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“Coming Into Tax Compliance Book” – How Americans can come into U.S. tax compliance in a FATCA world

Are you “Coming To America” by entering the U.S. tax system as an American Abroad?

The “How To Come Into U.S. Tax Compliance” book for Americans abroad

John Richardson, LL.B, J.D.

I have contributed to establishing the new “Citizenship Taxation” site. As part of launching that site, I have written a series of posts providing relevant information (in a broad sense) about how Americans abroad, who did not know about their U.S. tax obligations, can come into U.S. tax compliance.

Sooner or later, it’s likely that many people will receive a FATCA letter. In your panic, you should be careful. There are a number of things Americans abroad should consider before consulting a lawyer or tax professional.

This series of posts developed from my “Educational Outreach” program for Americans abroad. It is an effort to respond in a practical way to the questions that people have.

The chapters of “Coming Into Compliance Book” are:

Chapter 1 – “Accepting Cleanliness – Understanding U.S. Citizenship Taxation – To remain a U.S. citizen or to renounce U.S. citizenship

Chapter 2 – “But wait, I can’t renounce U.S. citizenship if I’m not a U.S. citizen. How do I know if I am a U.S. citizen?”

Chapter 3 – “No matter what, I must come into U.S. tax compliance – Coming into U.S. tax compliance for those who have NOT been filing U.S. taxes

Chapter4 – “Oh no, I have attempted U.S. tax compliance by filing tax returns. I have just learned that I have made mistakes. How do I fix those mistakes?”

Chapter 5 – “I don’t want to renounce U.S. citizenship. How to live outside the United States as a U.S. tax compliant person

Chapter 6 – “I do want to renounce U.S. citizenship. This is too much for me. How the U.S. “Exit Tax” rules might apply to me if I renounce

Chapter 7 – “I really wish I could do retirement planning like a “normal” person. But, I’m an American abroad. I hear I can’t invest in mutual funds in my country of residence. The problem of Americans Abroad and non-U.S. mutual funds explained.

Chapter 8 – “We all have to live somewhere. Five issues – “The problem of Americans Abroad and non-U.S. real estate explained

The “Coming Into Compliance Book” is designed to provide an overview of how to bring some sanity to your life.

 Coming to America

You may remember the old Eddie Murphy movie about “Coming To America”.

Welcome to the confusing and high stakes rules for U.S. taxation and Americans abroad.

The United States has the most complex, confusing, most penalty ridden and most difficult anti-deferral regime in the world. McGill Professor Allison Christians has noted that Americans abroad are both:

“deemed to be permanently resident in the United States for tax compliance and financial reporting purposes” …

and are

“subject to the most complex aspects of the U.S. tax code regardless of any activity in the United States, and facing extraordinary compliance costs and disclosure risks even for nil returns”

Although Americans abroad are deemed to be resident in the United States, their assets are treated as “offshore”. In addition Americans abroad are subject to taxation in their country of residence.

All of this means that:

1. Americans abroad are subject to the worst and most punitive aspects of the U.S. tax system (there is no Homelander who is treated as badly as an American abroad); and

2. Denied most benefits of the tax systems of their country of residence.

To put it simply, Americans abroad get the worst of all possible tax systems.

The most horrific aspects of the U.S. tax system are saved for Americans abroad. Prepare to be shocked. As one commenter at the Isaac Brock Society site recently said:

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Renouncing US citizenship? How the S. 877A “Exit Tax” may apply to your Canadian assets – 22 Parts

Introduction:

usexittax

There is much discussion of the U.S. rules which operate to impose taxation on the residents of other countries and income earned in those other countries. You will hear references to “citizenship taxation”, “FATCA Canada“, PFIC, etc. It is becoming more common for people to wish to relinquish their U.S. citizenship. The most common form of “relinquishment is renunciation”. The U.S. tax rules, found in the Internal Revenue Code, impose taxes on everything. There is even a tax on “renouncing U.S. citizenship”. I don’t mean the $2350 USD administrative fee which everybody has to pay. (Isn’t that really a tax?). I mean a tax on your assets. To be clear:

You must pay a price to NOT be a U.S. citizen.

This tax is found in S. 877A of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code.

It’s defined as the:

Tax responsibilities of expatriation

Few people are aware of this tax. Fewer still understand how it works.  As FATCA operates to enforce U.S. taxation on many Canadian citizens, and increasing numbers wish to NOT be U.S. citizens, the importance of understanding the U.S. “Exit Tax” increases.

It is particularly important to understand what triggers the “Exit Tax”. You will be subject to the “Exit Tax” if you are a “covered expatriate”. You must know what that means and why, sooner or later, everybody will become a “covered expatriate”.

