Category Archives: FATCA

How The World Should Respond To The US FATCA Driven Attack On The Tax Base Of Other Countries

This purpose of this post is to continue the general theme of focusing on the difference between what a law says and what the law means in application and effect. Yesterday’s post (The Pandora Papers, FATCA, CRS And How They Have Combined To Create Tax Haven USA) focussed on the role that the 2010 US FACTCA law played in in facilitating the rise of Tax Haven USA. (To be clear, I am not saying that FATCA was the sole cause.) That said, the unwillingness of the USA to sign the CRS (“Common Reporting Standard”) has also played a role in the growth of the US as a tax haven.

Many believe that FATCA is just the US version of the CRS. Because of this belief the US has received little or no resistance to its refusal to join the CRS. This belief that FATCA and the CRS are fundamentally the same is wrong. They are very different.

The purpose of this post is two-fold.

First, to explain how/why FATCA is very different from the CRS.

Second, to explain how FATCA is used to export the “original sin” of US citizenship-based taxation into other countries. To put it simply FATCA assists the United States in capturing the tax residents of other countries and subjecting them to direct US taxation.

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The Pandora Papers, FATCA, CRS And How They Have Combined To Create Tax Haven USA

Introduction

While millions of people are obsessed with taxation there are apparently people who may (but who knows) wish to simply opt out of the discussion.

I am becoming less and less interested in the intricacies of taxation. At its core the principles of tax are really pretty simple. Tax laws exist for two purposes: (1) To redistribute assets from one person to another person (with the government taking an administrative cut along the way) and (2) to punish (sin taxes) or reward (buying a fuel efficient car) certain kinds of behaviour. Certain cultures are more tax obsessed than others. When it comes to obsession over taxation the USA is certainly a world leader. In fact, what started out as US “citizenship-based taxation” more than one hundred years ago, has created a culture of “Taxation-based citizenship” (Yes, they are different concepts).

The focus on the “intricacies” (and complexities) of how the redistribution of assets works (the text of modern tax codes) often obscures what the overall effect of the tax laws are. For example, in a recent post I suggested that the real impact of the passport revocation laws (found in the Internal Revenue Code) was a recognition that there is no Constitutional right to leave the United States. But, most people don’t care. They pay their taxes. Why should they be concerned that somebody who doesn’t pay their taxes should be prohibited from leaving the country? (It doesn’t occur to them that there may be a broader principle at stake.)

The focus on what tax laws say obscures the broader question of what tax laws mean. The recent “Pandora Papers” revelation (the media is in overdrive trying to demonize people) provides yet another example of how a focus on what a tax law says, obscures the broader effect of what the law really means. There are many examples. The unwillingness of the US to join the CRS (“Common Reporting Standard”) is an interesting example. (The fact that the US has FATCA is part of the reason.) The relationship between FATCA and the CRS has fuelled the rise of Tax Haven USA.

FATCA, The CRS and the differences between them

Forget the technicalities

1. The CRS (“Common Reporting Standard”) is an agreement signed by hundreds of countries, to automatically report to other countries, financial accounts in their country, which are owned by “tax residents” of the other country. For example: if a tax resident of France has a financial account in Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency would report the existence of that account to France. This makes it hard for residents of CRS countries to hide accounts outside that country. The key is that the CRS mandates the automatic exchange of information. All members automatically share with each other. The CRS makes it more difficult (but never impossible) for CRS countries to be used to hide assets. Examples of the general angst associated with the “roll out” of the CRS in Canada are here and here. It’s important to remember that the CRS is based on the principle of exchange of information.

2. FATCA (“Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act”) is a US law (1471 – 1474 of the Internal Revenue Code and the associated FATCA IGAs. FATCA does NOT operate on the principle of “exchange of information”. Pursuant to FATCA the United States demands information from other countries (about US citizens) under the threat of a 30% sanction. In other words, under FATCA the US receives information from other countries but does not provide any information in return. FATCA and the CRS are contextually related only because FATCA preceded the CRS. Because the CRS was created after FATCA and the US already had FATCA, the US had no need to join the CRS. Of course (at least in theory) the US could abolish FATCA and join the CRS. But, the US is unlikely to do this.

Notice the following aspects of FATCA:

1. FATCA is NOT a multilateral agreement. Rather FATCA is a US unilateral assault on the sovereignty of other countries;

2. The US is not required to exchange information under FATCA; and

3. Because it (presumably) receives the information it wants, there is no incentive for the US to join the CRS.

The US is not party to any international agreement pursuant to which it automatically discloses the existence of US accounts held by nonresident aliens!! To put it another way: The US is one of the few countries in the world where nonresident aliens can effectively hide money and other assets (trusts anyone?). Think of the possibilities (that may or may not be related to tax issues …)

This reality was explained by Oliver Bullough in a brilliant 2019 article that appeared in The Guardian.

