Monday, June 1, 2009

What's a polla? Chilean money-saving schemes.

I knew going into this week that I would be in arrears on a couple of things, one of them a group blog post on the dia de patromonio which I attended with Margaret/Peg and where we were schooled in many architectural details and then doused with a bucket of cold water on a sunshiney day, this in the form of the tour given by a torturee from the Pinochet era of house where he, along with many others, were held, tortured, and some killed (though obviously not him).

And that has absolutely nothing to do with what this blog post is about, which is about saving and financial planning. Sort of.

Here in Chile, if you make money doing something not on a contract, you are paid via something called boletas. Basically, I do work for you and I send you a boleta (or ask the SII website to send you one, in my case, since I have virtual boletas (boletas electrónicas), and you use that number to show where your money has gone.

Fine. It's a system that's different from the one in the states, and I get that. What is strange to me is that I will pay a flat fee (10%) of that money to SII, and then, in May of next year, I will await an automatic deposit of this same money (most of it, I think, though this is not clear to me, though I do know that they have the money in an interest-bearing account, and pay you interest on it).

I was talking about this system with a friend, and feeling annoyed at having to take 10% out of a check of money that is mine, to give it to the government, and know that it will later be returned to me. She responded, "but it's a savings account!" This is the way people see their yearly tax refund here. Okay. I guess in the states some people see it the same way. yay, refund! But I seem to always owe (except for when I owned a house), and so I never got into this mindset.

The idea that your very own money returned to you later would bring you such great joy made me think about another middle/lower middle class "savings account" operation here in Chile. It's called a polla.

The polla will be among neighbors, friends, coworkers. Ideally there are twelve of you, one for each month, and each of you has to put the same amount of money in the "pot" once a month, on payday. In the polla I was asked to join, it was 10,000 CLP, or about 18 dollars by today's exchange rate, and this seems pretty standard. Once a month, you pay this amount in, and once a year (if you have twelve people, one for each month) you get 12X that amount of money back. When I was first approached about doing the polla, I was perplexed. I'm a money saver from way back, and would be just as happy to take my 10,000 CLP and stick it in an envelope which I then open once a year, if I rolled like that (I prefer the bank option, strangely).

So I thought about it. Are my friends unable to save their own money? Possibly. But if I had to guess I'd say it's a way to show that you trust friends or coworkers and feel solidarity with a cause that "benefits" everyone. So when I rejected the offer I probably offended some deep trust that had been put in me. We know you won't rip us off, they said. We know you like us. Wrong, and wrong, I said, by rejecting the polla, and keeping my 10,000 CLP for me, me! (insert evil laughter).

Oh, and I also never "paid the floor" (pagar el piso) (thanks Peg!) with my first paycheck in the administrative part of the school I used to work at. Here you buy cake or something to share with everyone with your first monthly paycheck. Missed that, too. Poco solidaria (not a team player), I guess.

I'm beginning to think being my own boss really is the best thing for me. Fewer chances to offend, less administrative blabla and less cake. Unless it was panqueque chocolate or merengue lúcuma (two cake varieties here), in which case I guess I've just shot myself in the foot. Alas, maybe in May when I get my money back.


Sara said...

I know there are people in the US who wait for their refunds and use that as a "savings account" too. I've never heard of the polla. It sounds good, though.

Steven Roll said...

It seems like the $18 monthly investment would be worth it just for the good will in would generate. My family spends several times that amount on birthday presents for our kids'friends. A pretty dubious investment when you consider the average length of an eight-year old's friendships.

Richard said...

A pollo reminds me of something here called a stokvel, which is the same idea, except that sometimes, if everyone agrees, the money will then be used on behalf of the group to try and do something that will raise some interest for everyone (like microloans to local businesses). It always made me chuckle to think of many grannies in the community pooling their resources to become micro venture capitalists :)

Abby said...

I am also perplexed about the whole "pay 10% now, get 10% back later" must be less than 10% that you get back, right?

I am also mad that because I did not have a RUT in May, I could not get my 10% back. (I mean, I probably could have, but the headache it would have involved was not worth the $40.000 pesos they were going to give me) Think they will give it to me next year? Probs not.

Tobal said...

Nunca entendí lo de la polla, no tiene sentido, sobre todo porque soy bastante ahorrador, me basta con comida, cepillo de dientes y mis placeres simples (un rico chocolate caliente mirando al río no desequilibra el presupuesto de nadie). Supongo que es una cosa de costumbres inculcadas por cada familia.

Lo de los impuestos tiene un motivo, en Chile se paga por tramos según ingresos, siendo la Unidad Tributaria Anual la referencia. SI ganas más de 10 UTA se te aplica una tasa de 5% (por dar un ejemplo), más de 20 UTA 10%, etc (son todos números ficticios, la tabla real está en el código tributario).

Los pagos mensuales de 10% que haces se llaman "pagos previsionales mensuales" (ppm) y son una forma de "anticipo" del pago de los impuestos que te correspondería pagar según tus ingresos anuales. Lo que se haya pagado en exceso, se te devuelve...pero sólo el exceso. En algún extraño caso pagaste menos durante el año y tienes que pagar más en la famosa operación renta de abril-mayo.

Lo más enredado es qeu las tasas que se aplican son marginales, así que ese 5% se aplica sólo sobre los ingresos que superen las 10UTA, el 10% sólo sobre 20UTA (no sobre el total de los ingresos, sino sólo sobre lo que supere esa barrera) y así sucesivamente, de modo que hacer el cálculo es - para mí - un enredo.

Espero no haberte dejado peor. pero la idea fundamental es no tener qeu pagar TODOS los impuestos del año de una sola vez, porque muy pocos ahorrarían para cada abril pagar una buena cantidad...millones si consideramos que en el tramo más alto el impuesto a las personas alcanza el 40%.