Mental accounting of income tax and value added tax among self-employed business owners

Jerome Olsen*, Matthias Kasper, Christoph Kogler, Stephan Muehlbacher, Erich Kirchler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)
289 Downloads (Pure)


Mental accounting describes a series of cognitive operations that help organize financial activities and facilitate money management. Self-employed taxpayers who make use of a separate mental account for future income tax payments or collected value added tax (VAT) might find it easier to declare their taxes correctly than taxpayers who do not. This study used a questionnaire to investigate whether self-employed taxpayers (N = 350) use mental accounting to manage their income tax and VAT obligations, whether mental accounting relates to tax knowledge, business and personality characteristics, and to what extent mental accounting is related to intended tax behavior. Our results reveal that some taxpayers mentally segregate taxes from turnover (segregators) while others do not (integrators). We found small differences in mental accounting between income taxes and VAT. Moreover, confirmatory factor analyses suggested that tax knowledge and mental accounting are distinct constructs. Segregation of taxes was related to lower impulsivity and more positive attitudes toward taxation. Individuals who stated they segregate taxes due from turnover more often claimed to run financially prosperous businesses. Mental accounting was not related to intentions of evading taxes, but individuals with higher mental accounting scores reported more pronounced levels of tax planning. While our research design does not allow drawing causal inferences, these findings could suggest that increasing self-employed taxpayers’ ability to organize their financial activities might be a promising strategy to strengthen the competitiveness of their businesses.
Keywords: mental accounting, tax, income tax, VAT, tax compliance
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-139
JournalJournal of Economic Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • FORM
  • Mental accounting
  • Tax
  • Tax compliance
  • VAT
  • income tax


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