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DEBT

Higher debts hit Swedish households

While Swedes struggle to cut spending and put more money in the bank, a new survey shows that households are poorer and more indebted than at any time in recent memory.

Higher debts hit Swedish households

Swedish households lost more than 300 billion kronor ($42 billion) in the first quarter of 2008, according to the SEB bank’s Sparbarometer index, which has tracked the wealth and savings of Swedish households since 1996.

The index’s debt quotient, which measures the level of debt in relation to assets, is at the highest level ever recorded by the Sparbarometer.

“Falling stock prices and an increase in new loans has dug into households’ net worth. At the same time, housing prices haven’t kept up,” said SEB economist Gunilla Nyström to the TT news agency.

According to preliminary figures, housing prices fell 2.4 percent during the first quarter in 2008.

Swedes took 45 billion kronor out of their private savings in the first quarter, most of which went to consumption.

The second quarter’s withdrawals from investment funds amounted to 24 billion kronor, while 35 billion was placed in bank savings accounts.

“The trend from the last quarter in which households consumed their savings has now been broken,” said Nyström.

At that time, money was used to maintain people’s standard of living despite higher prices for food and fuel, as well as higher lending costs.

But now the threat of a slowing economy appears to have sunk in to Swedes’ consciousness, causing them to prepare for tougher economic times.

Taken in aggregate, however, household assets are nearly four times greater than debts.

“But there may not be many who feel that way. Many of the assets are placed in secured savings such as the corporate pension system and public pensions, in savings accounts which households can’t access,” said Nyström.

And despite the high debt quotient, 27 percent, household net worth looks good on average, according to Nyström, who suspects that the rate of indebtedness will decrease.

“A few years ago, indebtedness was increasing by more than 12 percent a year. Now that rate is down under 10 percent. But many households have poor liquidity,” she said.

NORWAY

Norwegian fury over Swedish tax mix-up

Outraged Norwegian pensioners living in Sweden have reported the head of the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket) to the police after being asked to repay four years' worth of taxes, claiming the agency gave them bad information.

Norwegian fury over Swedish tax mix-up

“I’m a friendly, honest person and I feel like I’ve been steamrolled,” Norwegian pensioner Mona Jonsson told Sveriges Television (SVT).

Jonsson is among the estimated hundreds of Norwegian pensioners who have moved to Sweden in recent years, many of whom claim they were misinformed by the tax agency.

They say officials at the agency told them that that since their pensions were paid from Norway, they should also pay their taxes there.

Four years later, however, the Norwegian retirées have suddenly been hit with claims from the tax authorities that they now owe back taxes in Sweden.

Several of them told SVT that they have been forced to dip into their savings, with some citing fears they stood to lose their houses in order to pay their outstanding Swedish tax bills.

Egil Siira, a Norwegian who chose to spend his retirement in the northern Swedish town Vilhelmina, even has a letter from the Swedish Tax Agency stating that he was to pay tax only in Norway during the first four years of his stay in Sweden.

Several Norwegian pensioners subsequently did not pay taxes to Sweden during their first years here. But now the agency, along with the Swedish Enforcement Agency (Kronofogden), have said the Norwegian pensioners owe the Swedish state outstanding payments.

SVT reported that the likely root to this financial predicament could be that individual agency staff were unaware of a tax law reform affecting Nordic pensioners moving between the countries in the region.

Prior to 2009, taxes were indeed meant to be paid to the country from which pensions were paid. Following the revision, however, taxes are to be paid to the country of residence.

Despite written proof that at least one Norwegian citizen in Sweden was given the wrong information, the tax agency has refused to take responsibility for the mix-up.

“I don’t know what has been discussed in individual cases and can’t make any further statements,” agency legal expert Britt-Marie Hallberg-Eriksson told SVT.

“It is regrettable and a real shame if we’ve given incorrect information.”

Unable to get a sympathetic ear at the tax agency, irate Norwegians have reported tax agency head Ingemar Hansson to the police on suspicion of professional misconduct.

The Local/sh/at

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