Posts Tagged ‘interest’

Economists think about soaking the rich, a little

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

One of the most contentious issues to be argued in the next U.S. presidential election is whether or not to tax wealth. President Barack Obama believes the rich aren’t paying their fair share while Republicans are against any increase in taxes (with certain exceptions). Since Japan’s budget deficit is even worse than America’s, levying higher taxes on the rich would seem to be up for discussion here as well, but all we hear about is the consumption tax. Nevertheless, a number of Japanese economists have proposed a fuyuzei, or wealth tax, modeled on a similar idea that’s been used in Europe. The way the tax has been proposed makes its purpose twofold: while it should be able to generate lots of revenue for the government, it may also have the effect of getting dormant savings into circulation, which is just as important as reducing the national debt.

Even Mickey isn't safe

The proposal was recently explained in Tokyo Shimbun by Hiromichi Shirakawa, the chief economist for Credit Suisse. The basic idea is to tax the money in savings accounts and treasury bonds on an annual basis. Based on surveys conducted by the Financial Information Center, the total amount of money in savings accounts and treasury bonds is about ¥854 trillion, so if the wealth tax rate were set at 1 percent, the government could collect ¥8.5 trillion a year. In 2010, the amount of revenue generated by the consumption tax was ¥10.2 trillion.

Other economists have suggested variations on this theme, such as a graduated tax bracket system, meaning the more money you save, the higher the percentage of tax you would pay. Or, in order to really make it a tax on the rich, set a bottom limit for how much money is being saved, so that only people who fall above those lines pay the wealth tax. Of the ¥854 trillion mentioned above, 52 percent is controlled by persons with cash assets of ¥30 million or more.

According to the Bank of Japan, as of December 2011, individual cash assets in Japan amounted to ¥1,471 trillion, at least half of which is money in near zero-interest savings accounts. The wealth tax would not be levied on money invested in securities or insurance. As it stands, the government levies a flat 10 percent tax on capital gains from stocks, while it withholds 20 percent from interest income. Stock profits used to be taxed at 20 percent as well, but the government reduced it to spur investment with the aim of eventually returning it to 20 percent. The increase has been continually postponed, however, presumably because people still aren’t buying enough stock.

Shirakawa has advanced his idea on several TV shows and received numerous complaints from older people, whom the wealth tax would affect more since they have more savings than do younger people. In Tokyo Shimbun he said older people should think of their grandchildren, who will inherit this massive debt. But the main hurdle to introducing such a tax is lack of bureaucratic resources rather than political will. Because so many individuals keep the money in various accounts and/or invest them in various instruments, it is difficult for the Tax Bureau to determine exactly how much each citizen has in terms of assets. In fact, one of the arguments in favor of the controversial taxpayer ID number system currently under discussion is that it would make such calculations much easier, since all accounts and investments would be tied together through a personal ID number. (In fact, the government introduced the same sort of tax in 1950 but cancelled it after three years because it couldn’t get a bead on people’s assets.)

But what about so-called tansu yokin (savings in the wardrobe), meaning cash that is simply stuffed under a mattress or crammed behind the cookie jar, without any record that it even exists? No one has ever estimated how much cash is held secretly in Japan, though every once in a while you get some idea when an old house is torn down and a worker finds a stash of ¥10,000 bills; or an elderly person is swindled over the telephone by someone pretending to be his or her relative needing money right away to solve a problem. Last week, an old woman in Gifu handed over ¥60 million in cash to someone who said he was representing her son. Apparently, she had most if not all of this money on hand.

Regional bank tries to make money work for good things

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

Small, regional banks have a tough time trying to get you to switch your business from megabanks, whose main benefit to average consumers is the fact that their branches can be found anywhere in Japan. More locally situated banks tend to grow up around local commercial customers, but they need average borrowers, too. The trick is: How do they make up for the lack of a widespread presence?

Jonan's Shibuya branch

One obvious solution is to offer services and products that other banks don’t, and in that regard Jonan Shinyo Kinko, which is headquartered in Shinagawa, Tokyo, is quite creative. Perhaps their most controversial gimmick is a “lottery savings account,” a deal that was apparently frowned upon by the Finance Ministry but which has been copied by some other small banks. If you keep a certain amount of money in a special savings account, the bank will buy lottery tickets for you, and they guarantee that your odds of winning are greater than if you bought the tickets yourself.

The latest product from Jonan (which means “south of the castle,” thus indicating Shinagawa’s position in relation to Edo Castle) is much more edifying. The bank believes that Japanese society is “not safe” as long as it relies so much on nuclear power for its energy needs, and wants to encourage not only conservation but also the promotion of renewable energy sources. For its own part, Jonan has pledged to reduce its own energy consumption by 30 percent over the next three years by resetting its air conditioners and heaters, applying energy saving fixtures and facilities, installing better insulation and buying into a self-generating power system for its own offices.

Then on April 28, the bank made an announcement that it would go even further. Customers could expect more beneficial interests rates on both savings accounts and loans if they could prove to the bank that they were making a concerted effort to be more energy efficient. For instance, a depositor who could show Jonan that he spent more than ¥100,000 on conservation devices such as solar systems, electrical rechargers, or LED lamps would receive an extra 1 percent in interest on savings accounts of up to ¥1 million. Given that most banks only give about 0.02 percent, it’s a sizable allowance. In addition, if a customer takes out a home improvement loan to boost the energy efficiency of his dwelling for amounts between ¥500,000 and ¥3 million, the loan will be interest free for the first year, and thereafter interest will be fixed at 1 percent for loan periods of 3 to 8 years. Most home improvement loans are around 3.5 percent.

Jonan isn’t the only bank that is trying to make a difference since the March 11 tragedy, though it seems to be the only one that has tied its sense of social responsibility to rewards for customers. Sony Bank currently offers limited time savings accounts with special interest rates, of which Sony will donate 0.01 percent to charity. Basically, it’s no skin off Sony’s nose. Jonan, on the other hand, puts its money where its mouth it.

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