taxation law services

Establishing Cost-Basis in Foreign Real Estate | IRS Audit Tax Lawyer & Attorney

One of the most challenging issues during an IRS audit is establishing cost-basis in foreign real estate.  This issue most frequently comes up in the context of real estate that was obtained through inheritance or gift many years ago.  In this article, based on my IRS audit experiences, I would like to discuss the main challenges and case strategies associated with establishing the cost-basis in foreign real estate in a manner that would satisfy the IRS during an audit.

An important note: I will not be discussing this issue in the context of an IRS audit of an offshore voluntary disclosure and how it would affect the calculation of an Offshore Penalty.  This essay is strictly limited to an IRS audit that involves US international tax issues without the taxpayer ever going through a voluntary disclosure.

Another important note: this article is written more for the benefit of other international tax lawyers, not the general public.

Establishing Cost-Basis in Foreign Real Estate: Importance

Before we discuss the problems associated with establishing the cost-basis in foreign real estate, we need to first understand why this issue is so important.  There are three main consequences to establishing cost-basis in the context of an IRS audit. 

First, the income tax impact of failure to establish cost-basis in a foreign property on the audited taxpayer may be truly disastrous.  Obviously, if you cannot prove any cost-basis in a property (or you can only convince the IRS that there was minimal cost-basis), you will have to recognize all proceeds from the sale of this property as capital gains (or potentially subpart F income if you owned a property though a foreign corporation).

Second, there is a very important psychological impact on the entire audit if you have a large unreported gain from sale of foreign real estate.  The IRS agent in charge of an audit is likely to take a more aggressive position not only on this issue, but also on other issues irrespective of whether they are directly related to unreported gain.   The most frequent victims of this hardened attitude of an IRS agent are the legal arguments in support of a reasonable cause.

Finally, a large gain from a sale of foreign real estate is likely to encourage the IRS to dig deeper and even expand the audit to more years.  In one of my audit cases, an IRS agent initially believed that there was a large capital gain and expanded the audit to five prior years; however, he reversed this decision once I was able to show that the sold real property had a much higher cost-basis due to numerous improvements that were made by my client over a number of years.

In other words, establishing cost-basis in a sold real estate property may be one of the most crucial issues in an IRS audit.

Establishing Cost-Basis in Foreign Real Estate: Top 3 Challenges

The challenges to establishing cost-basis in foreign real estate are highly dependent on the facts of the case.  However, there are three main themes that usually appear in one form or another in every IRS audit case.

The first challenge is absence of documentation.  This is by far the most common and most important battleground between the IRS and the taxpayer during the vast majority of IRS audits in this area, especially if the direct documentation is absent due to passage of time.

The second challenge is the potential opposition from the IRS to proving cost-basis indirectly through usage of circumstantial evidence and third-parties.

The third challenge is establishing the credibility of evidence. For example, in one of my cases, the IRS initially refused to accept a valuation report prepared by a local professional valuation expert because the report lacked a proper explanation of how he arrived at the proposed values.

Establishing Cost-Basis in Foreign Real Estate: Top 4 Strategies for Overcoming Challenges

There are numerous strategies to deal with the cost-basis establishment challenges. Your choice among them should depend on the facts and circumstances of your case.  Sometimes, you will even come up with a brand-new strategy tailored specifically to the unique challenges of your case.

Nevertheless, there are four common themes to the strategies used in overcoming the aforementioned challenges.  First, you need to recreate the logical history of the property and capital improvements to the property in order to convince the IRS that the valuation your client supplied is logical and reasonable.

Second, demonstrate to the IRS agent in charge of your client’s audit that you are a reliable source of information.  The more objective you appear (and you actually are), the more the IRS sees that you will not allow false facts or statements to enter the record, the more the IRS sees that your client shares both of these traits, the more likely the IRS agent will accept your position or be willing to achieve a compromise with you (see below).

Third, utilize indirect and circumstantial evidence as well as third-party affidavits/testimony to support the valuation of the property.  In other words, if you have no ability to directly establish the cost-basis of a property, then you need to find creative ways to build the necessary records and establish their credibility through usage of supporting documents and/or testimony. 

