Take Our Masterclass
en
Photogrpah of Swiss flags on a bridge in Zurich

by Jacques Salè

Senior Banking Specialist at Alpian

Jacques Sale profile picture
Switzerland is famous for many things: Mountains, watches, chocolate, banks … and a favorable tax regime.

If we go back a bit, to 1848 to be precise, we will discover the origin of Swiss federalism in the form of the Confederation. It is a bottom-up form of government in which the cantons (26) retain their sovereignty but are subject to the constitutional directives of the Confederation.

This model of cantonal independence is also reflected in taxation, a controversial topic that has always been discussed over the years, especially at the European and international levels.

The key advantage for a private investor resident in Switzerland is the ability to benefit from tax exemption on profits from certain financial investments.

It is not unusual to come across different cantonal tax systems just a few kilometers away, which can be much more favorable for the taxpayer while remaining in the same country. Even at a municipal level, there may be differences in taxation rates that make one municipality more attractive than another.

In Switzerland, we have three different levels of taxes: federal (the same for the entire population), cantonal and municipal. This diversity and autonomy have made Switzerland an attractive country over the years for companies and individuals when considering different tax planning solutions.

Taking Switzerland as a whole, the average cantonal tax on income is 33% for the highest earners, with peaks ranging from 44.75% in Geneva to lows of 22.38% in Zug.

Although there have been a number of initiatives over the years to harmonize the Swiss tax system, there are still some advantages that survive in some cantons despite the pressure.

The table below shows how the tax system in Switzerland varies depending on the canton of residence, as far as the maximum income tax is concerned.

income tax rates in the cantons 2021 diagram

There are several online tax calculators to get an indication of the tax rate according to income where it is also possible to compare with other cantons and internationally.

Leaving aside the corporate sector, which still has its tax advantages with a wide choice between the different cantons, let’s focus on the taxation of capital gains from investment activities in the financial markets for a private individual.

The key advantage for a private investor resident in Switzerland is the ability to benefit from tax exemption on profits from certain financial investments.

An investor is considered by the Swiss tax authority as a private investor by default. Subject to some conditions*, such as the volume of the investment revenues and the holding period of his securities, he might be considered as a professional investor.

In December 2001, Swiss citizens were called upon to vote on a tax reform aimed at implementing a 20% tax on all capital income above 5,000 CHF.

Two-thirds of the population rejected this proposal, arguing that it was unnecessary as there is already a wealth tax in the country and if capital gains are to be taxed it should also be possible to deduct capital losses.

Opinions have not changed 20 years later as a new referendum called “the 99% initiative” was submitted to the Swiss population, who remained consistent in their position. The aim of this proposal, introduced by the left wing, was to implement a tax on gains from dividends, shares, and rental income.

Taxpayers usually feel squeezed by the tax system which is perceived as a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads as soon as they manage to secure a small profit. But when they make a loss, no one cares.

However, the Swiss tax system does not entail such a burden since private capital gains on movable assets earned by private investors resident in Switzerland are normally tax-exempt as long as the individual does not qualify as being a professional securities dealer.

To sum up, Switzerland has several tax advantages for private investors thanks to its federal model and pragmatic approach towards financial investments.

If we look at our neighbors in Europe, things are significantly different: capital gains on movable assets are taxed at 30% in France (+4% for high-income earners), 26% in Italy, or 26.38% in Germany (plus a 5.5% solidarity surcharge). We then realize what an advantageous tax system we have in Switzerland.

If the capital gain for non-professional investors is not taxed in the whole of Switzerland, it does, however, contribute to increasing taxpayers’ wealth, which in Switzerland is taxed progressively according to a cantonal scale. Wealth tax differs significantly from canton to canton (federal approach), while in some it does not even exist.

Another important point to mention is that, even if the gain is not realized, it still contributes to the total wealth at the end of the year.

“Wealth” refers to the market value of all movable and immovable assets, as well as assets of which the taxpayer is the usufructuary (i.e. assets from which he/she receives income).

The Confederation does not levy wealth tax.

For instance, an investor having an unrealized profit of 100.000CHF at 31.12.2021, will need to include this amount in his total fortune in the tax declaration. Therefore, according to the canton where one resides, one is taxed on one’s total wealth.

So far, we have dealt with taxation on the capital income generated by investments in financial markets. The situation is quite different when talking about dividends and interest taxation, which are subject to a Swiss withholding tax of 35%.

Introduced in 1965, withholding tax is applied at source on certain capital gains on movable assets (interest and dividends). The applicable rate changes according to the type of income and is subject to certain conditions. The amount withheld is refunded to Swiss taxpayers by means of the yearly tax declaration.

The only fixed federal tax levied on financial instruments is stamp duty, which usually ranges between 0.075% and 0.15% on the transaction, depending on the underlying product (whether you trade on a Swiss Stock exchange or a foreign stock exchange).

The purpose of this brief analysis is to highlight the advantages that a Swiss tax resident investing like a private investor can enjoy in Switzerland by accessing tailored investment solutions offered by a Swiss financial institution.

To sum up, Switzerland has several tax advantages for private investors thanks to its federal model and pragmatic approach towards financial investments.

There are really few occasions when a taxpayer does not have to give up some of his financial gains. This is one of them and it is definitively a great incentive to start investing.

*Guidelines published by the Federal Tax Administration list 5 criteria to be used by municipal and cantonal tax offices in determining the tax status of investors. You can only be sure that you will not be categorized as a professional investor if you meet all of these criteria:

  1. You hold securities for at least 6 months before you sell them.
  2. The transaction volume of all of your securities trades combined (total spent on purchases and totally earned on sales) is not higher than 5 times the total value of your securities at the start of a tax year.
  3. Capital gains generated through securities trading do not account for a significant portion of your basic income. The rule of thumb: Capital gains should account for less than 50% of your net income.
  4. You use your own assets to finance the purchase of securities. Or: Taxable returns like interest and dividends are higher than the interest owed on loans.
  5. If you invest using derivatives – and options in particular – these can only be used to hedge your own securities.

***

Disclaimer:
The content of any publication on this website is for informational purposes only.
Alpian will launch its products and services shortly after its banking license enters into full force and will be available to the public in the third quarter of 2022.

About the author

Jacques has more than 8 years of experience working at Dukascopy Bank SA in front office roles. He brings a wealth of experience across business development, client support and onboarding procedures. Whilst at Dukascopy he worked with customers across several divisions including retail banking, institutional client relations and hedge fund clients. He was also responsible for Dukascopy’s White Label Program and participated in crypto marketing projects so has truly seen it all. He holds an Economics degree from the University of Turin and is fluent in English, French and Italian.

Jacques is a football fan and enjoys playing golf and sailing on Geneva Lake.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience.