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Unintended Consequences Of Tax Jobs And Cuts Act On Canadian Citizens And Others Abroad



John Richardson, Toronto, Canada, Tax Lawyer, Tax Blog, TaxConnections

“This legislation is being interpreted by a number of tax professionals to mean that individual U.S. citizens living outside the United States are required to simply “fork over” a percentage of the value of their small business corporations to the IRS. Although technically “CFCs” these companies are certainly NOT foreign to the people who use them to run businesses that are local to their country of residence. Furthermore, the “culture” of Canadian Controlled Private Corporations is that they are actually used as “private pension plans”. So, an unintended consequence of the Tax Cuts Jobs Act would be that individuals living in Canada are somehow required to collapse their pension plans and turn the proceeds over to the U.S. government” -John Richardson

The United States has a long history of imposing “worldwide taxation”on the INDIVIDUAL “tax residents” of other countries. The United States cannot impose direct taxation on “non-U.S corporations” that have no business connection to the United States. That said, the United States (along with certain other countries) has “CFC” (Controlled Foreign Corporation) rules that impose taxation on the “United States Shareholders” of “non-U.S. corporations. In general, these rules simply attribute certain types of corporate income directly to the individual “United States Shareholder.”

U.S. Tax Reform 2017 (well at least “International Tax Reform”)

In early November 2017, it appeared that U.S tax reform “might” include a provision that would in effect impose retroactive taxation on the retained earnings of Canadian (and other non-U.S.) small business corporations. I wrote about that here.

On December 22, 2017 President Donald Trump signed into law the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”. The uniquely U.S. policy of imposing “worldwide taxation” on the tax residents and citizens of other countries continues. FATCA continues. In other words, in spite of the educational campaign orchestrated by individuals and groups (Americans Citizens abroad and Republicans Overseas) the U.S. Government (although aware of the aware of the problems) declined to make the changes necessary to allow U.S. citizens to live normal financial lives outside the United States. An earlier post, describing “How U.S. Citizens Can Live Abroad In An FBAR and FATCA World” demonstrates that the rules of the Internal Revenue Code involve far more than taxation, but include a number of “penalty laden, intrusive information reporting requirements”. Significantly these rules impact people who are resident/citizens of other countries who are subject to the tax systems of those countries. Many of those impacted do not even consider themselves to be U.S. citizens. Some of them don’t even speak English. Few of them can afford the expensive compliance costs. How could things get worse?

Well, it is possible (but not certain) that things have gotten worse. Incredibly there are some people impacted by U.S. tax rules who are “tax residents” of other countries AND have made the decision to create small businesses where they live. Furthermore, some of them have opted to carry on those businesses by creating “local corporations”. In Canada these “local corporations” are called “Canadian Controlled Private Corporations”. Every country has its own “culture of corporations”. In Canada (to the chagrin of Prime Minister Trudeau and Finance Minister Morneau) these corporations are used as “private pension plans”. (This is because entrepreneurs rarely have access to other traditional pension plans.)

So, what does all this have to do with U.S. tax?

1. The U.S. Internal Revenue Code cannot impose direct taxation on Canadian (or other foreign) corporations.

2. As a result, the U.S. Internal Revenue Code has traditionally attributed the “passive earnings” of many “Canadian Controlled Private Corporations”, to the individual “United States Shareholder”. (See Subpart F: Sections 951 – 965 of the Internal Revenue Code – you have no chance of understanding the legislative scheme.)

3. The Internal Revenue Code has NOT previously attributed the active business of “Canadian Controlled Private Corporations” to the individual “United States shareholder”.

4. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has added a new Sec 965 to the Internal Revenue Code that purports to retroactively impose U.S. taxation on this (previously untaxed) active business income RETROACTIVELY FROM 1986. Yes, you read correctly.

I made the following comment to an article in the Financial Times which I believe fairly summarizes what this “tax” means in the lives of the “tax residents” of other countries (who are subject to U.S. taxation”:

Interesting article that demonstrates the impact of the U.S. tax policy of (1) exporting the Internal Revenue Code to other countries and (2) using the Internal Revenue Code to impose direct taxation on the “tax residents” of those other countries.

Some thoughts on this:

1. Different countries have different “cultures” of financial planning and carrying on businesses. The U.S. tax culture is such that an individual carrying on a business through a corporation is considered to be a “presumptive tax cheat”. This is NOT so in other countries. For example, in Canada (and other countries), it is normal for people to use small business corporations to both carry on business and create private pension plans. So, the first point that must be understood is that (if this tax applies) it is in effect a “tax” (actually it’s confiscation) of private pension plans!!! That’s what it actually is. The suggestion in one of the comments that these corporations were created to somehow avoid “self-employment” tax (although possibly true in countries that don’t have totalization agreements) is generally incorrect. I suspect that the largest number of people affected by this are in Canada and the U.K. which are countries which do have “totalization agreements”.

