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Inbound Transactions: Non-US Person Definition | International Tax Attorney

In a previous article, I described the analytical framework for conducting tax analysis of inbound transactions. In this article, I will focus on the first issue of this framework – the Non-US Person definition.

Non-US Person Definition: Importance in the Context of Inbound Transactions

Before we delve into the issue of Non-US Person definition, we need to understand why this definition is so important in the context of inbound transactions.

The significance of this definition comes from the fact that the extent of exposure to US taxation depends on whether a person is classified as a US-Person or a Non-US Person. A US person is taxed on his worldwide income and may be subject to a huge array of US reporting requirements. A Non-US Person, however, may only be taxed by the IRS with respect to income earned from US investments or US businesses (even then, there are a number of exceptions). Hence, the classification of US Person versus Non-US Person may have a huge practical impact on a person’s US tax exposure.

Non-US Person Definition: Everyone Who Is Not a US-Person

There is no definition of “Non-US Person” in the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”); there is not even a definition of a “foreign person”.

Rather, one needs to look at the IRC §7701(a) to look for identification of categories of persons who are considered “domestic”. Anyone who is not a “domestic person” is a foreign person or, for our purposes, a Non-US Person.

Non-US Person Definition: What Does “Person” Mean

Before we analyze who is considered to be a “US Person”, we should first clarify who a “person” is. Under §7701(a)(1), a person “shall be construed to mean and include an individual, a trust, estate, partnership, association, company or corporation”. In other words, a “person” may mean not only an individual, but also a business entity, trust or estate.

Non-US Person Definition: General Definition of US Person

Under §7701(a)(30), a “US Person” means a US citizen, US resident alien, domestic partnership, domestic corporation, any estate that is not a foreign estate and a trust that satisfies both condition of §7701(a)(30)(E). Almost each of these categories is highly complex and needs a special definition. I will not cover here every detail, but I will provide certain general definitions with respect to each category.

Non-US Person Definition: Individuals Who Are US Persons

As I stated above, all US citizens and US resident aliens are considered US Persons. In the vast majority of cases, it is fairly easy to determine who is a US citizen; most complications occur with “accidental Americans” and Americans with only one parent who is a US citizen.

A US resident alien is a more complex term. It includes not only US Permanent Residents (i.e. “green card” holders), but also all persons who satisfied the Substantial Presence Test and all persons who declared themselves as US tax residents. This means that a person may be a US resident for tax purposes, but not for immigration purposes. This situation creates a lot of confusion among people who marry US persons or who come to the United States to work; many of them believe themselves to be Non-US Persons, but in reality they are US tax residents.

Non-US Person Definition: Domestic Corporations & Partnerships

Under §7701(a)(4), corporations and partnerships are considered US Persons if they are created or organized in the United States or under the laws of the United States or any of its states. In the case of partnerships, the IRS may issue regulations that provide otherwise, but the IRS has not done so yet. Conversely, a corporation or a partnership is a Non-US Person if it is not organized in the United States.

Pursuant to §7701(a)(9), the definition of the United States for the purposes of §7701(a)(4) includes only the 50 States and the District of Columbia. In other words, §7701(a)(9) excludes all US territories and possessions from the definition of the United States. For example, a corporation formed in Guam is a Non-US Person!

Non-US Person Definition: Domestic Trust

A trust is a US Person if it satisfies both tests contained in §7701(a)(30)(E). The first test is a “court test”: a court within the United States must be able to exercise primary supervisorial administration. The second test is a “control test”: one or more US persons must have the authority to control all substantial decisions of the trust. Failure to meet either test will result in the trust being a Non-US Person with huge implications for US tax purposes.

Non-US Person Definition: Domestic Estate

While all other definitions described above define a domestic entity and state that a foreign entity is not a domestic one, it is exactly the opposite with estates. Under §7701(a)(30)(D), an estate is a US Person if it is not a foreign estate described in §7701(a)(31). §7701(a)(31)(A) defines a foreign estate as: “the income of which, from sources without the United States which is not effectively connected with the conduct of a trade or business within the United States, is not includible in gross income under subtitle A”.

