What Are Franking Credits, and How Do They Work?

Ujjwal Maheshwari Ujjwal Maheshwari, April 18, 2024

Imputation credits, also known as franking credits, play a significant role in the tax systems of Australia and some other countries. These credits are a type of tax offset that companies pass on to their shareholders along with dividends. The main purpose of franking credits is to minimize or eliminate the double taxation on dividends.

Double taxation occurs when income is taxed twice—first, when the company pay tax on its earnings, and again when the shareholder pays tax upon receiving dividends.

The paid tax by the company is given to the shareholders as franking credits attached to their dividends, which they can then use to reduce their own tax liabilities. This system, by allowing franking credits represent tax paid, ensures that the income is taxed only once, promoting fairness in the taxation of dividends. By receiving a fully franked dividend, shareholders understand that the tax paid on these earnings at the corporate level covers their obligation, allowing the dividend to serve as a tax offset against their personal income.

What are franking credits

Historical Context

In Australia, the concept of franking credits was introduced in 1987 to address the issue of double taxation on dividend payments. Before this system, profits distributed by a company were taxed, and when these profits were then paid out as dividends to shareholders, the recipients had to pay additional tax. This effectively raised the tax payable on investment income, creating a significant deterrent for investing in Australian companies.

The franking credit system aimed to ensure that dividends would only be taxed once, thus encouraging investment. It was designed to provide equity in the taxation of different income types, allowing companies to pass on taxes already paid on their earnings to shareholders as credits.

Moreover, the imputation credit scheme sought to enhance the attractiveness of investing in Australian businesses to both local and international investors by offering tax offsets. For instance, a fully franked dividend means that the paid taxes by the company on its earnings covers the basic tax liability of the shareholder on that dividend, effectively avoiding double tax payment.

Shareholders who receive franking credits from dividend payouts with attached franking credits can use these as tax offsets against their tax owed, and those in lower tax brackets might even receive a cash refund for the excess credits. This aspect is particularly beneficial for self-funded retirees in the pension phase, who might have lower tax brackets and could see a reduction in their tax payable or medicare levy liabilities.

For Australian investors, the system meant that dividend yield became a more attractive component of their investment strategy, as they could receive franked dividends, reducing the how much tax they need to pay on their investment income. Additionally, those receiving partly franked or fully franked dividends can benefit from other tax offsets, enhancing their overall tax return.


How Franking Credits Work

Double taxation unfairly targeted dividend income, making it more burdensome than capital gains or other income types. This disparity was addressed with the introduction of franking credits. Here’s how it works: When a company pays corporate income tax on its profits, it can then issue dividend statements to its shareholders. These statements include franking credits attached to the dividends, representing the tax paid by the company.

Shareholders report the combined dividend—the cash received plus the franking credit—on their tax returns. This system ensures that the income is taxed at the shareholder’s marginal rate, but credits them for the tax already paid by the company, preventing double taxation.

The value of franking credits ties directly to the corporate tax rate. For example, if the tax rate is 30%, a dividend paid from after-tax profits would carry a franking credit equal to the tax paid by the company. This process aligns the tax burden of dividend income with other income, promoting fairness.

Shareholders who receive franked dividends might pay dividends tax at their rate minus the franking credit attached, potentially leading to cash refunds if their tax rate is lower than the corporate rate. Essentially, paying fully franked dividends ensures that the same income is not taxed twice. This concept aims to balance the taxation landscape, making investments in companies that pay dividends as financially appealing as those generating capital gains, with a capital gains tax implication.

A tax agent can help investors understand their dividend statements and calculate if they are may be eligible for any cash refunds or reduced tax liabilities, ensuring they benefit fully from the franking credit attached to their combined dividend.


Key Features of Franking Credits

Several key features define the franking credit system, making it a unique component of Australia’s tax landscape:

  • Fully Franked vs. Partially Franked vs. Unfranked Dividends: It is possible for dividends to be completely, partially, or not franked credit. With fully franked dividends, the corporation receives a credit for the total amount of taxes paid. Unfranked dividends have no tax credit, while partially franked dividends have a credit for only a portion of the tax. Depending on the firm’s tax situation, the amount of franking that is connected to a dividend represents the amount of tax that the company has paid on its profits.
  • Tax Implications for Shareholders: Depending on their tax bracket, shareholders’ franking credit effects on taxes vary. A shareholder may be refunded for excess franking credits if their marginal tax rate is lower than the corporate tax rate. On the other hand, they will be responsible for the difference if their marginal rate is higher. By doing this, the dividend tax rate is guaranteed to be in line with the tax bracket of the shareholder.
  • Holding Period Rule: Investors must hold their shares “at risk” for a minimum amount of time, usually 45 days, without including the dates of purchase and sale, in order to be eligible for franking credits. This regulation forbids investors from purchasing shares right before a dividend payment and selling them right away in order to profit from the tax break provided by franking credits.

