Category Archives: S. 877A Exit Tax

Green card holders: the “tax treaty tiebreaker” and eligibility for Streamlined Offshore

Before you read this post!! Warning!! Warning!!

Before a “Green Card” holder uses the “Treaty Tiebreaker” provision of a U.S. Tax Treaty, he/she must consider what is the effect of using the “Treaty Tiebreaker” on:

A. His/her immigration status under Title 8 (will he/she risk losing the Green Card?)

B. His/her status under Title 26 (will he expatriate himself under Internal Revenue Code S. 7701(b)) and subject himself to the S. 877A “Exit Tax” provisions?

This is another in a series of posts on the “tax treaty tiebreaker” (which is a standard provision in most U.S. tax treaties). “Tax treaty tiebreakers” are rules that are used to assign a person’s “tax residency” to one country when an individual is a “tax resident” of both countries. In the context of U.S. tax treaties, “treaty tie breaker” rules are used when an individual is both:

1. A “U.S. person” for tax purposes (U.S. citizen or U.S. resident); and

2. A “tax resident” of another country.

It is very common to use tax treaties to assign “tax residency” to a country when an individual is  a tax resident of more than one country.

For example, Article IV of the Canada U.S. tax treaty provides for a rule to assign an individual’s “tax residency” to either Canada or the United States when an individual is a “tax resident” of Canada and and a tax resident of the the United States.

The “savings clause” prohibits U.S. citizens from using the “tax treaty tiebreaker” from avoiding being a “tax resident” of the United States.

Article IV of the Canada U.S. tax treaty includes:

2. Where by reason of the provisions of paragraph 1 an individual is a resident of both Contracting States, then his status shall be determined as follows:

(a) he shall be deemed to be a resident of the Contracting State in which he has a permanent home available to him; if he has a permanent home available to him in both States or in neither State, he shall be deemed to be a resident of the Contracting State with which his personal and economic relations are closer (centre of vital interests);

(b) if the Contracting State in which he has his centre of vital interests cannot be determined, he shall be deemed to be a resident of the Contracting State in which he has an habitual abode;

(c) if he has an habitual abode in both States or in neither State, he shall be deemed to be a resident of the Contracting State of which he is a citizen; and

(d) if he is a citizen of both States or of neither of them, the competent authorities of the Contracting States shall settle the question by mutual agreement.

It is clear that the “tax treaty tiebreaker” provision does NOT exclude Green Card Holders from it’s application. In fact, the impact of the “tax treaty tie breaker” may be the reason why the Canada Revenue Agency advises that “Green Card Holders” are NOT U.S. residents for FATCA reporting purposes.

The application of the “tax treaty tiebreaker” makes one a “nonresident alien, WITH RESPECT TO INCOME TAXATION, for U.S. tax purposes but NOT for other purposes (including FBAR and other information returns).

The “nonresident alien” and the 1040NR

Nonresident aliens file a 1040NR. A “nonresident alien” filing a 1040NR is filing to report and pay tax on income connected to the United States. A 1040NR is NOT used to report “non-U.S. income”. General information for the 1040NR is here. IRS Publication 519 – The U.S. Tax Guide For Aliens” is here.

Possible advantages for a “Green Card Holder” using the “tax treaty tiebreaker” to file the 1040NR

1. A Green Card Holder, by virtue of the “tax treaty tiebreaker”, would NOT be subject to U.S. taxation on “foreign income” which includes Subpart F income and PFIC income.

2. A Green Card Holder, by virtue of the “tax treaty tiebreaker”, would NOT be required to file Form 8938, Form 8621 and is subject to modified reporting requirements for Form 5471.

A reminder …

A Green Card Holder, using the “tax treaty tiebreaker” IS still a “U.S. Person”. He is a “U.S. Person” who is deemed to NOT be a U.S. person for the limited purposes of the “tax treaty tiebreaker”. He is a “U.S. Person”, who is NOT treated as a “U.S. Person” and  who is therefore able to file a 1040NR.

There are millions of “U.S. persons” (citizens and Green Card Holders) abroad who have not been filing U.S. taxes

Many of them are “coming into compliance” using the IRS Streamlined Foreign Offshore Program. As a general principle, “streamlined” is NOT available to “nonresident” aliens. This makes sense. After all, a “nonresident alien” is NOT a “U.S. person” for tax purposes.