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Inbound Transactions Tax Framework | US International Tax Lawyer & Attorney

Inbound transactions deal with Non-US persons who operate in and/or derive income from the United States. This introductory essay opens a series of articles concerning US taxation of inbound transactions. Today, I will set forth the general inbound transactions tax framework; in future articles, I will explore in more detail each element of this framework.

Inbound Transactions Tax Framework: General Guiding Principals

US taxation of inbound transactions is mainly based on the following guiding principle – nexus to the United States. In other words, the US government taxes Non-US persons in a different manner depending on the level and extent of a Non-US person’s activities in the United States.

The more extensive and regular these activities are, the more likely the income derived from these activities to be taxed by the IRS on a net-income basis (as opposed to gross income) at graduated tax rates. On the other hand, if a Non-US person’s activities are limited, less frequent and more passive, then they are likely to be subject to a completely different type of taxation – the one based on gross income at a set rate.

This “US nexus” principal is subject to numerous exceptions due to the fact that the inbound transactions tax framework incorporates two additional goals. The first goal is the US government’s attempt to design the framework in a manner which would attract foreign investments into the United States. For this reason, the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) may exclude entire categories of income from US taxation either directly or by altering the source-of-income rules (i.e. excluding certain income from the definition of “US-source income”).

Second, as a counter to the “attraction of foreign investments” principal, the US government wishes to make sure that all income of Non-US persons that needs to be taxed is actually taxed and there is no inappropriate non-taxation of US-source income. As a result of the IRS efforts to ensure the effectiveness of this principal, certain types of income are subject to special regimes of taxation. The most prominent example is the taxation of foreign investments in US real property.

Finally, one should remember to consult US income tax treaties for country-specific exceptions. In particular, treaties often modify tax-withholding provisions with respect to various categories of US-source income.

Inbound Transactions Tax Framework: Main Test

The analytical framework for the taxation of inbound transactions is comprised of a test with seven critical questions. The answers to each question will point us to the right sections of the Internal Revenue Code and establish the correct tax treatment for specific types of income.

  1. Is the person who derives the income is a US person or a Non-US person?

Obviously, if the answer to the question is “US person”, then we are not dealing with an inbound transaction, but a domestic investment. Hence, the taxation of a transaction or investment should be examined under a different tax framework (the one that applies to US persons) than the inbound transactions tax framework.

The difference between these tax frameworks is huge. A US person is subject to worldwide income taxation, whereas a Non-US person is generally taxed only on the income derived from US business activities and US investments.

2. Is it a US-source income?

The question whether a Non-US person derives US-source income or foreign-source income is of huge importance and complexity. The answer to this question involves the analysis of relevant source-of-income rules as modified by a relevant tax treaty.

Generally, Non-US persons are taxed only on their US-source income. This means that if it is determined that the income is derived from a foreign-source, none of it is likely to be subject to US taxation. However, certain types of foreign-source income deemed “effectively connected” with US business activities may still be taxed in the United States. Hence, even if the answer to this question #2 is “no”, you must still continue your analysis by answering question #4 below.

3. Does the Non-US person engage in US trade or business activities?

The determination of whether a Non-US person engages in “trade or business within the United States” depends highly on the facts of a case. In a future article, I will discuss in more detail what the IRS and the courts have determined this term of art to mean.

4. Is the income effectively connected to these US trade or business activities?

The term “effectively connected income” or ECI is one of the most important concepts in US international tax law. It may include not only US-source income generated by a US trade or business, but also certain foreign-source income closely related to a US trade or business. In a future article, I will explore ECI in more detail.

5. Is the ECI subject to a special tax regime such as BEAT or Branch Tax?

The ECI of a foreign person may be subject to a special tax regime related to US companies owned by a foreign person or US branches of a foreign corporation. I will discuss each of these regimes in more detail in the future.

6. If the Non-US person is not engaged in US trade or business activities, is his US-source income classified as FDAP (Fixed, Determinable, Annual or Periodic) income?

FDAP income typically includes passive investment income, such as interest, dividends, rents and royalties. Unless modified by a treaty, FDAP income is subject to a 30% tax withholding on gross income. I will cover FDAP income in more detail in the future.

7. Is this FDAP income subject to an IRC or Treaty Exemption?

In order to promote foreign investment into the United States, certain types of FDAP income are entirely exempted rom US taxation. These exemptions can be found in the IRC or a relevant tax treaty. Again, I will discuss FDAP exemptions in more details in a future article.