The article (which includes a fascinating discussion of the history of trusts) summarizes the interaction of FATCA and the CRS with:

That calculation changed in 2010, in the aftermath of the great financial crisis. Many American voters blamed bankers for costing so many people their jobs and homes. When a whistleblower exposed how his Swiss employer, the banking giant UBS, had hidden billions of dollars for its wealthy clients, the conclusion was explosive: banks were not just exploiting poor people, they were helping rich people dodge taxes, too.

Congress responded with the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (Fatca), forcing foreign financial institutions to tell the US government about any American-owned assets on their books. Department of Justice investigations were savage: UBS paid a $780m fine, and its rival Credit Suisse paid $2.6bn, while Wegelin, Switzerland’s oldest bank, collapsed altogether under the strain. The amount of US-owned money in the country plunged, with Credit Suisse losing 85% of its American customers.

The rest of the world, inspired by this example, created a global agreement called the Common Reporting Standard (CRS). Under CRS, countries agreed to exchange information on the assets of each other’s citizens kept in each other’s banks. The tax-evading appeal of places like Jersey, the Bahamas and Liechtenstein evaporated almost immediately, since you could no longer hide your wealth there.

How was a rich person to protect his wealth from the government in this scary new transparent world? Fortunately, there was a loophole. CRS had been created by lots of countries together, and they all committed to telling each other their financial secrets. But the US was not part of CRS, and its own system – Fatca – only gathers information from foreign countries; it does not send information back to them. This loophole was unintentional, but vast: keep your money in Switzerland, and the world knows about it; put it in the US and, if you were clever about it, no one need ever find out. The US was on its way to becoming a truly world-class tax haven.

So, one might reasonably ask the question:

Was FATCA a law that contributed to discouraging tax evasion or was FATCA a law that contributed to encouraging tax evasion?

(The answer is that it possibly discouraged tax evasion on the part of US citizens, but clearly played a role in encouraging tax evasion for nonresident aliens.)

FATCA has had a devastating effect on the lives of Americans abroad.

October 2021 – The Pandora Papers

A consortium of investigative journalists has revealed the names of large numbers of people with financial accounts, corporations, trusts and other entities outside their country of tax residence. It’s impossible to know how much of this is related to tax evasion. There are many reasons to have financial accounts outside your country of residence.

The Pandora Papers seemed to focus more on WHO the individuals were than on WHERE the accounts were located.

The Pandora Papers suggested that few Americans were using offshore accounts. But, the same Pandora Papers suggested that US jurisdictions (South Dakota as an example) were becoming the “jurisdictions of choice” for hiding assets. Although this was the subject of media comment, what was NOT the subject of comment was how the US has become a tax haven for a large part of the world.

At a time when Secretary Yellen has gone to the OECD and asked that the world impose higher taxes (to protect the USA from tax competition) the US is playing an evolving role in becoming a tax haven for those who not US tax residents. The media (including the Washington Post) is either unaware of this or refusing to acknowledge it.

Secrecy aside – there are many good reasons for nonresident aliens to invest in the USA

I discussed this in a recent podcast …

John Richardson – Follow me on Twitter @Expatriationlaw

Take 1: Digging The Foundation To Build The House Of US Residency-based Taxation

Prologue

This is the fifth of a series of posts focussing on the need to end US citizenship-based taxation (practised only by the USA) and move to a form of pure residence-based taxation (practised by the rest of the world). The first post was titled “Toward A Definition Of Residence-based Taxation For Americans Abroad“. The second post was titled “Toward A Movement For Residence-based Taxation For Americans Abroad“. The third post was “Toward An Explanation For Why Some Americans Abroad Are Complacent About Citizenship Taxation“. The fourth post explains why some Americans Abroad actually OPPOSE changes to citizenship-based taxation. This fifth post in the series is to begin a discussion of what would be the basic changes (to the existing Internal Revenue Code) that would move the United States toward the world standard of pure residency-based taxation.

It’s about “pure residency-based taxation” and not citizenship-based taxation with a “carve out”

I have previously advocated that the United States should move to to a system of pure residence-based taxation. A system of pure residency-based taxation, means that:

Citizenship is NOT a sufficient condition for tax residency. If citizenship is not a sufficient condition for tax residency, income sourced outside the United States, which is received by people who are not residents of the United States, should not be taxable by the United States.

