New Zealand Personal Income Tax Codes

New Zealand Personal Income Tax Codes

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Navigate New Zealand’s income tax rates, which might help you pay less tax!

Every individual in New Zealand needs to pay tax on income they earn. For personal income, the top income tax rate is 39%, though the system is tiered, and most people pay less.

The rate at which income is taxed is arranged by tax codes. You might recall this from when you started employment, every employer in New Zealand requires you to choose a letter or two when you fill out your tax code. This seemingly dull question is the key to sorting out your yearly tax obligations. But are you a M, S, M SL, CAE, NSW, or SB? Tax codes can be confusing, resembling alphabet soup, leading to individuals selecting the wrong tax code and getting stung by the government's tax collector, the Inland Revenue Department (IRD).

Let’s take a closer look to demystify tax codes so you don’t over or underpay the taxman. We will also explain how to lower your tax bill by investing in shares, putting assets in a trust, and making capital gains through property or business investment.

What are Tax Codes, and What Does My Tax Code Mean?

Tax codes are used by the IRD to ensure individuals are taxed at the correct rate based on their specific circumstances. The IR 330 form captures your details to determine the appropriate tax code for each income source, whether from a job or a taxpayer-funded pension (“NZ Superannuation”).

Why Pay Tax?

Infometics Chief Executive and Principal Economist Brad Olsen says that taxes (especially increases in tax rate) are not popular, but they do the job of providing public services including infrastructure.

“If you want to fund more police, it’s a lot more efficient to get the government to do a collective buying pool to buy police than everyone having a personal guard. It’s just that when you get to wider areas you go ‘are we getting both the best bang for buck’ and ‘are we clear on what we’re trying to deliver here?’

That speaks to two things, a bit of distrust of politicians around what they decide to spend money on, and second, often when we talk about tax and government spending, they are divorced – do you want to pay more money into an amorphous pit and, separately, do you want more spending on this area? We don’t link the two.”

How Do I Find My Tax Code?

The first step in navigating the tax code landscape is identifying the code that aligns with your income. The IRD has streamlined this process by providing an easy-to-follow diagram attached to the IR 330 form, or you can do it online here.

Decoding the Main Tax Codes

Here are examples of some of the most common tax codes in New Zealand:

  • M - Primary Tax Code: The M tax code is the default for most individuals. It ensures you are taxed at the standard rate for your income.
  • S - Secondary Tax Code: Individuals with multiple jobs or income sources may use the S tax code for their secondary sources of income. This code factors in the tax paid through the primary income.
  • M SL - Student Loan Tax Code: If you have a student loan, the M SL tax code comes into play. Failing to include "SL" in your tax code could result in underpayment of student loan obligations.
  • CAE - Special Tax Code for Independent Earner Tax Credit: Designed for individuals who don't qualify for Working for Families Tax Credits, the CAE tax code ensures eligibility for the Independent Earner Tax Credit.
  • SB - Secondary Business or Additional Income Tax Code: For those with secondary sources of income, such as a side business or freelance work.

A Progressive Tax System

In New Zealand, progressive taxation means that higher-income individuals are subject to higher tax rates. The country's income tax system consists of several tax brackets, and as income increases, the tax rate also rises.

  • For each dollar of income up to $14,000, the tax rate is 10.5%
  • For each dollar of income over $14,000 and up to $48,000, the tax rate is 17.5%
  • For each dollar of income over $48,000 and up to $70,000, the tax rate is 30%
  • For each dollar of income over $70,000 and up to $180,000, the tax rate is 33%
  • For every dollar of remaining income over $180,000, the tax rate is 39%

For example, if Sam earns $60,000 a year, his income would be taxed as follows:

  • For each dollar of income up to $14,000, the tax rate is 10.5%, which equals $1,470
  • For each dollar of income between $14,000 and up to $48,000, the tax rate is 17.5%, which equals $5,950
  • For each dollar of income over $48,000 and up to $70,000, the tax rate is 30%, which equals $3,600
  • The total tax payable by Sam is $11,020 

This progressive structure ensures that individuals with higher incomes contribute a larger proportion of their earnings in taxes compared to those with lower incomes. However, there is an issue you have likely heard about: tax bracket creep.

Tax bracket creep happens when inflation causes people to move up into higher tax brackets, even though their ‘actual’ income in real terms hasn’t increased. Low and middle-income earners end up paying more tax than they need to, whittling away what actually shows up as paid income in the bank accounts of many Kiwis.

Chief Forecaster at Infometrics Gareth Kiernan says New Zealanders are paying significantly more tax due to “bracket creep”.

“One might argue that the tax take was too low when the current rates were set in 2010/11, but the fact that everybody is paying a higher proportion of their income in tax due to inflation and bracket creep over the last decade can’t be ignored.”

