Tax-Efficient Savings & Investments in France
By Spectrum IFA
This article is published on: 24th May 2016
Some of you reading this article have just completed your first French income tax return. Well done if you achieved this without difficulty – ce n’est pas facile!
Whether you are new to France or not, the annual tax return is an opportunity to take stock of your financial situation. In particular, if you had to declare interest from bank deposits (including ISAs), dividends from shares (even if these were reinvested), and perhaps also gains from financial assets, then your tax and social charges bill will be higher than necessary. No-one likes paying taxes and so now is a good time to consider alternative tax-efficient savings and investments, if you want to avoid reduce your future tax bills.
For short-term savings, France has a range of tax-free accounts. The Livret A for deposits up to €22,950 and the Livret Développment Durable (LDD) for deposits up to €12,000, both paying interest of 0.75% per annum. For households with taxable income below certain limits, there is also the Livret d’Épargne Populaire (LEP) for deposits up to €7,700, which pays 1.25% per annum. You have full access to your capital in these accounts at any time.
The interest rates for the tax-free accounts are set by the French government, taking into account average short-term interest rates and inflation – both of which are very low at present. Realistically, the current tax-free interest rates could be lower, however, even the French say that it would be political suicide for the government to reduce these rates now! Whatever the tax-free rates are, however, these are better than comparable standard deposit rates for other accounts with instant access. Hence, the tax-free accounts are very useful for depositing cash that you need for an emergency fund, or to meet other short-term capital needs. The accounts do not create any tax issues and earning some interest is better than none at all.
For medium to long-term savings, the most popular type of investment in France is the Assurance Vie (AV). This type of investment is very tax-efficient as there is no income tax or capital gains tax on any income or growth, whilst the monies remain within the AV. Annual deduction of social charges is also avoided, except when investing in fonds en euros, which are offered by French banks and insurance companies.
When you do take a withdrawal from the investment, part of this is considered to be a withdrawal of capital and this part is therefore free from any tax. For the taxable element, you can opt for a fixed withholding tax rate, in which case the insurance company will take care of the necessary deduction, declaration and payment of the tax and social charges. Alternatively, you can opt to declare the gain through your annual income tax return, in which case the company will not make any tax or social charges deductions and will provide you with notification of the amount that you need to declare. The taxable gain will then be added to your other sources of taxable income and taxed at marginal rates.
Over time, AVs become even more tax-efficient and after eight years, the gain in amounts withdrawn can be offset against an annual tax-free allowance of €9,200 for a couple who are subject to joint taxation, or for ‘one-person households’, the allowance is €4,600.
Millions of French people use AV as their standard form of savings and investment and many billions of Euros are invested in this way via French banks and insurance companies, which offer their own branded product. In addition, there is a much smaller group of companies that are not French, but have designed French compliant AV products, aimed specifically at the expatriate market in France. These companies are typically situated in highly regulated financial centres, such as Dublin and Luxembourg. However, before choosing such a company, it is important to establish that the company has complied with all the formal French tax registration procedures, so as to ensure that you will receive the same tax and inheritance advantages as the equivalent French product.
Some of the advantages of the international product, compared to the French product, are:
- It is possible to invest in currencies other than Euro, including Sterling and USD.
- There is a larger range of investment possibilities available, providing both access to leading investment managers, as well as capital guaranteed products and funds.
- Documentation is in English, thus helping you better understand the terms and conditions of the policy.
- The AV policy is usually portable, which is particular benefit if moving around the EU, since in many cases, the policy can be endorsed for tax-efficiency in other EU countries.
AV is also highly beneficial for inheritance planning, both as concerns freedom to leave your financial assets to whoever you wish, as well as providing valuable additional inheritance allowances for your beneficiaries and I will cover this in a later article.
Everyone’s situation is different and any decision to invest in assurance vie should only be considered as part of a wider review of your overall financial situation, as well as your plans and objectives for the future. Hence, if you would like to have a confidential discussion with one of our financial advisers, you can contact us by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on 04 68 31 14 10. Alternatively, drop-by to our Friday morning clinic at our office at 2 Place du Général Leclerc, 11300 Limoux, for an initial discussion.
The above outline is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute advice or a recommendation from The Spectrum IFA Group to take any particular action on the subject of the investment of financial assets or on the mitigation of taxes.
The Spectrum IFA Group advisers do not charge any fees directly to clients for their time or for advice given, as can be seen from our Client Charter.