Law 66 (2017) was finally published on October 17, even though it had been approved by the Legislature almost a full month beforehand. This law introduces two impactful changes to property taxes, as well as giving property owners a moratorium until December 31, 2017. I will deal first with the Moratorium, and then will get into the details of the changes introduced by Law 66.
Moratorium (in effect already):
Effective immediately, Law 66 (2017) brought into effect a moratorium on penalties and interest due on property taxes. Property in Panama is taxed yearly, payable in 3 equal parts (April 30, August 31 and December 31 each year). Failure to pay on time automatically incurs in a 9% interest per annum, plus penalties. Many property owners opt to simply allow the tax and interest to accrue until they are ready to sell the properties, as the Tax Department has not been effective in collections. We are seeing this change with the modernisation and computarization of the Tax Department.
if you pay your property taxes each year (a single annual payment, rather than in 3 parts) before the end of February, you can receive a 10% discount on the total amount of tax due.
Apply for Moratorium:
This moratorium is easy to apply for (it must be applied for, it is not “automatic”) through the Tax Department’s online system: eTax2. Basically, you log into the property with it’s tax ID number and NIT (password or code) and then simply press the button that appears for (Moratorium). This will provide you with the total amount which is due, excluding the penalties and interest, so that you can proceed with the payment. This has to be done for EACH property individually through the system, it cannot be done through the owner’s tax ID. If you do not know your property’s tax ID or NIT, then you need to get this through the online system or set it up so that you have access to this before you can apply.
It is imperative that payment of the taxes be made before the end of the year if you want to take advantage of the cancelling/exemption from the penalties and interest which may be due.
This moratorium ends December 31, 2017.
Law 66 (2017) – the principal changes introduced:
The principal changes which are introduced by Law 66 are a reduction in property tax rates. Until this Law, Panama’s property tax was as high as 2.1% – which means that a property worth $500,000.00 could pay as much as $10,500.00 in property tax each year (almost $1,000.00 a month). Obviously, a $2,000,000 property would pay $42,000.00 a year. Under the new law, coming into effect on January 1, 2019, the maximum rate, even for commercial or industrial property is 1%, less than half the previous rate.
Primary Residence / Family Home
Until now, any home or property valued at least than $30,000.00 paid 0% property tax in Panama, and then above that taxes were due on a sliding scale, starting at 0.7%. This 0.7% is now the highest rate for a family home or primary residence (starting January 1, 2019). The $30,000.00 exemption is still recognised on all properties (as long as the total value of the property – land + improvements – remains under $30,000.00. However, over the $30,000.00, where the property (land and improvements) is worth less than $120,000.00 and is your family home (as defined by the Family Code) or primary residence (for a single person or others who don’t qualify as “family”), then you are entitled to the 0% property tax rate.
If your property is worth MORE than $120,000.00, then there are 2 brackets:
- over $120,000 but less than $700,000; and
- over $700,000.00
For a property (land and improvements) valued at less than $700,000.00 the applicable tax rate will be O.5%. Over $700,000.00 the applicable tax rate will be 0.7%. These, however, are sliding scales, which means that from $0.00 to $120,000.00 you apply the 0%, then from $120,000 to $700,000 you apply the 0.5% rate, and then whatever the value is over $700,000, you apply the 0.7% rate. See the following example:
It will be necessary to present documentation to the Tax Department certifying that this property is your family home or primary residence for this special tax rate to apply under Law 66 (2017). It will not be automatic and it will not be retroactive (if you forget to apply and then apply later).
Second residence, holiday homes, commercial & industrial properties
For those properties that do not qualify as a family home or primary residence, the tax rates are also reduced as of January 1, 2019. The applicable rates are the following:
- 0.0% – up to $30,000.00
- 0.6% – from $30,000.00 to $250,000.00
- 0.8% – from $250,000.00 to $500,000.00
- 1.0% – over $500,000.000
As explained for primary residences, this is sliding scale, so calculation is necessary for each range of values.
What about my Tax Exemption that I already have?
