Credit Cards

2020 Edition: How to earn miles when paying Singapore income tax

The bad news: your taxes are due. The good news: this could be a great chance to buy some miles.

Amidst all the chaos and uncertainty of Covid-19, there’s something strangely comforting in knowing that no matter what happens, your taxes will still need to be paid.

Tax season is here again, and it’s time to look at this year’s options for earning miles on what could very well be a substantial outlay.

Individuals with income tax obligations will need to file their taxes between 1 March and 18 April 2020. They’ll subsequently receive their tax bill (NOA) between the end of April and September 2020. IRAS sends NOAs in batches, so don’t feel left out if everyone else gets theirs before you do.

Certain individuals may be able to opt for early assessment, in which case their NOA could arrive as early as March/April

How do I pay my tax bill with a credit card?

IRAS doesn’t accept credit card payments. In their own words:

Credit card payments are not offered by IRAS directly because of the high transaction costs charged by the credit card service providers. This is to keep the cost of collection low to preserve public funds.

Fair enough. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t use your credit card to pay taxes. Thanks to demand, tax payment facilities have been created, allowing cardholders to earn rewards in exchange for a small fee.

There are two types of tax payment facilities:

Indirect Payment Facilities Direct Payment Facilities

Both work the same in the sense that you submit your NOA*, and your credit card is charged for the amount due plus an admin fee.

*Technically speakingnot all facilities require you to submit an NOA…we’ll get to that later

Where they differ is that an indirect payment facility deposits the amount due into your designated bank account, in cash. You’re still responsible for paying IRAS. 

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With a direct payment facility, the facility provider pays IRAS on your behalf.

Whether it’s better to use an indirect or direct facility all comes down to the cost per mile- the admin fee, divided by the miles you receive on your card.

Regardless of which one you pick, some common rules apply:

  • You can’t pay someone else’s tax bill, only your own
  • You can’t pay more than the amount shown on your NOA

In this post, we’ll look at which option gives the lowest cost per mile.

What are the fees involved?

Note: It’s still early days in the tax filling process, and we’re likely to see new promotions. CardUp, for example, has told me they’re working on a promotion for Milelion readers. Do bookmark this article/subscribe to Milelion Roars and check back when it’s time to pay.

As mentioned, it’s not free to use your credit card to pay income tax. There’s an admin fee involved, which varies depending on provider.

List of Payment Facilities
Bank  Applicable Cards Admin Fee
Link Premier Mastercard, Visa Platinum, Revolution, Advance, Visa Infinite 0.5-1.5%
Link All BOC cards 1% (No rewards points)
Link Visa Infinite 1.6%
Link VOYAGE 1.9%
Link 1, Link 2* PRVI Miles, Visa Infinite Metal, Reserve 1.9-2%
Link All Citibank cards 2%
Link All SCB cards 2% 
Link All Cards 2.25%
Link All DBS cards 3%
Key Indirect Direct
*UOB payment facilities are not specifically designed for tax, but can be used for this purpose. However, it’s cheaper to use CardUp (see below)

It may be tempting to compare them on the basis of admin fees, but that’s only half the story. You need to also consider the earn rate.

For example, the HSBC Premier Mastercard has an admin fee of 0.5% and an earn rate of 0.4 mpd, so your cost per mile is 1.25 cents. On the other hand, the SCB Visa Infinite has a higher admin fee of 1.6%, but also a much higher earn rate of up to 1.4 mpd, resulting in a lower cost per mile of 1.14 cents. 

In the same way, the UOB PRVI Pay facility has a 2% fee, but the PRVI Miles card only earns 1 mpd through it, resulting in a cost of 2 cents per mile. In contrast, CardUp has a higher fee of 2.25%, but the PRVI Miles card earns 1.4 mpd here, resulting in a lower cost of 1.57 cents per mile.

What’s the cheapest option?

If that’s too much math for you, here’s the summary table. To minimize congestion, I’m only showing the lowest cost option for a given card. For example, I’m not showing the SCB Visa Infinite with CardUp, since it’s possible to achieve a lower cost per mile by using SCB’s own tax payment facility.

