It’s the Subpart F Rules, Stupid

 

 

There is a very good discussion going on over at Brock regarding the “Transition Tax” and the unintended consequences that may be passed on to expats. Fortunately, this cross-posted comment by USCitizenAbroad demonstrates how we have moved from the complicated verbiage of statutes/IRS Code to something understandable. (!!!!!)

@Plaxy

First, there has never been ANY background discussion that suggests that a transition tax would apply to individual shareholders (whether in the US or abroad) of non-U.S. corporations.

Second, ALL of the discussion has been in the context of finding a way to impose taxation on the offshore trillions supposedly owed by the corporate shareholders of foreign corporations,

Third, notice that some of the discussion (for example in the two Morse articles) raises the question of how the tax should be designed (inside the income tax system, outside the tax system, subpart F, etc.).

What I think has happened is that, by making a subpart F inclusion the mechanism for taxing the “offshore trillions”, it has theoretically drawn individuals (and by extension Americans abroad) into harm’s way.

Because the subpart F rules do apply to the individual shareholders of Canadian Controlled Private Corporations (even though originally intended for corporations), and the mechanism to capture the “offshore trillions” is subpart F, individuals have been drawn in.

Had the mechanism for inclusion been something other than subpart F, I suspect that we would not even be having this discussion. But, what discussion? What is generating the discussion?

Interestingly, the ONLY discussion of the impact of this on individual Americans abroad comes from the tax compliance industry in Canada (because they are the only group considering individual Americans abroad) and probably tax people in other countries.

There is no final legislation and the rules are complex. So, what happens is that one tax person says: “These rules apply to Americans abroad” and the rest follow. They have few (if any) independent thoughts on this. It is very difficult to read and understand this proposed legislation. They read legislation literally. They don’t read contextually. They in effect “make up the law”. We have seen this happen time after time.

Now, what are individuals to do? It’s obvious that this tax was NEVER intended to apply to them. But, (I expect) the tax compliance industry will work hard to force people to pay up. What is clear is the tax compliance community will NOT (if they adopt the “party line”) tell people that the tax does not apply to them. They won’t be willing (and understandably so) take the risk. But, they don’t know any more about this than you or I.

So, what should be done? What should the response be?

At the present time there are still many unknowns. But, I really don’t see how people can pay a tax that

  1. was never intended for them
  2. will confiscate their retirement plans
  3. is in effect a retrospective tax – they are (possibly) going back in time and deeming income that was not taxable at the time to be taxable now.
  4. is not based on any “event” whatsoever – this is why it is pure confiscation. Even if it were 1 cent it would be pure confiscation because there is no event triggering a tax.
  5. (5) reaches directly into the tax base of Canada.

Since July the Government of Canada has been discussing this same pool of Canadian capital. This whole discussion is confusing theory, reality and practicality. This cannot and should not be paid.

My suggestion I guess is:

Get your tax preparer to reveal his/her position on this before work on the returns commences. If the preparer will not sign the returns without paying this tax – then find another preparer or do them yourself or don’t file at all. Obviously the pressure to renounce has become even more intense.

What you cannot due is let the tax compliance community turn your retirement savings over to the IRS based on a law that was never intended to apply to you.

Furthermore, I think that tax preparers have a moral obligation to make their position on this known in advance.

 

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