Note that pure residency-based taxation is NOT citizenship-based taxation with a “carve out” for US citizens living abroad. To put it another way: US citizens, simply because they are US citizens, would NOT be defined as US tax residents and subject to US worldwide taxation. This is different from US citizens being defined as US tax residents, but allowing (like the FEIE) for their foreign income to be excluded from US taxation. Note also that this is a legislative proposal. It is therefore different from our earlier proposal for “A Regulatory Fix To Citizenship Taxation“.

It is my opinion and the opinion of the members of SEAT, that only a system of pure residency-based taxation will solve the many problems of Americans abroad!

How is residency to be determined?

Residency is commonly determined in various ways. For example, Canada determines residency based on an objective deeming provision (number of days spent in Canada and through a “facts and circumstances” test described as ordinary residence). Generally, citizenship (if it is a factor at all) is not a significant issue in determining ordinary residence. The Canadian experience is proof that it is possible to have very sticky tax residency without citizenship being an issue.

Purpose of this post:

The purpose of this post is to propose some simple amendments to the Internal Revenue Code which would provide a foundation for the United States to transition from citizenship-based taxation to pure residence-based taxation. The goal is modest. The post is not intended to (I will write a separate post) deal with those who are CURRENTLY US citizens living outside the United States. It is NOT to address all the issues. That said, most of the Internal Revenue Code focuses on the taxation of those who are US tax residents. Little in the Code focuses on the actual definition of US tax residency.

The purpose of this post is begin with the fundamentals and ask:

How could the existing Internal Revenue Code be modified to provide a framework for residency-based taxation? Of course, readers will be left with many questions. But, the proposed foundation would allow for:

1. US citizens to move from the United States and sever tax residency with the United States.

2. US citizens to move from the United States and continue to be treated as tax residents of the United States.

Under either scenario, US citizens would remain US citizens. They would NOT be required to relinquish US citizenship in order to sever tax residency.

Obviously there will be many complications. But, every journey begins with a modest beginning. This is intended to be only a modest beginning. It is to begin digging the foundation to build the house of “residency-based taxation”.

The post is composed of the following parts:

Part A – Residents Are Subject To Worldwide Taxation

Part B – Nonresidents Are Not Subject To Worldwide Taxation

Part C – Definition Of Resident and Nonresident- 7701(b)

Part D – Definitions That Require Change “US Person”, “Relinquishment Of Residency”, etc.

Part E – Relinquishment Of Residence

Part F – Living abroad without relinquishing US residence

Generally, I believe that amendments to a small number of sections of the Internal Revenue Code provide the foundation from which to grow. Note that this proposal solves the problems of the “Retirees Abroad” (they don’t give notice under the new 877(a)(g)) and the problems of accidentals (they were never tax residents in the first place). There would be regulations (like the Canada Revenue Agency folio) for what constitutes residence. In Canada tax residency is defined largely by “ordinary residence” – a concept that is very sticky).

I am identifying the building blocks that could define tax residency under a US system of residency-based taxation, with few modifications to the Internal Revenue Code. (These building blocks are generally compatible with the existing Internal Revenue Code.) Once the foundation has been built we would then build our way out. This initial foundation solves the PFIC problem, the CFC problems and most problems related to foreign source income. The FinCEN 114 (FBAR) rules currently reference Internal Revenue Code 7701(b). Therefore, the proposals in this post would solve the FBAR problem.

I will discuss other issues impacting Americans abroad in subsequent posts.

I have included only the sections of the Internal Revenue Code that I consider the foundation of US tax residency. When a word is IN CAPS that means that there has been a change to facilitate a change to pure residence-based taxation.

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A Simple Regulatory Fix For The FATCA problems of dual citizens from birth

Prologue

It is clear that the US extraterritorial tax regime, which imposes taxation on the non-US source income of US citizens living outside the United States, is an outrageous violation of the sovereignty of other nations. It is also an extreme injustice inflicted on US citizens living outside the United States. The US has successfully exported the extraterritorial tax regime to the world through a combination of (1) The US Internal Revenue Code (2) the FATCA IGAs (hunting down US citizens) and (3) the saving clause in US tax treaties (Country X agrees that the US can impose tax on any individual who has been identified as a US citizen and is tax resident of Country X). To understand the interplay between (1), (2) and (3) above see the following article I wrote for the American Expat Finance News Journal.

