals.[5]

The United States system requires that differences in principles for recognizing income and deductions differing from financial accounting principles like the timing of income or deduction, tax exemption for certain income, and disallowance or limitation of certain tax deductions be disclosed in considerable detail for non-small corporations on Schedule M-3 to Form 1120.[6]

The United States tax resident corporations, i.e. those organized within the country) on their worldwide income, and nonresident, foreign corporations only on their income from sources within the country.[7] Hong Kong taxes resident and nonresident corporations only on income from sources within the country.[8]


Corporate tax rates generally are the same for differing types of income, yet the US graduated its tax rate system where corporations with lower levels of income pay a lower rate of tax, with rates varying from 15% on the first $50,000 of income to 35% on incomes over $10,000,000, with phase-outs.[9]

The Canadian system imposes tax at different rates for different types of corporations, allowing lower rates for some smaller corporations.[10]

Tax rates vary by jurisdiction and some countries have sub-country level jurisdictions like provinces, cantons, prefectures, cities, or other that also impose corporate income tax like Canada, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and the United States.[11] Some jurisdictions impose tax at a different rate on an alternative tax base.

Examples of corporate tax rates for a few English-speaking countries include:

Distribution of earnings

Most systems that tax corporations also impose income tax on shareholders of corporations when earnings are distributed.[21] Such distribution of earnings is generally referred to as a dividend. The tax may be at reduced rates. For example, the United States provides for reduced amounts of tax on dividends received by individuals and by corporations.[22] By contrast, the United Kingdom provides for reduced amounts of tax only on dividends received by individuals.

The company law of some jurisdictions prevents corporations from distributing amounts to shareholders except as distribution of earnings. Such earnings may be determined under company law principles or tax principles. For example, the United Kingdom permits a company to make dividend distributions only up to the balance of earnings available for distribution according to its last audited accounts.[23] In such jurisdictions, exceptions are usually provided with respect to distribution of shares of the company, for winding up, and in limited other situations.

Other jurisdictions treat distributions as distributions of earnings taxable to shareholders if earnings are available to be distributed, but do not prohibit distributions in excess of earnings. For example, under the United States system each corporation must maintain a calculation of its earnings and profits (a tax concept similar to retained earnings).[24] A distribution to a shareholder is considered to be from earnings and profits to the extent thereof unless an exception applies.[25] Note that the United States provides reduced tax on dividend income of both corporations and individuals.

Other jurisdictions provide corporations a means of designating, within limits, whether a distribution is a distribution of earnings taxable to the shareholder or a return of capital. For example, in Canada a corporation may designate a distribution to shareholders as a distribution of Paid Up Capital (PUC), and thus not taxable as a dividend, to the extent of remaining capital, or an eligible dividend.


The following illustrates the dual level of tax concept:

C Corp earns 100 of profits before tax in each of years 1 and 2. It distributes all the earnings in year 3, when it has no profits. Jim owns all of C Corp. The tax rate in the residence jurisdiction of Jim and C Corp is 30%.

Year 1 Cumulative Pre-tax income Taxes
Taxable income 100 100
Tax 30 30  
Net after tax 70
Jim's income & tax 0
Year 2
Taxable income 100 200
Tax 30 60  
Net after tax 70
Jim's income & tax 0
Year 3:
Distribution 140
Jim's tax 42 102  
Net after Jim's tax 98
Totals 200 102  

Other corporate events

Many systems provide that certain corporate events are not taxable to corporations or shareholders. Significant restrictions and special rules often apply. The rules related to such transactions are often quite complex.


Most systems treat the formation of a corporation by a controlling corporate shareholder as a nontaxable event. Many systems, including the United States and Canada, extend this tax free treatment to the formation of a corporation by any group of shareholders in control of the corporation.[26] Generally, in tax free formations the tax attributes of assets and liabilities are transferred to the new corporation along with such assets and liabilities.