Inbound Transactions Tax Framework: Information Returns

In addition to income tax considerations, it is important to remember that the answers to the questions above may lead to the determination of additional compliance requirements in the form of information returns. For example, if a Non-US person engages in a US trade or business through a foreign-owned US corporation, then this corporation may likely have to file Form 5472. A failure to file relevant information returns may lead to an imposition of significant IRS penalties.

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If you are a Non-US person who has income from the United States or engages in business activities in the United States, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help with your US tax compliance. We have helped hundreds of taxpayers around the world and we can help you!

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Beware of Flat-Fee Lawyers Doing Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures

Recently, I received a number of phone calls and emails from people who complained about incorrect filing of their Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures (“SDOP”) packages by lawyers who took their cases on a flat-fee basis. In this article, I would like to discuss why a flat fee is generally not well-suited for a proper SDOP preparation and why clients should critically examine all facts and circumstances before retaining flat-fee lawyers.

A small disclosure: the analysis below is my opinion and the result of my prior experience with SDOPs. Moreover, I am only describing general trends and there are certainly exceptions which may be applicable to a specific case. Hence, the readers should consider my conclusions in this article carefully and apply them only after examining all facts and circumstances related to a specific lawyer before making their final decision on whether to retain him.

Flat-Fee Lawyers versus Hourly-Rate Lawyers

The two main business models that exist in the professional tax community in the United States with respect to billing their clients are the hourly-rate model and the flat-fee model. The hourly-rate model means that an attorney’s fees will depend on the amount of time he actually worked on the case. The flat-fee model charges one fee that covers a lawyer’s work irrespective of how much time he actually spends on a case.

Both billing models have their advantages and disadvantages. Generally, the chief advantage of an hourly-rate model is potentially higher quality of work. The hourly-rate model has a built-in incentive for attorneys to do as accurate and detailed work as possible, maximizing the quality of the final work product. An hourly-rate attorney is likely to take more time to explore the documents, uncover hidden problems of the case and properly resolve them.

The disadvantage of an hourly-rate model is that it cannot make an absolutely accurate prediction of what the legal fees will ultimately be. However, this problem is usually mitigated by estimates – as long as he knows all main facts of the case, an experienced attorney can usually predict the range of his legal fees to cover the case. Only a discovery of substantial unexpected issues (that were not discussed or left unresolved during the initial consultation) will substantially alter the estimate, because more time would be needed to resolve these new issues.

The chief advantage of the flat-fee model is the certainty of the legal fee – the client knows exactly how much he will pay. A secondary advantage of this model is the built-in incentive for flat-fee lawyers to complete their cases as fast as possible.

However, this advantage is undermined by several serious disadvantages. First, the flat-fee model provides a powerful incentive for lawyers to spend the least amount of time on a client’s case in order to maximize their profits; in other words, the flat-fee model has a potential for undermining the quality of a lawyer’s work product. Of course, it does not happen in every case, but the potential for such abuse is always present in the flat-fee model.

Second, closely-related to the first problem, the flat-fee model discourages lawyers from engaging in a thorough analysis of their clients’ cases. This may later result in undiscovered issues that may later expose a client to a higher risk of an unfavorable outcome of the case. Again this does not happen in every case, but I have repeatedly seen this problem occur in voluntary disclosures handled by flat-fee lawyers and CPAs.

Finally, a client may actually over-pay for a flat-fee lawyer’s services compared to an hourly-rate attorney, because a flat-fee lawyer is likely to set his fees at a high level to make sure that he remains profitable irrespective of potential surprises contained in the case. Of course, there is a risk for flat-fee lawyers that the reverse may occur – i.e. despite being set to a high level, the fee is still too small compared to issues involved in a case.

The effective usage of either one of these billing models differs depending on where they are applied. In situations where the facts are simple and legal issues are clear, a flat-fee model may be preferable. However, where one deals with a complex legal situation and the facts cannot all be easily established during an initial consultation, the hourly-rate model with its emphasis on thoroughness and quality of legal work is likely to be the best choice.

Flat-Fee Lawyers Can Be An Inferior Choice for Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures

In my opinion and based on the analysis above, in the context of an SDOP voluntary disclosure, a flat-fee engagement is particularly dangerous because of the nature of offshore voluntary disclosure cases.