Summary of Tax Payment Options
Card Pay Via Fee MPD CPM
SCB Visa Infinite Bank 1.6% 1.41/
1.0
1.14/
1.6
HSBC Visa Infinite Bank 1.5% 1.252/
1.0
1.2/
1.5
HSBC Premier Mastercard Bank 0.5% 0.4 1.25
Citi ULTIMA PayAll 2% 1.6 1.25
DBS Insignia CardUp3 2.25% 1.6 1.38
UOB Reserve CardUp 2.25% 1.6 1.38
OCBC VOYAGE (Premier & Private Banking) CardUp 2.25% 1.6 1.38
BOC Elite Miles CardUp 2.25% 1.5  1.47
Citi Prestige PayAll 2% 1.3 1.544
UOB PRVI Miles CardUp 2.25% 1.4 1.57
Citi PremierMiles Visa PayAll 2% 1.2 1.67
SCB X Card EasyBill 2% 1.2 1.67
HSBC Revolution Bank 0.7% 0.4 1.75
DBS Altitude Visa CardUp 2.25% 1.2 1.83
OCBC 90N CardUp 2.25% 1.2 1.83
KrisFlyer UOB CardUp 2.25% 1.2 1.83
OCBC VOYAGE CardUp 2.25% 1.2 1.83
1. 1.4 mpd if ≥S$2K spent in a statement period, 1.0 otherwise
2. 1.25 if ≥S$50K spent in previous membership year; 1.0 otherwise
3. With CardUp, you earn miles on both the admin fee and the tax payable amount, hence the calculation is slightly different
4. Citi Prestige is currently offering a bonus for PayAll transactions that brings the cost down to 1.2 cpm, but it ends 31 Mar 2020, too early for most people
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I’ve not shown any options that cost more than 2 cents per mile (so no Citi Rewards Visa for example), because that’s the limit which most people are willing to buy miles. Your ceiling will of course depend on how you value a mile.

A few points to note.

Apply for as many facilities as you want

If you hold more than one of the cards above, there’s nothing stopping you from applying for multiple tax payment facilities in order to buy more miles (otherwise known as churning).

For example, someone with a S$10,000 tax bill who holds both the SCB Visa Infinite and HSBC Visa Infinite could send the same NOA to both SCB and HSBC. Upon approval, he/she would buy up to 26,500 miles (14,000 from SCB, 12,500 from HSBC) for S$310 (S$160 from SCB, S$150 from HSBC).

Take particular care if you’re applying for two direct payment facilities, however, because there’s a chance you might end up overpaying your tax bill. “What’s wrong with funding the government’s working capital?” you may ask. Well, IRAS has to arrange for a refund, and it apparently scolds the sender in the process. Hence this line in the Citi PayAll T&Cs:

Where we have determined in our discretion exercised reasonably that your Payment(s) to IRAS exceed the amount of taxes which you are required to pay to IRAS, we shall be entitled to claw back any rewards credited to your card account in connection with any amount so overpaid to IRAS using the Service. In such an event, we will refund the relevant portion of Fee in respect of such overpaid amount.

There’s no chance of this happening with indirect payment facilities, because the onus is on you to pay IRAS. What you do with the cash after it’s deposited into your account is your own business.

You can still use GIRO (in most cases)

IRAS allows taxpayers to split their payment into 12 interest-free installments via GIRO. This is great for maximizing your cashflow, and something I opt for each year.

There are no issues using GIRO if you opt for an indirect payment facility, as the bank simply credits the cash to your account and how you go about paying IRAS after that is up to you.

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With direct payment facilities, it’s slightly trickier. You can’t use GIRO if you opt for CardUp, because they’ll charge your card for the full amount as shown on your NOA, and transfer that to IRAS. Your tax bill is paid off in one shot, and there’s no installments to speak of.

Citi PayAll and SC EasyBill, on the other hand, don’t request for your NOA. This means you could:

(1) Elect to pay your income tax via GIRO
(2) Make manual payments each month via PayAll/EasyBill, a few days before the scheduled deduction (6th of each month; where this is a weekend/public holiday, on the next working day)

As long as you don’t overpay your total tax bill (which triggers a refund from IRAS and a chiding from the bank), I don’t see any issues here. It’s OK to get the installment slightly wrong and pay more than what’s needed, so long as your total payment matches the total amount due.