Example: John and Mary are United States residents who operate a business. They decide to incorporate for business reasons. They transfer the assets of the business to Newco, a newly formed Delaware corporation of which they are the sole shareholders, subject to accrued liabilities of the business in exchange solely for common shares of Newco. Under United States principles, this transfer does not cause tax to John, Mary, or Newco. If on the other hand Newco also assumes a bank loan in excess of the basis of the assets transferred less the accrued liabilities, John and Mary will recognize taxable gain for such excess.[27]


Corporations may merge or acquire other corporations in a manner a particular tax system treats as nontaxable to either of the corporations and/or to their shareholders. Generally, significant restrictions apply if tax free treatment is to be obtained.[28] For example, Bigco acquires all of the shares of Smallco from Smallco shareholders in exchange solely for Bigco shares. This acquisition is not taxable to Smallco or its shareholders under U.S. or Canadian tax law if certain requirements are met, even if Smallco is then liquidated into or merged or amalgamated with Bigco.


In addition, corporations may change key aspects of their legal identity, capitalization, or structure in a tax free manner under most systems. Examples of reorganizations that may be tax free include mergers, amalgamations, liquidations of subsidiaries, share for share exchanges, exchanges of shares for assets, changes in form or place of organization, and recapitalizations.[29]

Interest deduction limitations

Most jurisdictions allow a tax deduction for interest expense incurred by a corporation in carrying out its trading activities. Where such interest is paid to related parties, such deduction may be limited. Without such limitation, owners could structure financing of the corporation in a manner that would provide for a tax deduction for much of the profits, potentially without changing the tax on shareholders. For example, assume a corporation earns profits of 100 before interest expense and would normally distribute 50 to shareholders. If the corporation is structured so that deductible interest of 50 is payable to the shareholders, it will cut its tax to half the amount due if it merely paid a dividend.

A common form of limitation is to limit the deduction for interest paid to related parties to interest charged at arm's length rates on debt not exceeding a certain portion of the equity of the paying corporation. For example, interest paid on related party debt in excess of three times equity may not be deductible in computing taxable income.

The United States, United Kingdom, and French tax systems apply a more complex set of tests to limit deductions. Under the U.S. system, related party interest expense in excess of 50% of cash flow is generally not currently deductible, with the excess potentially deductible in future years.[30]

The classification of instruments as debt on which interest is deductible or as equity with respect to which distributions are not deductible can be complex in some systems.[31]

Foreign corporation branches

Most jurisdictions tax foreign corporations differently from domestic corporations.[32] No international laws limit the ability of a country to tax its nationals and residents (individuals and entities). However, treaties and practicality impose limits on taxation of those outside its borders, even on income from sources within the country.

Most jurisdictions tax foreign corporations on business income within the jurisdiction when earned through a branch or permanent establishment in the jurisdiction. This tax may be imposed at the same rate as the tax on business income of a resident corporation or at a different rate.[33]

Upon payment of dividends, corporations are generally subject to withholding tax only by their country of incorporation. Many countries impose a branch profits tax on foreign corporations to prevent the advantage the absence of dividend withholding tax would otherwise provide to foreign corporations. This tax may be imposed at the time profits are earned by the branch or at the time they are remitted or deemed remitted outside the country.[34]

Branches of foreign corporations may not be entitled to all of the same deductions as domestic corporations. Some jurisdictions do not recognize inter-branch payments as actual payments, and income or deductions arising from such inter-branch payments are disregarded.[35] Some jurisdictions impose express limits on tax deductions of branches. Commonly limited deductions include management fees and interest.


Most jurisdictions allow interperiod allocation or deduction of losses in some manner for corporations, even where such deduction is not allowed for individuals. A few jurisdictions allow losses (usually defined as negative taxable income) to be deducted by revising or amending prior year taxable income.[36] Most jurisdictions allow such deductions only in subsequent periods. Some jurisdictions impose time limitations as to when loss deductions may be utilized.

Groups of companies

Several jurisdictions provide a mechanism whereby losses or tax credits of one corporation may be used by another corporation where both corporations are commonly controlled (together, a group). In the United States and Netherlands, among others, this is accomplished by filing a single tax return including the income and loss of each group member. This is referred to as a consolidated return in the United States and as a fiscal unity in the Netherlands. In the United Kingdom, this is accomplished directly on a pairwise basis called group relief. Losses of one group member company may be “surrendered” to another group member company, and the latter company may deduct the loss against profits.

