Category Archives: Form 3520

Americans Abroad Aren’t Denouncing Because They Want To. They Are Renouncing Because They Feel They Have To

Introduction/background:

Denunciation of U.S. Citizenship – From the perspective from a U.S. Senator

Renunciation of U.S. Citizenship – From the perspective of a U.S. journalist

It’s hard to have a discussion about why Americans abroad are renouncing U.S. citizenship. There are many different perspectives about renunciation. There is very little “shared reality”. Tax academics (who have the resources to know better), “pensioned intellectuals”, politicians and most journalists see this from a “U.S. resident perspective”. They don’t understand the reality of the lives of Americans abroad. But, Americans abroad are NOT a monolith. The ONLY thing they have in common is that they live outside the United States. Their circumstances vary widely. There is little “shared reality” among Americans abroad of what the issues are. AT the risk of oversimplification, I have attempted to divide “Americans abroad” into four categories (as defined below). The categorization will explain why different groups of “Americans abroad” experience the U.S. extra-territorial tax regime differently.

Hint: Americans abroad aren’t renouncing U.S. citizenship because they want to. They are renouncing U.S. citizenship because they feel they have to.

Politicians, tax academics, “pensioned intellectuals” and many journalists deal in the world of opinions. The opinions they hold are often “myths”. They are not “facts”. They are entitled to their opinions (as misguided and ignorant as they may be). They are NOT entitled to their “facts”.

This post is to describe the facts about how the extra-territorial application of the Internal Revenue Code and the Bank Secrecy Act pressure many Americans abroad to renounce U.S. citizenship. Interestingly a large percentage of those renouncing owe ZERO taxes to the U.S. government. They renounce anyway!

First, a bit of background to the problem – what is the problem and who is affected?

They do NOT meet the test of being “nonresident aliens” under the Internal Revenue Code

As SEAT cofounder, Dr. Laura Snyder explains, in the first of her 16 “working papers” describing the problems of Americans abroad:

The people most affected by the U.S. extraterritorial tax system are not a monolithic group. Some left the United States recently, some left years or decades ago. Some left as adults (some young, some middle-aged, and some retirees), while others left as children (with their families), and some have never lived in the United States (they are U.S. citizens by virtue of the U.S. citizenship of at least one parent). Some intend to live in the United States (again) in the near or distant future, while others do not intend to ever live in the United States (again). Some identify as Americans while others do not. Many are also citizens of the country where they live (dual citizens) while others hold triple or even quadruple citizenships. In referring to this group, there is no one term that sufficiently reflects its full diversity. What unites them is that they do not meet the test of “nonresident alien” under the Internal Revenue Code. Depending upon the context, this series of papers will use terms such as “persons,” “individuals,” “affected individuals,” and “overseas Americans.” The latter term has a drawback, however: it emphasizes connections to the United States while minimizing the important connections that such persons have to the countries and communities where they live.

That said, what divides Americans abroad may be greater than what unites Americans abroad!

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Americans Abroad With Local Investments That Are “Foreign To The US” Live Under The Sword Of Damocles

Prologue – The “Take Away” And Summary For Americans Abroad

The general message is contained in the above twitter thread. Americans abroad are likely to have financial involvements with a number of different kinds of “entities” that are “local” to them and “foreign to the United States. Examples may include: pension plans, tax advantaged savings plans, small business corporations and more. The descriptive title of these “entities” is irrelevant to their classification under US tax rules. What an individual understands to be a foundation, trust, corporation, pension or anything else could be classified under US tax rules in in a number of different (and unexpected) ways. The US classification for tax purposes will be determined by the “facts and circumstances” and characteristics of the entity. Furthermore, the classification will determine BOTH (1) how the entity is subject to US taxation and (2) the specific reporting requirements (and potential penalties) that apply to that entity.

(It is important for Americans abroad to understand the risk that income earned by the “foreign to the US” corporation or trust (but local to them) may be deemed to have been earned by the individual. This may be true even when that income has not been received by the individual. This is the consequence of Subpart F, GILTI and the Grantor trust rules. These specific topics will be left for separate posts.)

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How US Tax Treaties And The “Saving Clause” Prevent Countries From Establishing Retirement Programs For US Citizen Residents

Prologue – The Circumstances Of Your Birth Should Not Determine The Outcome Of Your Life …

The above tweet references a “human interest” story where US citizen children are denied benefits in their country of residence that are available to all people who are NOT US citizens.