For example, in one of my previous audits, the client had no documentation whatsoever except one isolated receipt to prove the substantial improvements made to her foreign real estate over the past almost forty (!) years.  My solution to this problem was to first get an affidavit from my client fully stating all improvements made with approximate cost based purely on her memory.  Then, I obtained additional signed statements from neighbors largely supporting the estimates as well as the fact that these improvements were indeed made. Finally, I obtained a statement from a local construction company owner who stated that he recalled these improvements and confirmed the estimated amounts.  Additionally, all of the improvements were properly explained by the history of how the property was obtained, for what purpose and why so many improvements were needed.  All of these facts and circumstances were explained in a letter to the IRS agent together with the legal basis (i.e., case law) showing how courts have accepted similar evidence in the past. Under the weight of this substantial record (and some other circumstances of this case), the IRS finally agreed to accept all improvements as part of an overall compromise.

Finally, use creative legal strategies to convince the IRS to accept a different cost-basis in a property through operation of tax rules.  This is a very complex strategy, but it is more commonly employed than one may believe.  For example, in one of my prior audit cases, the IRS agreed to disregard the foreign corporation that owned the foreign property allowing the stepped-up basis for this inherited property.

Contact Sherayzen Law office for Professional Help with IRS Audits Involving Foreign Real Estate

If you have foreign assets and you are audited by the IRS, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help.  We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world to bring their tax affairs in full compliance with US tax laws, including during IRS audits.  We can help you!

Contact Us Today to Schedule a Confidential Consultation!

Tax Residency Starting Date | International Tax Lawyer & Attorney

In situations where a person was not classified as a resident alien at any time in the preceding calendar year and he became a resident alien at some point during current year, a question often arises concerning the tax residency starting date of such a person. This article seeks to provide a succinct overview of this question in three different contexts: US permanent residence, substantial presence test and election to be treated as a tax resident.

Tax Residency Starting Date: General Rule for Green Card Holders

Pursuant to IRC (Internal Revenue Code) §7701(b)(2)(A)(iii), the starting tax residency date for green card holders is the first day in the calendar year in which he or she is physically present in the United States while holding a permanent residence visa.  However, if the green card holder also satisfies the Substantial Presence Test prior to obtaining his green card, the tax residency is the earliest of either the green card test described in the previous sentence or the substantial presence test (see below).

Tax Residency Starting Date: General Rule for the Substantial Presence Test

Generally, under the substantial presence test, the tax residence of an alien starts on the first day of his physical presence in the United States in the year he met the substantial presence test. See IRC §7701(b)(2)(A)(iii).  For example, if an alien meets the requirements of the Substantial presence test in 2022 and his first day of physical presence in the United States was March 1, 2022, then his US tax residency started on March 1, 2022.

Tax Residency Starting Date: Nominal Presence Exception & the Substantial Presence Test

A reader may ask: how does the rule described above work in case of a “nominal presence” in the United States. IRC §7701(b)(2)(C) provides that, for the purposes of determining the residency starting date only, up to ten (10) days of presence in the United States may be disregarded, but only if the alien is able to establish that he had a “closer connection” to a foreign country rather than to the United States on each of those particular ten days (i.e., all continuous days during a visit to the United States may be excluded or none of them). There is some doubt about the validity of this rule, but it has never been contested in court as of the time of this writing.

This rule may lead to a paradoxical result.  For example, if X visits the United States between March 1 and March 10 and leaves on March 10; then later comes back to the United States on May 1 of the same year and meets the substantial presence test, then he may exclude the first ten days in March and his US tax residency will start on May 1.  If, however, X prolongs his visit and leaves on March 12, then none of the days will be excluded (since March 11 and 12 cannot be excluded under the rules) and his US tax residency will commence on March 1.

I want to emphasize that the nominal presence exception only applies in determining an alien’s residency starting date. It is completely irrelevant to the determination of whether a taxpayer met the Substantial Presence Test; i.e. the days excluded under the nominal presence exception are still counted toward the Substantial Presence Test calculation.