Law 66 (2017) also contemplates those cases (primarily new condos and homes) where they have an existing property exemption on the improvements (such as the 20-year exemption). In these cases, the properties are grandfathered into those exemptions until they expire. So, if you property exemption on the improvements is in place until 2025, the new tax rate will come into effect for you in 2025, rather than on January 1, 2019. The land (in the cases of such condos) will continue to pay the 1% rate that is applicable until such exemption expires.
Final notes: first home buyers & mortgage holders
Two more interesting notes:
- First home buyers: for the first 3 years will have an exemption on the property value up to $300,000.00 (not just $120,000.00) on their primary residency / family home. At the end of the 3 years, the usual rates will apply.
- Mortgage holders (banks, mortgage companies, trust companies) will be responsible for charging the home owner (as part of their monthly payments) their property taxes due and paying these in directly to the tax department on behalf of the property owner.
We originally wrote about this topic as Bill 509, before it had come into effect or was published.
For about a year now, Panama has debated decentralized government. It will use property taxes to assist local city councils in this endeavour. Resistance to change has been very vocal, especially as scaremongering occurred: You will lose your homes. If you fail to pay your property taxes, your home will be taken from you. This is just another measure of expropriation. At the end of August, Bill 509 was sent back to first debate for re-drafting after a public outcry. It went through a lengthy second debate. Last night, Bill 509 was approved by the legislature in its third debate. It now awaits signing into law by the President, Juan Carlos Varela. We expect it to be sanctioned by the President and published, as there is no pressure for veto or further debate.
Bill 509 – 2017
The principal debate centered on an article removing the tax exemptions enjoyed by Free Trade Zones. “Free Trade Zones” refers to Processing Zones, Baru, Colon FTZ, and Panama Pacifico. Most of the Chambers of Commerce in Panama objected to modifying their tax treatment. They alleged it is important to have legal certainty for foreign investors. Although these changes were forward looking, they modify all of the special laws which had established these Free Zones. A key concern is investment: private investors in infrastructure will be scared away if changes are made. The Free Trade Zones have been hit hard in recent years by other economic factors, some of which have decimated sectors of the business.
For home owners, however, Bill 509 promises a large reduction in property taxes. In some cases, a reduction down to 0%. For most, the reduction will be 75%, and for some of the higher valued properties, only a 50% reduction. As it stands, Bill 509 establishes the following tax rates for primary family residences:
- 0% for homes valued under $120,000.00
- 0.5% for homes valued between $120,000 and $700,000
- 0.7% for homes valued over $700,000.00
These new tax rates apply as of January 1, 2019. This is because before that date, property owners must present to the Tax Department their affidavits regarding this being their “primary residence” or “family home”, to establish it as the residence that receives these new rates.
However, a property owner with more than one property, will be eligible for these new tax rates only on their primary residence. The following rates apply to weekend or holiday homes, investment, rental, commercial or industrial properties:
- 0% – less than $30,000 (this stays the same)
- 0.6% for properties valued between $30,000 to $250,000
- 0.8% fo properties valued between $250,000 to $500,000
- 1.0% for properties valued over $500,000.00
Even for properties in the highest bracket, this is a reduction from the highest existing tax rate on properties of 2.1%.
Bill 509: improved collections
One of the changes that Bill 509 introduces that will assist with collections is that it appoints banks & mortgage financing companies as tax collectors. This does not apply to first time home buyers, but does apply for all other purchasers. Banks will add the property taxes due to the monthly fees, interest and principal calculated and will include the tax in the monthly payments. The bank will then remit the property taxes to the respective tax office.
Bill 509 also establishes that there will be no appraisals carried out on property values until 2024, allowing 5 years at current property values. Nevertheless, I would expect that after 2024, there is a general move by the tax department to get updated appraisals on all properties for the purpose of collections.
Good news: Moratorium
For anyone that owes property taxes, the good news is that there is a moratorium until December 31, 2017 to get up to date. This moratorium ensures that you only pay the actual taxes that you owe – they are writing off the interest and penalties if you pay all of the property taxes that are owed. For some property owners, this will be thousands of dollars in savings.
Gray & Co. will provide an update once the law has been sanctioned & published. We are also available to assist clients in getting up to date with the payment of their property taxes, taking full advantage of the moratorium that is being offered.
In 2018, our office will be available to assist clients in registering their primary residence under this new law in order to take advantage of the new tax rates.