The three groups most visibly impacted by the US Extraterritorial tax regime (in different ways) and its enforcement outside the United States include:

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Part 2 – The Warren “Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act of 2021” and The Wealth Of Other Nations

The fact that …

Leads to the obvious question of …

Hmm…

The fact is that Senator Warren is proposing to impose her wealth tax on property located outside the United States, purchased by individuals who live outside the United States, who have no connection to the United States other than (perhaps) the circumstance of having been born in the United States. Yup, it’s true.

On March 18, 2021, FATCA will turn on 11. The Senator’s proposed wealth tax explicitly states that FATCA is to be used to enforce this tax! Finally an (il)legitimate use for FATCA.

In the 18th Century Adam Smith wrote “The Wealth Of Nations”. In the 21st Century Senator Warren is proposing to impose a wealth tax on “The Wealth Of OTHER Nations”.

Discussion And Analysis

This is the second of what I expect to be a multi-part series on Senator Warren’s proposed wealth tax of 2021. As the above tweet makes clear, the practical utility of the tax depends on US citizenship-based taxation (to whom it applies) and FATCA (how are non-US assets located). In my first post, I referenced Senator Warren’s statement that:

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Circa 2014 – A trip Down Memory Lane: #FBAR #FATCA And The Use Of Non-US Banks

This 2014 hearing held by the US Senate on Permanent investigations is very interesting.It features Senators Levin and McCain and includes discussion of tax evasion, Swiss banks, tax treaties, FATCA the Offshore Voluntary disclosure programs and more.

The logic of the United States is approximately this:

Homeland Americans use non-US bank accounts.

Americans abroad use non-US bank accounts.

Therefore, (but not acknowledging Americans abroad) both Homelanders and Americans abroad use non-US banks for the same (nefarious) reasons.

Fascinating discussion with @Scaramucci: They want the #expat vote, but don’t want to understand the #FATCA life! #Citizide continues

Fascining discussion. In this election season the politicans are agressively courting the vote of Amerians abroad. Yet, they seem unwilling to take the time to understand the problems of Americans abroad and how FATCA has destroyed many life – resulting in many renunications of US citizenship.

About #FATCA and @Citizenshiptax: Here is the @DemsAbroad Interview with @AmyKlobuchar on January 22, 2020

This is an interesting interview with an interesting candidate. But, it is very clear that Senator Klocbuchar (1) believes in FATCA and (2) has no interest in abolishing citizenship-based taxation. You can pick this up at the 27 minute mark.

It’s interesting that the two candidates endorsed by the New York Times (Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar) are hostile (more so than most other Democrats) to the interests of Americans abroad.

Here is an interesting Facebook discussion about this interview, which includes the following comment:

DA Q and Sen K A on RBT: DA: Most Americans living abroad think that the time has come for residency based taxation, the principle guiding all other country’s tax systems and a fix for numerous unjust burdens on Americans living and working abroad. Now there are bipartisan, revenue neutral proposals to implement our Beatie that include robust provisions to protect the laws from abuse by tax evaders. All we need is a moment of leadership to get this done. Will you be that leader?

Sen K: Well, I have not taken a position to change that at this time. I’m always open to looking at things. And if I could just step back on our taxes in general. There just has not been the opportunity to step back and look at our tax code to see what works for regular people. Because when you think about it, when President Obama was in, we did some things, but we were in a deep recession and it was hard to make the changes that need to be made. Then President [00:03:30.0] Trump comes at it and they pass his tax bill, which really. Oh, wait. It was weighted toward people at the top and has added over a trillion dollars in debt. And when you look at his time period, while he gloats about what things, what’s happening in our country, we’ve had a 30 percent over the last decade, even before him slow down in startups. We call it the startup slump because of consolidations and other things. And we just don’t have a good tax enforcement, as I already mentioned. And then there’s just a bunch of things I think that we need to change. When it comes to our tax code, including closing some loopholes and doing something about the Buffett Rule and bringing in reversing some of the corporate tax cuts he made, I was in the group that wanted to bring the corporate tax rate down, but not to the level near the level that he brought it to. Every pointing went down was one hundred billion. And I would actually take a big chunk of that money and put it into infrastructure. Another chunk to start working on the deficit, which is brought to record levels. And I just think there’s much more we have to do to keep our economy strong for the long term.

The interview speaks for itself. It’s as though the Democrats think that the only purpose of life is to avoid taxes.

It’s pretty clear that a vote for the Democrats is a vote against Americans Abroad. (I am not, by this statement, taking any position on the Republicans.