Sometimes, I encounter in my practice one particularly damaging belief concerning international tax planning for US corporations that engage in cross-border transactions and maintain a foreign subsidiary or a network of foreign subsidiaries. This is a belief that international tax planning for such corporations should only focus on the reduction of its US taxes above all other considerations. I reject this one-sided view and argue for balancing of international tax planning priorities for such US corporations. In this article, I will discuss the top priorities that are subject to balancing during proper international tax planning for US corporations who operate overseas.
International Tax Planning Priorities: Tax Planning Should Correspond to Dynamic Facts
Before we outline international tax planning priorities, we need to state a rule that seems very obvious but, unfortunately, is often overlooked – tax planning must correspond to the factual situation around which the planning is done. Since a factual situation of a business is prone to rapid changes, tax planning either needs to pro-actively respond to these dynamic facts or, in cases where it is not possible, adjust to these facts as soon as possible in order to avoid a negative tax impact in the future.
This means that engaging in business transactions that spread over multiple taxing jurisdictions requires continuous tax planning, continuous monitoring of the factual background in which these transactions take place and continuous assessment of tax consequences of these activities.
This rule also means that tax planning must respond to the facts generated by the required business transaction rather than create business transactions purely to save taxes. I should point out that such purely tax-motivated schemes are also unlikely to pass judicial review.
International Tax Planning Priorities: Lower US Tax Liability
There is no question that ethically lowering US tax liability based on the opportunities and incentives present in the Internal Revenue Code is one of the most important priorities of international tax planning. As I stated above, however, this is not the only priority.
International Tax Planning Priorities: Lower Foreign Tax Liability
It is not just the US tax liability of the head office that we should be concerned about. International tax planning should also seek to lower foreign tax liability of its subsidiaries. Moreover, if lowering US tax liability comes at the cost of increasing foreign tax liability or missing an opportunity to minimize it, this outcome may not be optimal for the overall corporate structure.
International Tax Planning Priorities: Maximizing Corporate Earnings
This is a key issue that many practitioners and business owners often miss in US international tax planning. Tax planning is not only about lowering taxes at any cost. If a business is continuously losing a significant amount of money (not strategically recognizing losses, but its profits are actually reduced) because of tax planning, then such tax planning may not be worth the effort.
Effective tax planning means that a tax practitioner should coordinate tax saving efforts with business priorities. Business planning will always see to utilize corporate cash and personnel in a way that maximizes profits. Moreover, business planning will also seek to creatively allocate and move excess cash flow between corporate subsidiaries (and the head office) for the same purpose.
It is precisely the latter function of business planning that requires the most attention of international tax attorneys, because it may result in significant tax costs (which may more than offset the benefit of business planning). At the same time, tax planning must be done in such a way as to minimize the damage it can do to the business’ ability to move cash across the entire corporate structure.
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