Posts

Beware of Flat-Fee Lawyers Doing Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures

Recently, I received a number of phone calls and emails from people who complained about incorrect filing of their Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures (“SDOP”) packages by lawyers who took their cases on a flat-fee basis. In this article, I would like to discuss why a flat fee is generally not well-suited for a proper SDOP preparation and why clients should critically examine all facts and circumstances before retaining flat-fee lawyers.

A small disclosure: the analysis below is my opinion and the result of my prior experience with SDOPs. Moreover, I am only describing general trends and there are certainly exceptions which may be applicable to a specific case. Hence, the readers should consider my conclusions in this article carefully and apply them only after examining all facts and circumstances related to a specific lawyer before making their final decision on whether to retain him.

Flat-Fee Lawyers versus Hourly-Rate Lawyers

The two main business models that exist in the professional tax community in the United States with respect to billing their clients are the hourly-rate model and the flat-fee model. The hourly-rate model means that an attorney’s fees will depend on the amount of time he actually worked on the case. The flat-fee model charges one fee that covers a lawyer’s work irrespective of how much time he actually spends on a case.

Both billing models have their advantages and disadvantages. Generally, the chief advantage of an hourly-rate model is potentially higher quality of work. The hourly-rate model has a built-in incentive for attorneys to do as accurate and detailed work as possible, maximizing the quality of the final work product. An hourly-rate attorney is likely to take more time to explore the documents, uncover hidden problems of the case and properly resolve them.

The disadvantage of an hourly-rate model is that it cannot make an absolutely accurate prediction of what the legal fees will ultimately be. However, this problem is usually mitigated by estimates – as long as he knows all main facts of the case, an experienced attorney can usually predict the range of his legal fees to cover the case. Only a discovery of substantial unexpected issues (that were not discussed or left unresolved during the initial consultation) will substantially alter the estimate, because more time would be needed to resolve these new issues.

The chief advantage of the flat-fee model is the certainty of the legal fee – the client knows exactly how much he will pay. A secondary advantage of this model is the built-in incentive for flat-fee lawyers to complete their cases as fast as possible.

However, this advantage is undermined by several serious disadvantages. First, the flat-fee model provides a powerful incentive for lawyers to spend the least amount of time on a client’s case in order to maximize their profits; in other words, the flat-fee model has a potential for undermining the quality of a lawyer’s work product. Of course, it does not happen in every case, but the potential for such abuse is always present in the flat-fee model.

Second, closely-related to the first problem, the flat-fee model discourages lawyers from engaging in a thorough analysis of their clients’ cases. This may later result in undiscovered issues that may later expose a client to a higher risk of an unfavorable outcome of the case. Again this does not happen in every case, but I have repeatedly seen this problem occur in voluntary disclosures handled by flat-fee lawyers and CPAs.

Finally, a client may actually over-pay for a flat-fee lawyer’s services compared to an hourly-rate attorney, because a flat-fee lawyer is likely to set his fees at a high level to make sure that he remains profitable irrespective of potential surprises contained in the case. Of course, there is a risk for flat-fee lawyers that the reverse may occur – i.e. despite being set to a high level, the fee is still too small compared to issues involved in a case.

The effective usage of either one of these billing models differs depending on where they are applied. In situations where the facts are simple and legal issues are clear, a flat-fee model may be preferable. However, where one deals with a complex legal situation and the facts cannot all be easily established during an initial consultation, the hourly-rate model with its emphasis on thoroughness and quality of legal work is likely to be the best choice.

Flat-Fee Lawyers Can Be An Inferior Choice for Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures

In my opinion and based on the analysis above, in the context of an SDOP voluntary disclosure, a flat-fee engagement is particularly dangerous because of the nature of offshore voluntary disclosure cases.

Voluntary disclosures are likely to deal with complex US international tax compliance issues and unclear factual patterns. It may be difficult to identify all legal issues and all US international tax reporting requirements during an initial consultation. There are too many facts that clients may simply not have at their disposal during an initial consultation. Moreover, additional issues and questions are likely to arise after the documents are processed. I once had a situation where I discovered that a client had an additional foreign corporation with millions of dollars only several months after the initial consultation – the corporation was already closed and the client forgot about it.

