The Corner

The Noose Tightens

From AP:

Argentina just made it more expensive for its people to use credit cards outside the country, and more dangerous for cardholders who aren’t paying all the taxes they should.

One measure published in Friday’s official bulletin adds a 15 percent tax every time people make a purchase outside the country using a card issued by an Argentine bank. Another requires the banks to report every credit card purchase, home or abroad, to the tax agency.

The moves target Argentines who have discovered that by using credit cards outside the country, they can get around increasingly tight currency controls and shelter their money from soaring inflation. Purchases outside Argentina using peso-denominated cards soared 48 percent in June compared to the year before, obligating the central bank to send $289 million out of the country in just one month. Overall capital flight soared to $23 billion in 2011….

Before, the reporting requirements applied only to expensive charges of more than 3,000 pesos (about $645). Now, every single purchase by every co-signer must be reported. And if the totals show people are living large while claiming to be paupers, they could get into big trouble…

Since November 2011, Argentina’s government has sought to stem capital flight by closing down nearly every avenue people have to legally trade their inflationary pesos for U.S. dollars. The black-market peso price has spiked as a result, trading now at 6.37 pesos to the dollar, compared to the official rate of 4.65. That 37 percent gap represents what people with undeclared pesos have to lose in order to convert their cash to dollars inside Argentina.

Credit cards, meanwhile, are paid at the official rate, and many cardholders have figured out ways to use them to avoid this loss. The 15 percent tax raises the effective cost of purchases to 5.35, reducing the gap by nearly half….

Cardholders will pay the new tax as part of each month’s credit card bills, with the government promising to reimburse the totals each May to taxpayers whose sworn declarations show they paid more than they owed in taxes the previous year.

But inflation will have robbed much of the reimbursement’s real value by then, and for people who don’t make enough income to need monthly withholdings through the year, it directly hits their pocketbooks.

Smacks of desperation.

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