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!