For these reasons, SDOP and offshore voluntary disclosures in general require an individualized, detailed and thorough approach as well as a hard-to-determine (during an initial consultation) depth of legal analysis which is generally ill-fit for a flat-fee engagement. A flat-fee lawyer is unlikely to accurately estimate how much time is required to complete a client’s case and, hence, unlikely to accurately set his flat fee for the case.

This can cause a huge conflict of interest as the case progresses. I have seen a number of cases where, in an attempt to remain profitable, flat-fee lawyers did their analysis too fast and failed to properly identify all relevant tax issues; as a result, the voluntary disclosures (including SDOP disclosures) done by them had to amended later by my firm. This caused significant additional financial costs and mental stress to my clients.

In my opinion, this potential conflict of interest makes the flat-fee model unsuitable for the vast majority of the SDOP cases.

Beware of Some Flat-Fee Lawyers Including Unnecessary Services Into the Flat Fee

This applies only to a tiny minority of flat-fee lawyers. I have observed several times where flat-fee lawyers included irrelevant services that the client never used to increase the flat fee for the case (for example, audit fees for years not included in the SDOP). My recommendation is that, if you decide to go with a flat-fee arrangement, you should make sure that it includes only the services that you will likely use.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures

Sherayzen Law Office is a leader in SDOP disclosures. We have helped clients from over 70 countries with their offshore voluntary disclosures, including SDOPs. Our firm follows an hourly-rate billing model, because we value the quality of our work above all other considerations. Of course, we make every effort to make our fees reasonable and competitive, but our priority is the peace of mind of our clients who know that they can rely on the creativity of our legal solutions and the high quality of our work.

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Coronavirus Offshore Voluntary Disclosure: Problems & Opportunities

The advancement of coronavirus in the United States and around the world has significantly disrupted the normal conditions and assumptions for a US taxpayer who engages in an offshore voluntary disclosure of his unreported foreign income and foreign assets. I will refer to a voluntary disclosure conducted in this context of the coronavirus disruptions as Coronavirus Offshore Voluntary Disclosure. In this essay, I would like to discuss the most unique problems and opportunities that arise in the context of a Coronavirus Offshore Voluntary Disclosure.

Coronavirus Offshore Voluntary Disclosure: Most Important Problems

The spread of coronavirus created two important problems to conducting an offshore voluntary disclosure of foreign assets and foreign income.

The first and most significant problem is the ability of taxpayers to obtain the information necessary for the correct completion of US international information returns such as FBAR (FinCEN Form 114), Form 8938, Form 8865, Form 5471, et cetera. Oftentimes, in order to complete these returns, taxpayers have to retrieve information from many years ago.

This is a difficult task even without the coronavirus, because electronic access is often limited to just a few years. In cases that involve small and regional banks, the electronic access to information may simply not exist. Hence, a taxpayer often has to engage in a long process of mailing letters to banks requesting information; it is also a standard practice for taxpayers to personally travel to a foreign financial institution to obtain the necessary information.

The coronavirus prohibitions have made such travel virtually impossible due to cancellation of flights between countries. Even traveling within a country has been severely impacted. Moreover, there have been significant disruptions to ability of taxpayers to access financial institutions in the quarantined areas, such as northern Italy. Many financial institutions have simply closed their branches and ceased to operate in a normal way.

The combination of all of these factors has significantly curtailed taxpayers’ ability to collect the vital information necessary for the completion of an offshore voluntary disclosure.

The second most important problem caused by the coronavirus panic are communication disruptions. During a voluntary disclosure, taxpayers need to have access to their financial advisors and their international tax attorney. I’ve already explained above how the coronavirus bank closures have affected such communications.

The most significant communication issue between a taxpayer and his international tax attorney has been limited to mailing documents, particularly securing an original signature for Certifications of Non-Willfulness, Reasonable Cause Statements, amended tax returns and certain other IRS documents (such as Extension of Statute of Limitations in the context of an IRS audit). The coronavirus containment procedures have affected the flow of regular mail around the world and have caused significant delays in obtaining signed documents from clients.

It should mentioned that the normal communications between a client and his attorney were not significantly impacted. If there were any communication problems, this is most likely the result of the attorney’s failure to take advantage of modern means of communication.