The “Exit Tax” is not a simple “token tax”. For Canadians, the tax can be a significant percentage of their net worth. Furthermore, the tax is payable NOT on actual gains, but on “pretend gains”. (Where would the money come from to pay the tax?)

Hang on to your seats. You will shocked, amazed and horrified by this.

Since the advent of FATCA in Canada, this issue is increasingly important.*

To be forewarned is to be forearmed!

This is a 22 part series which is designed to provide you  with some basic education on:

How the U.S. S. 877A Exit Tax rules work; and

How they particularly affect Canadians with a U.S. birthplace, who lived most of their lives in Canada.

This will be covered over a 9 day period in a “9 part” series. (It has since been expanded to 16 posts and counting.)

Although this series is beginning on “April Fools Day”, I assure that this is NOT a joke.

The 16 parts are:

Part 1 – April 1, 2015 – “Facts are stubborn things” – The results of the “Exit Tax

Part 2 – April 2, 2015 – “How could this possibly happen? “Exit Taxes” in a system of residence based taxation vs. Exit Taxes in a system of “citizenship (place of birth) taxation

Part 3 – April 3, 2015 – “The “Exit Tax” affects “covered expatriates” – what is a “covered expatriate“?”

Part 4 – April 4, 2015 – “You are a “covered expatriate” How is the “Exit Tax”  actually calculated

Part 5 – April 5, 2015 – “The “Exit Tax” in action – Five actual scenarios with 5 actual completed U.S. tax returns

Part 6 – April 6, 2015 – “Surely, expatriation is NOT worse than death! The two million asset test should be raised to the Estate Tax limitation – approximately five million dollars – It’s Time

Part 7 – April 7, 2015 – “Why 2015 is a good year for many Americans abroad to relinquish U.S. citizenship – It’s the exchange rate

Part 8 – April 8, 2015 – “The U.S. “Exit Tax vs. Canada’s Departure Tax – Understanding the difference between citizenship taxation and residence taxation

Part 9 – April 9, 2015 – “For #Americansabroad: US “citizenship taxation” is “death by a thousand cuts, but the S. 877A Exit Tax is “death by the guillotine”

Part 10 – April 10, 2015 – “The S. 877A Exit Tax and possible relief under the Canada U.S. Tax Treaty

Part 11 – April 11, 2015 – “S. 2801 of the Internal Revenue Code is NOT a S. 877A “Exit Tax”, but a punishment for the “sins of the father (relinquishment)

Part 12 – April 12, 2015 – “The two kinds of U.S. citizenship: Citizenship for “immigration and nationality” and citizenship for  “taxation” – Are we taxed because we are citizens or are we citizens because we are taxed?”

Part 13 – April 13, 2015 – “I relinquished U.S. citizenship many years ago. Could I still have U.S. tax citizenship?

Part 14 – April 14, 2015 – “Leaving the U.S. tax system – renounce or relinquish U.S. citizenship, What’s the difference?

Part 15 – May 22, 2015 – “Interview with GordonTLong.com – “Citizenship taxation”, the S. 877A Exit Tax, PFICs and Americans abroad

Attention: Parts 16 – 21 focus on the “dual citizen exemption in the context of Canada’s Citizenship laws.

Part 16 – February 16, 2016 – “Why the S. 877A(g)(1)(B) “dual citizen exemption” encourages dual citizens from birth to remain US citizens and others (except @SenTedCruz) to renounce” – Note that this module is composed of Parts 16 – 21 – six posts.

Part 17 – February 16, 2016 – The history of Canada’s citizenship laws: Did the 1947 Canada Citizenship Act affirm citizenship or “strip” citizenship and create @LostCanadians?

Part 18 – February 16, 2016 -The S. 877A “dual citizen” exemption – I was born before the first ever Canada Citizenship Act? Could I have been “born a Canadian citizen”?

Part 19 – February 16, 2016 – The S. 877A “Dual Citizen” exemption: The 1947 Canada Citizenship Act – Am I still a Canadian or did I lose Canadian citizenship? (The “Sins Of The Father”)

Part 20 – February 16, 2016 -The S. 877A “Dual Citizen” exemption: The 1947 Canada Citizenship Act and the requirements to be “born Canadian

Part 21 – February 16, 2016 – “The S. 877A “Dual Citizen” exemption: I was born a dual citizen! Am I still “taxed as a resident” of Canada?

