Remembering Jack Bogle

I was sad to hear of the death of Jack Bogle last week. Jack was the “father” of modern index funds. He founded Vanguard Investments in the 1970s. His no-load, low-fee index fund was a major innovation in a world where investing had been only available to those who were willing to pick their own stocks or pay professional fund managers large fees to get results that weren’t statistically any better than a broad market index.

An index fund invests in all of the shares in the market (or the index that measures the market) – there are no investment decisions to make, and very little trading is necessary. This innovation has delivered market returns to small investors all over the globe at very low cost .

So, why am I talking about Jack Bogle and index funds on a website devoted to Australia/US cross-border tax issues? Because nonresident US citizens are punished for owning local versions of this basic investment!

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Tax Fairness for Americans Abroad Act

HR 7358, introduced on 20 December 2018, represents a watershed moment for American citizens residing OUTSIDE of the US. You can read a bit about the bill over at Citizenship Solutions – where a draft has also been posted. The official bill should be posted on congress.gov in a day or two.

This is a HUGE step forward! While the naysayers are already active on Facebook and Twitter complaining that this bill will never pass because there’s not enough time left in the current Congress, they fail to realise that any step forward is a victory. Enormous effort has gone into getting sufficient support in Congress to get this far. We need to acknowledge the significant time and effort that has been expended by people like Solomon Yue, Suzanne Herman, John Richardson, and Keith Redmond; and by organisations such as American Citizens Abroad, Republicans Overseas and Democrats Abroad. They have been working consistently over a period of years to get this far. Someone in Congress now recognises the problem – this is the first step in ultimately achieving a solution.

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TCJA and US Expats

As 2018 draws to a close, the community of nonresident US taxpayers has been inundated with articles about GILTI and the transition tax. These provisions have a disproportionate impact on nonresidents because people tend to earn their income close to home, so US taxpayers living outside the US are much more likely to be individual shareholders in a corporation that the US deems a CFC. However, there has been less attention paid to several other provisions in the 2017 tax reform package that will also have a disproportionate effect on those US taxpayers who are residents and taxpayers of other countries.

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Fixing the Transition Tax for Individual Shareholders

Individual shareholders of US Controlled Foreign Corporations face a difficult deadline on 15 December. That’s the last date to file a timely 2017 tax return (assuming all possible extensions have been granted). For those who feel they must comply with the §965 transition tax, this is the last date to make an election to spread the tax over eight years. We have been covering this tax provision at Fix The Tax Treaty since before the Tax Reform legislation was passed (list of posts). Comprehensive coverage of the transition tax is available in a series of posts by John Richardson over at www.citizenshipsolutions.ca. For affected shareholders, the transition tax can destroy the nest egg they have built up over a long career. The purpose of this post is to consider how this injustice can be fixed.

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Explaining GILTI – Wrap-up

My last four posts were an attempt at a broad overview of the Global Intangible Low-Taxed Income (GILTI) provisions that were part of the US Tax Reform enacted in December 2017. I started with a discussion of a comment made on behalf of the Israeli Ministry of Finance. This comment is quite unusual because most countries refrain from commenting on domestic regulations in another country. Following on from that post, I explained the underlying rationale behind GILTI, the mechanics of GILTI for corporate US shareholders and how the rules differ for individual US shareholders. This post provides a high level summary to tie the series together. 

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Explaining GILTI – Individual Impact

In this series of blog posts I try to explain GILTI (Global Intangible Low Taxed Income) in simple terms. In the first post I discussed a public comment made on behalf of the Israeli Ministry of Finance on the recent proposed GILTI regulations. My second post explained the rationale behind GILTI. The third post talked about how GILTI was measured focusing on US domestic corporations, the target of these provisions in the first place. This post will look at how these rules, that were written for Apple and Google, play out for individuals owning small businesses in the “foreign” country where they live. For those who want to get into the detail, there’s a technical appendix on our wiki.

[This post has been updated on 16 March 2019]

So, what have we learnt so far? GILTI applies to US Shareholders of Controlled Foreign Corporations (CFCs). The aim was to tax globally mobile intangible income that multinationals can easily move to tax havens to minimise their worldwide tax bill. However, what is being measured is much broader, picking up much of the active business income of CFCs regardless of whether that income is being sheltered from US tax in a tax haven.

One takeaway is that GILTI doesn’t apply unless a business is organised as an entity that is treated as a corporation for US tax purposes. Under the “entity classification rules”, certain types of non-US businesses are required to be classified as a corporation for US tax purposes, while others can elect to be treated as either a corporation or a disregarded entity (essentially a sole proprietorship or partnership). In a post-GILTI world, classification as anything BUT a corporation may be optimal.

As we’ll find below, the rules that apply to individual US Shareholders of CFCs mean that they will be paying higher tax rates than corporate shareholders because:

  • The 50% deduction applies only to corporate shareholders, and
  • Without a special election (§962), individual shareholders cannot offset GILTI with foreign tax credits.

The result is that US tax will be owed on GILTI unless the foreign tax rate exceeds 26.25%, double the rate that applies to corporate shareholders.

Basic rules for individual shareholders

The rules we discussed in the prior post apply to US domestic corporations that own CFCs. While the calculation of GILTI is essentially the same  for individual shareholders (GILTI = CFC income not already taxed by the US less deemed tangible income), the tax computation is completely different.

