Blog

A glimpse into FATCA reporting….

In the post-FATCA world, Australia’s reporting financial institutions (RFIs) are required to report financial account data on Australian resident US citizens that is ultimately transmitted to the IRS.  Through past Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for aggregate FATCA reporting statistics, we learned that the IRS must be drowning in large volumes of FATCA data of questionable accuracy.   

The lack of publically accountable governance and oversight associated with a program of FATCA’s scope and huge cost[1] is mind blowing.  Furthermore, one of the most disturbing elements of FATCA is that financial reporting on Australian residents is being made to a foreign government with no statutory notification regarding the reported information back to the person being reported on.   How can one know what is being reported regarding their financial affairs and whether it is accurate and correct? 

I decided to find out!  I made use of our FOI regime to request copies of all information being reported to the IRS regarding my personal Australian domiciled accounts so that I could determine if the data is complete and accurate. 

Before I get into my experience, note that we’ve attempted this in the past.  In 2016, Karen made an FOI request seeking disclosure of all reported FATCA data specific to her accounts and learned that for her specific case no records were available, presumably as her financial institutions had yet to identify her as a US citizen.   In early 2017, “Sam” made a similar request and the ATO came back and said that they could not make a decision on whether to release the information without first consulting with the IRS which included providing the IRS with Sam’s personal details.    Sam was understandably unwilling to draw attention to himself given the complexity of taxation of foreign assets and promptly withdrew his request.

In my case, I was pleased to discover that the ATO now seems to be past the “consult with the IRS” nonsense and dealt with my FOI information request within the prescribed period.  Interestingly, they stated they only had reported FATCA information on me for calendar year 2017 with nothing reported in prior years.  This is not surprising as I am still, to this date, receiving requests from Financial Institutions to verify our tax residency as required by FATCA and CRS.

For those interested in the specifics, my report was in the form of a table (presumably from a relational database) that contains the following fields:

  • msg_bet_id: unknown field
  • atchd_doc_ref_id:  a long alphanumeric code that includes the name of the financial institution and perhaps an RFI identifier number?
  • FirstName:  my first name and, sometimes, my middle name
  • LastName: Last name
  • Address:  my address of record
  • Account Type:  listed as NULL on my reports
  • AccountNumber:  “CAPAU#########” where ######### is the account number
  • Amount Balance Cur:  Currency, AUD in my case
  • Amount Balance:  balance (in AUD as above)
  • Account Number Closed Indicator:  NULL in my case as no accounts closed
  • Account Number Type:  unknown but listed as NULL in my reports
  • Payment Amount:  a dollars.cents number
  • Payment_type:  listed in all my accounts as “Interest”
  • TIN:  Taxpayer Identification Number, in this case my social security number
  • TIN Country:  Listed as “US”
  • RFI Name:  name of the RFI

I maintain detailed and accurate financial records using financial personal accounting software.  Cross-checking the reported information against my records suggests that the reported information is reasonable but not precise.  Reported year-end account balances were spot-on, perfectly matching my financial records.  Account numbers and my TIN were also correct.  The reported calendar year interest was generally correct or within reason.  Where our numbers did not perfectly match, I was unable to discover a reason why (for example dropping or adding shoulder interest payments made in the first or last days of the calendar year), however the reported numbers were within 10% and therefore considered acceptable.

I also made a few interesting observations:

  1. All account figures in the report are clearly Australian dollar denominated while the FATCA IGA calls for reporting in US dollars using published spot rates.   The report also provides calendar year-end balances not maximum account balances.  This is interesting as both IRS Form 8938 and FINCEN FBAR reporting require reporting of the maximum account balance during the year in US dollars which no doubt will make automated matching and exception identification more challenging.
  2. In my case, the Australian RFIs have reported all accounts, even when the YE account balance of one account is well below the FATCA reporting threshold and there is no interest income.  For example, one RFI reported the YE balance of a transactional banking account that had a year-end well under $1,000 and no interest income.  Presumably this is due to the rules requiring RFIs to aggregate accounts when testing against the US$50k reporting threshold.   
  3. One of my reported account is a brokerage account yet only the cash account and related interest earnings were reported.  Calendar year dividend income or aggregated share values were not reported in my case, despite the FATCA IGA requiring the custodial account to report total gross dividends, amongst other reporting obligations.

Overall, I was pleased that I was able to obtain this information from the ATO with minimal fuss.  I plan to seek updates on an annual basis and I encourage you to do likewise so that you also understand what personal financial information about you is being reported to the IRS.  Although I presume that government bureaucracies will strive to improve FATCA and CRS reporting systems, it is also apparent that in terms of identifying compliance exceptions, these systems currently have significant deficiencies and are unlikely to trigger widespread enforcement activities for years to come.    


[1] Australia is estimated to spend A$482 million over ten years on FATCA implementation and maintenance; sourcehttp://ris.pmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/posts/2014/05/08_RIS_accessible.pdf

Part 2: Our FOI Journey – Learnings & Next Steps

In Part 1 of this two-part blog, we reviewed our lengthy and largely unsuccessful journey in exercising our Freedom of Information (FOI) rights to better understand the context behind the current 2001 tax treaty and to use this information to better frame our initiatives to improve this important agreement.

Although our FOI requests were largely unsuccessful, we did gain some knowledge and insights along the way.  The purpose of Part 2 is to discuss these learnings and suggest further activities we might consider.

Learnings

So what did we learn?

Continue reading “Part 2: Our FOI Journey – Learnings & Next Steps”

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!

Continue reading “Remembering Jack Bogle”

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.

Continue reading “Tax Fairness for Americans Abroad Act”

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.

Continue reading “TCJA and US Expats”

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.

Continue reading “Fixing the Transition Tax for Individual Shareholders”

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. 

Continue reading “Explaining GILTI – Wrap-up”

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”