Sherayzen Law Office’s usage of email, phone, Skype, Viber and certain other platforms for information exchange and other modern means of communication has assured continuous and uninterrupted communication between our firm and our clients. We have also encouraged and helped our clients to adopt certain procedures to mitigate other problems that have risen as a result of the coronavirus panic.

Coronavirus Offshore Voluntary Disclosure: Unique Opportunities

The coronavirus panic created not only unusual problems, but also unique opportunities for taxpayers with undisclosed foreign assets and foreign income. I will discuss here the two most important coronavirus opportunities.

First, the spread of this virus has given more time for noncompliant US taxpayers to bring their tax affairs into compliance with US tax laws. Not only has the IRS ability to pursue new international tax cases has been impacted by the virus, but the IRS moved the tax filing deadline to July 15, 2020. This means that taxpayers suddenly have three more months to work on their offshore voluntary disclosures without any interruption with respect to current tax compliance.

Second, more time means that taxpayers now can plan for and adopt more complex and beneficial strategies with respect to their offshore voluntary disclosures. For example, taxpayers who were planning to file extensions can now adopt a strategy to shift their voluntary disclosure period by timely filing their 2019 tax returns and 2019 FBARs.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure

If you have undisclosed foreign bank accounts and other foreign assets, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. We have successfully helped hundreds of US taxpayers to bring their tax affairs into full compliance with US tax laws, and we can help you!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Attribution Rules: Introduction | International Tax Lawyer & Attorney

One of the most popular tax reduction strategies is based on shifting an ownership interest in an entity or property to related persons or related entities. In order to prevent the abuse of this strategy, the US Congress has enacted a large number of attribution rules. In this brief essay, I will introduce the concept of attribution rules and list the most important attribution rules in the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”).

Attribution Rules: Definition and Purpose

The IRC attribution rules are designed to prevent taxpayers from shifting an ownership interest to related persons or entities. They achieve this result through a set of indirect and constructive ownership rules that shift the ownership interest assigned to third parties back to the taxpayer. In other words, the rules disregard the formal assignment of an ownership interest to a related third party and re-assign the ownership interest back to the assignor for specific determination purposes.

For example, in the context of determining whether a foreign corporation is a Controlled Foreign Corporation, all shares owned by the spouse of a taxpayer are deemed to be owned by the taxpayer if both spouses are US persons.

Attribution Rules: Design Similarities and Differences

The IRC contains a great variety of attribution rules. All of them are very detailed and have achieved a remarkable degree of specificity. Behind this specificity, all of the rules are always concerned with the substance of a transaction rather than its form. Hence, there always lurks a general question of whether there was a tax avoidance motive when a taxpayer entered into a transaction.

In spite of the fact that they share similar goals, the rules differ from each other in design. Most of these differences can be traced back to legislative history.

List of Most Important Attribution Rules

Here is a list of the most important attribution rules in the IRC (all section references are to the IRC):

1. The constructive ownership rules of §267, which apply to disallow certain deductions and losses incurred in transactions between related parties;

2. The constructive ownership rules of §318, which apply in corporate-shareholder transactions and other transactions, including certain foreign transactions expressly referenced in §6038(e).

3. The constructive ownership rules of §544; these are the personal holding company rules which apply to determine when a corporation will be subject to income tax on undistributed income.

3a. While they are now repealed, the foreign personal holding company rules of §554 are still important. In the past, they applied to determine whether US shareholders of a foreign corporation would be taxed on deemed distributions which were not actually made;

4. Highly important Subpart F constructive ownership rules of §958, which apply to determine when US shareholders of a Controlled Foreign Corporation should be taxed on deemed distributions which are not actually made;

5. The PFIC constructive ownership rules of §1298, which apply to determine whether a US shareholder is subject to the unfavorable rules concerning certain distributions by a PFIC and sales of PFIC stock; and

6. The controlled group constructive ownership rules of §1563 which determine whether related corporations are subject to the limitations and benefits prescribed for commonly controlled groups.

This is not a comprehensive list of all attribution rules, there are other rules which apply in more specific situations.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With the Attribution Rules

The rules of ownership attribution are highly complex. A failure to comply with them may result in the imposition of high IRS penalties.

