Tax Planning Stategies And Ethical Standards Accounting Essay

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Is there a monetary value on ethics? There are loopholes in the tax law, which can legally benefit taxpayers however it can be seen as unethical to exploit these. This paper will show the ethical constraints imposed on accountants, and the moral decisions that accountants need to make in order to minimise the potential tax liability for their clients. Firstly, the ethical standards that apply to accountants will be discussed, and tax planning strategies that accountants may suggest to their clients will be considered. This paper will then critically evaluate aggressive tax strategies (v's scandals) and the ethics surrounding using them to legally benefit clients ……the advantages and disadvantages to ethical standards, and conclude that accountants can be ethical in their tax planning advice to their clients.


Ethical constraints are not new to accountants. [1] The Accounting Professional and Ethics Standards Board have compiled a Code of Ethics that is mandatory for all professional accountants to adhere to. Accountants when completing their training (either through their CPA and/or CA) agree to the 'acceptance of the responsibility to act in the public interest'. [2] The Code of Ethics for Professional Accounts outlines different sections that encourages member to adopt a high standard of ethics, and promote good ethical practice. These rules are needed not only to protect the interest of clients but also the reputation of the profession.

There are five main fundamental principles outlined in the Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants. These include integrity, objectivity, confidentiality, professional behaviour, and professional competence and due care. These fundamental principles provide a conceptual framework accountants should abide by.

Integrity is a fundamental principle, not only to the accounting profession, but all professionals. Defined as being honest and straightforward in all business and professional relationships, integrity also implies fair dealing and truthfulness. [3] The reputation of the accounting profession for both ethical behavior and integrity is vital for establishing trust, which is the basis for all successful relationships both with clients and the public. [4] Therefore scandals such as Enron, make both clients and the public distrust the profession as a whole. [5] 

The second principle outlined in the Code of Ethics is objectivity, which refers to not allowing bias, conflict of interest or undue influence of others to override professional or business judgments. [6] Also a professional accountant should respect the confidentiality of information acquired as a result of professional and business relationships and should not disclose any such information to third parties without proper and specific authority unless there is a legal or professional right or duty to disclose. Confidential information acquired as a result of professional and business relationships should not be used for the personal advantage of the professional accountant or third parties. [7] 

Another fundamental ethical principle is professional behavior, which is defined as complying with relevant laws and regulations as well as advoiding any action that discredits the profession. [8] Also a professional accountant has a continuing duty to maintain professional knowledge and skills at the level required to ensure that a client or employer receives competent professional service based on current developments. A professional accountant should act diligently and in accordance with applicable technical and professional standards when providing professional services. [9] 

To overcome ethical dilemmas, it is argued that accountants can use their knowledge of ethics to make the right choice, which might not benefit their client, but will benefit the public who relies on the accountants reporting. However scandals arise as, while the accountant must consider the interest of the public, they also want to ensure that they stay employed by the client. [10] 


Accountant have many tax planning strategies available that can be used to maximise a clients wealth, with the main focus to reduce the tax payable. [11] Strategies include reducing a clients assessable income or increasing deductions, in order to minisimse or reduce tax rates. There are also many tax planning vehicles that can be set up to provide benefit to the client. As stated by Australian Tax Law:

"The ultimate aim of tax planning for income tax is to minimise the tax liability attracted by improvements in the taxpayer's economic position." [12] 

The main tax planning strategies that should be first looked into to reduce tax payable is to reduce their assessable income and/or increase deductions claimed. Assessable income can be reduced by ensuring the taxpayer derives capital, and not income, as capital is not assessable, and therefore not taxable. Alternatively, the taxpayer can arrange salary packaging, or salary sacrifice part of their income, thereby reducing their taxable income.

Another way of reducing taxable income is to increase deductions, as this will 'generate a tax reduction,' [13] by reducing the taxpayers assessable income and depending on the marginal tax rate the taxpayer falls under, will depend on the size of the tax saving. There are many strategies that can be used to generate a deduction, including negative gearing, superannuation contributions by employees and those self-employed, as well as utilising the legal relevant employment-related expenses.

Tax shelters can also be used to lower assessable income as the taxpayer obtains the benefit of a deferral of tax, however it is important that this option is not looked into lightly due to anti-avoidance provisions. In essence a form of investment, tax shelters create deductions in excess of the assessable income that they generate. Though, for a tax shelter to be feasible, the losses made earlier need to be recovered in later years, more preferably as a capital gain, as their will be more concessions.

Another strategy is to organise the taxpayer financies as to reduce their current margin tax rates. This will depend on the taxpayers financial situation, as to what is avaible to use as an offset, also will be influence by the taxpayers informal decisions. Unlike deductions, tax offsets are not part of the taxable income calculation. They are, instead, subtracted from the tax payable, after the taxable income calculation has been completed. However, if the amount of the offset is higher than the taxable income, the excess is 'wasted' as it can not be carried forward, unless it is an exception (eg baby bonus or foreign tax credits).

