SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

MARRIAGE

Does marriage make financial sense in Switzerland?

Thinking of taking the plunge in Switzerland? Here are some important things to consider.

Two wedding rings on a wet table
From a financial perspective, is it worth getting married in Switzerland? Photo by Zoriana Stakhniv on Unsplash

It might not be the most romantic conversation to have with your significant other, but marriage in Switzerland can have a range of financial consequences regarding tax, insurance, debt and wealth. 

Although there are of course financial benefits to be had, there are also a range of potential disadvantages to consider. 

Some of these are relatively minor, although others can be significant – so much so that the financial disadvantages of marriage are a frequent topic of conversation in Switzerland under the term “marriage penalty”. 

Swiss financial services organisation Accurity says there are “massive tax penalties” of getting married in Switzerland, while think tank Avenir Suisse asked in mid-2020 “why marry when living in sin is cheaper?”

READ MORE: The pros and cons of having kids in Switzerland

Switzerland even had a referendum on the issue back in 2016. 

As many people know, things tend to change slowly in Switzerland – just ask women who only got the vote nationally in 1971 (and in every canton in 1990).  

Marriage laws which have a financial impact in Switzerland come from a time where only one partner tended to work. That was then, however, with 80 percent of wives now working in Switzerland, according to Avenir Suisse. 

But is living in sin really cheaper? While there are some advantages, these primarily relate to death and inheritance. 

The following guide outlines some of the common advantages and disadvantages of taking the plunge in Switzerland in broad categories. 

READ MORE: What names do foreign nationals give their babies in Switzerland?

Taxation

Taxation is the main area in which many married couples feel they are at a disadvantage. 

The reason for this is relatively simple. 

Switzerland uses a progressive income tax system, so higher incomes are taxed at a higher rate. 

Married couples are required to jointly file their taxes. Their income is added together regardless of who made what. 

If both spouses work, this arrangement – called ‘marriage tax penalty’ —can be quite costly.

It is unconstitutional for a married couple to pay more than 10 percent of the amount they would be charged if they were living together without marriage.

In practice, however, many couples pay considerably more. Postfinance provides the following example. 

“The marriage penalty actually means that for dual-income couples where both partners earn 75,000 to 125,000 francs annually, there is an added tax burden of around 10 percent compared to cohabiting couples with the same income.”

According to estimates from 2019, 700,000 married couples pay more tax than they would if they were unmarried. 

Keep in mind that not all married couples are the same. The amount of tax you will pay depends on a variety of factors including how much you earn, how you earn it, which canton and municipality you live in and how you organise your tax affairs. 

In that sense, marriage will not always constitute a disadvantage. 

Revealed: The Swiss canton with the best tax rates for families

Appropriately named Swiss financial comparison site Moneyland says Switzerland’s tax framework can be problematic as “if you and your partner have a higher income and get married, the tax rate will go up and you may pay a higher amount of income tax than if you were both taxed separately.”

Moneyland also notes that this can in fact be an advantage if one partner earns a low amount of money or no money, as “a person in a high tax bracket may be placed in a lower tax bracket if their spouse earns little or no income”. 

Is this likely to change? 

The most recent effort to change the law came about in 2016, when Switzerland held a referendum into the issue. 

In 2016, Swiss voters narrowly rejected the initiative to scrap the marriage tax penalty. 

However, it turned out that the information on this subject published by the government seriously underestimated the number of couples that were subjected to the tax penalty.

The authorities said only 80,000 couples were affected (more accurate estimates suggested it was closer to 700,000).

The vote was therefore reversed by the Federal Tribunal, Switzerland’s highest court.

The Federal Council has stood in the way of further reform efforts, despite significant demand. 

While a revote was ordered, organisers need to again collect 100,000 signatures and this has not yet taken place. 

Pensions 

Married couples can also be at a disadvantage when it comes to pensions. 

The Swiss pension system, while relatively complex, is largely calculated on the basis of contributions you made during your working life. 

EXPLAINED: How does the Swiss pension system work – and how much will I receive?

While single individuals will be entitled to 100 percent of their pension on retirement, a married couple will only be entitled to a maximum of 150 percent of their two pensions together. 

Unmarried couples will therefore be entitled to 200 percent of their pension entitlements (when considered together). 

This results in a reduction of 25 percent each – or 50 percent taken together – for married couples. 

This system was created when one of the married people, usually the man, earned much more than the other partner. 

However, where both members of a married couple earn good money, they are effectively penalised when it comes time to retire. 

In the instance of divorce, the moneys will be split evenly. 

The main advantage of the system is in the unfortunate instance someone dies. In that case, the survivor will be entitled to a survivor’s pension, which is sometimes known as a widow’s pension (but is not restricted to women). 

In order to receive this pension, the couple must have been married for at least five years. The surviving partner must be at least 45 years old or they must have dependent children. 

Married partners are also entitled to make lower contributions to the AHV pension collectively, which can be an advantage. 

Inheritance

There can also be benefits when it comes to inheritance for surviving spouses and children. 

Marriage will ensure that the main barriers to inheriting a deceased spouse’s wealth are removed. 

Taxes on inheritance or on gifts are relatively low in Switzerland, depending on the canton. 

The disadvantage, however, of being married is that individuals will have comparatively little choice to select their heirs or even to determine where their money will go. 

In Switzerland, a spouse is entitled to a compulsory portion of the estate. This will take place automatically and will trump whatever you say in your will. 

