Archive for May, 2010

Local governments try to make it a little easier for you to pay them

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

This offer good only until June 30

This offer good only until June 30

If you’re not a full-time regular company employee or a civil servant or a pensioner, then this month you will receive a notice from your local government informing you of how much local taxes (shiminzei, tominzei, kuminzei, kenminzei, etc.) you owe them. If you are a full-time regular company employee or a civil servant or a pensioner, then your local taxes, calculated from how much income you made last year, is divided by 12 and subtracted from your monthly pay for the next year. This fact of Japanese civic life often comes as a shock to new company workers, who don’t pay any local tax their first year and then suddenly get socked with these taxes starting the second year of employment. Also, when full-time workers quit their companies they usually receive a notice in the mail telling them to immediately pay their local tax.

I can’t find any statistics for how many of these people do pay immediately, but in the case of foreign workers, who may be going back to their home countries, I’ve heard local governments lose a lot of money because it’s impossible to follow up on foreign scofflaws, unless they decide to return at a later date, at which point they may be waiting for them.

In some cases local taxes amount to more than income taxes. The lowest income tax bracket is 5 percent, but the average local tax is 10 percent (usually 4 percent prefectural plus 6 percent city, town, village or ward). I am self-employed and what with business expenses I usually pay at least twice as much local tax as I pay income tax, which means the notice that arrives in May can be quite a downer, especially since it comes at around the same time that the bill for my next year’s national health insurance — also calculated based on my income tax return — arrives as well.

In almost all cases, employers take care of the paperwork for their full-time employees, but everyone else has to do it themselves, which is why local governments tend toward a carrot-and-stick approach to make sure people pay. In the past, some local governments reportedly offered a slight discount if you paid everything right away.

However, many people don’t save enough money during the year to be able to pay all at once, so they take the option of paying in four installments: June, August, October and January. Since convenience stores don’t accept local tax payments, you have three options: pay at the post office, pay at a bank or pay at your local government office. All those places are only open during normal business hours, which means working people have to take time off to do it. So more and more local governments are encouraging people to set up automatic withdrawals from their bank accounts. Such a system not only is more convenient for the person, but also guarantees that the local government gets paid, as long as there’s enough money in the account when the withdrawal is scheduled. My local government, which happens to be Arakawa Ward, even offers an incentive: hijiki seaweed, nori (laver), rice or dried fish seasoning to 300 people who sign up for automatic withdrawals and are chosen at random.

Not easy being green: Eco-point system tests patience

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

This checklist could save your life

This checklist could save your life

By now a lot of people have taken advantage of the government’s Eco-point system, which proffers yen-value points when you purchase goods that have been deemed energy-saving in some shape or form. These points can be redeemed for putatively eco-friendly goods and services. We’ve already noted that the system seems to be designed to stimulate the economy rather than save the environment, but since the economy really does need stimulating I probably shouldn’t be complaining.

But others certainly are complaining, not so much because the Eco-point system is hypocritical about energy-saving (it is, but more on that later), but rather because it’s such a royal pain in the neck. The Web is full of detailed grousing about the paperwork necessary for redeeming one’s points. Some people have found it so complicated that they’ve actually given up — and these are Japanese. Since any explanations in English on how to redeem points are cursory at best (the bureaucracies in charge of the system don’t provide English instructions themselves), many non-Japanese are effectively shut out of the deal.

Several weeks ago we bought a new television at a discount store. The purchase earned us 12,000 Eco-points. When you buy an item that qualifies, the saleperson gives you a spiel about what to do. If consumers aren’t prepared for the spiel — and I doubt that many are — much of it will go over their heads. The salesman gives you several forms, including an application that he himself will partially fill out and a checklist that will help you go through the steps for filling out the application. He will tell you that you must fill out the warranty card that comes with your purchase. Most people never bother doing that until they have a problem with their purchase and need to get it fixed. But to redeem your Eco-points you have to fill in all the information on your warranty card, make a photocopy of it, and attach the photocopy to your application.

Continue reading about Eco-points in Japan →

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