Voluntary disclosures are likely to deal with complex US international tax compliance issues and unclear factual patterns. It may be difficult to identify all legal issues and all US international tax reporting requirements during an initial consultation. There are too many facts that clients may simply not have at their disposal during an initial consultation. Moreover, additional issues and questions are likely to arise after the documents are processed. I once had a situation where I discovered that a client had an additional foreign corporation with millions of dollars only several months after the initial consultation – the corporation was already closed and the client forgot about it.

For these reasons, SDOP and offshore voluntary disclosures in general require an individualized, detailed and thorough approach as well as a hard-to-determine (during an initial consultation) depth of legal analysis which is generally ill-fit for a flat-fee engagement. A flat-fee lawyer is unlikely to accurately estimate how much time is required to complete a client’s case and, hence, unlikely to accurately set his flat fee for the case.

This can cause a huge conflict of interest as the case progresses. I have seen a number of cases where, in an attempt to remain profitable, flat-fee lawyers did their analysis too fast and failed to properly identify all relevant tax issues; as a result, the voluntary disclosures (including SDOP disclosures) done by them had to amended later by my firm. This caused significant additional financial costs and mental stress to my clients.

In my opinion, this potential conflict of interest makes the flat-fee model unsuitable for the vast majority of the SDOP cases.

Beware of Some Flat-Fee Lawyers Including Unnecessary Services Into the Flat Fee

This applies only to a tiny minority of flat-fee lawyers. I have observed several times where flat-fee lawyers included irrelevant services that the client never used to increase the flat fee for the case (for example, audit fees for years not included in the SDOP). My recommendation is that, if you decide to go with a flat-fee arrangement, you should make sure that it includes only the services that you will likely use.

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Sherayzen Law Office is a leader in SDOP disclosures. We have helped clients from over 70 countries with their offshore voluntary disclosures, including SDOPs. Our firm follows an hourly-rate billing model, because we value the quality of our work above all other considerations. Of course, we make every effort to make our fees reasonable and competitive, but our priority is the peace of mind of our clients who know that they can rely on the creativity of our legal solutions and the high quality of our work.

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26 U.S.C. Subpart A: Taxation of Recipients of Corporation Distributions

This article is a second installment of our series of articles on corporate distributions. Today’s topic is the description of 26 U.S.C. Subpart A, which contains the most important tax provisions for our subsequent discussions of this subject.

26 U.S.C. Subpart A: Purpose

26 U.S.C Subpart A is the first part of Part I of Subchapter C, which deals with corporate distributions and adjustments. The main purpose of Subpart A is to establish the rules for taxation of recipients of corporate distributions. In other words, this section of the Internal Revenue Code deals with a situation where a corporation distributes or is deemed to have distributed something – a property, stocks, et cetera – to its shareholders. The focus here is not on the corporation, but on how its shareholders should be taxed.

26 U.S.C. Subpart A: §§301-307

26 U.S.C. Subpart A contains seven tax sections: IRC (Internal Revenue Code) §§301-307. All of these provisions are very important for both US domestic and international tax purposes.

IRC §301 establishes a general tax framework for corporate distributions and specifically deals with the distributions of property classified as dividends under IRC §316.

IRC §§302-304 describe the tax rules related to redemptions of stock (as defined in §317(b)), including some very specific situations. For example, §303 deals with distributions in redemption of stock to pay death taxes. The main provision, however, is §302 with its four tests which are highly important for determining whether a redemption of stock will be treated as a sale under §1001 or a corporate distribution under §301.

IRC §305 focuses on the special tax rules concerning stock dividends. It establishes the general rule that stock dividends are not taxable, but it also contains numerous exceptions to the general rule. More exceptions to the general rule may be found in §306.

IRC §306 deals with dispositions of “§306 stock” as defined in §306(c). §306 is very important to taxpayers because, with a few exceptions, it treats a disposition of §306 stock as ordinary income. This section also contains a loss non-recognition provision.