The United States has extensive regulations dealing with consolidated returns.[37] One such rule requires matching of income and deductions on intercompany transactions within the group by use of “deferred intercompany transaction” rules.

In addition, a few systems provide a tax exemption for dividend income received by corporations. The Netherlands system provides a “participation exception” to taxation for corporations owning more than 25% of the dividend paying corporation.

Transfer pricing

A key issue in corporate tax is the setting of prices charged by related parties for goods, services or the use of property. Many jurisdictions have guidelines on transfer pricing which allow tax authorities to adjust transfer prices used. Such adjustments may apply in both an international and a domestic context.

Taxation of shareholders

Most income tax systems levy tax on the corporation and, upon distribution of earnings (dividends), on the shareholder. This results in a dual level of tax. Most systems require that income tax be withheld on distribution of dividends to foreign shareholders, and some also require withholding of tax on distributions to domestic shareholders. The rate of such withholding tax may be reduced for a shareholder under a tax treaty.

Some systems tax some or all dividend income at lower rates than other income. The United States has historically provided a dividends received deduction to corporations with respect to dividends from other corporations in which the recipient owns more than 10% of the shares. For tax years 2004–2010, the United States also has imposed a reduced rate of taxation on dividends received by individuals.[38]

Some systems currently attempt or in the past have attempted to integrate taxation of the corporation with taxation of shareholders to mitigate the dual level of taxation. As a current example, Australia provides for a “franking credit” as a benefit to shareholders. When an Australian company pays a dividend to a domestic shareholder, it reports the dividend as well as a notional tax credit amount. The shareholder utilizes this notional credit to offset shareholder level income tax.[39]

A previous system was utilised in the United Kingdom, called the Advance Corporation Tax (ACT). When a company paid a dividend, it was required to pay an amount of ACT, which it then used to offset its own taxes. The ACT was included in income by the shareholder resident in the United Kingdom or certain treaty countries, and treated as a payment of tax by the shareholder. To the extent that deemed tax payment exceeded taxes otherwise due, it was refundable to the shareholder.

Alternative tax bases

Many jurisdictions incorporate some sort of alternative tax computation. These computations may be based on assets, capital, wages, or some alternative measure of taxable income. Often the alternative tax functions as a minimum tax.

United States federal income tax incorporates an alternative minimum tax. This tax is computed at a lower tax rate (20% for corporations), and imposed based on a modified version of taxable income. Modifications include longer depreciation lives assets under MACRS, adjustments related to costs of developing natural resources, and an addback of certain tax exempt interest. The U. S. state of Michigan previously taxed businesses on an alternative base that did not allow compensation of employees as a tax deduction and allowed full deduction of the cost of production assets upon acquisition.

Some jurisdictions, such as Swiss cantons and certain states within the United States, impose taxes based on capital. These may be based on total equity per audited financial statements,[40] a computed amount of assets less liabilities[41] or quantity of shares outstanding.[42] In some jurisdictions, capital based taxes are imposed in addition to the income tax.[41] In other jurisdictions, the capital taxes function as alternative taxes.

Mexico imposes an alternative tax on corporations, the IETU.[39] The tax rate is lower than the regular rate, and there are adjustments for salaries and wages, interest and royalties, and depreciable assets.

Tax returns

Most systems require that corporations file an annual income tax return.[43] Some systems (such as the Canadian and United States systems) require that taxpayers self assess tax on the tax return.[44] Other systems provide that the government must make an assessment for tax to be due.[39] Some systems require certification of tax returns in some manner by accountants licensed to practice in the jurisdiction, often the company's auditors.[45]

Tax returns can be fairly simple or quite complex. The systems requiring simple returns often base taxable income on financial statement profits with few adjustments, and may require that audited financial statements be attached to the return.[46] Returns for such systems generally require that the relevant financial statements be attached to a simple adjustment schedule. By contrast, United States corporate tax returns require both computation of taxable income from components thereof and reconciliation of taxable income to financial statement income.