Is “streamlined” available to a “U.S. Person”, who is filing a 1040NR, because he is treated as a “nonresident” pursuant to the “tax treaty tiebreaker”?

I suggest the answer comes from the instructions for streamlined which include:

“Eligibility for the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures

In addition to having to meet the general eligibility criteria, individual U.S. taxpayers, or estates of individual U.S. taxpayers, seeking to use the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures described in this section must: (1) meet the applicable non-residency requirement described below (for joint return filers, both spouses must meet the applicable non-residency requirement described below) and (2) have failed to report the income from a foreign financial asset and pay tax as required by U.S. law, and may have failed to file an FBAR (FinCEN Form 114, previously Form TD F 90-22.1) with respect to a foreign financial account, and such failures resulted from non-willful conduct. Non-willful conduct is conduct that is due to negligence, inadvertence, or mistake or conduct that is the result of a good faith misunderstanding of the requirements of the law.”

Let’s focus specifically on this part of the requirements:

“(2) have failed to report the income from a foreign financial asset and pay tax as required by U.S. law,”

If one is filing a 1040NR, then one is reporting ONLY U.S. source income. The whole point of the 1040NR would be to NOT have to report income from foreign financial assets. Think of the specific examples of Subpart F income and PFIC income.

Therefore, (although I will confess to never having analyzed this in terms of the streamlined rules) I suggest that one could NOT use the Foreign Offshore streamlined program to file the 1040NR.

It’s NOT that Green Card Holders who use the “tax treaty tiebreaker are NOT “U.S. Persons”. It’s that filing a 1040NR means that there is no reason to report income from a foreign financial asset (meaning that one fails the eligibility test for streamlined)!

John Richardson

Green card holders, the “tax treaty tiebreaker” and reporting: Forms 8938, 8621 and 5471

Before you read this post!! Warning!! Warning!!

Before a “Green Card” holder uses the “Treaty Tiebreaker” provision of a U.S. Tax Treaty, he/she must consider what is the effect of using the “Treaty Tiebreaker” on:

A. His/her immigration status under Title 8 (will he/she risk losing the Green Card?)

B. His/her status under Title 26 (will he expatriate himself under Internal Revenue Code S. 7701(b)) and subject himself to the S. 877A “Exit Tax” provisions?

Now, on to the post.

The “Treaty Tiebreaker” and information reporting …

The Internal Revenue Code imposes on “U.S. Persons” (citizens or “residents”):

1. The requirement to pay U.S. taxes; and

2. The requirement to file U.S.forms.

All “U.S. Persons” (citizens or residents) are aware of the importance of “Information Returns” AKA “Forms” in their lives.

What is a U.S. resident for the purposes of taxation?

This question is answered by analyzing Internal Revenue Code S. 7701(b). If one is NOT a U.S. citizen, a physical connection to the United States (at some time or another) is normally required for one to be a “tax resident” of the United States..

What happens if one is a “tax resident” of more than one country?

The “savings clause” ensures that U.S. citizens are the only people in the world who have no defence to being deemed a tax resident of multiple countries. U.S. citizens (“membership has its privileges”) are ALWAYS tax residents of the United States. U.S. citizens who reside in other nations, may also be “tax residents” of their country of residence.

In some cases, a U.S. “resident” (which includes a Green Card holder) may be deemed to be a “nonresident” pursuant to the terms of a U.S. Tax Treaty. A Green Card holder “may” be able to use a “Treaty Tiebreaker” provision to be treated as a “nonresident”.

Warning!! Warning!!

Before a “Green Card” holder uses the “Treaty Tiebreaker” provision of a U.S. Tax Treaty, he/she must consider what is the effect of using the “Treaty Tiebreaker” on:

A. His/her immigration status under Title 8 (will he/she risk losing the Green Card?)

B. His/her status under Title 26 (will he expatriate himself under Internal Revenue Code S. 7701(b)) and subject himself to the S. 877A “Exit Tax” provisions?
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Form 8621 and Form 5471 are required even if the tax return is NOT!

The Internal Revenue Code of the United States requires two things:

1. The calculation of taxes; and

2. The reporting of information.

The Internal Revenue Code of the United States is based on three basic principles:

1. A dislike of all things “foreign”. (If you see the word “foreign” a penalty is sure to follow.)

2. A hatred of all forms of non-U.S. “tax deferral”

3. An attempt to stop the “leakage” of “U.S. taxable assets” from the U.S. tax base. (Examples include the U.S. tax treatment of the “alien spouse” and the U.S. S. 877A “Exit Tax” that may be payable when one makes the decision to renounce U.S. citizenship).

