US Exposed Owner of an International Business? Sorry – your tax situation is now worse!
In January 2018, I hosted a seminar in Singapore on international business expansion. There was one attendee who was so stressed out. Why? Because, as a US citizen who is the owner of overseas businesses, he realized that Tax Reform in the US made things more difficult than before!
Our Asia and UK practice is really built around business owners as
opposed to employees. Most of our US
exposed business owners reside outside of the US. So let’s cut to the chase, The Tax Cuts and
Jobs Act hit many of our clients on two fronts:
(i) You must pay a 15.5% tax on part of your foreign retained earnings. This tax can be spread over 8 years.
(ii) Going forward, the ability of expats to retain profits in a foreign corporation is virtually eliminated. We must now pay US tax on our profits in excess of the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. Holding shares through Non US citizen spouses is a weak strategy. A business owner can earn $104,100 tax-free, or a husband and wife both working in the business can take out a combined $208,200 in 2018 free of Federal income tax.
On top of this, US tax breaks for “pass-through entities,”
such as domestic LLCs and S-Corporations are not available to expats.
Many are saying that the most practical step is to form a US
C-corporation and start over with a new offshore corporation. Pay the repatriation tax on previous years in
your old corporation and start fresh with a structure designed for 2018. But expat entrepreneurs need to watch out for
double taxation. When you take out retained earnings from your US corporation
as a dividend, you’ll usually pay US tax on the distribution (on your personal
return). Careful planning should go into building this structure and a
long-term tax plan that minimizes double taxation must be developed.
If you wish to retain earnings offshore, you must avoid
Subpart F, and the new anti-deferral mechanisms introduced under the new
Act. The key to a successful offshore plan is to
maximize tax deferral in a compliant manner.
Strategies to consider include –
- Using the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion
- Note that Tested Income (basis for calculating
GILTI) does not include dividends received from a related person
- Under the Act, US Shareholders who are
individuals (e.g., partners of private equity funds) fare far worse than US
Shareholders that are domestic corporations (e.g., a US Topco).
Exemption of dividends from foreign
corporations. Most active foreign income of a CFC is not subject to current
U.S. taxation. Under prior law, if the earnings of a CFC were actually paid out
as a dividend, or deemed to be paid under special rules applicable to CFC
investments in U.S. property, U.S. tax would be imposed on the dividend (or
deemed dividend). For individual US Shareholders, this will remain true after
the Act. But for US Shareholders that are domestic corporations, the Act puts
into place a “participation exemption” in the form of a 100% dividends-received
deduction for dividends from 10%-or-greater owned foreign corporations
(including but not limited to CFCs).
The new “GILTI” tax. In an effort to ensure that
some minimal amount of tax is paid by U.S. taxpayers on their low-taxed foreign
income, the Act features a new tax on “global intangible low-taxed income”
(“GILTI”). Every US Shareholder of a CFC will be required to include in gross
income its GILTI for the taxable year. But whereas US Shareholders that are
domestic corporations will pay the GILTI tax at half the rate of the regular
tax, US Shareholders who are individuals will pay the tax at their top marginal
rate (37% under the Act). And whereas domestic corporations will be eligible to
claim foreign tax credits for 80% of foreign taxes paid on GILTI income,
individuals will not be entitled to any foreign tax credits.
FDII. In addition to the benefits described
above, domestic corporations may also benefit from a new tax incentive contained
in the Act, for income referred to as “foreign-derived intangible income”
(“FDII”). The Act allows a U.S. corporation to claim a 37.5% deduction with
respect to its FDII, effectively reducing the tax rate thereon to 13.125%.
Generally, FDII is intended to capture income, over a base return on tangible
property, derived from property sold or services provided in foreign markets.
While sometimes referred to as a “patent box,” it applies more broadly to
- CFC rule changes mean that now, shares owned by
a non-resident will be attributed to a U.S. Person in determining CFC status.
