New U.S. tax law for owners of non-U.S. corporations – action to consider by year-end!

By Kyle Lodder, CPA

President Trump has signed significant U.S. tax legislation into law today, namely the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”.

There are many favorable tax provisions that will benefit many taxpayers, for individuals and businesses. But there are also some quite unfavorable international tax provisions which may adversely impact business owners of non-U.S. corporations.

One specific new provision relates to U.S. persons who own an interest in a non-U.S. corporation.

Under prior law, U.S. shareholders generally are taxed on all income, whether earned in the U.S. or abroad. Foreign income earned by a foreign (non-U.S.) corporation generally is not subject to U.S. tax until the income is distributed as a dividend to the U.S. shareholder.

Under this new law, certain U.S. shareholders owning at least 10% of the foreign corporation generally must include in income starting in 2017 the shareholder’s pro-rata share of the net post-’86 historical earnings and profits “E&P” (i.e. accumulated unrepatriated earnings) to the extent it hasn’t been previously taxed in the U.S.  This is a one-time tax as the U.S. attempts to transition from a worldwide tax system to a territorial type of tax system.

The portion of the historical earnings comprising of cash or cash equivalents is taxed at a reduced rate of 15.5%, while any remaining E&P is taxed at a reduced rate of 8% (it works out to a bit higher rate in some cases). The lower tax rate is intended to recognize that non-cash assets are illiquid and/or in productive use in the business. Nonetheless, this could be a significant tax hit for this upcoming tax season, although there is an option to elect to defer the payment over eight years.

Another problem with this tax is that it’s on deemed income. There isn’t an actual dividend. Rather, it’s deemed income for U.S. purposes. In most foreign countries, this deemed income isn’t considered taxable income. The challenge then is that it’s taxed in the current year for U.S. purposes but not in the foreign country. And when the money is distributed in the future, it typically is treated as a dividend in the foreign country, but not in the U.S. It causes a mismatch and often the lack of use of foreign tax credits, resulting in true double taxation.
What to do by year-end?

If you have significant retained earnings, it’d be worth contacting us to see if there are some planning moves to be made prior to year-end. Perhaps it makes sense to withdraw money from the company before year-end to trigger an actual dividend in the U.S. and the foreign country. This will trigger income in both countries to allow for utilization of foreign tax credits. Furthermore, simply withdrawing the money by year-end will allow for us to then determine after year-end how to classify the withdrawal (as a dividend, wage or loan for example).

If there remains tax exposure after considering foreign tax credits, it could make sense to gift shares to a non-resident alien spouse before year-end to a smaller ownership percentage level to avoid this tax.

This is a very new tax concept and not a lot of time has been granted to us to plan around this matter.  Yet, it makes sense to look at this before year-end to see if any moves can be made prior to year-end to put you in a better tax position.

If you require additional information on any aspect of these complex rules, please contact Kyle Lodder at 360.599.4340 or kyle@loddercpa.com. Kyle Lodder is a Certified Public Accountant and is the owner of Lodder CPA PLLC, a U.S. international tax firm.

 

The material appearing in this communication is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal, accounting, or tax advice or opinion provided by Lodder CPA PLLC. This information is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, a legal relationship, including, but not limited to, an accountant-client relationship. Although these materials have been prepared by a professional, the user should not substitute these materials for professional services, and should seek advice from an independent advisor before acting on any information