Corporate shareholders are allowed a deduction of 50% of their gross GILTI, but this deduction is not available to individual shareholders. Furthermore, individual shareholders will be taxed using the individual tax rate schedule, with marginal tax rates rising as high as 37%, instead of the new corporate tax rate of 21%. [Update March 2019 – in the §250 proposed regulations issued on 4 March 2019, the IRS relented and amended the §962 regulations to allow the 50% deduction to individuals electing to be taxed as a corporation under §962]

Continue reading “Explaining GILTI – Individual Impact”

Explaining GILTI – Measurement

In this series of blog posts I try to explain GILTI (Global Intangible Low Taxed Income) in simple terms. In the first post I discussed a public comment made on behalf of the Israeli Ministry of Finance on the recent proposed GILTI regulations. My second post explained the rationale behind GILTI. In this post I’ll discuss how GILTI is measured in non-technical terms. For those of you who want to get into the detail, there’s a technical appendix on our wiki. This post will focus on the general rules applicable to Apple and Google and other US domestic corporations that are US Shareholders in Controlled Foreign Corporations (CFCs). In my next post I’ll discuss the differences that apply when the US Shareholder is not a domestic corporation. Continue reading “Explaining GILTI – Measurement”

Explaining GILTI – Rationale

In my last post I discussed a public comment made on behalf of the Israeli Ministry of Finance on the recent proposed GILTI regulations. GILTI is quite complex, and that post may have thrown some readers into the deep end. In this post I go back to the beginning and try to explain why the US Congress felt that the GILTI provision was an essential part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). Subsequent posts will cover more detail about what GILTI actually measures and how the GILTI computations are supposed to work.

When Congress passed TCJA, it was hailed as major international tax reform that would make US multinationals more competitive with their international counterparts. The US corporate tax rate was reduced from 35% to 21% and with much fanfare, the US moved from taxing the worldwide income of corporations to a (not quite) territorial taxation system. Now that the bill has been signed and taxpayers, the IRS, and the tax compliance industry have had some time to study it, the reality doesn’t quite live up to the hype. For non-resident individual US taxpayers, the problem could be even worse! The transition/repatriation tax (§965) and GILTI (Global Intangible Low Taxed Income – §951A) have been drafted to apply to all US shareholders of Controlled Foreign Corporations (CFCs), not just the US domestic corporations that benefit from the modified territorial tax system. Once again, Congress has failed to consider the implications of their actions on non-resident US taxpayers. Continue reading “Explaining GILTI – Rationale”

Explaining GILTI

GILTI (Global Intangible Low Tax Income) is the gift that keeps on giving – claiming US tax jurisdiction over the income of corporations owned by US “persons” on an ongoing basis. While the transition tax was painful, it was a one-off. For calendar year taxpayers, GILTI will apply starting with the 2018 US tax return – so it’s actually been in place for almost 11 months now. But the IRS has only just issued some of the relevant regulations and there are many questions that remain unanswered. Comments on the first set of proposed regulations are due on 26 November, so I’m going to start by considering a comment submitted by Arnold&Porter on behalf of the Israeli Ministry of Finance. In subsequent posts I’ll go back and discuss the purpose of GILTI and whether the actual legislation does what it says.

Continue reading “Explaining GILTI”

Information Session – Renounce or Retain US Citizenship?

What: Since the passage of FATCA in 2010 and Australia’s acquiescence in the form of the FATCA IGA (signed in 2014), an increasing number of US citizens resident in Australia have become aware of their US tax obligations. For many the solution has been to renounce US citizenship. This will be an informal and interactive presentation covering questions such as:

  • My bank asked for my US SSN? Does that mean I must file US tax returns?
  • What does filing US tax returns mean for my super? My Australian investments? Will I be double taxed?
  • Does filing both US and Australian taxes defeat the objectives of financial and retirement planning in Australia?
  • What is the transition tax? GILTI? Is it still viable for a US expat to own a small business in Australia?
  • Will the US ever fix these problems by joining the rest of the world in taxing based on residence rather than citizenship? What is this new “TTFI” that I have heard about?
  • How do I renounce/relinquish US citizenship? Do I have to pay an exit tax on my Australian assets?
  • How do I determine whether renunciation is right for me?
  • If I renounce what happens to my Social Security? My IRA or 401(k)?
  • How does renouncing US citizenship affect my ability to travel to the United States?

Who: This is a joint presentation by Karen Alpert and John Richardson.

Karen Alpert founded the website Let’s Fix the Australia/US Tax Treaty and its associated Facebook group. The purpose of the group is to lobby and educate the Australian government regarding the impact of extraterritorial US laws on Australian citizens and residents and the cost to Australia of surrendering its sovereignty in these matters. Karen has a Ph.D. (UQ, Finance) and lectures in Finance at the University of Queensland.

John Richardson is a Toronto citizenship lawyer, the co-chairman of The Alliance for the Defence of Canadian Sovereignty as well as the Alliance for the Defeat of Citizenship Taxation. He is a member of the ACA Taxation Advisory Panel. He holds the degrees of B.A., LL.B., and J.D. He is a member of the Massachusetts, New York and Ontario bars. His law practice focuses on “Solving the problems of U.S. citizenship” including relinquishing and the “Exit Tax”. He gives programs for expats (and Green Card holders) all across Canada and Europe. He writes extensively at citizenshipsolutions.ca.

Where/When: 7pm – 9:00 pm Thursday 25 October, 12 Payne St., Auchenflower QLD (Fibrecraft House)
Google Maps Link: https://goo.gl/maps/8vJKgfD1x5t

THIS SESSION IS OF A GENERAL NATURE. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO AND SHOULD NOT BE UNDERSTOOD TO OFFER LEGAL ADVICE OF ANY KIND.

Additional Sessions (John Richardson only)
  • October 31 – Auckland, New Zealand
  • November 1 – Sydney, Australia

For information see:

http://www.citizenshipsolutions.ca/2018/10/14/considering-renouncing-us-citizenship-expatriationlaw-information-sessions-fall-2018/

Brisbane Session:

pdf of Slides

video on Facebook