Part 22 – February 29, 2016 – “The S. 877A “Dual Citizen” exemption: MUST certify tax compliance for the five years prior to relinquishment

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* Why this is of increased importance: The role of FATCA and U.S. taxation in Canada

A picture/video tells a thousand words. Have a look at the “Rick Mercer FATCA video” in the following tweet:

FATCA is U.S. law which is designed to identify financial assets and people, outside the United States, that the U.S. believes are subject to its tax laws. (It makes no difference whether the person is a Canadian citizen”.) This includes people who were:

– born in the U.S.

– Green card holders

– people born to U.S. parents in Canada

– “snow birds” who spend too much time in the United States

The Government of Canada is assisting the United State to implement FATCA in Canada. To be specific:

– on February 5, 2014 the Government of Canada formally agreed to change Canadian law to identify “U.S. connected” Canadians in Canada

– in May of 2014, the Government of Canada passed Bill C 31 which contained the implementing legislation

– on July 1, 2014 FATCA became the law in Canada

– since July 1, 2014 many Canadians have received a “FATCA Letter” (can the U.S. claim you as a taxpayer?)

The Alliance For The Defence Of Canadian Sovereignty has sued the Government of Canada in Federal Court on the basis that the participation of the Canadian Government in FATCA, is in violation of the Charter Rights of Canadians. You can keep up with their progress on the Alliance blog” which is here.

FATCA is a tool to enforce “U.S. taxation in Canada”. The result is that more and more Canadian citizen/residents  will be forced to pay U.S. taxes. But, U.S. tax rules include much more than tax. They are source of comprehensive information gathering and “information returns”. Typical returns required by U.S. taxpayers in Canada include: FBAR, FATCA Form 8938, Form 5471, Form 3520, Form 3520A and many more.

In addition, U.S. tax rules are different from Canadian tax rules. The most painful example is that when:

– Canada allows a “tax free” capital gain on your principal residence

– the U.S. imposes a 23.8% tax on the sale of your principal residence (you get a $250,000 deduction)

Sound horrible?

It is, but:

It’s only Canadian citizens with a past “U.S. connection” who will be subject to these taxes. It is estimated that approximately one million Canadians may be subject (as “U.S. Subjects”) to these rules. But, Canadians with a “U.S. connection” are members of families. Therefore, U.S. taxation in Canada will impact all members of a Canadian family which has at least one “U.S. connected” member.

 

John Richardson

 

Featured post

What you should consider before contacting a lawyer

decision

The Reality of U.S. Citizenship Abroad

Nobody denied that the unintended targets of Congressional legislation aimed at those who supposedly “owe allegiance” to the USA, now assisted by craven foreign governments anxious lest their financial services entities lose access to the US market, are mostly unlikely to do anything at all. But the whole idea of universal self-assessment of taxation is to keep the taxpayer in an anxious condition, to make him overpay if possible, but at least not to underpay. Those now faced with an unprecedented, even retroactive, enforcement campaign and who must, if they wish to become compliant and avoid penalty or even prosecution (should they be identified in the future), sacrifice much of their wealth, even become insolvent.

Comment at the Isaac Brock Society blog – July 29, 2013

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Muhammad Ali, draft resistors, loss of US citizenship, the “Rumble In The Jungle” and a trip down memory lane

Introduction – RIP Muhammad Ali

Like many I was saddened to learn of the death of Muhammad Ali. (One of my profitable ventures was betting on Ali in his 1974 fight with Foreman.) Most of the media discussion of Ali’s death focused on his boxing career. There was far less attention paid to Ali’s refusal to accept induction into the U.S. military. This refusal led to his being stripped of his boxing license (why anyone would need a license to box is beyond me) and interestingly the revocation of his U.S. passport (if you can’t box in America we will prevent you from boxing outside America). Hmmm, does that passport revocation remind you of any recent events or any past events?

Ali made the reasonable point that he was being asked to go to Viet Nam to defend the rights of the South Vietnamese people who were being denied their rights, at the same time that Black Americans were denied their rights in America. Muhammad Ali provided inspiration to Dr. Martin Luther King. Fast forward to 2016: President Clinton (a man who also avoided military service in Viet Nam) will deliver one of the eulogies (I hope he mentions the “draft resistor” aspect of Ali’s life).