Many systems require forms or schedules supporting particular items on the main form. Some of these schedules may be incorporated into the main form. For example, the Canadian corporate return, Form T-2, an 8-page form, incorporates some detail schedules but has nearly 50 additional schedules that may be required.

Some systems have different returns for different types of corporations or corporations engaged in specialized businesses. The United States has 13 variations on the basic Form 1120[47] for S corporations, insurance companies, Domestic international sales corporations, foreign corporations, and other entities. The structure of the forms and imbedded schedules vary by type of form.

Preparation of non-simple corporate tax returns can be time consuming. For example, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service states in the instructions for Form 1120 that the average time needed to complete form is over 56 hours, not including record keeping time and required attachments.

Tax return due dates vary by jurisdiction, fiscal or tax year, and type of entity.[48] In self-assessment systems, payment of taxes is generally due no later than the normal due date, though advance tax payments may be required.[49] Canadian corporations must pay estimated taxes monthly.[50] In each case, final payment is due with the corporation tax return.

International corporate tax rates

Corporate tax rates vary widely by country, leading some corporations to shield earnings within offshore subsidiaries or to redomicile within countries with lower tax rates.

In comparing national corporate tax rates one should also take into account the taxes on dividends paid to shareholders. For example, the overall U.S. tax on corporate profits of 35% is less than or similar to that of European countries such as Germany, Ireland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, which have lower corporate tax rates but higher taxes on dividends paid to shareholders.[51]

Corporate tax rates across the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are shown in the table. Rates within the OECD vary from a low of 8.5% in Switzerland to a high of 35% in the United States. The OECD average is 22%.[52][53] Please note the table below represents federal tax rates only. Provincial, state and local taxes also apply in most jurisdictions. For example, the 2015 provincial corporate tax rates in Canada range from 11.5% to 16% in addition to the federal tax rate of 15%, unless taxable profits of small corporations are low enough to qualify for a lower tax rate.[54]

Country 2015 Corporate tax rate
Australia Australia 30%
Austria Austria 25%
Belgium Belgium 33%
Canada Canada 15%
Chile Chile 22.5%
Czech Republic Czech Republic 19%
Denmark Denmark 23.5%
Estonia Estonia 20%
Finland Finland 20%
France France 34.43%
Germany Germany 15.83%
Greece Greece 26%
Hungary Hungary 19%
Iceland Iceland 20%
Iran Iran 25%
Republic of Ireland Ireland 12.5%
Israel Israel 26.5%
Italy Italy 27.5%
South Korea South Korea 22%
Luxembourg Luxembourg 22.47%
Mexico Mexico 30.0%
Netherlands Netherlands 25%
New Zealand New Zealand 28%
Norway Norway 27%
Poland Poland 19%
Portugal Portugal 28%
Slovakia Slovak Republic 22%
Slovenia Slovenia 17%
Spain Spain 28%
Sweden Sweden 22%
Switzerland Switzerland 8.5%
Turkey Turkey 20%
United Kingdom United Kingdom 20%
United States United States 35%

The corporate tax rates in other jurisdictions include:

Country 2015 Corporate tax rate
Japan 32.11%, with plans to reduce
Russian Federation 20%[55]
Singapore 17%, with significant exemptions for resident companies[56]