Don’t forget about transfer partner variety

When evaluating two cards with similar cost per mile figures, it’s helpful to think of qualitative factors as well.

For example, both the DBS Altitude and KrisFlyer UOB credit card will have a 1.83 cents per mile cost through CardUp. However, points earned on the DBS Altitude can be transferred to KrisFlyer, Asia Miles, Qantas Frequent Flyer and AirAsia BIG, while the KrisFlyer UOB card can only earn KrisFlyer miles. All things equal, the DBS Altitude wins for its greater flexibility.

If you need a refresher on who partners with who, check out this article.

Conclusion

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Tax season is a great opportunity to buy miles, as that NOA opens up a lot of possibilities. Be sure to educate yourself on the full range of options available!

As mentioned, we’ll no doubt be seeing some promos in the weeks to come- CardUp has mentioned they’ll be running an offer for Milelion readers. Do bookmark this post, and I’ll update it as needed.

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Aaron WongSomebodyMirrorInstalments vs Lump sumGIRO Recent comment authors
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CW
Guest
CW

Hi Aaron,

Tax payment seems to be excluded from the promotion for SCB VI. You can refer to page 3, clause 6 of the T&Cs: https://av.sc.com/sg/content/docs/sg-vi-tc-full.pdf

Andrizethe
Guest
Andrizethe

SCB informed me they no longer issue the Visa Infinite card; you can see there is no option to apply on their website though the card is still featured. I’m not sure if the current cardholders can still earn points for tax payment. For a very good alternative, HSBC is offering 35,000 miles on their Visa Infinite card for a limited time, which seems like a reasonable deal for an annual fee of $650 ($488 for Premier customers). The miles earning are unimpressive, but you get 2 limo/expedited immigration, unlimited Loungekey access for principal cardholder and up to 5 supplementary… Read more »

Falco-Ramin Javazi
Member
Falco-Ramin Javazi

Aiyo, just paid yesterday. Should have waited for the article and then the CardUp promo.

GIRO
Guest
GIRO

A non-monthly payment option such as Card Up means forgoing the IRAS policy of not charging interest for monthly GIRO payments. It’s not much but usually works out to about 54% of the prevailing bank savings or fd interest rate. For 1.1% fd rate and 10k tax bill it’s about $60 savings. At 1.5% and 100k tax bill it’s about $820 savings. At 2.2% with a 100k tax bill its about $1200 savings. Miles are nice but I wouldn’t leave money on the table. Monthly payall and easybill don’t really appeal to me from a convenience point of view (I… Read more »

Eric
Guest
Eric

How to activate the monthly payall? I login to the Citibank apps but there is only one option to pay one lump sum.

GIRO
Guest
GIRO

As I said it’s not convenient. You may have to get IRAS to allow non-GIRO installment and then do a Payall every month. Better not forget…… Not convenient at all. Makes life more complicated. Never done it before myself. I wouldn’t bother for smaller tax bill and for larger tax bill then tax-payer would probably qualify for the GIRO-friendly options.

Fred
Guest
Fred

Hi Aaron, is my understanding correct that in any case if you charge your tax to your credit card, you will have to pay it in full by the credit card next pay by date. In other words, you better have saved that money before starting this process, as for some people, it might be a significant amount of money. Correct?

J
Guest
J

Should I clock miles on credit cards that can redempt more than 1 airline in case the only one is declared bankrupt and restructured happen with miles program, the lowest priority in their mind?

Weien Teo
Member
Weien Teo

Hi, just wondering why the article doesnt mention ipaymy as an option, but only Cardup?

Ruiyi
Guest
Ruiyi
Mirror
Guest
Mirror

just wondering … about your citi prestige comment that the promotion ends on 31 March . What happens if I prepay my tax to IRAS ? Does IRAS refund it ?

Somebody
Guest
Somebody

Aaron, the DBS link points to a ‘direct’ one time payment option that can be converted into a 12 month installment plan, not an ‘indirect’ one like SC VI. One would still dither going down that route considering the cost per mile even if it were indirect; nonetheless you may want to fix it for the sake of accuracy?

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