Another common tax planning strategy uses timing advantages to the tax payers benefit, by either deferring derivation of income and accelerating deduction. Deferring income can be achieved by not seeking payment until the new financial year [14] . This may be beneficial if the tax rates in the new financial year are lower, or if the taxpayer tax bracket is set to decrease in the next year. It is also possible to accelerate deductions by prepayment of expenses, which is also beneficial if the tax rates in the new financial year are lower than the current year.

Probably the most common tax planning strategy used in Australia is income splitting. Tax-free thresholds, progressive tax rates and the difference between taxation of individuals compared to family units, contribute to the appeal, as well as the ease in which it can be achieved. The main methods of income splitting include transferring assets, alienation of income itself, and payment to associated persons.

Transferring of assets between taxpayers on different tax rates is the easiest form of income splitting. As with the case between the Federal Commissioner of Taxation v Everett [15] , concerning a solicitor who transferred just under half of his interest in a partnership to his wife and thereby successfully decreased his own taxable income. This method works providing the taxpayer is prepared to dissociate himself from the asset and there are not too many other issues making the strategy to costly (eg transfer of ownership costs).

If the taxpayer does not want to lose control and benefit from the asset that may choose to alienate the income. However, as in the case of Norman v Federal Commissioner of Tax [16] , if the alienation of income is not carefully implemented , it may result in both the alienor and alienee of the income being subjected to tax. As stated in the case of Sheperd v FCT [17] :

"it is the right to receive the income rather than the income itself which an alienator must dispose of."

The last income splitting strategy is to provide payment to associates. However, due to the potential for falsely manipulating transactions, dealing with associates can be a 'high-risk area'. [18] Also, because of this, many legislative regimes contain anti-avoidance provisions on dealing with associated.

There are many difference tax planning vehicles that can be utilized when using income splitting as a strategy. Although not all vehicles will suit all circumstances. Each different situation needs to be looked individually, and the reciepiants available need to be weighed up. Different alternatives include individual family members, family partnership[s, family companies, family trust and entities in tax havens.


Ethics are not black and white, and therefore everyone has a different opinion on where the grey area starts and stops. As stated by Leubke:

"You can nit-pick around the rules, it always goes back to the ethics of the people using them." [19] 

This is one of the main reason accountants have been involved in so many scandals, and why the professions' reputation has suffered. Scandals are the result of creative accounting, misleading financial analysis as well as bribery.

One of the most widely-reported violation of accounting ethics involved Enron, a multi-national company, that for several years had not shown a true or fair view of their financial statements. Their auditor Arthur Andersen, an accounting firm considered one of the "Big Five", signed off on the validity of the accounts despite the inaccuracies in the financial statements. [20] When the unethical activities were reported, not only did Enron dissolve by Arthur Anderson also went out of business. Enron's shareholders lost $25 billion as a result of the company's bankruptcy. [21] Although only a fraction of Arthur Anderson's employees were involved with the scandal, the closure of the firm resulted in the loss of 85,000 jobs. [22] , [23] 

Phillip G Cottel argues that for an accountant to uphold strong ethics they

"must have a strong sense of values, the ability to reflect on a situation to determine the ethical implications and a commitment of well-being of others". [24] 

Several studies have proposed that a firm's corporate culture as well as the values it stresses may negatively alter an accountant's behavior. [25] , [26] 

A 2007 article in Managerial Auditing Journal determined the top nine factors that contributed to ethical failures for accountants based on a survey of 66 members of the International Federation of Accountants. The most significant factor was self-interest, which is the motivation for an accountant to act in his/her best interest when faced with a conflict of interest. This means that if an auditor has an issue with an account he/she is auditing, but is receiving financial incentives to ignore these issues, the auditor may act unethically.


Client want honest accountants [27] 

Reference List

Accounting Professional and Ethical Standards Board (2007) Media Release 24 October 2007: APESB Standards for Accountants Providing Tax Services, Victoria.

Accounting Professional and Ethical Standards Board (2008) Complied APES 110 Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants.

Australian Tax Week (2006) Dealing with aggressive tax planning. [Cited 4 February 2010]. Available from

Australian Tax Week (2009) How do your ethics stack up? [Cited 4 February 2010]. Available from

Badai v Tax Agents Board of New South Wales [2002] ATC 2226

Braithwaite, V and Braithwaite, J (2006) Democratic Sentiment and Cyclical Market in Vice. The British Journal of Criminology 46 (6): 1110-1127

Certified Practicing Accountants (2007) CPA108 Reporting and Professional Practice. Victoria

Dunn v Australian Society of Certified Practicing Accountants [1996] ATPR 41-461

International Federation of Accountants (2009) Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants. New York

McCormack & Ors v Deputy Federal Commissioners of Taxation [2001] ATC4740

D. accounting ethics