- If you’re working with non-US persons abroad,
you might restructure your business so it’s not a CFC. For example, a US
company and a foreign company are working together on deals as separate
entities. They might decide to join together in one corporation with each party
owning 50% of the shares and having 50% control over the business.
- Consider Puerto Rico.
- All expat business owners should be operating
inside an offshore corporation to eliminate the 15% Self Employment tax and to
maximize the value of the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. You then report your
salary from this company on IRS Form 2555 attached to your personal return,
- Inserting a US Corp into your structure
- Checking the box on the CFC to make it a flow through
- Making a Section 962 election (very controversal!).
This is just the summary. For tax enthusiasts like myself, feel free to continue reading. Below, I go into some detail on the previous regime and how drastically things have changed...
Public law no. 115-97, an Act to provide for
reconciliation pursuant to titles II and V of the concurrent resolution on the
budget for fiscal year 2018, is a congressional revenue act originally
introduced in Congress as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). Public law no. 115-97 ("the Act")
amended the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 based
on tax reform advocated by congressional Republicans and the Trump administration. Major elements include reducing tax rates for
businesses and individuals; a personal tax simplification by increasing the standard deduction and family tax credits,
but eliminating personal exemptions and making it less
beneficial to itemize deductions; limiting deductions for state and local
income taxes (SALT) and property taxes; further limiting the mortgage interest
deduction; reducing the alternative minimum tax for
individuals and eliminating it for corporations; reducing the number of estates
impacted by the estate tax; and repealing the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare).
Beginning in 2018, domestic corporations are entitled to a
100 percent Dividends-Received Deduction (DRD) for the non-U.S. source portion
of dividends received from specified 10 percent owned non-U.S. corporations. A one-year holding period of the non-U.S.
corporate stock is required to be eligible for this DRD. However, no foreign
tax credit or deduction is allowed for any taxes paid. One more caveat: the
100% DRD only applies to C-corporation shareholders.
Previous rules on CFCs
Controlled foreign corporation (CFC) rules are features
of an income
tax system designed to limit artificial deferral of tax by using
offshore low taxed entities. The rules are needed only with respect to income
of an entity that is not currently taxed to the owners of the entity. Generally, certain classes of taxpayers must
include in their income currently certain amounts earned by foreign entities
they or related persons control.
These CFC rules generally define the types of owners and
entities affected, the types of income or investments subject to current
inclusion, exceptions to inclusion, and means of preventing double inclusion of
the same income. Countries with CFC rules include the United States (since
1962), the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil,
Russia (since 2015), Sweden, and many others. Rules in different countries
may vary significantly.
In the US -
- · A Controlled Foreign Corporation is any
corporation organized outside the U.S. (a foreign corporation) that is more
than 50% owned by U.S. Shareholders.
- · A U.S. Shareholder is any U.S. person
(individual or entity) that owns 10% or more of the foreign corporation.
Complex rules apply to attribute ownership of one person to another person.
Under prior and current law, a C.F.C. is any foreign
corporation in which U.S. Shareholders (defined below) own more than 50% of the
foreign corporation's stock by value or vote.
Under prior law, a U.S. Shareholder was defined as a U.S.
person that owned 10% or more of the foreign corporation's voting stock. Under the new law, the definition includes a
U.S. person that owns 10% or more of the foreign corporation's stock by value.
In addition, the attribution rules for determining constructive ownership of a
foreign corporation by a U.S. person are expanded to include attribution from a
foreign person to a U.S. person.
Under prior law, a foreign corporation was required to be
controlled for 30 days before the Subpart F rules applied. Under the new law,
the 30-day requirement is no longer in effect.
The CFC rule that most US Tax practitioners know would
arguably be the Subpart F rules.
Enacted in 1962, these rules incorporate most of the
features of CFC rules used in other countries. Subpart F was designed to prevent U.S.
citizens and resident individuals and corporations from artificially deferring
otherwise taxable income through use of foreign entities.
