Tax time in Norway
If all you know about Norwegian taxes is that they’re high, how they’re prepared—and who can see them—may surprise you
M. Michael Brady
Just as in the United States, taxable residents in Norway file individual income-tax returns. The Norwegian equivalent of Form 1040 filed with the Internal Revenue Service is Skjema RF-1030 filed with Skatteetaten (Tax Administration). But the procedures of filing tax returns and the availability of tax and income information differ between the two countries.
Norway is one of a growing number of countries that use pre-filled personal income tax returns. As the OECD observes, the trend toward pre-filled returns is “one of the more significant developments in tax-return design and use of technology by revenue bodies.” After all, in most advanced economies, the tax administrations have data on wages paid, taxes withheld, interest paid, and the like, which along with family details is most of the information needed to calculate taxes.
So in eight OECD countries, including Norway, tax administrations fully prepare tax returns for the majority of their taxpayers. The routines of using pre-filled tax returns vary. In Norway, by April 4 of a tax year, taxpayers receive pre-filled tax returns with an assessment of the refund that can be expected or the amount of tax owed. A taxpayer may then change the information on the tax return and submit it by April 30. If a taxpayer makes no changes, the tax return need not be submitted. In March 2016 The Atlantic reported that the use of pre-filled tax returns brings about considerable savings in work and expense, both for individual taxpayers and for tax administrations. Nonetheless, the United States remains reluctant to adopt pre-filled tax returns.
Only four countries—Norway, Finland, Iceland, and Sweden—publicly disclose tax and income information. The principal reason for public disclosure is that it is believed to deter tax evasion. In January 2014, Statistics Norway published a discussion paper on the deterrence effects of public disclosure of tax lists on the internet. As pointed out in that paper, “Norway has a long history of public disclosure of information from income tax returns, going back at least to the middle of the 19th century.”
The Norwegian tax lists for the 2016 income year were published last October. The Norwegian Tax Administration’s English-language guide to initiating a search of them is shown above. The tax lists for the 2017 income year will be published this October and then will be available for search. To access a tax list after its publication, start by visiting the Norwegian Tax Administration website at www.skatteetaten.no. In the language box at the top of the home page, scroll down and select English (identified by an icon of the British flag). Then click on “Person” just below the Administration logo at the upper left, which will bring up the first page on personal income tax matters. Select “Tax assessment” and then “Search the tax lists,” which will bring up the page shown here.
To initiate a search you will need to identify yourself using an electronic ID authorized by the Agency for Public Management and eGovernment (Difi); link to the Difi electronic ID page on obtaining an electronic ID: eid.difi.no/en/id-porten/how-obtain-electronic-id. The Tax Administration keeps a record of all searches, so if you have an electronic ID and are among those whose names and taxes are listed, you can check who has viewed your tax data by clicking on the “søkestatistikk” (search statistics) tab at the top of the opening page for your search. In short, the Norwegian practice of public disclosure enables you to find the tax and income information for any taxpayer and also enables you to find who has searched for your tax and income details.
• “Tax Administration 2013, Comparative Information on OECD and Other Advanced and Emerging Economies,” OECD, May 17, 2013: www.oecd-ilibrary.org/taxation/tax-administration-2013_9789264200814-en
• “The 10-Second Tax Return” by Derek Thompson, The Atlantic, March 30, 2016: www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/03/the-10-second-tax-return/475899
• “Taxes on the Internet” by EE Bø, J Semrod & TO Thoresen, Statistics Norway Discussion Paper 770, January 2014: www.ssb.no/en/forskning/discussion-papers/_attachment/161120?_ts=143e822ee80
• “Individ og integritet: Personvern i det digitale samfunnet” (Individual and integrity: Privacy in the digital society), Norges offentlige utredninger (Official Norwegian Reports): www.regjeringen.no/no/dokumenter/nou-2009-1/id542049 (in Norwegian)
This article originally appeared in the April 6, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.