The description includes:

New Zealand children born to parents’ who are citizens of the United States face a difficult KiwiSaver choice: Give up your US citizenship, or face a KiwiSaver tax compliance bill of $750​ or more a year courtesy of the US taxman.

A petition has been started at Parliament asking MPs to change the KiwiSaver Act to allow people with KiwiSaver accounts facing the unreasonable demands from US tax authorities to close their KiwiSaver accounts.

The issue surfaced as a result of the plight of Auckland dual national Kira Bacal and her four New Zealand-born children, Harper, 13, Rowan, 10 and twins Malachi and Elias, 8.

It appears that the poor (New Zealand born) Bacal children are finding that the US (or at least US tax preparers in New Zealand) consider their KiwiSaver to be a possible vehicle for US tax evasion! Not only is the KiwiSaver a “trust”, but it’s a “foreign trust” which comes with all kinds of penalty laden reporting obligations and no tax advantages. An excellent analysis of the US tax implications of the New Zealand KiwiSaver is here. The story is somewhat comical in that one gets the feeling that the blame should be placed on New Zealand (and not the United States) for New Zealand’s failure to legislate special exceptions for US citizens living in New Zealand.

So what! They’re Americans and therefore they deserve it (you say)!

A previous post explained that for Americans abroad, changes in the laws of their country of residence can change their tax relationship with the United States. The purpose of this post is to expand on that theme by demonstrating that:

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The Form 3520 Penalty Debacle: Podcast And Discussion With CPA Gary Carter

November 8, 2021 …

I just got off the phone with another person who was assessed a $10,000 penalty in relation to a Canadian TFSA (which is probably not even a trust for US purposes, which means it can’t be a foreign trust). Predictably her response is to simply renounce US citizenship.

The conversation reminded me of a podcast that I did (last January with CPA Gary Carter) about the 3520/A IRS penalty problem. As I result, I am posting this podcast.

This podcast features a discussion with CPA Gary Carter that includes:

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Treasury 26 CFR § 301.7701-2 – Business entity definitions discriminate against Canadian Controlled Private Corporations

Synopsis:

Canadian corporations should NOT be deemed (under the Treasury entity classification regulations) to be “per se” corporations. The reality is that corporations play different roles in different tax and business cultures. Corporations in Canada have many uses and purposes, including operating as private pension plans for small business owners (including medical professionals).

Deeming Canadian corporations to be “per se” corporations means that they are always treated as “foreign corporations” for the purposes of US tax rules. This has resulted in their being treated as CFCs or as PFICs in circumstances which do not align with the purpose of the CFC and PFIC rules.

The 2017 965 Transition Tax confiscated the pensions of a large numbers of Canadian residents. The ongoing GILTI rules have made it very difficult for small business corporations to be used for their intended purposes in Canada.

Clearly Treasury deemed Canadian Controlled Private Corporations to be “per se” corporations without:

1. Understanding the use and role of these corporations in Canada; and

2. Assuming that ONLY US residents might be shareholders in Canadian corporations. As usual, the lives of US citizens living outside the United States were not considered.

These are the problems that inevitably arise under the US citizenship-based AKA extraterritorial tax regime, coupled with a lack of sensitivity to how these rules impact Americans abroad. The US citizenship-based AKA extraterritorial tax regime may be defined as:

The United States imposing worldwide taxation on the non-US source income of people who are tax residents of other countries and do not live in the United States!

It is imperative that the United States transition to a system of pure residence-based taxation!

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Introduction

The United States imposes a separate and more punitive tax system on US citizens living outside the United States than on US residents. There are numerous examples of this principle – a principle that is well understood (but not directly experienced) by tax preparers.

The US tax system operates through a combination of laws, Treasury Regulations, enforcement by the tax compliance community and IRS administration. There are many instances where the extraterritorial application of the US tax system results in absurdities, that are very damaging to those who try their best to comply with those laws.

Treasury regulations have an enormous impact on how the Internal Revenue Code applies to Americans abroad. In a previous paper coauthored with Dr. Alpert and Dr. Snyder, we described how Treasury could provide “A Simple Regulatory Fix For Citizenship Taxation“. Treasury regulations can be extremely helpful to Americans abroad or extremely damaging. It is therefore crucial that Treasury consider how its regulations would/could impact the lives of those Americans abroad attempting compliance with the US extraterritorial tax regime. In some cases it may be appropriate to have different regulations for resident Americans than for Americans abroad.