“Forms” AKA “information returns” are for the purpose of forcing disclosure of information relevant to  “foreignness”, “deferral” and “leakage”.

The above tweet references an earlier post describing many of the “forms” required of Americans abroad. The post also describes the significant penalties which can be potentially imposed for the failure to file those forms.

For Americans abroad the information reporting requirements are extensive, burdensome and penalty laden. Normally (but not in all cases) the “forms” are filed as part of the tax return (1040 or 1040NR).

NEVER FORGET MR. FBAR – THE NEW SYMBOL OF U.S. CITIZENSHIP – AND THE POTENTIAL FBAR PENALTIES FOR FAILURE TO FILE THE FBAR! THOSE WHO HAVE FAILED TO FILE MR. FBAR SHOULD BE CAUTIOUS ABOUT HOW THEY “FIX THE FBAR PROBLEM“.

(Interestingly, Mr. FBAR has been used as a model for Russia which now has (for lack of a better term) the Russian FBAR.)

Many people do NOT understand that they may be required to file “information returns”, even though they may NOT meet the income thresholds to file a tax return!
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Tweet #Citizide: The new response of US citizens to #FATCA #FBAR #PFIC


US Taxation of the Australian Superannuation? – No, #DontMessWithTheSuper!

I recently engaged in a discussion with people who are worried that they might be “U.S. Persons” living in Australia. Their primary concern (and understandably so) is the possible U.S. taxation of their Australian Superannuations. For many, the “Super” is considered to be their most important retirement planning asset.

In a FATCA world, where  possible “USness” is now an issue, one must consider whether U.S. tax laws, effectively disable a group of Australians from effective retirement planning. But, hey! Even Americans should have the right to plan for retirement? Shouldn’t they?

There have been a number of recent articles attempting to understand the possible U.S. taxability of the Australian Super. I don’t know whether this is good or bad.

Most of these articles (what would you expect?) attempt to analyze the issue from the perspective of U.S. law – specifically the Internal Revenue Code. Rightly or wrongly, this approach assumes that the USA has the right to impose taxation on the retirement plans created by other nations. I don’t believe that this should be assumed!

In any event, what follows is a presentation that I created to discuss this issue. It is NOT intended to be a legal analysis. (If you want trouble, call up a lawyer!) It is intended to be a “contextual” and “common sense” analysis. Sooner or later, all laws (if they are to survive) must move towards “common sense”.

My message to residents of Australia is this:

Your Superannuation is far too important to be left in the hands of the tax professionals!

You will find “my thoughts” by clicking on the following:

The Australia Superannuation For Dummies

Feel free to leave “your thoughts” as comments to this post.

John Richardson

Tax residency vs. physical presence: The four questions you must ask before making a country your home

An introduction to “tax residency” …

Most people equate residency with physical presence. They assume that where you are physically presence determines where you live. They further assume that where you live is where you pay your taxes. Conclusion: The country where you live is the country where you must be “tax resident”. Not necessarily!

There is no necessary correlation between where one lives and where one is a “tax resident”. In fact, “residency for tax purposes” may be only minimally related to “residency for immigration (where you live) purposes”. It is possible for people to live in only one country and be a tax resident of multiple countries. The most obvious example is “U.S. citizens residing outside the United States”.

The concept of “tax residency” is fundamental to all systems of taxation. The fundamental question, at the root of all tax systems is:

“what kind of connection to a country is required to assume tax jurisdiction over an “individual”, over “property” or over an “entity”?”

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Citizenship-based reporting: Russia’s “citizenship reporting” requirements – will the United States be next?

Prologue – A law firm perspective …

As reported by Chelco Vat:

The law does not make dual citizenship illegal; it is merely a reporting requirement.

Federal Law No. 142-FZ on Amendment of Articles 6 and 30 of the Federal Law on Russian Federation Citizenship and Individual Regulations of the Russian Federation, which took effect on 4 August 2014, makes it a criminal offence for Russian nationals to conceal dual citizenship or long-term residence abroad.

