On December 9, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 4213, the “Tax Extenders Act of 2009.” The bill would extend for one more year more than forty tax provisions that are set to expire at the end of this year, including the research credit and a number of important tax breaks for individuals. In order to offset more than $30 billion in tax relief, the bill also requires stricter reporting on U.S.-held foreign assets by foreign financial institutions and U.S. citizens.
Three provisions draw particular attention. First, starting with tax year 2013, the foreign financial institutions, foreign trusts, and foreign corporations are required to obtain and provide information from each of their account holders to determine if any account is American-owned. Foreign financial institutions must also comply with verification procedures and to report any U.S. accounts maintained by the institution on an annual basis. Then, any foreign financial institution that complies with the new verification and reporting standards would be subject to a 30 percent tax on income from U.S. financial assets held by the foreign institution. Where the owner of the account is a foreign government, an international organization, a foreign central bank, or any other class identified by the Treasury Department as posing a low risk of tax evasion, the withholding tax would not apply. Notice, the H.R. 4213’s requirements only apply if the aggregate value of the accounts in the foreign institutions exceeds $10,000. Hence, the basic FBAR rule that the owners of foreign financial accounts with the aggregate value of below $10,000 do not need to report the accounts still applies.
Second, H.R. 4213 requires any U.S. taxpayer with a foreign financial asset exceeding $50,000 in value to report the asset with their tax return. The penalty for failure to report a foreign financial asset would be $10,000 and could possibly increase to as much as $50,000.
Third, additional annual reporting requirements (similar to other U.S. holders of foreign assets) are imposed on the shareholders of passive foreign investment companies and U.S. owners of foreign trusts. A U.S. taxpayer failing to report a foreign owned trust would pay the greater of $10,000 or 35 percent of the amount of the trust.
Finally, the Tax Extenders Act of 2009 increases the tax rate on so-called “carried interest” levied on investment partnerships by treating carried interest as normal income and taxing it at the standard income tax rate (currently 35 percent) rather than the capital gains rate (currently 15 percent). This measure would have a particular impact on most private equities and hedge funds (which operate as partnerships with a general partner managing the fund and contributing partners supplying the capital), because the managers of these funds generally receive two forms of compensation from the fund: a small percentage of the fund’s assets like a contributing partner, and a higher percentage of the fund’s annual earnings that only the fund’s manager receives (i.e. carried interest).
While most of the provisions of the H.R. 4213 are expected to pass the Senate, the “carried interest” provision might present a significant problem.