The S. 911 Foreign Earned Income Exclusion: It’s origins, journey, opportunities and limitations

I recently participated in a podcast discussing both the opportunities and limitations associated with the Section 911 FEIE (“Foreign Earned Income Exclusion”). It is short and explains why the FEIE is not the answer to the problems experienced by Americans abroad. You can listen to it here:

https://prep.podbean.com/e/us-taxation-of-americans-abroad-do-the-foreign-tax-credit-rules-work-sometimes-yes-and-sometimes-no/

The podcast was the subject of a post at American Expat Finance. That post prompted me to explore more deeply, the origins of the FEIE. When was it enacted? What was it designed to do? I found a fantastic article that I thought I would/should share.

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Podcast – US Citizenship: Retain or Renounce – Streamlined, Relief Procedures For Former Citizens

(Interesting discussion in the above twitter feed.)

On April 30, 2020 I hosted a discussion with Karen Alpert, Laura Snyder, David Johnstone and Keith Redmond. The discussion touched on a variety of subjects of interest to Americans abroad and Accidental Americans.

The discussion included a segment on the September 2019 IRS Relief Procedures For Former citizens and how they compare to Streamlined compliance.

Bottom Line: It’s complicated. People are different. Different solutions for different people. But, for many:

“All Roads Lead To Renunciation”.

CARES Act Relief: How US citizen taxation leads to sending relief money to individuals outside the United States and denies relief money to individuals inside the United States

Introduction

This post is based on my Quora answer to the question: “Do you agree with the policy of not issuing checks to US citizens who jointly file taxes with someone who has an ITIN?

Part I – Objective Analysis

This post focuses on the class of individuals entitled to relief. It does not discuss how the relief is administered.

The statute authorizing the relief is found in Section 6428 or Subtitle F (the Procedure And Administration section of the Internal Revenue Code). The following sections specify WHO is entitled to the relief:

§6428. 2020 Recovery rebates for individuals

(d) Eligible individual

For purposes of this section, the term “eligible individual” means any individual other than-

(1) any nonresident alien individual,

(g) Identification number requirement

(1) In general

No credit shall be allowed under subsection (a) to an eligible individual who does not include on the return of tax for the taxable year-

(A) such individual’s valid identification number,

(B) in the case of a joint return, the valid identification number of such individual’s spouse, and

(C) in the case of any qualifying child taken into account under subsection (a)(2), the valid identification number of such qualifying child.

(2) Valid identification number

(A) In general

For purposes of paragraph (1), the term “valid identification number” means a social security number (as such term is defined in section 24(h)(7)).

(B) Adoption taxpayer identification number

For purposes of paragraph (1)(C), in the case of a qualifying child who is adopted or placed for adoption, the term “valid identification number” shall include the adoption taxpayer identification number of such child.

In summary this means that:

Those who are conditionally entitled to relief include, ANY individual except a nonresident alien, provided that they:

– have a Social Security Number (who is eligible for a Social Security Number?); and

– do NOT file jointly with an individual who does not have a Social Security Number

Who is a “nonresident alien” and therefore NOT an “eligible individual”?

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A Twitter Tribute To Mark Andrews – Canada’s Equality Rights Pioneer

I am very sad to learn of the death of Mark Andrews. I was privileged to have known Mr. Andrews during the 1980s – a period in which he was Canada’s Equality Rights Pioneer.

Part A – A Twitter Tribute

Click here to see the thread.

Part B – My Full Length Post On The ADCS Blog

Comprehensive analysis of the CARES ACT From Professor Francine Lipman – @narfnampil

I received the following from Professor Francine Lipman who is on the faculty of the UNLV School of law. It seems to me to be an extremely comprehensive statement of how the CARES Act operates to provide funds to Americans in need.

I highly recommend that you access her scholarship.

With her permission, I have simply reproduced her email as the post.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Passion Warriors for Justice:

I hope this is helpful to you and your colleagues. Stay strong and put your oxygen mask on first. We need your strength, stamina & resilience today and all days on the frontlines of justice. Feel free to contact me at Francine.lipman@unlv.edu for any reason or no reason at all. We are stronger together and I am sending you positive energy! We will get through this and be even more fierce, fearless and appreciative of community, fellowship and face to face conferences! @narfnapil on Twitter

The CARES Act was just signed into law, including a number of individual income tax provisions.

Here are some details on the Recovery Rebate Tax Credit:

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Americans abroad and relief under the CARES Act: How do they get it and how much do they get

The context

Many countries including Canada and the United States have offered monetary relief to help their residents during these difficult times. (In addition to monetary relief, as Virginia La Torre Jeker as reported here and here: the United States has relaxed the deadline for filing 2019 tax returns. Canada has made similar allowances.)