Hmmmm … ONLY a reporting requirement you say …

The perspective of an individual subject to the citizenship-reporting requirement …

The above tweet references an article in the New York Times discussing Russia’s law that requires all Russians with a second foreign citizenship report that foreign citizenship to the Government.
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False Form 8854 used as part of “willful” #FBAR prosecution

The primary story is of a U.S. professor who pleaded guilty to an FBAR violation and was subjected to a 100 million FBAR penalty.  Notably the “tax loss” was 10 million dollars and the FBAR penalty was 100 million dollars. It appears that Mr. FBAR is becoming an important tool in the arsenal used by the United States Treasury.

The more interesting (for the purposes of expatriation) was the role that a “false Form 8854 “Expatriation Statement”) may have played in the guilty plea.

The story has been reported at the following two sources:

and on Jack Townsend’s blog

What is most  interesting is the description from the Department of Justice site which includes:

Horsky directed the activities in his Horsky Holdings and other accounts maintained at the Zurich-based bank, despite the fact that it was readily apparent, in communications with employees of the bank, that Horsky was a resident of the United States.  Bank representatives routinely sent emails to Horsky recognizing that he was residing in the United States.  Beginning in at least 2011, Horsky caused another individual to have signature authority over his Zurich-based bank accounts, and this individual assumed the responsibility of providing instructions as to the management of the accounts at Horsky’s direction.  This arrangement was intended to conceal Horsky’s interest in and control over these accounts from the IRS. 

In 2013, the individual who had nominal control over Horsky’s accounts at the Zurich-based bank conspired with Horsky to relinquish the individual’s U.S. citizenship, in part to ensure that Horsky’s control of the offshore accounts would not be reported to the IRS.  In 2014, this individual filed with the IRS a false Form 8854 (Initial Annual Expatriation Statement) that failed to disclose his net worth on the date of expatriation, failed to disclose his ownership of foreign assets, and falsely certified under penalties of perjury that he was in compliance with his tax obligations for the five preceding tax years.

Horsky also willfully filed false 2008 through 2014 individual income tax returns which failed to disclose his income from, and beneficial interest in and control over, his Zurich-based bank accounts.  Horsky agreed that for purposes of sentencing, his criminal conduct resulted in a tax loss of at least $10 million.  In addition, Horsky failed to file Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBARs) up and through 2011, and also filed false FBARs for 2012 and 2013.

The point is that the false Form 8854 (used primarily to provide information about whether one is a “covered expatriate” and to calculate the Exit Tax) was used as evidence of part of a conspiracy to evade taxes. This is an interesting use of the Form 8854,  which is primarily an “information return”.

Obviously this a “general interest” post with extremely unusual circumstances. But, it is an example of how associations with others, in the  “Wide and Wonderful World of U.S. Tax Forms” can become a problem.

This is also a reminder the “information returns” DO matter!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Internal Revenue Code vs. IRS Form 8854: the “noncovered expatriate” and the Form 8854 Balance Sheet

Introduction: For whom the “Form” tolls …

I would not want the job that the IRS has. There are many “information reporting requirements” in the Internal Revenue Code. The IRS has the job (sometimes mandatory “shall” and sometimes permissive “may”) of having to create forms that reflect the intent of the Internal Revenue Code. The forms will necessarily reflect how the IRS interprets the text and intent of the Code. Once created, the “forms” become a practical substitute for the Code. If you look through your tax return you will “form” after “form” after “form”. The forms reflect how the various provisions of the Internal Revenue Code are “given meaning” (if the meaning can be determined).

The Form (in theory) follows the requirements of the Internal Revenue Code …

Every “form” is the result of one or more sections of the Internal Revenue Code. For example, Form 8833 is described as:

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Canada Pension Plan (and other “foreign social security”), The “net worth” test, Form 8854 and Form 8938

Q. How does the inability of the state of Rhode Island to pay its employee pensions help us understand the “net worth” of a U.S. citizen wanting to renounce U.S. citizenship?

A. The answer (like most wisdom in the modern world) is explained in the following tweet.

The article referenced in the above tweet helps us understand the difference between an “entitlement” created by statute and a “right” created by contract.

In most states, lawmakers or the courts have taken steps to make public pension systems creatures of contract law, as opposed to mere creatures of statute. This may sound obscure, but the difference is critical. Statutes are relatively easy to change — lawmakers just amend the law. But states that want to tear up pension contracts face an uphill fight, because of a clause in the United States Constitution that bars them from enacting any law that retroactively impairs contract rights.

