How the Value Added Tax Works

Posted on Wed 12/29/2010 by

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Conn CarrollBy Conn Carroll

VAT Chart

The spending pace of President Barack Obama and the 111th Congress simply cannot be sustained. There will either have to be spending cuts or higher taxes. The left prefers higher taxes, including the imposition of a value-added tax (VAT). How would a VAT work. Heritage scholar Curtis Dubay explains:

The VAT is a consumption tax that taxes the value added by businesses at each point in the production chain. It can apply to both manufactured goods and services. This contrasts with the more familiar income tax, which taxes salaries, wages, and the returns to savings, but does not tax purchases. Because the VAT is a consumption tax, it would closely mirror the sales taxes that most Americans pay at the state and local levels. In fact, consumers would experience no difference between a national sales tax and a VAT. A sales tax and a VAT designed to raise equal amounts of revenue would raise the final price of purchases by roughly the same amount.

In the credit-invoice method, the most common form of the VAT, a business pays VAT on its purchase of inputs and collect it on its sales whether those sales are to another business or the final consumer. The business then submits the invoices that it receives from its suppliers to the government’s revenue agency. The invoices detail the amount of VAT that the business paid to its suppliers. Once the revenue agency verifies that the business remitted the proper amount of tax on its sales and that the submitted invoices match the suppliers’ filings, the agency refunds the business for VAT paid. The filings by businesses give the revenue agency a simple way to ensure that businesses pay the required amount of VAT.

As long as the business can pass the tax on to its customers, which is typically the case, the business ultimately pays no tax. It acts solely as a collection agent for the government, collecting VAT on its sales and remitting to the government the difference between the VAT it collects and the VAT it paid on inputs. The burden of the tax moves up the production chain until the consumer bears the full burden, just like under the sales tax.

You can read Dubay’s whole paper here. He concludes:

Congress should ignore misguided siren calls for a VAT and instead immediately address its spending problems. Tax increases will never reduce the gap. Instead, Congress must cut spending to 20 percent of GDP or lower. This would reduce the annual budget deficit to a more manageable level. The national debt would stabilize as a percentage of GDP and the threat that credit markets will stop lending or raise interest rates would abate. None of these necessary steps requires a VAT.

Conn Carroll is the Assistant Director of Strategic Communications at The Heritage Foundation and is also an Editor at The Foundry.

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