This is why you need to contact the highly experienced international tax law firm of Sherayzen Law Office. We have helped US taxpayers around the globe to deal with the US tax rules concerning ownership attribution, and We Can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

FDII Export Incentive | Foreign Business Income Tax Lawyer & Attorney

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the “2017 tax reform” or “TCJA”) enacted a highly-lucrative incentive for US corporations to export directly from the United States – the Foreign-Derived Intangible Income (“FDII”) regime. In this article, I would like to introduce the readers in a general manner to the FDII export incentive contained in the TCJA.

FDII Export Incentive: TCJA

The creation of the participation exemption system posed a problem for the drafters of the TCJA – how does one stop US corporations from running all of their foreign business through a foreign corporation since foreign corporate profits may actually be transferred to the United States tax-free? Among other provisions of this complex law, the drafters utilized two powerful incentives for US corporations to export directly overseas.

The first one was a “stick” – the Global Intangible Low-Taxed Income or GILTI. The GILTI regime established what can be best described as a global minimum tax on the earnings of foreign subsidiaries of a US business entity.

The second approach was a “carrot” – the FDII export incentive. The FDII regime creates a powerful incentive for US corporations to export goods and services from the United States by creating a deemed deduction of a large percentage of corporate export income. In other words, the effective corporate tax rate is reduced through the FDII regime because a portion of a corporation’s export income is being deducted and never subject to US taxation.

FDII Export Incentive: General Description of the Deemed Deduction

The deemed deduction applies only to a US corporation’s FDII. FDII is basically a certain portion of corporate income from foreign sources determined by a formula established by Congress.

The formula requires a multi-step process. The first steps involve the determination of the Deduction-Eligible Income (DEI), Qualified Business Asset Investment (“QBAI”), Foreign-Derived Deduction-Eligible Income (“FDDEI”). Once all of these items are calculated, then the Deemed Intangible Income (“DII”) is figured out.

FDII is calculated last. The basic formula for FDII is: DII times the ratio of FDDEI over DEI.

The last step is to calculate the tax liability which involves the reduction of FDII by 37.5%. Thus, the effective tax rate for a corporate taxpayer (assuming the current 21% corporate tax rate stays the same) with respect to its FDII is only 13.125%.

It should be mentioned that the current deemed deduction will stay at 37.5% only through December 31, 2025. For the years after December 31, 2025, the deemed deduction will go down to 21.875%. This means that the effective tax rate on FDII will be 16.406%. Unless the law changes (which is possible), non-FDII corporate income will continue to be taxed at 21%.

FDII Export Incentive: Net Impact of the Deemed Deduction

Based on even just this general analysis of FDII, we can understand why the FDII export incentive is such an important part of the US corporate tax law. First, in most cases, the FDII deduction is a disincentive to shift foreign-source income from a US corporation to a controlled foreign corporation (“CFC”). A CFC may be subject to taxation under two different anti-deferral regimes, Subpart F or GILTI tax. Subpart F income will just force the recognition of foreign income by the CFC right away without any deemed deduction (i.e. this would be the worst-case scenario).

If the Subpart F rules do not apply, then the corporation may be subject to the GILTI tax. It is true that the effective corporate tax rate for GILTI, after its current 50% deemed reduction is only 10.5%. Nevertheless, FDII”s effective tax rate of 13.125% significantly reduces the difference from that what it would have been otherwise (i.e. between 10.5% and 21%). Moreover, when one factors in the additional administrative, US tax compliance and local tax compliance expenses, this difference may become nonexistent.

Second, the FDII deemed deduction makes US corporations more competitive worldwide, because they may now realize a higher profit margin even if they lower the prices for their products and services sold overseas.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With FDII Calculations and International Business Tax Planning

If your business engages in selling products or services overseas, there are opportunities for international business tax planning from US perspective. Contact Sherayzen Law Office to take advantage of these opportunities through professional, creative and ethical tax help.

Contact Us today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Employment Income Sourcing | International Tax Lawyer & Attorney

Employment income sourcing is a very important tax issue for employees of US corporations sent overseas, employees of foreign corporations stationed in the United States and employees who work in different countries during a tax year. For employees who are tax residents of a foreign country, this issue will determine whether their income will be taxed in the United States; whereas for US tax residents, the source of income rules will determine the amount of the allowable foreign tax credit. In this article, I will focus on the employment income sourcing rules concerning monetary compensation of employees.

