There is no question that Public Law 115-97, commonly referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“Act”), changed the rules governing all US individuals and corporations with foreign businesses and investments. The Act was advertised to reduce taxes and compliance costs for both individuals and corporations and for most parties it has accomplished that goal. However, some of these new rules have had a decidedly negative impact on individual or non-corporate US shareholders of controlled foreign corporations (“CFC”) compared with corporate shareholders. Many non-corporate CFC shareholders actually face an expensive tax increase as well as increased compliance costs.
It is not clear whether the negative impact of these new rules was intended or simply the result of constructing very complicated tax legislation in a somewhat short time period. Whatever the cause, where care was taken in domestic legislation to place individual and corporate shareholders on a somewhat equal footing, e.g., new IRC §199A tax benefits offered along with reduced corporate tax rates, the same efforts were not made in the context of international shareholdings.
US individuals with foreign investments must immediately explore their international tax planning options to avoid these negative US income tax effects. We are actively engaged with a number of US based individuals on their individual international tax planning and we hope this article sheds some light on these important issues and related planning opportunities for you or your clients.
A CFC is generally defined as any foreign corporation where US persons own 50% or more (directly, indirectly, or constructively) of the foreign corporation’s stock (measured by vote or value) taking into account only those US persons who own at least 10% of the aforementioned stock. These shareholders are each referred to as a United States Shareholder (“USS”).
US individual ownership of CFC shares was always disadvantaged compared to corporate shareholders primarily due to the inability of individuals to use IRC §902 to credit indirect foreign taxes paid by the CFC. US individual shareholders can only use IRC §901 foreign tax credits which are basically limited to withholding taxes associated with the CFC dividend. Where the CFC’s local income taxes are high, the US individual shareholder’s effective tax rate on their CFC income is effectively equivalent to their US individual rate plus the CFC’s effective rate. It’s not uncommon for us to see an individual effective rate exceed 70% in these cases.
The benefit that US individual CFC shareholders did receive was deferral. In other words, unless an anti-deferral regime such as Subpart F was in play, the US individual did not have to recognize the CFC income until it was actually dispersed to them via dividend or otherwise. Further, if the CFC’s local income tax was a low amount, the increase in their overall effective tax rate for taxes not creditable under IRC §901 may have been worth it if deferral had true economic value to them.
Tax Reform Changes
The aforementioned CFC tax regime has significantly changed under the Act. Here are the major changes affecting individuals:
No Transition Tax Relief
IRC §965 requires the inclusion in income for all CFC shareholders of the CFC’s previously untaxed earnings and profits (“E&P”). The Act offered corporate CFC shareholders a reduced transition tax rate to cushion the blow of this unanticipated income inclusion but no such rate forbearance was offered to individual CFC shareholders. They took their inclusion at their regular individual tax rates.
No Participation Exemption
IRC §245A provides a full participation exemption, also referred to as dividends received deduction (“DRD”), for certain dividends received by a US C corporation from a CFC. However, US individuals who own CFC shares are not eligible for this participation exemption. CFC dividends received by individuals remain taxable either as qualified or non-qualified dividends at higher individual rates.
No GILTI Tax Reduction
The Act added IRC §951A which requires a USS to include in their US taxable income their pro-rata share of the CFC’s Global Intangible Low-Taxed Income (“GILTI”) which is treated, basically, as Subpart F income.
The GILTI calculation is complex by any measure. Quite basically, GILTI is the excess of a USS’s pro-rata share of a CFC’s income reduced by an allowable return equal to 10% of the CFC’s adjusted tax basis in certain depreciable tangible property. US corporate CFC shareholders are given a 50% deduction via newly enacted IRC §250 against any GILTI inclusion and can, subject to certain limits, credit IRC §902 taxes paid by the CFC to offset the US tax resulting from the GILTI inclusion.
Individual shareholders of CFCs are not eligible for either of these benefits afforded to corporate shareholders. Instead, they are subject to US tax at their individual income tax rates up to 37% on their GILTI inclusions without any foreign tax credit offsets. It is certainly a bitter pill for US individual CFC shareholders who engaged in sophisticated and expensive international tax planning to avoid Subpart F income only to be hit with similarly taxed GILTI inclusions.
