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”
For those who haven’t seen the news, the IRS has effectively delayed the deadline for paying the first installment of the Transition Tax. For analysis and discussion, see yesterday’s posts on The Isaac Brock Society and Citizenship Solutions.
The short version is that, for individuals with Transition/Repatriation tax liabilities of less than US$1 million, underpayment of the first installment will not trigger acceleration of the entire liability provided that:
- The §965 (transition tax) liability is reported on a timely filed return for the “inclusion year” (this would be 2017 for most individual US Shareholders);
- The §965(h)(1) election to spread payments out over 8 years is included on that timely filed return; and
- The entire first and second installments have been paid by April 15, 2019 (June 17, 2019 for taxpayers residing outside the US).
Note that there will be interest charged on the late portion of the first installment.
So, what does this mean?
First off, it’s a big win for those who were scrambling to compute and pay this tax by June 15. Small business owners will now have until October 15 (assuming they’ve applied for an extension) to compute and report their transition tax liability (and until 17 June 2019 to pay the first installment) and remain compliant with US tax law. On October 15, however, those who are sitting on the fence regarding compliance will have a difficult decision.
The IRS has extended the deadline to pay the transition tax for individual taxpayers whose tax residence is outside the US (see section 3.06(e) starting on page 35 of this notice). For those who own Australian corporations and have been filing form 5471, this is good news. It gives you two additional months to decide whether to comply with this law.
The extension is the direct result of the petition campaign spearheaded by Monte Silver from Israel. It indicates that the Treasury and Congress will listen if sufficient force is applied (at the height of the campaign, 50 petitions per day were being sent to Congress and the Treasury).
An extension of time to pay is only the first step. There will be continued lobbying for a legislative solution to exempt non-resident individuals from this tax. This is in addition to recent moves towards legislation to exempt non-resident citizens from tax on non-US income.
The transition tax confiscates the undistributed earnings of non-US corporations just because the owner is a US citizen or permanent resident. Where the owner is a resident of Australia, this means that the US is taxing capital that is part of Australia’s tax base – and getting there before the ATO. When the earnings are finally distributed (as a dividend), tax will also be paid in Australia, possibly resulting in double taxation. Meanwhile, the money spent to pay the IRS (and to pay the compliance professionals needed to compute the tax liability) will no longer be circulating in the Australian economy.
In January, John Richardson and I recorded a conversation about the “Transition” tax that was part of US tax reform. John’s post introducing the videos is here: U.S. Tax Reform and the “nonresident” corporation owner: Does the Sec. 965 transition tax apply?
The transition tax is the provision in the tax reform bill that concerned us so much when it was introduced that we posted a Call to Action! In short, when applied to an Australian-resident US taxpayer, the transition tax asserts the right of the US to reach inside an Australian corporation and tax previously earned active business income just because a majority of the company is owned by “US Shareholders”. This is a major departure from prior law, and calendar-year taxpayers were given not much more than a week from the date the law was signed to the end of the tax year in which this new tax would be applied – certainly not enough time to understand the new law, let alone plan to avoid the inherent double taxation. Furthermore, in all of the hearings on the bill, not one Representative or Senator mentioned anything about the applicability of this provision to corporations owned by tax-residents of other countries, for whom the idea of “repatriating” profits to the U.S. is not only absurd, but also a drain on the economy of the country they call home.
We are all disappointed that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (HR 1) currently before Congress does not contain relief for non-resident citizens. But it could even make things worse! The current legislative versions of the bill (both House and Senate) are poorly drafted and could be interpreted to harm individual shareholders of “controlled foreign corporations,” including small businesses owned by non-US resident Americans (even though this is clearly not the intent of Congress).
It is time to contact our Australian elected representatives to make them aware of the potential extraterritorial reach of this harmful provision. The Steering Committee of Fix the Tax Treaty! has sent an open letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Treasurer Scott Morrison, and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop outlining why Australia should be interested in this issue and what Australia can do to mitigate the potential harm.