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Tax Planning vs Tax Avoidance vs Tax Evasion? Key Differences

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Everyone wants to pay the least tax possible. Doesn’t matter where you’re from, how much you make, or how you make it – you want to keep most of your hard-earned money. When the tax season comes around, taxpayers choose one of three ways to minimise their tax liabilities – tax planning, tax avoidance, and tax evasion. These similar-sounding terms can leave people confused, after all the objective for each way is the same. But there’s a big difference between tax planning, tax evasion, and tax avoidance, and in this guide, we’ll take a look into these differences.

Difference Between Tax Planning, Tax Evasion, and Tax Avoidance 

Let’s understand the differences between tax planning, tax evasion, and tax avoidance ;

Approach

Tax Planning

Tax Avoidance

Tax Evasion

Legality of the approach

Tax planning is a legal approach.

Tax avoidance is also a legal approach.

Tax evasion is an illegal approach.

Intent of the approach

Tax planning aims to minimise tax liability within the means of the law.

While tax avoidance aims to minimise tax liability by following the letter of the law, it doesn’t adhere to the spirit in which it was made.

Tax Evasion aims to illegally escape tax obligations.

How it’s done

Tax planning is done through strategic planning of overall finances. Incorporates smart savings and investment strategies.

Tax avoidance is done by leveraging loopholes in the legal system and using the laws unfairly.

Tax Evasion is done by providing false or misleading information to tax authorities.

Attributes

Tax planning is an ethical approach.

Tax avoidance is an unethical approach.

Tax Evasion is an unethical as well as an illegal approach.

Consequences

There are no legal consequences if you take the tax planning approach. You simply minimise your tax liabilities.

There are no legal consequences for tax avoidance either, but loopholes can be hard to exploit. One has to walk a fine line between right and wrong so if found violating any laws, one can face legal consequences.

Tax Evasion leads to penalties, fines, imprisonment, or a combination of those.

Example

Saving tax by Investing in tax-saving instruments such as ELSS, PPF, and NPS.

Saving tax by incorporating a business for tax breaks.

Dodging tax by underreporting income, or falsifying documents.

 

What is Tax Planning? 

Through Tax Planning, you can legally minimise the tax burden on yourself. It is a process in which you arrange your finances in such a way that you can take maximum advantage of the various exemptions, deductions, provisions, and other incentives given in the Income Tax Act of 1961. To do that, first, you have to thoroughly analyse your total income, expenses, savings, debts, and investments. 

The secret to saving tax through tax planning is a smart investment strategy. There are many benefits laid out in Section 80 of the Income Tax Act that one can use. For example, investing in instruments such as the Public Provident Fund or National Pension Scheme among others can get deductions up to  Rs. 1,50,000. Other ways to save tax are by opening tax-saving fixed deposits, investing in Equity Linked Savings Schemes, and Unit Linked Insurance Plans. You can even save tax on the premiums you pay on life insurance and health insurance.

What is Tax Avoidance?

Now let’s understand the Tax Avoidance Meaning. Tax avoidance is an approach that involves the exploitation of the gaps and loopholes within the tax system. Unlike tax evasion, the goal of this approach is to minimise tax liabilities without violating any income tax laws. 

While avoiding tax is legal, it is not considered an ethical approach because while it technically complies with the law, it doesn’t adhere to the spirit in which it was made.

Since tax laws are quite complex and comprehensive, one needs to have extremely high knowledge about the nuances of the tax codes to exploit them and work within the rules to reduce tax burdens. It is not as simple as tax planning, nor is it advised. 

People and businesses can engage in tax avoidance by taking unfair advantage of various allowances, deductions, and exemptions provided by tax regulations, or by manipulating accounts in ways they legally sidestep taxes, without violating any rules or laws. If large corporations use this approach of tax avoidance, the government can lose a lot of tax revenue which ultimately harms the country and can prompt discussions about the need for tax reforms to ensure fairness.

What is Tax Evasion?

Understanding Tax Evasion meaning is important. Tax evasion is a criminal act in which people willfully violate the tax laws to reduce their tax burden. Those who evade tax are escaping their legal obligation to pay taxes. Of course that makes tax evasion not only an illegal approach to minimising tax liabilities but also an unethical one. 

Tax evasion is done by purposefully lying and underreporting the income or profits. A business could show falsified expenses so the taxable profit would be lower and dodge tax. Other ways to evade tax include having offshore accounts that are not reported, maintaining incomplete records of transactions, hiding tax-relevant documents, and overstating tax credits. 

The Income Tax Department has strict measures in place to detect and prosecute tax evaders. Tax evasion is a serious offence, and any person or business that is found guilty of reducing the tax burden through tax evasion can face punishment. They may have to pay hefty fines and in many cases, violators even face imprisonment or a combination of both. This isn’t even taking into account how this crime can tarnish one’s reputation. 

Since you comply with the tax laws, this is the approach that is encouraged by tax authorities. It is the only morally correct approach of the three and is suited for the long term. If you plan your taxes you won’t ever have to worry about penalties or punishments, you’ll help develop the country, and enjoy the peace of mind that honesty brings. Tax planning is an art that is easy to master, and those who have mastered it are not scared of the tax filing process – to them it is a routine, one they follow smoothly year after year.

Also Read: Tax Planning For Beginners in India

Conclusion:

The taxation system can be quite complex, and one can get easily confused by all of its technicalities. It’s important to know the difference between tax planning, tax avoidance, and tax evasion so you can make sure your tax strategy stays compliant with the law. 

The annual ritual of tax filing certainly has a way of inducing anxiety in many. When people read or hear the words ”Last date to file your income tax returns” there’s a good chance they’ll go into a state of panic and get stressed about the entire process of doing their taxes. 

However, those who practice tax planning navigate this season with a sense of calm. It is the best approach of the three, as it not only makes sure you stay in compliance with tax regulations but also strategically optimises your other financial decisions such as investments which ultimately leads to a more secure future. It’s important to stay informed, so you should also consider seeking advice from a tax planner. An experienced tax planner can help you ethically minimise your tax liabilities while making sure you stay out of any legal trouble.