A U.S. Shareholder
of a Controlled Foreign Corporation ("CFC")
must include in his/its income currently
His/its share of Subpart F Income of the CFC and
His/its share of earnings and profits
("E&P") of the CFC that are invested in United States
and further exclude from his/its income any dividends
distributed from such previously taxed income.
Subpart F income includes the following:
Foreign personal holding company income (FPHCI),
including dividends, interest, rents, royalties, and gains from alienation of
property that produces or could produce such income. Exceptions apply for
dividends and interest from related persons organized in the same country as
the CFC, active rents and royalties, rents and royalties from related persons
in the same country as the CFC, and certain other items.
Foreign base company sales income from
buying goods from a related party and selling them to anyone or buying goods
from anyone and selling them to a related party, where such goods are both made
and for use outside the CFC's country of incorporation. A branch rule may cause
transfers between a manufacturing branch of a CFC in one country and a sales
branch in another country to trigger Subpart F income.
Foreign base company services income from
performing services for or on behalf of a related person. A substantial
assistance rule can cause services performed for unrelated parties to be
treated as performed for or on behalf of a related party.
Foreign base company oil-related income from
oil activities outside the CFC's country of incorporation.
Insurance income from insurance or annuity
contracts related to risks outside the CFC's country of incorporation.
but it does not include:
Items of income which (after considering
deductions, etc., under U.S. concepts) were subject to foreign income tax in
excess of 90% of the highest marginal U.S. tax rate for the type of
De minimis amounts
of Subpart F income in absence of other Subpart F income in the period;
- · Such income if the CFC has a deficit in E&P,
in which case it is deferred from recognition until the CFC has positive
Any dividend received which is considered paid
from amounts previously taxed under Subpart F.
Corporate U.S. shareholders are entitled to a foreign tax
credit for their share of the foreign income taxes paid by a CFC with respect
to E&P underlying a Subpart F inclusion.
To prevent avoidance of Subpart F, U.S. shareholders of a
CFC must recharacterize gain on disposition of the CFC shares as a dividend.
In addition, various special rules apply.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) includes a general cap
on net business interest expense equal to 30% of adjusted taxable income (ATI). It also extends the anti-deferral provisions
under Subpart F and creates something called “global intangible low-taxed
Very broadly, GILTI is the excess of the U.S.
shareholder’s share of each CFC’s non‐subpart F / non‐ECI income over a 10%
return on tangible depreciable property
The G.I.L.T.I. regime is designed to decrease the incentive
for a U.S. group to shift corporate profits to low-tax jurisdictions. In this way, it protects the new participation
exemption regime by preventing mobile intangible income from being used to reduce
U.S. taxable income for the payer while preventing the payer's group from
obtaining the benefit of the dividend received deduction (DRD) for dividends
from a C.F.C. that received G.I.L.T.I.
As stated in the Conference Committee Report:
Changing the U.S. international tax system from a worldwide
system of taxation to a participation exemption system of taxation exacerbates
the incentive under present law to shift profits abroad. Specifically, under
present law, most foreign profits earned through a subsidiary are not subject
to current taxation but will eventually be subject to U.S. taxation upon
repatriation. Under the participation
exemption system provided for in the bill, however, foreign profits earned
through a subsidiary generally will never be subject to U.S. taxation. Accordingly, new measures to protect against
the erosion of the U.S. tax base are warranted.