Interestingly, with respect to access to monetary relief:

Canada’s “CERB Benefit” approach appears to be to simply get cash into the hands of affected people. The benefits may or may not be taxable. But, filing a tax return is not a prerequisite to receipt of benefits.

The U.S. “CARES Act” approach appears to use the tax system as the mechanism for delivery of benefits. Early indications suggest that (at least for Americans abroad) filing tax U.S. tax returns will be a necessary condition for the receipt of benefits. Could benefits really be conditional on filing tax returns, when there are so many people who do not meet the threshold for filing U.S. tax returns?

It appears to be much easier to access the relief in Canada than to access the relief in the United States. Additionally, Canadians do NOT need a lawyer or accountant to understand the program. But, that’s an issue for another day …
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Recent economic upheaval creates expatriation opportunities for “US Persons” living abroad

This post was motivated by a thread on Reddit …

At the end of this post, I have included the Reddit thread. (Note that I am trying to develop a “RenounceUSCitizenship” thread on Reddit – you will find it here.)

As you know the US Section 877A Expatriation Tax applies to U.S. citizens and “Long Term Residents”. A “Long Term Resident” is an individual who has had a Green Card (as defined by the rules in Internal Revenue Code Section 7701(b)(6) for at least eight of the fifteen years prior to expatriation). This has become a serious problem for Green Card holders who simply move from the United States and and don’t take formal steps to sever their U.S. tax residency. (They must either file the I-407 or use a tax treaty tie breaker election to expatriate. Otherwise they may be in a situation where they have no right to live in the United States (having lost the immigration status) but are taxable on their worldwide income (still being tax citizens).

That said, whether you are a U.S. citizen wishing to renounce U.S. citizenship or a Long Term Resident wishing to sever U.S. tax residency, you do NOT want to be a “covered expatriate“. Generally, (unless one is subject to two exceptions – dual citizen from birth or expatriation between 18 and 181/2 – that are beyond the scope of this post), one is treated as a “covered expatriate” if one meets any one of these three tests:

1. Net worth of 2 million USD or more (which this post will focus on)

2. Average U.S. tax liability of more than approximately $165,000 USD over the five years prior to expatriation

3. Failure to certify U.S. tax compliance for the five years prior to expatriation.

The COVID-19 Panic – Falling asset values – more favourable exchange rates -2 million USD net worth test

The last couple of weeks have changed and continue to change our world. We are experiencing human misery on an unprecedented and global scale. This includes physical illness, fear of illness and social distancing. I live in a large city and I am beginning to see less variety in the food available. Self-employed people are seeing disruptions to their revenue streams, etc. I don’t want to keep listing examples. But it is very bad. On the economic front, we are seeing unprecedented and incalculable damage to the world economy. This includes (but is not limited to) falling asset values – how is your stock portfolio doing? We see currencies that are weakening relative to the U.S. dollar. (This means that a higher Canadian or Australian dollar net worth would equal 2 million USD.) As I write this post I just received a message, from someone advising me that the shares in a certain cruise ship stock, have fallen from $136 to $22. (My advice would be: Don’t spend money on the cruise. Instead buy the shares in the company.)

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Seriously now, who’s GILTI? Senators Wyden and Brown attempt to reinforce the punishment of GILTI Americans abroad

Prologue

Americans abroad who are individual shareholders of small business corporations in their country of residence have been very negatively impacted by the Section 951A GILTI and Section 965 TCJA amendments. In June of 2019, by regulation, Treasury interpreted the 951A GILTI rules to NOT apply to active business income when the effective foreign corporate tax rate was at a rate of 18.9% or higher. Treasury’s interpretation was reasonable, consistent with the history of Subpart F and consistent with the purpose of the GILTI rules.

Now, Senators Wyden and Brown are attempting to reverse Treasury’s regulation through legislation. This is a direct attack on Americans abroad. Senators Wyden and Brown are living proof of the principle that:

When it comes to Americans abroad:

It’s not that Congress doesn’t care. It’s that they don’t care that they don’t care!