Tax Residency Starting Date: Additional Requirements for Nominal Presence Exception & Penalty for Noncompliance

The IRS has imposed two additional requirements concerning claiming “nominal presence” exclusion (again, both of them have questionable validity as there is nothing in the statutory language about them).  First, the alien must show that he had a “tax home” in the same foreign country with which he has a closer connection.

Second, Treas. Regs. §301.7701(b)-8(b)(3) requires that an alien who claims the nominal presence exception must file a statement with the IRS as well as attach such statement to his federal tax return for the year in which the termination is requested. The statement must be dated, signed, include a penalty of perjury clause and contain: (a) the first day and last day the alien was present in the United States and the days for which the exemption is being claimed; and (b) sufficient facts to establish that the alien has maintained his/her tax home in and a closer connection to a foreign country during the claimed period. Id.

A failure to file this statement may result in an imposition of a substantial penalty: a complete disallowance of the nominal presence exclusion claim.  Since IRC §7701(b)(8) does not contain the requirement to file any statements with the IRS to claim the nominal presence exception, the penalty stands on shaky legal grounds.  However, as of the time of this writing, there is no case law directly on point.

Additionally, as almost always in US international tax law, there are exceptions to this rule.  First, if the alien shows by clear and convincing evidence that he took: (a) “reasonable actions” to educate himself about the requirement to properly file the statement and (b) “significant affirmative actions” to comply with this requirement, then the IRS may still allow the nominal presence exclusion claim to proceed. Treas. Regs. 301.7701(b)-8(d)

Second, under Treas. Regs. §301.7701(b)-8(e), the IRS has the discretion to ignore the taxpayer’s failure to file the required nominal presence statement if it is in the best interest of the United States to do so.

Tax Residency Starting Date: Election to Be Treated as a US Tax Resident

In situations where a resident alien elects to be treated as a US tax resident (for example, by filing a joint resident US tax return with his spouse), the tax residency date starts on the first day of the year for which election is made.  See Treas. Regs. §7701(b)(2)(A)(iv).

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with US International Tax Law, Including the Determination of the Tax Residency Starting Date

If you have foreign assets or foreign income or if you are trying to determine your tax residency status in the United States, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help.  Our law firm is a leader in US international tax compliance; we have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world and we can help you!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

2022 2Q IRS Interest Rates | US International Tax Lawyers

On February 23, 2022, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) announced that the 2022 Second Quarter IRS underpayment and overpayment interest rates (“2022 2Q IRS Interest Rates”) will increase from the first quarter of 2022. This means that, the 2022 2Q IRS interest rates will be as follows:

  • four (4) percent for overpayments (three (3) percent in the case of a corporation);
  • one and one-half (1.5) percent for the portion of a corporate overpayment exceeding $10,000;
  • four (4) percent for underpayments; and
  • six (6) percent for large corporate underpayments.

The second quarter will start on April 1, 2022.

Under the Internal Revenue Code, these interest rates are determined on a quarterly basis. The IRS used the federal short-term rate for February of 2022 to determine the 2022 2Q IRS interest rates. The IRS interest is compounded on a daily basis.

The 2022 2Q IRS interest rates are important for many reasons for US domestic and international tax purposes. For example, the IRS will use these rates to determine how much interest a taxpayer needs to pay on an additional tax liability that arose as a result of an amendment of his US tax return through Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures and Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures. The IRS will also utilize 2022 2Q IRS interest rates with respect to the calculation of PFIC interest on Section 1291 tax.

As an international tax law firm, Sherayzen Law Office keeps track of the IRS underpayment and overpayment interest rates on a regular basis. Since our specialty is offshore voluntary disclosures, we often amend our client’s tax returns as part of an offshore voluntary disclosure process and calculate the interest owed on any additional US tax liability. In other words these interest rates are relevant to Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures, Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures, IRS Voluntary Disclosure Practice, Delinquent International Information Return Submission Procedures and Reasonable Cause Disclosures. We also need to take interest payments into account with respect to additional tax liability that arises out of an IRS audit.

