Angel Tax Controversy

• Over the past few weeks, several startups have reportedly been receiving notices from the I-T department asking them to clear taxes on the angel funding they raised, and in some cases, levying a penalty for not paying Angel Tax.

• However, this is not the first time that this issue has come up. Startups have been raising the issue of Angel Tax for years, requesting the government to do away with it.

What is Angel Tax?

• Angel Tax is a 30% tax that is levied on the funding received by startups from an external investor. However, this 30% tax is levied when startups receive angel funding at a valuation higher than its ‘fair market value’. It is counted as income to the company and is taxed.

• The tax, under section 56(2)(viib), was introduced by in 2012 to fight money laundering. The stated rationale was that bribes and commissions could be disguised as angel investments to escape taxes. But given the possibility of this section being used to harass genuine startups, it was rarely invoked.

Why is Angel tax problematic?

• There is no definitive or objective way to measure the ‘fair market value’ of a startup. Investors pay a premium for the idea and the business potential at the angel funding stage.

• However, tax officials seem to be assessing the value of the startups based on their net asset value at one point. Several startups say that they find it difficult to justify the higher valuation to tax officials.

• In a notification dated May 24, 2018, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) had exempted angel investors from the Angel Tax clause subject to fulfilment of certain terms and conditions, as specified by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP).

• However, despite the exemption notification, there are a host of challenges that startups are still faced with, in order to get this exemption.

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Mains Paper 3: Economy | Investment Models

Prelims level: Angel Tax

Mains level: Interventions required by the government to diversify India’s startup’s financing

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