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Home Publications The Distributional Implications of Income Under-Reporting in Hungary

The Distributional Implications of Income Under-Reporting in Hungary

Dóra Benedek and Orsolya Lelkes
Journal article | Fiscal Studies, Vol. 32, No. 4, December 2011

The ability and inclination of specific social groups to evade tax vary widely, and this leads to considerable variation in the actual tax burden on individuals with similar levels of income. Thus, ignoring tax evasion can be seriously misleading in terms of the distributive and fiscal effects of the tax system.

This paper estimates the distributional implications of income tax evasion in Hungary, based on a random sample of the administrative tax records of nearly 230,000 individuals. Gross incomes declared in the administrative tax returns are compared with incomes stated in a nationally representative household budget survey. Our estimates show that the average rate of underreporting is 9-13 per cent, though this conceals a big difference between the self-employed (who hide the greater part of their income) and employees. The estimates are likely to be lower bounds. These rates are used in a tax-benefit microsimulation model to calculate the fiscal and distributional implications of under-reporting. Tax evasion reduces households' personal income tax payments by about 16-20 per cent. While the poverty rate increases only slightly, income inequality rises significantly, suggesting that high-income households tend to evade tax proportionately more. Finally, we find that tax evasion largely reduces the progressivity of the tax system.