US Tax Consequences of the New Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme

A recent article from Reuters discusses the appearance of the new Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme. The idea is to allow Indians to deposit gold into the banks in return for interest payments; in return, the Indian government is hoping to utilize the gold hoarded by its citizens to reduce gold imports.

While the idea is that the Indian Gold Monetisation Plan will be open to resident Indians only, it is likely that at least some US tax residents will be able to participate in the scheme either as US citizens and US permanent residents (who are US tax residents irrespective of where they live) or as Indian non-residents who never declared their non-residency status in India.

This article intends to explore some of the potential US tax problems that may arise as are result of participation in the Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme. The conclusions drawn in this article are preliminary and they may or may not reflect the actual IRS position in the future; the conclusions are and also should be treated simply as general discussion of the subject, not as a legal advice.

2015 Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme

In October 25, 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that a new Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme will be in place by the time of an ancient Hindu festival – Diwali (November 11, 2015). Under the scheme, Indian residents (as well as mutual funds and ETFs) will be able to use gold to open an essentially a fixed-deposit bank account (based on a gold certificate) with an Indian bank; in return, they will receive a gold certificate valued at the “prevailing gold price” at the time the account is opened and they will further receive interest on these gold deposits.

The gold will be collected by the Collection and Purity Testing Centers (CPTCs) certified by the Bureau of Indian Standards. The banks will issue the gold certificates against these gold deposits.

The new bank accounts will start earning interest after the deposited gold is refined into tradable gold bars or 30 days after the receipt of gold at the CPTCs or the bank’s designated branch – whichever is earlier.

There will be three types of fixed-deposit accounts under the Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme: short-term (1-3 years), medium term (5-7 years) and long-term (12-15 years). The banks will determine any premature withdrawal penalties.

Upon the maturity of the fixed-deposit account, the depositor will receive either the gold or the equivalent amount in rupees. The choice of receiving the gold or the rupees needs to be made at the time the account is opened.

Indian Tax Treatment of Interest and Capital Gains Earned As a Result of the Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme

In this Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme, there are three potential points of tax recognition by the participating depositors: capital gain on the original gold deposit, interest earned on the gold deposit at maturity and capital gain at the point of gold redemption (or principal redemption) at the then-current market prices.

The Indian government does not tax any of these three tax recognition events – i.e. neither capital gains nor the interest earned.

Potential US Tax Treatment of Interest Earned As Part of Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme

Despite the fact that Indian government does not tax the interest return on the gold certificates and absent any tax treaty changes, I believe that the most likely outcome is that this interest will be taxed as ordinary income in the United States. There is some marginal potential for the interest to be treated as collectible gain, but I just do not see this as a likely scenario when the IRS has a chance to make a ruling on it.

Potential Problems in US Tax Treatment of the Initial Deposit of Gold to Obtain Gold Certificates under the Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme

Generally, in the United States, any gain on the sale of gold bars and gold jewelry is treated as a capital gain from the sale of a collectible subject to 28% tax gain. There is a potential additional 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax as a result of Obamacare.

The question really becomes whether the opening of the gold account under the Gold Monetisation Scheme, where the gold is being melted into bars and the depositor receives a gold certificate with a rupee account at fair market value, should be considered as a sale or exchange of gold or is this just a 1031 exchange of the like properties?

The answer cannot be given with any certainty at this point, because the IRS has made no rulings on this very subject. However, it is possible that such an even will be treated by the IRS as a taxable exchange, because the gold is transformed into a rupees-based deposit account based on its market value – i.e. the number of rupees given to the depositor is equivalent to the fair market value, not the cost-basis that the depositor has at the point the gold is given to CPTCs.

On the other hand, the IRS could agree with an argument that, under the Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme, the gold is nothing but a guarantee for the rupee deposit account. Since the depositor receives a Gold Certificate and can get the same gold back upon the maturity of the account, it does not seem fair to tax the gain on the gold at this point (this argument, may not work if the deposit chooses to receive the original deposit back in rupees). If the 1031 rules are used to analyze this situation, the majority of secondary sources (such as EFT law firm opinions) seem to indicate that there may not be a taxable exchange for US tax purposes in this case. I tend to agree with this position in most situations, but it is too early to make the final determination at this point.

There is actually merit to both arguments and, until the gold certificates are actually issued and all facts can be analyzed, it is difficult to state what the IRS position will be.

Potential US Tax Treatment of the Gold/Rupee Redemption Based on Gold Certificates Issued under the Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme

There are two issues here: (1) is the gold redemption considered to be a taxable event; (2) is the rupee redemption under the gold certificates considered to be a taxable and how should it be taxed.

1. Gold Redemption

Let’s analyze the physical gold redemption first. It appears that the deposit will be able to obtain the same amount of gold irrespective of the changes in value since the original gold was melted into bars at CPTCs. This means that, if the 1 gram of gold is originally melted at 2,500 rupees, and rises in price to 3,000 rupees within three years, the deposit will still get one gram of gold. There seems to be a gain here of 500 rupees, but there is no actual monetization of gain. This is a hypothetical gain on the conversion of the gold certificate into physical gold.

The taxation of gain in a situation where one form of gold is transformed into another form of gold is one of the most complex topics in the US taxation of collectibles. Often times, even the same certificates may be taxed in a different manner.

Due to the fact that this topic is heavily fact-dependent with little IRS official guidance, it is best to delay the answer of this question until the time when these certificates are issued and can be analyzed in the actual factual context. At that time, if you have any questions regarding taxation of your gold certificate, contact Sherayzen Law Office directly.

2. Rupee Redemption

Unlike the gold redemption (which, depending on the circumstances, may not be taxable at all), the issue of taxability of the rupee redemption of the gold is fairly straightforward – this is a taxable event where gold is exchanged for rupees. Most likely, this exchange will be taxed in the United States as a collectible capital gain rate of 28% percent.

However, there are a couple of complications with respect to calculating the collectible gain. First, it should be remembered that the collectible gain should be calculated in US dollars (contact Sherayzen Law Office directly for more information). Second, the cost-basis of the gold will depend on whether the conversion of gold into a Gold Certificate is considered to be a taxable gain. If it is, then, the cost basis would be the fair market value at the time the gold is submitted by the depositor to be melted into bars at CPTCs. If it is not, then the original cost-basis (i.e. what the gold was actually acquired for) will be used in the determination of the collectible gain.

Other Issues Regarding 2015 Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme

In addition to US collectible and interest tax issues discussed above, investing through Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme may bring forth other US tax requirements. In particular, I wish to emphasize here that accounts opened through Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme are most likely reportable accounts for FBAR and Form 8938 purposes.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With US Tax Compliance

If you are a US person who has foreign accounts, foreign assets and/or foreign income, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help with your US tax compliance. Our experienced legal team, headed by the firm’s founder, attorney Eugene Sherayzen, will thoroughly analyze your case, identify your current and past US international tax compliance issues, develop a compliance plan for you (whether for current-year compliance or as part of your voluntary disclosure), and implement this plan, including preparation of all legal documents and tax forms.

US international tax laws are complex and should be handled by professionals with deep knowledge of the subject matter. This why You should contact Sherayzen Law Office Now!

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