These characteristics highlight the franking credit system’s intricacy and goal, which is to encourage long-term investment, ensure that tax benefits go to legitimate investors rather than being taken advantage of for tax arbitrage, and promote justice in the tax treatment of income.


Calculation and Practical Application

For both investors and tax experts, knowing how franking credits are calculated is important. The grossed-up dividend, which is the total of the actual dividend received plus the related franking credit, must be calculated as part of the procedure. The following formula is used to determine franking credits:

Franking Credit = (Dividend Amount / (1 – Company Tax Rate)) – Dividend Amount

With the use of this method, shareholders can include the corporation tax previously paid on the dividends in their taxable income. If their personal tax rate is lower than the company rate, this could result in tax refunds.

For example, if a corporation subject to 30% tax pays an investor $70 in dividends, the grossed-up payout would be $100 after the franking credit of $30. The investor is then compensated for the $30 that the firm has already paid, so their tax burden is computed based on the $100, preventing double taxation and allowing for taxes at the individual’s marginal rate.

Let’s illustrate it further. Think about an investor who pays 20% marginal tax. Their grossed-up dividend is $100 if they get a $70 dividend plus a $30 franking credit. They get a $30 credit in addition to paying $20 in tax (20% of $100), which leaves them with a $10 refund. In contrast, since the credit does not entirely offset the investor’s tax liability on the dividend, an investor in a higher tax bracket—let’s say 35%—would owe additional tax.


Benefits of Franking Credits

The system of franking credits carries several benefits for different stakeholders in the Australian economy, from individual investors to the broader market:

  • For Individual Investors: The main benefit is that their tax liability can be decreased. If a shareholder’s marginal tax rate is lower than the corporate tax rate, they may be able to use franking credits to balance the tax due on their dividend income and maybe receive a tax refund. This increases the attractiveness of dividend-paying assets, particularly for those in lower tax bands.
  • For Retirees: Franking credits are especially helpful for retirees who fund themselves because they frequently have smaller taxable incomes. Their effective return on investment can be greatly increased by being able to claim full refunds on unused franking credits, which can result in a larger retirement income stream. Due to the importance of franking credits in retirement planning, many retirees’ portfolios include Australian shares as a mainstay.
  • For the Australian Market: Franking credits reduce the burden of double taxes on dividends, which increases the appeal of investing in Australian companies. This promotes local investment and may raise Australians’ rates of equity ownership. By drawing and keeping capital in Australia, the policy promotes the expansion of the stock market and improves the nation’s economy as a whole.


Controversies and Criticisms

Despite their benefits, franking credits have not been without controversy:

  • Perceived Inequity: Because self-managed superannuation funds (SMSFs) and wealthy investors are more likely to receive tax refunds because of the way their assets are structured and their tax statuses are set up, critics contend that the system unfairly rewards these groups of people. Discussions concerning how tax laws affect the distribution of wealth have been triggered by this sense of injustice.
  • Impact on Government Revenue: Since the system lowers the tax base and so limits the amount of money available for public services, franking credits have drawn scrutiny for their effect on government income. In debates concerning public expenditure and budget objectives, this criticism takes on special significance.


Global Perspective

Few other nations have implemented a system similar to Australia’s franking credit scheme to resolve the problem of double taxation on dividends. Australia stands out on the international scene because of this unique strategy, which also provides a tax benefit for local investors and may increase the appeal of Australian stocks for those who care about tax minimization. While the imputation systems in New Zealand and other comparable nations are similar, there are differences in the details, such as the refundability of excess credits, which affect investment choices and tax planning techniques in distinct ways.

The majority of nations lack a structure that enables company tax credits to be directly transferred to shareholders. While the idea of qualified dividends, which are taxed at a lower rate, exists in some countries (such as the United States), there is no franking credit-like mechanism that directly tackles the double taxation of dividends. Due to this distinction, Australian businesses may attract a greater number of franking credit system beneficiaries, including low-income and retiree investors, which may have an effect on foreign investment flows.



One important aspect of Australia’s tax system is franking credits, which influence a variety of economic behaviours and provide a solution to the issue of double taxation on dividends. Although there are obvious advantages to the system in terms of investment incentives and tax efficiency, there are drawbacks in terms of fiscal cost and equity.

The function of franking credits and their effects on investors, the tax system, and Australia’s economy will surely continue to change as the country looks to the future.


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