How does your tax rate compare to other countries?

You spend five months of the year working for the taxman. How does it compare?

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Tax Time spelled out on a calculator.

You spent almost five months of 2014 working for the taxman, because the government took the equivalent of everything you earned between 1 January and 28 May in tax.

This isn't just the nasty pain of income tax, but a host of other different taxes from national insurance to VAT. This is bad enough, but to make matters even worse, we also know that we're far worse off than in many other countries. In the US, for example, Tax Freedom Day falls on 21 April - more than a month earlier.

Income tax

In pure income tax terms, the average earner doesn't do too badly: a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that we pay 25% of our income in tax - which is the OECD average. We fare far better than Belgium where the average worker pays 43%, and Germany at 40%. However, we still pay far more than bottom of the pile Chile, which pays just 7%.

Higher up the earning spectrum, Brits fare worse. A married high earner with a salary of £240,000, a mortgage of £750,000, and two children (one of whom is under six) takes home just 57% of their income - making it the third worst of the 19 countries PWC studied (after Italy and India).

It makes a sobering comparison with mid-table countries like the US, where the individual would take home 60% of their earnings, and Germany at 61%. It is also striking when compared to the super-low-tax economies like Brazil where you keep 73% of your salary, Russia at 87% and Saudi Arabia at 97%.

Other taxes

The fact that we compare so badly to other countries, therefore, comes not only from relatively high income tax, but also from a host of other taxes - many of which are far higher in the UK than elsewhere in the world.

VAT is only marginally higher than the OECD average of 19% - although the UK's 20% looks far less welcome than the 5% rate in Japan and Canada. When you add in other forms of duty, things look even less positive. In May this year UHY Hacker Young found that Brits pay higher tax on petrol and diesel than almost anywhere else in the world. The tax on diesel is the highest at 59%, and on petrol is the second highest in the world (after the Netherlands) at 60%. It gives us the world's highest price for diesel and third highest for unleaded.

The UK also has the highest air passenger tax in the world - at twice the level of second-placed Germany, and is one of only six European countries that levy the tax. It has third highest duty rate for wine in the EU and the fourth highest for spirits.

UHY Hacker Young also found that the UK and Ireland have the highest inheritance tax bills of any of the world's major economies - with the government taking more than a quarter of the estate of someone worth more than £1.8 million - compared with a global average of less than 8%. A range of countries, including Australia, Israel and New Zealand have scrapped death duties, while in the US they only kick in when someone is worth more than £3.2 million.


Cut your tax rate

The only good news is that there are a number of completely legal ways to cut your tax bill. These aren't the sorts of complex schemes that have left so many celebrities facing embarrassing headlines; they are products specifically designed by the government to help us save for the future tax-efficiently.

One of the most useful is the ISA, which now allows you to save up to £15,000 in cash, stocks and shares, or any combination of the two. In a cash ISA all growth will be free of income tax. In a stocks and shares ISA, there's no capital gains tax on profits, no tax on interest earned from bonds and a 10% tax cap on income. For basic rate taxpayers this 10% is the same as investing outside an ISA but for higher rate taxpayers this is a significant reduction from the 32.5% or 37.5% charge outside an ISA.

It's important to take the time to understand the risk involved in any investment and make sure you are happy with it, but if these investments are right for you, the ISA wrapper makes good sense.

Another vital tax-efficient investment approach is the pension. These enable you to invest tax-free. If, for example, you were to pay £8,000 into your pension, the government would top this up to £10,000. Higher rate taxpayers can then claim back even more through their tax return - so that a 40% taxpayer would be paying just £6,000 for a £10,000 investment, while a 45% taxpayer would pay £5,500 for the same £10,000 investment.

When you take money out at the other end, 25% will be tax free, and the rest will be taxed at your marginal rate - regardless of how much you take. If you were a higher rate taxpayer while you paid in, and a basic rate taxpayer when you withdrew the cash, you could stand to save a small fortune in tax.

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