Under new Section 951A of the Act, a 10% US shareholder of a
CFC must include in income for a taxable year its share of the CFC’s GILTI. Key provisions of the tax are:
- • GILTI will generally equal
(i) the aggregate net income of the CFCs reduced by
(ii) 10% of the CFCs’ aggregate basis in associated
tangible depreciable business property minus certain interest expense allocable
- • With respect to 10% shareholders that are corporations,
FTCs, in a separate basket, will generally be available for 80% of the foreign
taxes imposed on the income included as GILTI. No carryover is allowed for
- • While a GILTI inclusion by a US shareholder is taxable at
the regular 21% corporate rate, the amount of the inclusion is equal to 50% of
GILTI, thus resulting in an effective rate of 10.5%. The new tax benefits available for certain
foreign-derived intangible income, described below, provide the mechanism for
this computation, by essentially providing for a deduction equal to 50% of
GILTI, to be reduced after 2025. This GILTI regime is effective for taxable
years beginning after December 31, 2017
How is it triggered
In comparison to the traditional approach (Subpart F) that
looks for specific items of tainted income, the G.I.L.T.I. provision provides a
"safe zone" for a portion of the entire pool of C.F.C. earnings. The safe zone is based principally on a
hypothetical yield generated by the C.F.C. on its Qualified Business Asset
Investment ("Q.B.A.I."), determined on a pre-tax basis. Once the safe zone is computed, all additional
earnings of the C.F.C. not otherwise taxed under Subpart F or specifically
excepted by the statute are considered to be attributable to G.I.L.T.I.
Under Code 951A(a), each person that is a U.S. Shareholder
of a C.F.C. for any tax year is the U.S. person that must include in gross
income such shareholder's G.I.L.T.I. for such tax year. In Code 951A(e)(3), the
statute provides that a foreign corporation is treated as a C.F.C. for any tax
year if it is a C.F.C. at any time during such tax year. The statute provides,
in Code 951A(e)(2), that a person is treated as a U.S. Shareholder of a C.F.C.
for a given tax year only if it owns stock in the foreign corporation on the
last day in the tax year of the foreign corporation on which it is a C.F.C. Ownership includes direct ownership and
indirect ownership under Code 958(a).
Under Code 951A, a U.S. Shareholder of a C.F.C. must include
in its gross income its G.I.L.T.I. inclusion in a manner similar to inclusions
of Subpart F income. In broad terms, this means that a U.S. Shareholder must
include in income the amount of income that would have been distributed with
respect to the stock that it owned (within the meaning of Code 958(a)) in the
C.F.C. if, on the last day in its tax year on which the corporation is a
C.F.C., it had distributed pro rata to its shareholders an amount equal to the
amount of its G.I.L.T.I.
When a U.S. Shareholder is a corporation, several rules
apply in addition to the income inclusion.
First, a deemed-paid foreign tax credit is
allowed under Code 960 for foreign income taxes allocable to G.I.L.T.I. at the
level of the C.F.C.
Second, the Code 951A inclusion includes a
"gross-up" under Code 78 for the foreign income taxes claimed as a
Third, the U.S. corporation is entitled to a 50%
deduction (reduced to 37.5% in later tax years) based on the G.I.L.T.I.
included in income. As a result, a corporate U.S. Shareholder's effective tax rate
on G.I.L.T.I. plus the gross-up will be 10.5% (increased to 13.125% in later
How is it calculated
G.I.L.T.I. is determined through several computations that
appear in Code 951A.
G.I.L.T.I. Defined - With respect to a U.S. Shareholder of a
C.F.C., G.I.L.T.I. means the excess of
(i) the shareholder's "net C.F.C. tested income"
for the shareholder's tax year over
(ii) the "net deemed tangible income return." This
is expressed in the following formula:
G.I.L.T.I. = Net C.F.C. Tested Income - Net Deemed Tangible
Where a U.S. Person is a U.S. Shareholder of several
C.F.C.'s, G.I.L.T.I. is computed on an aggregate basis that takes into account
all its C.F.C.'s. The positive net
tested income of each C.F.C. within the group that has positive income is added
together to arrive at aggregate positive net tested income. At the same time, the net tested loss of each
C.F.C. within the group within the group that has a loss is added together to
arrive at aggregate net tested loss. The aggregate positive net tested income
is reduced by the aggregate net tested loss to determine G.I.L.T.I.
