Introduction – As the year of the “transition tax” comes to an end with no relief for Americans abroad (who could have known?)
As 2018 comes to and end (as does my series of posts about the transition tax) many individuals are still trying to decide how to respond to the Sec. 965 “transition tax” problem. The purpose of this post is to summarize what I believe is the universe of different ways that one can approach Sec. 965 transition tax compliance. These approaches have been considered at various times and in different posts over the last year. As 2018 comes to an end the tax compliance industry is confused about what to do. The taxpayers are confused about what to do. For many individuals they must choose between: bad and uncertain compliance or no attempt at compliance. (I add that the same is true of the Sec. 951A GILTI provisions which took effect on January 1, 2018.)
But first – a reminder: This tax was NEVER intended to apply to Americans abroad!!!
A recent post by Dr. Karen Alpert – “Fixing the Transition Tax for Individual Shareholders” – includes:
There have been several international tax reform proposals in the past decade, some of which are variations on the final Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) package. None of these proposals even considered the interaction of the proposed changes with taxing based on citizenship. One even suggested completely repealing the provision that eliminates US tax on dividends out of previously taxed income because corporate shareholders would no longer be paying US tax on those dividends anyway.
and later that …
One of the obstacles often mentioned when it comes to a legislative fix is the perceived requirement that any change be “revenue neutral”. While this is understandable given the current US budget deficit, it shouldn’t apply to this particular fix because the transition tax liability of individual US Shareholders of CFCs was not included in the original estimates of transition tax revenue.
The bottom line is:
Congress did not consider whether the transition tax would apply to Americans abroad and therefore did not intend for the transition tax to apply to them. Within hours of release of the legislation, the tax compliance industry, while paying no attention to the intent of the legislation, began a compliance campaign to assist owners of Canadian Controlled Private Corporations to turn their retirement savings over to the IRS. There was (in general) no “push back” from the compliance industry. There was little attempt on the part of the compliance industry to analyze the intent of the legislation. In general (there are always exceptions – many who I know personally – who have done excellent work), the compliance industry failed their clients. By not considering the intent of the legislation and not considering responses consistent with that intent, the compliance industry effectively created the “transition tax”.
In fairness to the industry, Treasury has given little guidance to practitioners and the guidance given came late in the year. In fairness to Treasury, by granting the two filing extensions, Treasury made some attempt to do, what they thought they could, within the parameters of the legislation.
The purpose of this post …
This post will summarize (but not discuss) the various options. There is no generally preferred option. This is not “one size fits all”. The response chosen will largely depend in the “stage in life” of the individual. Younger people can pay/absorb the “transition tax”. For people closer to retirement, for whom the retained earnings in their corporations are their pensions: compliance will result in the destruction of your retirement.