Conclusion: Rhode Island’s Governor was able to change the Rhode Island pension benefits. The reason was that: the pension benefits were created by statute (the government can create the statute and the government can change the statute) and not by an enforceable contract (nobody can take the pension away) creating an enforceable right.

The article is fascinating. Other states have not been as fortunate and cannot legislate their pension obligations away. But, what does this have to do with anything?

For Americans abroad: “All Roads Lead To Renunciation“.

Renouncing U.S. citizenship – leaving the U.S. tax system …

“U.S. citizens” considering relinquishing U.S. citizenship or “long term residents” abandoning their Green Cards “may” be subject to the draconian S. 877A Exit Tax rules. I say “may”. Only “covered expatriates” are subject to the “Exit Tax”

Unless you meet one of two exceptions,* “U.S. citizens” and “long term residents” will be “covered expatriates” if they meet ANY one of the following three tests ..

1. Income test (well, based on “tax liability on taxable income”) – You have an average tax liability of approximately $160,000 for the five years prior to the year of relinquishment or abandonment

2. Net worth test – Assets totaling up to of $2,000,000 USD or more

3. Compliance test – Fail to certify compliance with the Internal Revenue Code for the five years prior to the date of relinquishment or abandonment

* See Internal Revenue Code S. 877A(g)(1) which describe the “dual citizen at birth” and the “relinquishment before age 181/2” exceptions.

Net worth is based on the value of all your property. Foreign pensions are included in property. Is non-U.S. “Social Security” included? “Social Security” is a creation of statute. “Social Security can be taken away by changing or repealing the statute.

Because “pensions” are based on a “contractual” right to receive the pension they are included as “property”. If your employer doesn’t pay the pension you are owed you have the right to sue.

Because “social security” is created by statute and can be taken away by statute it is NOT “property”.

Specified Foreign Financial ASSETS – “Non-U.S.” Social Security and Form 8938 …

When it comes to “non-U.S.” Social Security (think Canada Pension Plan) created by statute, the IRS says:

(This makes sense because “Social Security” which is created by statute is NOT property!)

But, when it comes to “foreign pensions” which were created by contract, the IRS says:

(This makes sense because the “pension” is a contractual right and is therefore property.)

Is the Australian Superannuation a Foreign “Social Security Type” plan? – Are Australian “Poorer Than They Think?”

See the post referenced in the above tweet.

Well, the “compliance industry” actually creates the law.** Perhaps the “compliance industry” in Australia should simply take the position that Australian Superannuation is the equivalent of “U.S. Social Security”. The U.S. Australian tax treaty would then exempt it from U.S. taxation.

Article 18(2) of the U.S. Australia Tax Treaty reads:

(2) Social Security payments and other public pensions paid by one of the Contracting States to an individual who is a resident of the other Contracting State or a citizen of the United States shall be taxable only in the first-mentioned State.

Important question indeed! Whether Australians are subject to asset confiscation the S. 877A “Exit Tax”,  may depend on the answer to this characterization/question.

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** In a recent post discussing the death of Dr. Pinheiro and the various “branches” of the U.S. tax compliance system, I identified brach 3 as follows:

Branch 3: The Tax Professionals – These include lawyers, CPAs, Enrolled Agents, and tax preparers. The latter two are specifically licensed by the IRS.

 What needs to be understood is that:

  1. U.S. tax laws are NOT enforced by the IRS as much as they are enforced by the “Tax Professionals”.
  2. The “Tax Professionals” “create” the interpretation of various laws by how they respond to them. (There is a reason that nobody knew about PFICs prior to 2009.) Is a TFSA really a “foreign trust”? Are the S. 877A Exit Tax rules retroactive?
  3. Tax Professionals are NOT independent of the IRS and depend on the IRS for their livelihoods.
  4.   Tax Professionals are also subject to Circular 230 which is the “Rules of Practice” before the Internal Revenue Service.

Understand that very very few “tax professionals” inside the United States know anything about U.S. taxation of its citizens abroad. This is a complex area that is highly specialized.

This is why your choice of tax professional matters very much! Tax Professionals  are NOT all the same. The fact that they are a licensed EA, CPA or lawyer is completely irrelevant. Some of them understand this stuff and some don’t. When it comes to “International Tax”, there is an exceptionally long learning curve. Regardless of their intention, tax professionals have, through their possible ignorance, possible incompetence and almost certain desire to “get along with the IRS”, the potential to completely destroy you!

Food for thought!

John Richardson