Treasury has demonstrated that it can be very helpful

Although this post will focus on difficulties, it’s important to note that Treasury has demonstrated that it can be very helpful to Americans abroad. It has interpreted the Internal Revenue Code in ways that have mitigated what could have been extreme damage. Here are two recent examples from the GILTI context where Treasury:

– interpreted the 962 Election to allow individuals to receive the 50% deduction in GILTI income inclusion that was allowed to corporations; and

– interpreted the Subpart F rules to mean that ALL income earned by a CFC should be entitled to the high tax exclusion

Clearly some of the news coming from Treasury has been good!

The power to regulate is the power to destroy

This post provides examples of how certain Treasury regulations contribute to the application of the United States extraterritorial tax regime. The examples are found in the following two categories of regulations:

Category A: Foreign Trusts – The Form 3520A Penalty Fundraiser – Regulations That Are Unclear Resulting In Penalties

Category B: Business Entities Designated as “per se” Corporations – Creating CFCs In Unreasonable Circumstances (Canadian Controlled Private Corporations) – Regulations That Are Clear But Over-inclusive

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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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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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To be FORMWarned is to be FORMArmed! The easiest way to receive a Form 3520A penalty would be to file a Form 3520

There is evidence from both tax practitioners and from individuals that Americans abroad are suffering from a “Form 3520A” penalty epidemic. Some of the best discussion of both the scope and technicalities of this problem may be found at Tax Connections. See particularly the posts here, here and here. (Mr. Carter’s original post was also reproduced at American Expat Finance.) The posts have attracted commentary from a number of tax professionals. The IRS Taxpayer Advocate has been invited to intervene.

“Tax Compliant” Americans Abroad are just a penalty waiting to happen!

Americans abroad are potentially required a very large number of IRS forms.

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The United States imposes a separate and more punitive tax system on US dual citizens who live in their country of second citizenship

Prologue

Do you recognise yourself?

You are unable to properly plan for your retirement. Many of you with retirement assets are having them confiscated (at this very moment) courtesy of the Sec. 965 transition tax. You are subjected to reporting requirements that presume you are a criminal. Yet your only crime was having been born in America (something you didn’t even choose) and attempting to live as a U.S. tax compliant American outside the United States. Your comments to my recent article at Tax Connections reflect and register your conviction that you should not be subjected to the extra-territorial application of the Internal Revenue Code – when you don’t live in the United States.

The Internal Revenue Code: You can’t leave home without it!

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The "proper care and feeding of the Green Card": Tax Planning for the #GreenCard before coming to America

Introduction – Where this post came from …

In July of 2018 I moderated a discussion on “tax residency”. The discussion was at an immigration conference in Los Angeles that was primarily focused on the EB-5 program. The EB-5 program will lead to a Green Card (meaning that one becomes a permanent resident of the United States).

Here is a video of the discussion. Some parts are audible and others not. But, I decided to create a post which focuses on the issues discussed.

Introduction to the world of Global Mobility

Global mobility is the norm in the 21st century. The United States, Canada and Australia are prime destinations for those seeking “permanent residency” and ultimately a second “citizenship”. Canada has been a pioneer in investor immigration. The United States has long been an area of prime interest. It is important to distinguish between “residency” for immigration purposes (are you legally allowed to live in a country) from “residency” for tax purposes (to what extent are you subject to taxation in the country).

Once you have become a “permanent resident” under the immigration laws, you will have become a “tax resident” under the tax laws. Tax residency in a CRS and FATCA world has become increasingly important. I have previously discussed OECD definitions of tax residency.

There are many “citizenship and/or residency by investment” programs. One example is Portugals’s Golden Visa Program.

The purpose of this post is to create awareness of some aspects of what it means to become a “tax resident” of the United States. When a non-citizen becomes a U.S. “permanent resident” (for immigration purposes), one becomes a “tax resident” of the United States. Once a “tax resident” of the United States (1) very specific procedures must be followed to sever “U.S. tax residency” and (2) “long term residents” will be subject to the S. 877A Exit Tax rules.

If you are a “tax resident” of a country, it is important to understand the tax rules. This is particularly true when considering becoming a “permanent resident” and “tax resident” of the United States.
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