The following example illustrates the disparate impact of the GILTI regime on an individual CFC shareholder who is also a USS. Assume a CFC operates an active services business in a jurisdiction that imposes a 30% income tax rate. The CFC has no tangible depreciable assets and generates $100 of net taxable income annually that is not otherwise classified as Subpart F income. The following graphic compares the tax consequences to a US corporate shareholder to those of an US individual shareholder:
|C Corporation USS of a CFC
|Individual USS of a CFC
|GILTI inclusion (IRC §951A)
|50% Deduction (IRC §250)
|US Taxable Income
|Foreign Income Tax (30%)
|US Pre-Credit Tax
(21% x $50)
(37% x $70)
|US Foreign Tax Credit
IRC §960(d) 80% FTC limit
No IRC §902 Credits
|US Tax Liability
|GILTI Effective Tax Rate
No GILTI FTC Carryforward
Corporate CFC shareholders who utilize foreign tax credits to offset their GILTI tax expense are not only limited by the 80% IRC §960(d) limitation but also the inability to carryforward or carryback GILTI basket foreign tax credits. However, the IRC §78 gross-up still applies to 100% of the foreign tax expense. Even with these limitations, corporate shareholders get a much better deal than individual shareholders under the GILTI rules as a whole.
No FDII Benefits
The Act introduced, via IRC §250(a), the Foreign Derived Intangible Income (“FDII”) regime which provides C corporations with export sales important new tax benefits. These export benefits provide a reduced US tax rate on income attributable to intangible assets owned within the US in a similar manner to how the GILTI rules create income inclusions for the same activities conducted offshore. For a detailed description of the FDII rules, please see this recent article we authored on this topic.
The FDII rules were theoretically intended to provide tax benefits to offset the impact of GILTI inclusions. The result is a new benefit to US C corporations for using US based intangible property that they’ve owned all along. Even better, they don’t have to patent, copyright, or even identify the intangible property as the benefit is derived from a deemed return on assets calculation. It’s all good but it does not apply to individuals, S Corps, or partnerships. As a result, individuals take a harder hit from the GILTI rules with no corresponding relief from the FDII regime.
For a US individual with existing or planned CFC ownership, there are various options available to mitigate some of these new provisions but each involves different steps with different side effects. We continue to see new options arise depending on the facts and circumstances of each particular taxpayer but here are some of the most common planning options we’ve been using thus far:
Contribute CFC Shares to a C Corporation
The logic here is easy enough to understand. Once the CFC shares are held by the C corporation, the corporation can utilize IRC §902 credits for taxes paid by the CFC, use offsets to the GILTI provisions provided under IRC §250 and elsewhere, and utilize the FDII regime. However, double taxation still occurs to the individual shareholder and there can be considerable complexity and costs in restructuring the CFC’s ownership chain.
Making an Annual IRC §962 Election
An IRC §962 election is a rarely utilized election employed to ensure that an individual taxpayer is not subject to a higher rate of tax on the earnings of a foreign corporation than if he or she had owned it through a US C corporation. This is an annual election with respect to all CFCs for which the individual is a USS including those owned through a pass-through entity.
The primary benefits of this election are that it provides a 21% corporate tax rate on any GILTI or Subpart F inclusion as well as allowing the use of IRC §902 credits. The individual taxpayer also does not have to endure the administrative burden of actually creating a C corporation holding structure for the CFC(s). However, in addition to having to make an annual election, the election does not allow the taxpayer to take the GILTI IRC §250 deduction or utilize the FDII export incentive regime.
Check-The-Box / Disregarded Entity Election
The taxpayer may also solve many of the problems created by the Act by using the now commonly exercised tool of a CFC check-the-box or disregarded entity election. This changes the CFC into a disregarded entity or foreign branch for US tax purposes while leaving it unchanged for local country purposes.