See also


  1. See United States tax regulations at 26 CFR 301.7701-2 and -3.
  2. 1 2 3 26 USC 11.
  3. United Kingdom Income and Corporation Taxes Act of 1988 as amended (UK ICTA88) section 6
  4. United States itemized deductions for individuals and special deductions for corporations.
  5. USC26 taxable income
  6. M-3 to Form 1120
  7. 26 USC 881-885.
  8. "Profits Tax". Retrieved 2012-10-08.
  9. 26 USC 11
  10. Canada
  11. "Corporation Tax Explained". Peach Wilkinson Accountants.
  12. Bartlett, Bruce (31 May 2011). "Are Taxes in the U.S. High or Low?". New York Times. Retrieved 19 September 2012.
  13. "Company tax rates". 2012-07-24. Retrieved 2012-10-08.
  14. "Corporation tax rates". Canada Revenue Agency. 2012-04-03. Retrieved 2012-10-08.
  15. "Profits Tax". Retrieved 2012-10-08.
  16. "Corporation Tax". 2008-02-04. Retrieved 2012-10-08.
  17. "Tax rates & tax exemption schemes". IRAS. 2012-02-17. Retrieved 2012-10-08.
  18. "HM Revenue & Customs: Corporation Tax rates". Retrieved 2012-10-08.
  19. (PDF). Retrieved 2016-10-25. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. "26 USC § 11 – Tax imposed | LII / Legal Information Institute". Retrieved 2012-10-08.
  21. See, e.g., 26 USC 61(a)(7).
  22. See 26 USC 1(h)(11) for the reduced rate of tax for individuals, and 26 USC 243(a)(1) and (c) for a deduction for dividends received by corporations.
  23. to current version of s263-270 CA 85
  24. 26 USC 312.
  25. 26 USC 316.
  26. 26 USC 351. For a discussion of U.S. principles, see Bittker & Eustice, below, Chapter 3.
  27. 26 USC 357 and 26 CFR 1.367-1(b) Example.
  28. See, e.g., 26 USC 368 defining events qualifying for reorganization treatment, including certain acquisitions.
  29. See 26 USC 354 for tax effect on shareholders of reorganizations as defined in 26 USC 368.
  30. 26 USC 163(j).
  31. See, e.g., 26 USC 385. The Internal Revenue Service had proposed complex regulations under this section (see TD 7747, 1981-1 CB 141) which were soon withdrawn (TD 7920, 1983-2 CB 69). An article in Tax Notes, a publication of Tax Analysts in 1986 identified 26 factors the U.S. courts have used to classify instruments as debt or equity. Also see article by Englebrecht, et al.
  32. Contrast tax on domestic corporations under 26 USC 11 and 26 USC 63 with tax on foreign corporations under 26 USC 881-885.
  33. See, e.g., 26 USC 882.
  34. See 26 USC 884 for the latter approach.
  35. For example, the Internal Revenue Service states in its Publication 515, “The payee of a payment made to a disregarded entity is the owner of the entity.”
  36. See, e.g., 26 USC 170(b)(2).
  37. 26 CFR 1.1502-0, et seq.
  38. 26 USC 1(h)(11). Note that distributions from an S corporation, Regulated Investment Company (mutual fund), or Real Estate Investment Trust are not treated as dividends.
  39. 1 2 3
  40. Switzerland
  41. 1 2 New York
  42. Delaware
  43. See, e.g., 26 USC 6012(a)(2).
  44. See, e.g., 26 USC 6151.
  45. See, e.g., India
  46. See, e.g., UK Form CT600, which requires the attachment of audited or statutory accounts as filed with the Companies House.
  47. "Forms and Instructions (PDF)". 2012-07-17. Retrieved 2012-10-08.
  48. Examples: U.S. corporations must file Federal income Form 1120 by the 15th day of the third month following the end of the tax year (March 15 for calendar years); but Form 1120-IC-DISC returns are not due until the 15th day of the ninth month; Canadian corporations must file T-2 by June 30.
  49. U.S. Corporations must pay estimated taxes for each quarter or face penalties under 26 USC 6655.
  50. "Instalment due dates". 2012-01-04. Retrieved 2012-10-08.
  51. "" (PDF). OECD.
  52. "Table II.1. Corporate income tax rate". OECD.
  53. "Table II.1. Corporate income tax rate". OECD.
  54. Taxpayer Services and Debt Management Branch, Taxpayer Services [Directorate&#s5d;. "Corporation tax rates". Canada Revenue Agency. Government of Canada. Retrieved 2016-02-07.
  55. Tax Code of the Russian Federation, Part II, Chapter 25, Article 284
  56. Singapore Corporate Tax Guide

Further reading

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External links

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