Net Deemed Tangible Income Return Defined - The U.S.
Shareholder's net deemed tangible income return is
10% of the aggregate of the shareholder's pro
rata share of the Q.B.A.I. (defined below) of each of its C.F.C.'s, reduced by
the interest expense of each C.F.C. that is
taken into account in determining the shareholder's net C.F.C. tested income.
Here, interest expense means the C.F.C.'s interest expense minus its interest
income. This is expressed in the following formula:
G.I.L.T.I. = Net C.F.C. Tested Income - ( 0.1 Q.B.A.I. ) - Net
Interest Expense Allocated to Net Tested Income
In making the computation, the full amount equal to 10% of
Q.B.A.I. cannot be reduced below zero by net interest expense. Stated differently, the net interest expense
allocated to 10% of Q.B.A.I. is capped at 10% of Q.B.A.I.
Net C.F.C. Tested Income Defined - Net C.F.C. tested income
is the aggregate of
(i) the U.S. Shareholder's pro rata share of the
"tested income," if any, of each of its C.F.C.'s, reduced by
U.S. Shareholder's pro rata share of the "tested loss," if any, of
each of its C.F.C.'s. This is expressed in the following formula:
Net C.F.C. Tested Income = Sum of C.F.C. Tested Income - Sum
of C.F.C. Tested Loss
Tested income of a C.F.C. consists of
its gross income, excluding certain exceptions,
its deductions (including taxes) that are
properly allocable to such gross income. The exceptions to gross income are as
An item of income of a C.F.C. from sources
within the U.S. that is effectively connected with the conduct of a trade or
business within the U.S.
Gross income of a C.F.C. taken into account in
determining Subpart F income
Gross income excluded from foreign base company
income or insurance income by reason of the high-tax exception under Code
954(b)(4) for income subject to an effective rate imposed by a foreign country
greater than 90% of the maximum rate of tax specified in Code 11 (which is 21%)
Dividends received from a related person
Foreign oil and gas extraction income and
foreign oil-related income
The income from sources within the U.S. that is effectively
connected with the conduct of a U.S. trade or business must be taxed in the
U.S. in order for it to be removed from gross income. Consequently, if the
effectively connected income is exempt from U.S. tax or is subject to a reduced
U.S. tax rate, it is removed from the list of exceptions to the extent of the
benefit. Thus, if a treaty fully exempts the income, the income is fully
removed from the exception. On the other hand, if the treaty merely reduces
U.S. tax, only a pro rata portion of the income is removed from the list of
exceptions, based on the percentage by which U.S. tax is reduced.
Tested loss of a C.F.C. is the excess of
deductions (including taxes) properly allocable
to the corporation's gross income, not including the tested income exceptions,
the amount of such gross income.
Q.B.A.I. Defined - Q.B.A.I. means, with respect to a C.F.C.,
the average of the aggregate of the adjusted bases in specified tangible
property used in a trade or business and of a type for which a deduction for
depreciation generally would be allowable under Code 167. In terms typically
used by corporate management, Q.B.A.I. means investment in property, plant, and
equipment adjusted to reflect depreciation expense using longer lives set forth
in Code 168(g). Under that provision of U.S. tax law, an alternative depreciation
system is applied, inter alia, to tangible property used predominantly outside
the U.S. The average bases of the assets in the computation is determined by
reference to the adjusted bases as of the close of each quarter of the tax
year. This reduces the positive and negative effects of asset acquisitions or
dispositions during the year.
Specified tangible property means any property used in the
production of tested income. Where property is used in part for the production
of tested income and in part for the production of excepted income, the
adjusted basis must be allocated between the two in the same proportion that
the tested income bears to the total gross income arising from the use of the
If a C.F.C. holds an interest in a partnership, the C.F.C.'s
distributive share of the aggregate of the partnership's adjusted bases in its
assets must be taken into account for purposes of computing the Q.B.A.I. for