Swiss inheritance law: What will change in 2022

Debt

One final element is debt. 

When one partner who is in debt gets married, the debt becomes that of the couple – unless you specifically specify this in a pre-marriage agreement. 

Even then, Moneyland notes that your partner may be liable for your debt in some cases, which may be an unwelcome surprise for your partner. 

The obvious advantage for individuals is that their debt obligations are now halved, although the person you (theoretically) love will be liable for the other half, which probably shouldn’t be considered an advantage at all. 

As with all of our financial guides, this report has been prepared to provide an overview only and should not take the place of tailored financial advice from a qualified expert. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Zurich legally

Got an unwanted mattress, fridge or sofa? Here’s how you can legally get it off your hands in Zurich.

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Zurich legally

If you’ve bought a new piece of furniture in Zurich or a mattress, you may be faced with the problem of what to do with the old one. 

This is particularly the case in cities like Zurich, where space is at a premium and you may not be able to kit out your spare room with the old furniture. 

While there are waste disposal centres, even getting there without a car can be a problem. 

One man’s trash…

First things first, think about whether you really need to get rid of the thing in question. 

While you may not want it, there may be someone out there willing to take it off your hands – particularly if you aren’t going to charge them. 

The first point of call is to ask your friends and colleagues if they’re interested, with social media the perfect place to ask around. 

If you live in an apartment complex, you might try placing the item in a common area with a note saying “zu verschenken” (to give away) or ‘gratis’ (free). 

After that, there are several online options like eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Free Your Stuff Zurich, Ricardo, Anibis, Craig’s List and Tutti. 

Some of these sites will charge a fee – even if you’re giving something away – so be sure to read the fine print first. 

Another option is to donate the goods to a charity organisation. They will usually charge you money to pick it up and prices can vary dramatically. 

Caritas charge CHF35 per 100kg plus transport costs, while Sozialwerk Pfarrer Sieber will pick up small items of furniture for a flat fee, although you’ll need to send them pictures first before they give you a quote. 

Can I put old furniture on the street in Zurich? 

Although less common than many other European cities, occasionally you will see furniture out on the street in front of homes and apartment blocks in Zurich. 

While it might clutter up the sidewalk, it is technically not illegal – provided you only do so for a maximum of 24 hours. 

You also need to make sure it doesn’t block cars, bikes or pedestrians. If it does – or if you leave it out for longer – you risk a fine.

Entsorgungstram: Zurich’s recycling and waste disposal tram

One option is the Entsorgungstram, a mobile recycling centre on rails for all Zurich residents. 

This tram weaves its way through several parts of Zurich, picking up old bulky waste including electrical devices and furniture. 

If you are lucky to live near an Entsorgungstram line, just check the timetable and bring your waste items along to meet the tram. 

There are some rules, as laid out by the Zurich council. 

“The delivered items must not be longer than 2.5 meters (exception: sofa/upholstered furniture can be no longer than 2 meters) and no heavier than 40 kilograms per item. Separate the material beforehand according to its composition: flammable, large metal and landfill”. 

Unfortunately, only pedestrians and cyclists can use this service, i.e. you cannot drive from elsewhere and deposit the stuff. 

More information including route details can be found at the following link. 

Regular waste disposal

Your next option is to see whether you can get rid of it in your usual waste disposal. 

This being Switzerland, there are a lot of rules about what the waste management company will take and will not. 

If you’re throwing away a mirror, for instance, you cannot put that with your other glass waste and will need to dispose of it elsewhere. 

On the other hand, they may take things like carpets and mattresses – although you’ll need to pay a bit extra. 

The exact rules will depend on your municipality, but generally speaking you will need to buy additional waste stickers – which cost money. 

In Zurich itself, every household receives four coupons for disposal of waste (up to 100kg) each. 

When you run out of coupons, you’ll need to pay by the kilo. 

You’ll still need to bring it to the waste disposal facility, or pay a pick up fee of around CHF80. 

This may sound steep, but they do come to your home and pick it up – which will likely be cheaper than a rental car or van. 

In Winterthur, you will need to buy stickers for CHF1.80 from the council, with each sticker letting you dispose of 10kg of waste. 

Check with the retailer where you bought the new item

One option offered by furniture sellers is to buy your old furniture or whitegoods or accept them as a trade in. 

While this is likely to be more common with second hand retailers who might see potential in your unwanted item, it is also a service offered by retailers who only sell new goods. 

One example is Ikea, who will take your old mattress, furniture or electronic device and recycle it. 

This service is available at Ikea outlets for a cost of CHF10 each. 

It is also available when you get something new delivered, although you must pre-book so the driver can be sure to set aside enough space. 

This will cost you CHF80 for furniture, or CHF50 for electronic devices and mattresses. Keep in mind that (at least with Ikea) this service is only available when you buy something new. 

Several other furniture companies offer a similar service, including Schubiger Möbel, Möbel Pfister and Conforama.  

Electrical item retails will often take your old electrical goods for recycling, whether these are small like iPhones or large like fridges and washing machines. 

More information about which goods can be recycled and how in Switzerland is available at the following link. 

Moving companies

Removalist companies are another option – whether you are moving house or not. 

If you are moving house then a disposal service may be included in the overall fees. 

If not, you can still contact the company and get the item taken off your hands. 

While different companies will charge different amounts, you’ll usually pay per 100kg rather than per item, which can be a better (or worse) option than contacting the local council. 

Swiss comparison site Comparis has detailed info about how to find a moving company here

SHOW COMMENTS