Thankfully, there are ways to reduce your tax obligations while making money at the same time.

Strategies for Lowering Your Tax Rate

So far, we’ve only covered income tax codes and rates.

The way income is taxed can differ depending on the source. The tax on income can be one of the highest taxes individuals might pay, while other gains you receive might be taxed at lower rates. This is especially the case when you invest, and some areas, such as capital gains, are commonly not taxed at all.

This means it’s important to have a understanding of each area if you want to minimise your taxes. Here at Become Wealth, we’re not accountants or tax specialists, but we do know a thing or to about investing. If you need advice on tax efficient investments, our advisers can talk you through your options. Here are four main ways to lower your investment tax bill:

1. Portfolio Investment Entities (PIEs)

Investors have different tax rates based on their investment choices. Income derived from investments, such as dividends, interest, or rental properties, is generally subject to individual tax rates as explained earlier on this webpage. However, Portfolio Investment Entities (“PIEs”) have a maximum tax rate of 28%.

A PIE's special tax rules mean you pay tax based on your prescribed investor rate rather than your personal income tax rate. Investing in a PIE, especially one that includes New Zealand and certain Australian shares, can result in tidy tax benefits.

2. Trusts

If you have assets generating money, putting them into a trust can be great for asset management and distribution. However, note that the trustee tax increased from 33% to 39% on the 1st of April, 2024. This aligns the rate with the top individual tax rate, which aims to prevent a 6% tax-saving strategy many had used in the past.

Despite this change, law firm Bell Gully says trusts remain valuable in many cases, such as:

  • Income Splitting: Allowing money to be given to beneficiaries on various tax rates (10.5%, 17.5%, 30%, or 33%) for income coming from the trust.
  • Creditor Protection: Shielding assets in a family trust from creditors.
  • Setting Aside Income or Assets: Good for setting aside money for specific purposes, like a child's education, with trustee control.
  • Protecting Against Estate Claims: Strengthening your defence against unwanted claims after someone passes away.

3. Capital Gains

Capital gains from value increases in; property, most New Zealand and Australian shares, and business ownership (including farming or other agriculture) are the most popular ways to make money in New Zealand. A key reason why is there is usually no capital gains tax on these assets.

Property investment has been considered a favoured investment among many New Zealanders for some time, and it’s likely investing in property will continue to be a great way to build wealth. Some of this centres on the tax benefits, but it also comes down to the ability to use leverage (borrow to invest), and the appeal of property investment versus alternatives like starting your own business. Most businesses fail within their first five years, after all!

That said, when it comes to property investment be aware of the bright-line test, which targets investors who buy and sell properties for profit in a short amount of time, however, the test does not apply to your main home. But take note — things change quickly in this space. It seems like every time we elect a new government, they tinker with taxes including the bright line test.

4. Borrow to Invest

Borrowing to invest is a lot more common than you might first think. Most major businesses take on debt to fund expansion, and even people who are self-employed might take on debt for the same reason. Consider a new self-employed builder who takes on a loan to fund a 4x4 and set of tools.

Taxpayers are normally allowed to deduct interest payable on loans when that loan is taken on for the purpose of investing in an income-producing asset, or assets. These assets could include a small business, share portfolio, farm, or residential property investment. This has the effect of making borrowing to invest more attractive.

With property investment in New Zealand, the interest deductibility is ringfenced, but it is still deductible. That said, the rules do change frequently!

Common Tax Code Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

The majority of New Zealanders who are starting a new job will get the tax code right. But mistakes can still occur. Here are some common ones.

  1. Don’t Guess: Use the IRD's online questionnaire before completing the IR 330 form.
  2. Overlooking Student Loan Obligations: Ensure you incorporate "SL" into your tax code if you have a student loan. Otherwise, you’ll get stuck with the bill later.
  3. Second Job: If you've picked up a side hustle to support your main job, you might be taxed incorrectly on a chunk of your earnings if your tax code doesn't consider this second income.
  4. Forgetting About Retirement: Upon retirement or reaching NZ Superannuation age, reassess your tax code to align with your new financial status.
  5. Additional Benefits. Receiving multiple worker benefits such as insurance, stipend, or tangible perks (subject to fringe benefits tax) can all impact the amount of tax you pay.

The Bottom Line: Understanding Your Tax Code Pays Off

Understanding your tax code pays off in the end. You know how much you can save, how much tax to pay, and then work out how to lower your tax obligations through investments.

Taxes are not generally something people enjoy paying, but they pay for our hospitals, armed forces, police officers, and roads. If you don’t pay the right amount, the IRD will come knocking, so it’s best to have your taxes sorted.

Want a professional to help you lower your tax bill and make your money work for you? Contact us to book your free, no-obligation chat.

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