Moreover, we regularly have to do PFIC calculations for our clients under the default IRC Section 1291 methodology. This calculation requires the usage of the IRS underpayment interest rates in order to determine the amount of PFIC interest on the IRC Section 1291 tax.

Finally, it is important to point out that the IRS will use the 2022 2Q IRS interest rates to determine the amount of interest that needs to be paid to a taxpayer who is due a tax refund as a result of an IRS audit or amendment of the taxpayer’s US tax return. This situation may also often arise in the context of offshore voluntary disclosures.

Thus, the IRS underpayment and overpayment interest rates have an impact on a lot of basic items in US tax law. Hence, it is important to keep track of changes in these rates on a quarterly basis.

Austin Business Trip | February 2022 | International Tax Lawyer & Attorney

In early February of 2022, Mr. Sherayzen, an international tax attorney and owner of Sherayzen Law Office, Ltd., traveled to Austin, Texas. Let’s discuss this Austin business trip in more detail.

Austin Business Trip: Goals

While the business trip to Austin was very short, Mr. Sherayzen set forth three main goals for the trip: (1) meeting with a client; (2) familiarizing himself with the city, which is a major source of clients to the firm; and (3) conducting important marketing activities to promote the firm.

All of these goals were accomplished (though #2 may still need more work) despite the fact that he came to Austin at the worst possible moment – right after a winter storm when the temperatures plummeted to the twenties (Fahrenheit) from the usual upper fifties/lower sixties and there was still ice on the roads.

Austin Business Trip: Client Meeting

The first goal was very easy to achieve as the meeting with a client was set prior to his arrival to Austin.

Austin Business Trip: Getting to Know Austin

The weather and the brevity of the Austin business trip presented a formidable challenge to the second goal. Despite these problems, Mr. Sherayzen was able to familiarize himself with the old-city Austin. Even more important, he was able to visit the IRS campus in Austin that processes streamlined disclosures: Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures and Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures. Both of these options are known as Streamlined Compliance Procedures.

Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures and Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures belong to the core practice of Sherayzen Law Office. This is why visiting the Austin IRS campus was an indispensable part of the Mr. Sherayzen’s trip to this city.

One may ask: why does Mr. Sherayzen want to know Austin in person? The answer is very simple: he wants to understand how his clients live, what their particular needs are, what logistical problems they may be facing and what are the peculiarities of their everyday life. At Sherayzen Law Office, we take an extra step in delivering customized services to our clients; for this reason, we strive to understand not only the financial situation of our clients, but also their logistics.

Austin Business Trip: Marketing

Marketing is Mr. Sherayzen’s crucial goal in almost every business trip. Nothing can replace the authenticity of marketing materials made in the city where the client lives. For this reason, more than two-thirds of his trip to Austin was devoted to marketing activities.

Given the presence of an IRS campus in Austin, offshore voluntary disclosures of course constituted the focus of these marketing activities. Besides Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures and Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures, Mr. Sherayzen also covered IRS Voluntary Disclosure Practice and other voluntary disclosure options.

Additionally, as always, Mr. Sherayzen promoted the awareness of the FBAR and FATCA reporting requirements in his marketing activities. The attorney also covered important US international tax information returns such as: Forms 8865, 5471, 3520, 3520-A, et cetera.

Austin Business Trip is Part of a Major Marketing Strategy

The Austin business trip is merely one part of a major marketing strategy that Sherayzen Law Office launched last year. It is projected that this strategy will run through the end of the year 2027.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure and US International Tax Compliance

Sherayzen Law Office is an international tax law firm that specializes in US international tax compliance and offshore voluntary disclosures. We help clients with their US international tax compliance issues throughout the world, including in all fifty states of the United States.

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Factual Basis & Tax Planning | International Tax Lawyer & Attorney

In a previous article, I discussed the necessity of balancing international tax planning priorities in order to obtain an optimal tax result. In this article, I will explain why international tax planning should be based on a carefully-studied factual basis.

