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Business News/ Money / Tax evasion vs tax avoidance: How are the two different?
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Tax evasion vs tax avoidance: How are the two different?

Tax avoidance is entirely legal and entails leveraging loopholes, deductions, exemptions, and credits permitted by the tax code to reduce your tax obligation. Conversely, tax evasion is unlawful, involving intentional deception of tax authorities to evade paying owed taxes.

Premium paid towards a life insurance policy is eligible for income tax deduction up to ₹1.5 lakh.Premium
Premium paid towards a life insurance policy is eligible for income tax deduction up to 1.5 lakh.

Tax evasion and tax avoidance are distinct concepts, despite both aiming to minimise tax payments. Tax planning and avoidance employ legal strategies, whereas tax evasion is unlawful and can result in severe penalties. 

Interpreting tax evasion

Tax evasion relies on deliberately deceiving tax authorities. This deceit can manifest in various ways, including:

  • Concealing income: Not disclosing all sources of earnings, such as cash received from a side business or unreported interest from investments.
  • Exaggerating deductions: Asserting deductions for costs that aren’t valid business expenses or claiming personal deductions for which you don’t qualify.
  • Submitting fraudulent tax returns: Filing a tax return with intentionally inaccurate information.

These deceitful actions are intended to unlawfully decrease a taxpayer’s tax obligation.

Section 276C of the Income Tax Act is the primary provision addressing tax evasion in India. This section specifies the penalties for individuals intentionally trying to evade taxes, which can range from imprisonment to fines. The magnitude of the penalty is determined by the amount of tax evaded. Additionally, tax evasion can result in legal complications under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), especially, when income concealment occurs through illicit methods.

Understanding tax avoidance

Tax avoidance centres on using legitimate strategies to reduce your tax liability. It utilises the structure of tax laws to your benefit. Section 80C of the Income Tax Act serves as an ideal illustration, permitting deductions for certain investments and promoting tax-efficient planning. As long as your approaches adhere to the Income Tax Act and avoid any fraudulent actions, tax avoidance is entirely legal and acceptable.

Some common tax avoidance strategies include:

  • Optimising deductions: This entails claiming all the deductions permitted under the Income Tax Act that you qualify for. Examples include deductions for medical costs, charitable donations, and specific investment expenses.
  • Using tax-advantaged accounts: Investing in retirement accounts such as the Public Provident Fund (PPF) or the National Pension System (NPS) enables deductions from your taxable income.
  • Benefiting from tax credits: Some tax credits, such as education credits, can directly decrease the tax amount you owe.

Tax avoidance, although legal, can present a complex issue with ethical implications. Here’s why:

  • Equity: Some contend that aggressive tax avoidance tactics, especially by large corporations or affluent individuals, can compromise the fairness of the tax system. They advocate for everyone to contribute equitably to support public services.
  • Intent vs literal interpretation of the law: Tax avoidance frequently utilises legal loopholes or capitalises on technical aspects of the law. While permissible, it may be viewed as unethical when it contradicts the intended purpose or spirit of the law.
  • Societal consequences: Diminished tax revenue resulting from widespread avoidance can curtail the government’s capacity to finance crucial social programs and infrastructure.

Globalisation has paved the way for international tax planning, which can be an intricate yet lawful strategy for multinational corporations. Here’s how international tax planning plays a role in tax avoidance:

  • Tax treaties: These are agreements between nations designed to prevent double taxation and tax evasion. Companies can utilise these treaties to manage tax implications when operating across borders.
  • Transfer pricing: This pertains to the pricing of goods and services exchanged between related companies in various countries. Companies can employ transfer pricing tactics to allocate profits to jurisdictions with lower taxes, thereby lowering their overall tax liability.

It’s crucial to differentiate between tax avoidance, which utilises legal methods to reduce tax liabilities, and tax evasion, which involves intentionally deceiving tax authorities. Tax evasion is prohibited under Section 276C of the Income Tax Act and could activate provisions of the PMLA. Tax avoidance or tax planning, when carried out within legal limits, is acceptable.

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Published: 31 Mar 2024, 02:39 PM IST
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