2. None of the people interviewed, made the point (or at least it was not reported) that this “tax” as applied to individuals is actually higher than the “tax” as applied to corporations. In the case of individuals the tax would be about 17.5% and not the 15.5% for corporations. (And individuals do not get the benefit of a transition to “territorial taxation”.)

3. As Mr. Bruce notes people will not easily be able to pay this. There is no realization event whatsoever. It’s just: (“Hey, we see there is some money there, let’s take it). Because there is no realization event, this should be viewed as an “asset confiscation” and not as a “tax”.

4. Understand that this is a pool of capital that was NEVER subject to U.S. taxation on the past. Therefore, if this is a tax at all, it should be viewed as a “retroactive tax”.

5. Under general principles of law, common sense and morality (does any of this matter?) the retained earnings of non-U.S. corporations are first subject to taxation by the country of incorporation. The U.S. “transition tax” is the creation of a “fictitious taxable event” which results in a preemptive “tax strike” against the tax base of other countries. If this is allowed under tax treaties, it’s only because when the treaties were signed, nobody could have imagined anything this outrageous.

6. It is obvious that this was NEVER INTENDED TO APPLY TO Americans abroad. Furthermore, no individual would even imagine that this could apply to them without “Education provided by the tax compliance industry”. Those in the industry should figure out how to argue that this was never intended to apply to Americans abroad, that there is no suggestion from the IRS that this applies to Americans abroad, that there is no legislative history suggesting that this applies to Americans abroad, and that this should not be applied to Americans abroad.

7. Finally, the title of this article refers to “Americans abroad”. This is a gross misstatement of the reality. The problem is that these (so called) “Americans abroad” are primarily the citizens and “tax residents” of other countries – that just happen to have been born in the United States. They have no connection to the USA. Are these citizen/residents of other countries (many who don’t even identify as Americans) expected to simply “turn over” their retirement plans to the IRS???? Come on!

Call To Action – Contact Representative Today In Canada House of Commons: http://www.ourcommons.ca/parliamentarians/en/constituencies/FindMP

Have a question? Contact John Richardson.

Your comments are always welcome

The Reality of U.S. Citizenship Abroad

My name is John Richardson. I am a dual citizen. I am a lawyer – member of the Bar of Ontario. This means that, any counselling session you have with me will be governed by the rules of “lawyer client” privilege. This means that:

“What’s said in my office, stays in my office.”

I am also a member of the American Citizens Abroad Professional Tax Advisory Council (PTAC). This is an advisory panel focused on assisting American Citizens Abroad in an FBAR and FATCA world.

The U.S. imposes complex rules and life restrictions on its citizens wherever they live. These restrictions are becoming more and more difficult for those U.S. citizens who choose to live outside the United States.

FATCA is the mechanism to enforce those “complex rules and life restrictions” on Americans abroad. As a result, many U.S. citizens abroad are renouncing their U.S. citizenship. Although this is very sad. It is also the reality.

4 thoughts on “Unintended Consequences Of Tax Jobs And Cuts Act On Canadian Citizens And Others Abroad

  1. Nononymous says:

    Per usual, the best thing you can do if you are a Canada-US dual citizen living in Canada, without US assets or income, is to stay well away from the US tax system. The risks of non-compliance in this case are zero, as the US has no ability to collect taxes or penalties against Canadian citizens in Canada.

    Certainly pay no attention to those members of the tax-compliance industry who insist that you should cut the IRS a cheque for a percentage of the retained earnings in your business.

  2. Karen says:

    It is frustrating that much of the tax compliance industry seems to be just rolling over on both the transition tax and GILTI. They are writing articles that tell US expats that they must just comply, even when compliance will have a serious adverse effect on planned retirement savings and the financial viability of businesses owned by US expats.

    Where are the tax professionals who are working on ways to get around a literal interpretation of the legislative language? Is Congressional intent irrelevant? Are there treaty positions that could be taken, or appeals that could be made to the Competent Authorities under the tax treaties that these TCJA provisions are contrary to the intent of the treaty? Are there other avenues to challenge this law in the courts? Is anyone pursuing change or clarification from Congress (or the IRS)?

    • Very valid point.

      Tax professionals are the only people who are really in a position to communicate with legislators about the effects, scope, impact, desirability of tax legislation.

      Given the critical nature of tax legislation and the way it impacts the lives of ordinary people all of these things must be considered.

      Because tax professionals are the only people who understand the language of the Internal Revenue Code, they should have a special and heightened responsibility to comment, criticize and educate.

      In other words, tax professionals should become the “moral conscience of the nation”. They should not allow themselves to be reduced to being the mindless enforcers of unjust laws.

    • Suzanne says:

      It’s not in the compliance industry’s best interest to ask whether the law should apply, or to enlighten Members of Congress of the effects of their laws have on ordinary Americans abroad. They’d lose their ‘raison d’etre’!

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