Draft Resistors in Canada in the 60s and 70s – The use of “citizenship” as a mechanism to control the people
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Dual citizenship, the lack of definition of “citizen” in the “Savings Clause” of U.S. Tax Treaties and why these are important

 

Introduction …

This is a “follow up” to my first post about the “Savings Clause” in the Canada U.S. Tax Treaty. The purpose of that first post was to demonstrate that pursuant to the “Savings Clause”, the Government of Canada has agreed to allow the United States to impose direct taxation on some Canadian citizens who are resident in Canada. The post generated a fascinating discussion about the “Savings Clause” and was widely discussed at the Isaac Brock Society. A subsequent post at the Isaac Brock Society provided greater detail about exactly how, and in what respects, the Government of Canada has agreed that the United States can impose direct U.S. taxation on some Canadian citizens and residents. One obvious conclusion from this discussion is reflected in the comment that:

Next time someone tells me that the tax treaty relieves double taxation, I’ll tell them that it causes it. We have RDSP’s and RESP’s to prove it.

I absolutely agree. Although there are a few specific areas where the Tax Treaty mitigates against double taxation, for the most part, because of the Savings Clause, the U.S. Canada Tax Treaty, does NOT prevent double taxation. By ensuring U.S. taxation of Canadian residents and citizens, the U.S. Canada Tax Treaty guarantees double taxation!

It’s a myth that the tax treaty prevents double taxation. As John F. Kennedy said in his commencement address at Yale University on June 11, 1962:

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Evolution of process of relinquishing US citizenship in Canada – Form 4079 no longer used

In the last year I have written the following three posts about the evolution of the process of “formal expatriation” (NOT the do it yourself version AKA – simply “delete US citizenship“).

This is the fourth post. This post confirms that the the process in Canada no longer includes Form 4079. Instead a questionnaire has been included as a possible substitute for Form 4079. It appears that those who are applying for “back dated relinquishments” should use the questionnaire to document the basis for the claim.

The first three posts have been:

1. July 10, 2015 -Thoughts on: Major updates to Foreign Affairs Manual on U.S. citizenship renunciation proceduresRelinquishment fee moving from no charge to $2350, phasing out Form 4079, no lawyers allowed at appointments

2. November 4, 2015 State Department Phasing Out Form 4079 for relinquishments of U.S. citizenship – A review the role played by Form 4079 in different U.S. consulates around the world.

3. February 17, 2016 – New instructions to book Canada appointments to relinquish or renounce US citizenshipdescribing the new centralized process for relinquishment U.S. citizenship in Canada

Today’s (May 26, 2016) post confirms that Form 4079 appears to have been eliminated in Canada. What is expected now?. You being the relinquishment process (which includes renunciation) in Canada (different countries have different rules) by emailing: CanadaCLNinquires@state.gov. You will then receive a reply email which provides instructions.

That is the contents of the automated reply which provides direction and guidance – Here is the questionnaire that is attached to the email:

Questionnaire from CanadaCLNInquiries

As of May 26, 2016 the reply email includes:

__________________________________________________________________________

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“Savings clause” in US Tax Treaties guarantees US right of taxation on residents and citizens of other nations

Introduction …

It is commonly believed that U.S. Tax Treaties are for the purpose of preventing “double taxation”. In general, US Tax Treaties do NOT prevent double taxation with respect to Americans abroad. For Americans abroad, double taxation is mitigated (but not prevented) by through Internal Revenue Code S. 901 (foreign tax credits) and Internal Revenue Code S. 911 (Foreign Earned Income Exclusion).

U.S. Tax Treaties include a “savings clause” (found in different sections of different treaties) that:

1. Guarantee the right of the United States to impose taxation on its citizens who are residing in other nations; and

2. Guarantee the right of the United States to impose taxation on its citizens as though the treaty didn’t exist.

Note that these “U.S. citizens” may (and in many cases are) citizens of their country of residence.

Those countries that have signed FATCA IGAs have effectively agreed to assist the United States in imposing taxation on their own citizens and residents. This will allow the United States to legally transfer capital out of the signatory country to the United States Treasury (for better use).

May 2016 – Elazar Cole and the “Savings Clause” …

On May 16, 2010, the U.S. Tax Court in the decision of – Elazar M. Cole v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, T.C. Summary Opinion 2016-22 (May 2016) – confirmed the principle that a U.S. citizen cannot (as a general principle) use the Tax Treaty to prevent U.S. taxation.

The decision is here:
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Obama budget: “Dual citizens from birth” who are NOT “US residents” should be taxed as non-residents

 

“It’s unjust, it’s inhumane, I didn’t choose where I was born!”

This accurately describes the sentiments of those who are the target of FATCA Hunt. “Place Of Birth Taxation” is unfair to ALL those it affects. The most visible and egregious example of the unfairness is it’s application to “Accidental Americans“.

The context just imagine …

Imagine having been born in the United States, never having lived in the United States and then being “captured in FATCA Hunt”. It appears that the Obama administration has realized that the most visible unfairness of “place of birth” taxation is the application to Accidental Americans.

