International Tax Attorney Minnesota Minneapolis

House passes the Tax Extenders Act of 2009

On December 9, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 4213, the “Tax Extenders Act of 2009.” The bill would extend for one more year more than forty tax provisions that are set to expire at the end of this year, including the research credit and a number of important tax breaks for individuals. In order to offset more than $30 billion in tax relief, the bill also requires stricter reporting on U.S.-held foreign assets by foreign financial institutions and U.S. citizens.

Three provisions draw particular attention. First, starting with tax year 2013, the foreign financial institutions, foreign trusts, and foreign corporations are required to obtain and provide information from each of their account holders to determine if any account is American-owned. Foreign financial institutions must also comply with verification procedures and to report any U.S. accounts maintained by the institution on an annual basis. Then, any foreign financial institution that complies with the new verification and reporting standards would be subject to a 30 percent tax on income from U.S. financial assets held by the foreign institution. Where the owner of the account is a foreign government, an international organization, a foreign central bank, or any other class identified by the Treasury Department as posing a low risk of tax evasion, the withholding tax would not apply. Notice, the H.R. 4213’s requirements only apply if the aggregate value of the accounts in the foreign institutions exceeds $10,000. Hence, the basic FBAR rule that the owners of foreign financial accounts with the aggregate value of below $10,000 do not need to report the accounts still applies.

Second, H.R. 4213 requires any U.S. taxpayer with a foreign financial asset exceeding $50,000 in value to report the asset with their tax return. The penalty for failure to report a foreign financial asset would be $10,000 and could possibly increase to as much as $50,000.

Third, additional annual reporting requirements (similar to other U.S. holders of foreign assets) are imposed on the shareholders of passive foreign investment companies and U.S. owners of foreign trusts. A U.S. taxpayer failing to report a foreign owned trust would pay the greater of $10,000 or 35 percent of the amount of the trust.

Finally, the Tax Extenders Act of 2009 increases the tax rate on so-called “carried interest” levied on investment partnerships by treating carried interest as normal income and taxing it at the standard income tax rate (currently 35 percent) rather than the capital gains rate (currently 15 percent). This measure would have a particular impact on most private equities and hedge funds (which operate as partnerships with a general partner managing the fund and contributing partners supplying the capital), because the managers of these funds generally receive two forms of compensation from the fund: a small percentage of the fund’s assets like a contributing partner, and a higher percentage of the fund’s annual earnings that only the fund’s manager receives (i.e. carried interest).

While most of the provisions of the H.R. 4213 are expected to pass the Senate, the “carried interest” provision might present a significant problem.

Definition of Foreign Earned Income for the purposes of Foreign Income Exclusion under I.R.C. §911

Under I.R.C. §911, if certain conditions are met, a qualified individual can exclude as much $91,400 (for tax year 2009) of foreign earned income from taxable gross income. Two questions arise: what is earned income, and when is such income considered to be foreign earned income?

Earned Income

Earned income usually means wages, salaries, or professional fees, and other amounts received as compensation for personal services actually rendered, but does not include that part of the compensation derived by the taxpayer for personal services rendered by him to a corporation which represents a distribution of earnings or profits rather than a reasonable allowance as compensation for the personal services actually rendered.

The issue of earned income becomes complicated in a situation where a taxpayer engaged in a trade or business in which both personal services and capital are material income producing factors. Capital is a material income-producing factor if the operation of the business requires substantial inventories or substantial investments in plant, machinery, or other equipment. In this case, a reasonable allowance as compensation for the personal services rendered by the taxpayer, not in excess of 30 percent of his share of the net profits of such trade or business, shall be considered as earned income (I.R.C. §911(d)(2)(B)). This rule, however, would not apply where the capital is merely incidental to the production of income (see Rousku v. Commissioner (Tax. Ct.1971)).

In a situation where the services rendered abroad culminate in a product that is either sold or licensed, it is difficult to determine whether the proceeds are earned income. Usually, such issues are resolved on a case-by-case basis.

Foreign Earned Income

Earned income is usually considered as “foreign earned income” if it is attributable to services actually rendered by the taxpayer while oversees. The place at which the taxpayer receives the income is not relevant. For example, an employee working abroad for a U.S. employer does not lose the exclusions by having her compensation paid into a bank account in the United States. Note, however, that services rendered in anticipation of, or after the conclusion of an oversees assignment are not covered by the exclusion. I.R.C. §911(b)(1)(A) and §911(d)(2)

Understanding Foreign Income Exclusion under I.R.C. §911: General Information

Under I.R.C. §911, a U.S. citizen or resident can elect to exclude as much as $91,400 (for tax year 2009) of foreign earned income and some or all foreign housing costs from taxable gross income if two conditions are met. First, the individual must satisfy either a foreign presence or bona fide residence test. Second, the individual’s tax home must be in a foreign country. The first requirement (foreign presence/bona fide residence test) is satisfied when: (i) the individual is a U.S. citizen or resident who is physically present in a foreign country for at least 330 full days during any 12 consecutive months, or (ii) the individual is a U.S. citizen who is a bona fide resident of a foreign country for an uninterrupted period that includes an entire tax year. The second requirement is satisfied if the individual’s tax home – i.e. main place of business, employment, or post of duty – is in a foreign country. Tax home generally means the place where the individual is permanently or indefinitely engaged to work as an employee or self-employed individual.