Finally, IRC §307 explains the calculation of cost-basis of stock received by shareholders as a result of a §305(a) distribution. This section has very important implications not only to stock dividends in general, but also to stock dividends made by a PFIC (Passive Foreign Investment Company). The calculation of PFIC tax and PFIC interest with respect to a disposition of such PFIC stock dividends are directly influenced by §307.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Tax Help Concerning Corporate Distributions

Sherayzen Law Office is an international tax law firm highly-experienced in US and foreign corporate transactions, including corporate distributions. We have helped our clients around the world not only to engage in proper US tax planning concerning cash, property and stock distributions from US and foreign corporations, but also resolve any prior US tax noncompliance issues (including conducting offshore voluntary disclosures). We can help you!

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Introduction to Corporate Distributions | US Business Tax Law Firm

This essay opens our new series of articles which focuses on corporate distributions. The new series will cover the classification, statutory structure and tax treatment of various types of corporation distributions, including redemptions of corporate stock. This first article seeks to introduce the readers to the overall US statutory tax structure concerning corporate distributions.

Corporation Distributions: Legal Philosophy for Varying Treatment

In the United States, the tax code provisions with respect to corporate distributions were written based on the belief that stock ownership bestows on its owner an inherent right to determine the right to receive distributions from a corporation.

Generally, a corporation can make distributions from three types of sources. First, a corporation can distribute funds from its accumulated earnings, to be even more precise accumulated Earnings and Profits (E&P). Second, a corporation may also distribute some or all of the invested capital to its shareholders. Finally, in certain circumstances, a corporation may distribute funds or property in excess of invested capital.

Moreover, certain corporate distributions may in reality be made in lieu of other types of transactions, such as payment for services. Additionally, some corporate distributions may be made in the form of stocks in the corporation, which may or may not modify the ownership of the corporation and which may or may not entitle shareholders to additional (perhaps unequal) future distribution of profits.

This varied nature of corporate distributions lays the foundation for their dissimilar tax treatment under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC).

Corporation Distributions: General Treatment under §301

IRC §301 generally governs the tax treatment of corporation distributions. This section classifies these distributions either as dividends, return of capital or capital gain (most likely, long-term capital gain). In a future article, I will discuss §301 in more detail.

Corporation Distributions: Special Case of Stock Dividends

The IRC treats distribution of stock dividends in a different manner than distribution of cash and property. Under §305(a), certain stock distributions are not taxable distributions. However, §305 contains numerous exceptions to this general rule; if any of these exceptions apply, then such stock distributions are governed by §301.

Moreover, additional exceptions to §305(a) are contained in §306. If a stock distribution is classified as a §306 stock, then the disposition of this stock will be treated as ordinary income. In a future article, I will discuss §§305 and 306 in more detail.

Corporation Distributions: Special Case of Stock Redemptions

Stock redemptions is a special kind of a corporate distribution. §317(b) defines redemption of stock as a corporation’s acquisition of “its stock from a shareholder in exchange for property, whether or not the stock so acquired is cancelled, retired, or held as treasury stock.”

§302 governs the tax treatment of stock redemptions. In general, it provides for two potential legal paths of stock redemptions. First, if a stock redemption satisfies any of the four §302(b) tests, then it will be treated as a sales transaction under §1001. Assuming that the redeemed stock satisfied the §1221 definition of a capital asset, the capital gain/loss tax provisions will apply.

On the other hand, if none of the §302(b) tests are met, then the stock redemption will be treated as a corporate distribution under §301. Again, in a future article, I will discuss stock redemptions in more detail.

Corporate Distributions in the Context of US International Tax Law

All of these tax provisions concerning corporate distributions are relevant to US shareholders of foreign corporations. In fact, in the context of US international tax law, these tax sections become even more complex and may have far graver consequences for US shareholders than under purely domestic tax law. These consequences may be in the form of higher tax burden (for example, due to an anti-deferral tax regime such as Subpart F rules) or increased compliance burden (for example, triggering the filing of international information returns such as Form 5471 or Form 926).

A failure to recognize these differences between the application of aforementioned tax provisions in the domestic context from the international one may result in the imposition of severe IRS noncompliance penalties.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Tax Help Concerning Corporation Distributions

Sherayzen Law Office is an international tax law firm highly-experienced in US and foreign corporate transactions, including corporate distributions. We have helped our clients around the world not only to engage in proper US tax planning concerning cash, property and stock distributions from US and foreign corporations, but also resolve any prior US tax noncompliance issues (including conducting offshore voluntary disclosures). We can help you!

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