Introduction

As many readers will know the 2017 US Tax Reform, referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), contained provisions which have made it difficult for Americans abroad to run small businesses outside the United States. In the common law world a corporation is treated as a separate legal entity for tax purposes. In other words the corporation and the shareholders are separate for tax purposes, file separate tax returns and pay tax on different streams of income. The 2017 TCJA contained two provisions that basically ended the separation of the company and the individual for U.S. tax purposes. In other words: there is now a presumption (at least how the Internal Revenue Code applies to small business owners) that active business income earned by the corporation will be deemed to have been earned by the individual “U.S. Shareholders”. To put it another way: individual shareholders are now presumptively taxed on income earned by the corporation, whether the income is paid out to the shareholders or not! The effect of this on individual Americans abroad has been discussed by Dr. Karen Alpert in her article: “Callous Neglect: The impact of United States tax reform on nonresident citizens“.

The expansion of the Subpart F Regime

The Subpart F rules were established in 1962. The principle behind them was that individual Americans should be prevented from, using foreign corporations to earn passive income, in jurisdictions with low tax regimes (or tax regimes that have lower taxes than those imposed by the United States). The Subpart F rules have (since 1986) included a provision to the effect that investment income (earned inside a foreign corporation) which was subject to foreign taxation at a rate of 90% or more of the U.S. corporate rate, would NOT be subject to taxation in the hands of the individual shareholder.

To put it another way (with respect to investment income):

1. It was mostly investment/passive income that was subject to inclusion in the incomes of individual shareholders as Subpart F income; and

2. Passive income that was subject to foreign taxation at a rate of 90% or more of the U.S. corporate tax rate (now 21%) would NOT be considered to be Subpart F income (and therefore not subject to inclusion in the hands of individual shareholders).

To coordinate my background discussion with the Arnold Porter submission described below, I will refer to exclusion of investment income subject to a 90% tax rate as “HTKO” (High Tax Kick Out).

The basic principle was (and continues to be):

If passive income earned in a foreign corporation is taxed at a rate of 90% or more of the U.S. corporate tax rate, that there was no attribution of that corporate income to the individual U.S. shareholder.

In its most simple terms, the Subpart F rules are found in Sections 951 – 965 of the Internal Revenue Code. They are designed to attribute income earned by the corporation directly to the U.S. shareholder, without regard to whether the corporate profits were paid to the shareholders as a dividend. Note that many developed countries have similar rules. Many developing (from a tax perspective) countries (for example Russia) are adopting Subpart F type rules. The U.S. rules are more complicated, more robust and (because of citizenship taxation) apply to the locally owned companies of individuals, who do not live in the United States.

Punishing them for their past and destroying their futures – The expansion of the Subpart F Regime to active business income

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Treasury exempts applicable “tax-favored foreign trusts” from the Form 3520 (and therefore Form 3520A) requirement

Introduction – A small step for forms, one giant leap for “formkind”

It’s true. Many Americans abroad may no longer be required to file Form 3520 and Form 3520A to report their lives abroad! Early indications appear that many Americans will (assuming their retirement vehicle does qualify as a trust) not be required to report on Form 3520. This new initiative from Treasury a positive step in the right direction.

I have long thought that Treasury could solve many of the problems experienced by Americans abroad. Here is a wonderful example of Treasury taking the initiative to clarify the obvious:

Americans abroad do NOT use non-U.S. pension plans and non-U.S. tax-advantaged investing accounts to evade U.S. taxes. Hence, there is NO reason for the Form 3520 reporting requirement. This is an example of the tax compliance industry sitting down with Treasury, explaining a problem and getting a resolution. I suggest (and hope) that the same can be done for PFIC (Form 8621), Small Business Corporations (Form 5471) and other penalty-laden forms.

Yes, this announcement from Treasury in the form of RP 20-17 is a great achievement. Although it certainly doesn’t solve all the problems, it’s:

A small step for forms, one giant leap for “formkind”

The background to this problem – It starts in 1996 (same year as the beginning of the Exit Tax)…

Since 1996 Internal Revenue Code 6048 has required extensive reporting of almost any interaction with a foreign trust. Treasury has required that the reporting take place on Forms 3520 and 3520A. The forms are complex and subject to the draconian penalty regime described in Internal Revenue Code Section 6677. In order for an entity to be a foreign trust, it must be a trust. A “trust” for IRS purposes is defined by the Treasury Regulations as:

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The U.S. citizenship news of the week: While seeking to strip some naturalized Americans of their citizenship, the USA makes it harder for those with @dualcitizenship in Canada to renounce

We live in an era of the weaponization of citizenship. This has been quite a week on the U.S. citizenship front.

While, making it more difficult for certain citizens to renounce U.S. citizenship

The U.S. Government is taking specific initiatives to strip naturalized U.S. citizens of their U.S. citizenship

Is this constitutional? Interesting commentary from the Twittersphere …