Payments to foreign persons and 1042 – Don’t miss the March 15 deadline

IR 2017-43

The Internal Revenue Service today reminded non-U.S. citizens who may have taxable income, such as international students and scholars who may be working or receiving scholarship funds, that they may have special requirements to file a U.S. tax return.

The IRS also reminded withholding agents — such as payroll professionals or universities — that accurately filed Forms 1042-S help speed any refunds due to their non-U.S. citizen taxpayers. Errors on forms or returns could result in some refunds being delayed.

What Non-U.S. Citizen Taxpayers Must Do

The Internal Revenue Code generally requires non-U.S. citizens, whom the code defines as either resident or non-resident aliens, who are engaged in a trade or business within the U.S. to file tax returns. Non-resident aliens such as foreign students, teachers or trainees temporarily in the United States on F, J, M or Q visas are considered engaged in a trade or business.

Most individuals in F-1, J-1, M-1, Q-1 and Q-2 non-immigrant status are eligible to be employed in the U.S. and are eligible to apply for a Social Security number if they are actually employed in the United States. Those not eligible for an SSN but who have a tax filing requirement may request an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number from the IRS.

The non-U.S. citizen’s name must be reported exactly as it appears on the official documentation provided to the withholding agent (such as a Social Security Administration card or some other form of official governmental documentation).

Filing a Form 1040-NR or 1040NR-EZ is required by non-U.S. citizens who have a taxable event such as:

A taxable scholarship or fellowship, as described in Chapter 1 of Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education;

  • Income partially or totally exempt from tax under the terms of a tax treaty; and/or
  • Any other income, which is taxable under the Internal Revenue Code.

Non-U.S. citizens also must attach one copy (generally Copy B) for each Form 1042-S received to their tax returns. Non-U.S. citizens should review the Form 1042-S to ensure it accurately reflects their name and income. If the form does not contain accurate information, they must contact the withholding agent for an amended Form 1042-S.

What Withholding Agents Must Do

Generally, non-U.S. citizens who have taxable income also may have withholding of taxes by the source of their income. Withholding agents are required to complete Form 1042-S, Foreign Person’s U.S. Source Income Subject to Withholding.

Withholding agents must provide five copies of the Form 1042-S. Copy A should go to the IRS; Copies B, C and D to the recipient of the income; and copy E should be retained by the withholding agent. All information, including the name of the taxpayer, must match exactly on all copies of Form 1042-S.

If withholding agents create a substitute Form 1042-S, all five copies must be in the same physical format. The size, shape and format of any substitute form must adhere to the rules of Publication 1179, General Rules and Specifications for Substitute Forms 1096, 1098, 1099, 5498, and Certain Other Information Returns. The official Form 1042-S is the standard for substitute forms.

A common error is to have a Form 1042-S listing two or more recipients in box 13a. The 2016 instructions to Form 1042-S have been updated to clarify that in the case of joint owners, Form 1042-S can only list one of the owners in box 13a.

Withholding agents should review Fact Sheet 2017-03, where they can find the latest changes to Form 1042-S instructions and common errors that delay processing of tax returns.

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Refunds approved! Some good news from IRS for foreign students and other foreign workers

Tax professional community including CPA Global Tax & Accounting encountered issues in recent times regarding the filing of tax returns and receiving refunds for foreign students, grantees, researchers and similar foreign persons working temporarily in United States. In recent years number of tax returns filed by these taxpayers, whose US source income and tax withholding were reported on 1042-S, were either regularly audited or their refunds were delayed beyond a reasonable period of time. This was creating an undue hardship to such taxpayers. After several representations, IRS was convinced that in most cases there were no fraudulent or questionable claims and provided a reassurance that such refunds are being issued as soon as possible while IRS is working on redesigning the process in the interim.

Here is the news release issued by IRS today (2016-23):

“In response to concerns about the difficulties that some foreign students are experiencing in obtaining refunds of withholding tax reported on Form 1042-S, Foreign Person’s U.S. Source Income Subject to Withholding, the IRS just completed a comprehensive review of the program. As a result, the IRS is taking steps to help foreign students at United States colleges and universities and other foreign taxpayers affected by this situation, including adjusting withholding and issuing refunds as appropriate.

No additional action is needed at this time by foreign students and other foreign taxpayers who filed Form 1040NR to request a refund of tax withheld on Form 1042-S.

Background

The IRS review found several areas that are resulting in a significant number of “false positives” in our processing systems – meaning tax returns are being selected for review and validation for issues that present minimal risk of fraudulent or erroneous refunds.  While some degree of false positives is inevitable in any compliance program aimed at detecting fraud and protecting revenue, our review indicated we are not achieving the proper balance in this area.  Although we initially thought the issues were caused by tax software, upon a closer review these problems were minimal and easily corrected.

Steps the IRS is taking

We are taking several actions to resolve the accounts of those taxpayers who were affected by our existing verification process and to adjust the process going forward to help avoid further issues.  We are working as quickly as possible to identify all the taxpayers whose refunds are being held as a result of this process.  As they are identified, we will release the hold and issue the refunds (with interest, in instances where we have exceeded the 180 calendar day period for processing these refunds).

Taxpayers whose withholding credits were denied will have their withholding restored, eliminating any balance due and thus stopping the notices of levy.  Also, we will not be holding any additional refunds until we have redesigned the process in place for detecting fraudulent or questionable returns and refunds. “)