Factual Basis as the Foundation for International Tax Planning

Young inexperienced lawyers often come up with a particular tax strategy and then they try to implement it independent of the actual facts on the ground. Irrespective of how brilliant such a strategy would be in the abstract, it is almost always doomed to become a failure.

Why? The answer is very simple: these lawyers turn international tax planning on its head. They build the second level of a house without ever building a foundation for it. No matter how well they plan out a strategy, it will fall apart almost immediately when it comes in conflict with the facts – how the business is run, its capital structure, its needs, its goals, its cash flow source, its operating model, its E&P, its foreign tax credit and numerous other important considerations.

Hence, the starting point of any tax planning should be a careful factual study of the business.

Studying Factual Basis as a Way to Uncover Potential Opportunities

In my practice, I have found that a careful study of a business may generate a number of potential planning opportunities that may have otherwise been ignored. For example, during a study of a company’s loan structure, one can sometimes find opportunities to treat these loans as equity investments and utilize much better currency exchange rates to build up the client’s basis in the company (potentially even resulting in a reversal of an entire capital gain upon the sale of this company).

Factual Basis: Four Most Important Components

While an attorney should study all relevant facts, there are four main components that he must cover. The components are: (1) organizational chart and capital structure; (2) operating model; (3) tax status and characteristics; and (4) analysis of financial statements. Let’s analyze each component in more detail.

Factual Basis Components: Organizational Chart and Capital Structure

You should start your factual analysis by building the organizational chart of the business and understanding its capital structure. What you need to do is to understand each entity within the corporate structure and the place it occupies in the overall business structure, identify the tax status of each business, understand the sources of cash and where it is used, create a diagram of debt and equity instruments (including whether these are related or unrelated party instruments), study how the business operates across the entire corporate structure, uncover which currencies are used in business (as well as any currency hedging) and review the withholding tax exposure/compliance.

This first component is likely to help you to identify the tax inefficiencies of the existing corporate structure and seek structural alternatives. I recommend that at this stage you plan for creating a more tax-efficient financing of foreign affiliates to maximize foreign country deductions, minimize tax imposed on interest income, reduce withholding tax and assure sufficient cash flow throughout the structure.

Factual Basis Components: Operating Model

The second component of your factual analysis (though it will probably come at about the same time as you start working on the first component) is the operating model of the business. In other words, what type of a business is it: manufacturing, sales, services or IP (development, ownership and/or usage of IP)? How does the business operate: local country manufacturing, local distributing/franchising, global service contracts, et cetera?

I recommend that you especially focus here (as a goal of your tax planning strategy) on: tax-efficient structuring of current and anticipated foreign operations to maximize tax deferral, tax-efficient financing of capital needs and development of strategy concerning IP development and licensing.

Factual Basis Components: Tax Characteristics

The third component is the one that tax attorneys are likely to like the most, because it is very close to their training and professional interest – the study of the tax characteristics of the corporate structure: income/losses, NOL, AMT, foreign tax credit position (carryovers), E&P, transfer pricing, local tax position and PTI (previously taxed income through Subpart F, 965 tax, GILTI tax, et cetera).

The focus of your tax planning goals here are centered around foreign tax credit, repatriation of earnings, minimizing Subpart F income and transfer pricing (i.e. allocation of profits between the US head office and its foreign affiliate companies).

Factual Basis Components: Financial Statements

Finally, the fourth component of your factual basis study consists of the financial statement analysis. You need to carefully review the financial statement with the focus on: Effective Tax Rate (“ETR”) reconciliation, deferred tax analysis, reinvestment, valuation and foreign currency. The focus of your tax planning goals here should be on low-tax deferral structures (for example, through indefinite reinvestment outside of the United States at a lower tax rate) and the most optimal foreign tax credit utilization.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With International Tax Planning

If your US company conducts business outside of the United States, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help with your international business tax planning. We have helped companies plan their inbound and outbound transactions for US and foreign companies, and we can help you!