As a result, both the 2016 and 2017 Obama budget proposals have contained provisions to allow “Accidental Americans” to relinquish U.S. citizenship without being subject to the S. 877A Exit Tax or without having to certify U.S. tax compliance with respect to worldwide income. Those who qualify would be required to certify U.S. tax compliance on the basis that they were/are subject to the U.S. tax system as “non-resident aliens”. This raises the twin questions of:

1. Who is a “non-resident” alien? – See Internal Revenue Code S. 7701(b); and

2. How is a “non-resident” alien taxed? – See Internal Revenue Code S. 2(d) and S. 871.

I wrote a detailed post, referenced by the following tweet, about this issue in 2015.


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Green Card Holders and #Americansabroad: “Residence”, “Long Term Residence” and the S. 877A “Exit Tax”

Tax jurisdiction and residential ties

The two types of residential ties considered for all aliens

When considering the meaning of “residence” for tax purposes, attempting to ascribe a place of “residence “to an individual, and imposing taxation on individuals, the Internal Revenue Code considers:

A. The extent of “residential ties” to the United States; and

B. The extent of “residential ties” to another country.

We see both aspects of residence considered as a way to defeat the “substantial presence” test in Internal Revenue Code S. 7701(b). If the country of residence is uncertain, or if a person is considered to be a “tax resident” of the United States and another country, the Internal Revenue Code considers ties to both the United States and the other country in question.

For “resident aliens” (Green Card Holders):

– both past and present residential ties to the United States and to other nations are considered in at least 3 ways under the Internal Revenue Code itself; and

– residential ties to both the United States and the other country of residence are considered in determining residence under Article IV of the Canada U.S. (and other) tax treaties**.

Green Card Holders and tax residence

A previous post discussed the fact that:

  1. Internal Revenue Code S. 7701(a)(30) defines “U.S. Persons” as including “citizens” and “residents”
  2. The combined effect of Internal Revenue Code S. 7701(b)(1) and S. 7701(b)(6) define Green Card Holders in a way that ensures that they meet the statutory test of “residence”. (Of course Green Card Holders  may be able to defeat the status of “resident” by making use of the Treaty Election in Article IV of the Tax Treaty)
  3. The statutory defenses to “residence” found in S. 7701(b) of the Internal Revenue Code, available to “aliens” who are NOT Green Card Holders, take into account and are a function of the extent of residential ties to other jurisdictions

Residence matters and residence matters hugely. Hence, the definition of “resident” matters and matters hugely.

Congress has directed its attention to the question of the kind of physical connection to the United States, that justifies deeming one to be a “resident” for tax purposes. Interestingly, the definition of “citizenship” has NOT received the same attention. Nor is “U.S. citizen” defined in the Internal Revenue Code.

The purpose of this post is to consider how actual U.S. residence affects the taxation of Green Card Holders.
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Physical presence as a necessary condition for being a US “resident” under the Internal Revenue Code

Introduction

Every country in the world with the exceptions of Eritrea and the United States claim tax jurisdiction based on “residence”. Although the tests for “residence” may differ, “residence based taxation” means that it is possible to sever your tax connection to a country by severing residence.

The nations of Eritrea and the United States impose taxation based on citizenship. U.S. citizens (primarily those “Born In The USA”) can NEVER sever their tax connection to the United States as long as they remain citizens. When it comes to U.S. citizenship-based taxation it is possible to NEVER have lived in the United States and still be subject to taxation!
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Part 17: What God Hath Wrought – The #FATCA Inquisition (Review, Identify and Report on “U.S. Persons”) – Retirement accounts are exempt from FATCA reporting in all cases

First, Canadian Retirement Accounts are “deemed to be compliant under S. 1471 and S. 1472 of the Internal Revenue Code

The Canada U.S. FATCA IGA …

FATCA-eng

IGA Article IV describes the “Specific Treatment of Canadian Retirement Plans” as follows:

3. Specific Treatment of Canadian Retirement Plans. The United States shall treat as deemed-compliant FFIs or exempt beneficial owners, as appropriate, for purposes of sections 1471 and 1472 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, Canadian retirement plans identified in Annex II. For this purpose, a Canadian retirement plan includes an Entity established or located in, and regulated by, Canada, or a predetermined contractual or legal arrangement, operated to provide pension or retirement benefits or earn income for providing such benefits under the laws of Canada and regulated with respect to contributions, distributions, reporting, sponsorship, and taxation.

Second, because Canadian Retirement Accounts are NOT “financial accounts” as per Annex II of the IGA, they are NOT “reportable accounts” under the definitions section of Article I of the IGA

IGA Article I (definitions) includes …
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