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What is France's '13th month' and can it affect your salary?

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
What is France's '13th month' and can it affect your salary?
Could you benefit from being paid thirteen times in a year, instead of 12? Photo by MYCHELE DANIAU / AFP

The idea of getting an extra pay packet in the mythical '13th month' of the year sounds attractive, but like many things that seem too good to be true, there is a catch.

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Since the Romans, a year in western Europe has consisted of 12 months - although the French Revolutionaries did make a short-lived attempt to entirely change the calendar and create 10-day weeks. 

This means that if you are an employee and have your salary paid monthly, you will receive 12 pay packets per year.

In France, however, there is the concept of le treizième mois (the 13th month), sometimes known as la prime du 13ème mois - the 13th month bonus. 

It is defined as "a one-off bonus paid to employees in addition to their normal salary. Employees who receive this bonus receive 13 months' salary instead of 12".

Sounds pretty amazing, right?

There are, however, a couple of catches.

The first is that it's not available to everyone - some employees get it while others don't. Whether you are entitled to this depends on the convention collective that governs the sector that you work in.

Find full details here on how the convention collective works, and how to check yours. 

The second is how your salary is calculated in the first place.

Because the 13th month is governed by the convention collective, employers know in advance that they will have to pay this, and take that into account when calculating the salary they offer to employees.

You might still end up a little better off with the 13th month, depending on the sector you work in, how long you have been there and whether there is a skills shortage in your profession. You might, however, end up with the same overall salary - just divided into 13 slightly smaller payments rather than 12. 

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The 13th month salary is taxable, so your total taxable income for the year will be calculated with this included.

So how did France end up with this unusual system?

It's mostly to do with taxes - France was slow to adopt the custom of taxing employees at source.

It's only since 2019 that most employees see their taxes (impôts) deducted from their pay before the money reaches their account - prior to that the system for employees was the same as for self-employed people; you filled out the annual tax declaration and then received a single bill.

The idea of the 13th month was to give you a one-off lump sum that you could use to cover your tax bill.

These days it's becoming less common as most employees have their income taxed at source, and of the companies that do continue with it, most pay it out in December in order to help with Christmas and holiday costs.

However the exact details of when and how it is paid (along with whether part-time employees, new hires or people on short-term contracts are eligible) is covered by the individual convention collective

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Are there any proper bonuses?

If the 13th month is not quite as good as it sounds, there are some other seasonal bonuses you might be eligible for.

The first is the 'Macron bonus' (la prime Macron) which some employers pay out to employees, and in return benefit from a tax break. Its formal name is La prime exceptionnelle de pouvoir d'achat (the cost-of-living bonus) and as the nickname suggests was introduced by Emmanuel Macron.

It's only payable to employees who don't exceed the salary threshold and who aren't in management positions - and whether you get it depends on whether your company is signed up to the scheme.

Then there is La Prime de Noël (Christmas bonus) - this one is paid out by the state, not by employers, and is means-tested. It's intended to help low-income families deal with the cost of Christmas by giving a one-off payment of up to €400 (depending on income) in early December. 

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