This has long been an instrument for individuals invested either directly or indirectly, via S corporations or partnerships, in a CFC. The primary benefits have been to allow individuals to benefit foreign tax losses in the US and to convert IRC §902 taxes into creditable IRC §901 taxes thus significantly reducing their individual tax burden on foreign earnings. Now, however, a disregarded entity election also allows the US individual shareholder to escape both GILTI and Subpart F inclusions
Prior to the Act, the main downside of a disregarded entity election by an individual was that it eliminated foreign deferral via the CFC. The conversion of a CFC to a disregarded entity could also be very expensive due to rules around CFC conversion. Most of the expense and complexity are due to a disregarded entity election being treated the same as a CFC liquidation.
US individuals may not use IRC §332 to effectuate a tax-free CFC liquidation. Instead, they must rely on IRC §331 where a liquidating distribution is considered to be full payment in exchange for the shareholder’s stock rather than a deemed dividend distribution. These shareholders generally recognize gain or loss in an amount equal to the difference between the fair market value (“FMV”) of the assets received, whether they are cash, other property, or both, and the adjusted basis of the stock surrendered. If the stock is a capital asset in the shareholder’s hands, the transaction qualifies for capital gain or loss treatment. The detailed tax effects of an IRC §331 CFC liquidation are outside the scope of this document but they are important and must be addressed thoroughly as part of any related analysis.
For a corporate USS, IRC §332 will generally apply to provide tax-free treatment but IRC §367(b) steps in and requires that the liquidating corporate USS include, as a deemed dividend, the CFC’s “all earnings and profits” amount (“All E&P Amount”) with respect to the CFC. The All E&P Amount generally is the corporate USS’s pro rata share of the CFC’s E&P accumulated during the USS’s holding period.
What’s important to note here is that the corporate USS’s All E&P Amount is reduced by E&P attributable to previously taxed income (“PTI”). The CFC’s E&P subject to the IRC §965 transition tax distribution, which is likely now in the past, becomes PTI. A corporate USS’s PTI amount resulting from the transition tax will likely equal the shareholder’s All E&P Amount and therefore reduce the required All E&P Amount inclusion to $0. If the All E&P Amount is $0, the disregarded entity election will not trigger any incremental US income tax to the electing corporate shareholder.
Here, we may actually have an instance where the IRC §965 transition tax, likely already incurred by the corporate shareholder, will serve to greatly reduce the cost of a disregarded entity election by making the deemed liquidation much less expensive. It’s an unusual situation for sure but one that allows a low-tax way for corporate USS’s to escape GILTI and Subpart F inclusions.
Here again we have another distinct advantage provided to corporate CFC shareholders but not individuals.
Here is a basic example of how CFC earnings are taxed to corporate, individual, and individual assuming the CFC is now treated as a disregarded entity:
|C Corporation USS of a CFC
|Individual USS of a CFC
|Individual Shareholder of a Disregarded Entity
|Foreign Entity Income
|Foreign Income Tax (assumed 30%)
|US Pre-Credit Tax
(21% x $100)
(37% x $70)
(37% x $100)
|US Foreign Tax Credit
No IRC §902 Credits
|US Tax Liability
|Effective Tax Rate
Possible FTC Carryforward
|Tax on $70 Corporate Dividend to Individual Shareholder
(23.8% x $70)
|Post- Distribution Effective Tax Rate
The US tax reform rules are certainly not advantaged to individuals as originally enacted. There is certainly the possibility that the Act will be amended to balance the negative effect on individual CFC shareholders but there is no guarantee. In the interim, there are some planning tools that the taxpayer can utilize to offset the negative impact of these new rules. This is not and is not intended to be an exhaustive list of each planning opportunity that we see or that we will see. What each shareholder should do depends upon a detailed analysis of the taxpayer’s unique facts coupled with sophisticated modeling to confirm the planning benefits. Anything short of that is likely to fail in some regard.
We’ve authored other articles on GILTI that you may find helpful by clicking here.
Frank J. Vari, JD, MTax, CPA is the practice leader of FJV Tax which is a CPA firm specializing in complex international and U.S. tax planning. FJV Tax has offices in Wellesley and Boston. The author can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone at 617-770-7286/800-685-2324. You can learn more about FJV Tax at fjvtax.com.