Employment Income Sourcing: General Rules

The source of income rules concerning employees are very similar to the rules that apply to self-employment income, but there are some differences. The main rule is that the location where the services are rendered determines whether this is US-source income or foreign-source income. If an employee works in the United States, then his salary would be considered US-source income; if he works in a foreign country, his salary would be sourced to that country. See §§861(a)(3) and 862(a)(3).

If the employer pays for work partly performed in the United States and partly outside of the United States, then the salary needs to be allocated between the countries. Treas. Reg. §1.861-4(b)(2)(ii)(A). The key issue arises here – how does an employee allocate this income between the countries?

Employment Income Sourcing: Time Basis Allocation

The first methodology for allocation of income between the countries is stated directly within the regulations – time basis. Id. Here, the IRS offers two choices to the employees: allocation based on specific number of days working in the United States versus separate time periods.

Under the “number of days” variation, the employee adds together the number of days worked in the United States and the number of days worked in a foreign country, figures out the percentages for each country and sources the income according to the percentage allocation. Treas. Reg. §1.861-4(b)(2)(ii)(F).

Under the “time periods” variation, a tax year is split into distinct time periods: one where employee spends all of his time in the United States and one where employee spends all of his time in a foreign country. The compensation paid in the first period is allocated entirely to the United States, whereas the salary paid in the second time period is considered to be foreign-source income. Id.

Employment Income Sourcing: Multi-Year Compensation

An interesting situation occurs with respect to employees with multi-year compensation contracts. A multi-year contract in this context means a situation where the “compensation that is included in the income of an individual in one taxable year but that is attributable to a period that includes two or more taxable years.” Reg. §1.861-4(b)(2)(ii)(F).

Generally, the employment income sourcing in this case occurs in the following manner: (1) employee first aggregates his total contract compensation for the entire year; (2) then, the employee sums up all of the days worked in the United States and all of the days worked in a foreign country for the period covered by the multi-year contract; and (3) the employee sources the income to the United States based on the number of days worked in the United States vis-a-vis the total number of days worked under the contract; the rest of the income is considered foreign-source income. Id. While this approach is specifically described in the regulations, the regulations also generally refer to the “time basis” allocation. Hence, it appears that an employee may have a choice between the “number of days” approach that was just described and the “time periods” variation.

Employment Income Sourcing: Alternative Basis Sourcing

Employees have the right to disregard completely the time basis approach to employment income sourcing and adopt an alternative basis approach. Treas. Reg. §1.861-4(b)(2)(ii)(C)(1)(i).  An employee can do so as long as he is able to establish that “under the facts and circumstances of the particular case, the alternative basis more properly determines the source of the compensation than a basis described in paragraph (b)(2)(ii)(A) or (B), whichever is applicable, of this section.” Id.

An employee is not the only person who has this right; the IRS also has the right to utilize an alternative basis for employment income sourcing “if such compensation either is not for a specific time period or constitutes in substance a fringe benefit.” Treas. Reg. §1.861-4(b)(2)(ii)(C)(1)(ii). The IRS can do so as long as the “alternative basis determines the source of compensation in a more reasonable manner than the basis used by the individual pursuant to paragraph (b)(2)(ii)(A) or (B) of this section.” Id.

A taxpayer does not need to obtain the IRS consent in order to use the alternative basis for employment income sourcing. He should, however, keep the records in order to be able to show how his method is better than the time basis approach. TD 9212, 70 FR 40663, 40665 (07/14/2005).

Special requirements apply to employees who received $250,000 or more in compensation and use the alternative basis for employment income sourcing. Not only must such employees answer the relevant questions on Form 1040, but they should also attach a detailed statement to their tax returns. Id. The statement must contain the following information: “(1) The specific compensation income, or the specific fringe benefit, for which an alternative method is used; (2) for each such item, the alternative method of allocation of source used; (3) for each such item, a computation showing how the alternative allocation was computed; and (4) a comparison of the dollar amount of the compensation sourced within and without the United States under both the individual’s alternative basis and the basis for determining source of compensation described in § 1.861-4(b)(2)(ii)(A) or (B).” Id.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With US International Tax Law

If you are a US taxpayer who receives foreign-source income and/or has foreign assets, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. Our professional tax team, headed by international tax attorney, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, has helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world with their US international tax issues. We can help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!