On December 20, 2018, Congressman George Holding, a Republican from North Carolina and a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, introduced The Tax Fairness for Americans Abroad Act of 2018 (H.R. 7358). According to the analysis below, Sherayzen Law Office believes that H.R. 7358 seeks to modify it in a manner that moves it closer to something that can be described as a modified residency-based model of taxation. Yet, in no way should H.R. 7358 be viewed as an attempt to completely repeal the current citizenship-based model of taxation.
Current US Tax Law: Citizenship-Based Model of Taxation
Currently, all US citizens are obligated to report their worldwide income and pay US taxes on this income irrespective of their actual place of residence. In other words, even if a US citizen resides abroad, he is a US tax resident and must file a US tax return to report his worldwide income.
The current US tax law does allow such citizens to exclude a certain amount ($104,100 in 2018) through the operation of IRC Section 911, commonly known as the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.
The United States and Eritrea are the only two countries in the world that tax their citizens in this manner. Everyone else taxes their citizens based only on their actual place of residence or under even more restrictive territorial model of taxation.
Lack of Residency-Based Taxation Results in Higher Tax Burden for Americans Who Live Abroad
The current law imposes an enormous burden on over nine million Americans who live abroad. Not only do they have to comply with all local tax laws, but they are also forced to comply with all US international tax laws, including the numerous US international tax reporting requirements.
Undoubtedly, the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (“FEIE”) helps on the income side, but it only applies to earned income; US taxes must still be paid on all passive income. Moreover, the FEIE is limited to a certain threshold amount of earnings, which can easily be exceeded by the salaries normally paid to mid-level and upper echelon of corporate executives as well as small business owners.
Furthermore, the unincorporated American owners of small businesses may still be subject to US self-employment taxes (despite the income exclusion under the FEIE). Their income may also be disqualified from FEIE under the infamous 30% rule.
The Tax Fairness for Americans Abroad Act of 2018: Moving Current U.S. Tax System In the Direction of Modified Residency-Based Model of Taxation
H.R. 7358 seeks to alleviate the suffering of millions of Americans by modifying the current citizenship-based model of taxation. It proposes to move the US tax system to something that is reminiscent of a residency-based model of taxation.
If it passes, H.R. 7358 would create a new IRC Section 911A which would apply to the new category of taxpayers – qualified nonresident citizens. Such qualified nonresident citizens could exclude from their gross income the entire foreign earned income and foreign unearned income. In other words, nonresident citizens would only have to pay taxes on US-source income (with one exception concerning gains from sale of personal property).
Who would be a “qualified nonresident citizens”? Basically, in order to qualify for this designation, a citizen would have to be a nonresident citizen, not make an election under the IRC Section 911 and make an election under the IRC Section 911A.
A nonresident citizen would be a US citizen who: (a) has a “tax home” in a foreign country; (b) is in full compliance with US income tax laws for the three previous tax years; and (c) either physically resides in foreign country for at least 330 full days during the relevant tax year OR is a bona fide resident of a foreign country for the entire tax year.
Modified Residency-Based Taxation is Proposed by H.R. 7358
It is important to understand that, as it is written at this moment, H.R. 7358 proposes to modify the current tax system, not establish a true residency-based system of taxation. Even if today’s version of the bill passes, all nonresident US citizens will continue to be US tax residents while they reside in a foreign country. In other words, what is really proposed here is a major expansion of the FEIE, not a complete repudiation of the citizenship-based model of taxation.
This is a highly important legal conclusion, because it allows us to clearly see the limits of the relief offered by H.R. 7358. For example, since nonresident citizens will continue to be tax residents, they will still need to file their Forms 8938 and FBARs. Moreover, it does not appear that the bill would affect the obligation to file other international information returns, such as Forms 3520, 5471, 8865, et cetera.
Additionally, it is unclear what would happen to income recognized under the tax deferral regimes, such as Subpart F rules and the GILTI tax. If this income is excluded, H.R. 7358 will become a powerful incentive to residing outside of the United States for a certain period of time in order to implement certain tax planning strategies.
Thus, instead of eliminating citizenship-based taxation, the bill simply attempts to continue the modification of the US international tax system in a way similar to the 2017 tax reform introduced on the corporate side.
Obviously, this is just the initial version of the bill. It is possible that a more overt repudiation of the citizenship-based model of taxation will be enacted, including the elimination of FBAR and Form 8938 requirements for nonresident citizens. It is also possible, however, that this bill will not be enacted in any format at all.