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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Who says MNCs want to keep the earnings offshore

IRS recently stated that the U.S. based holding companies claimed $18.3 billion in foreign tax credit in 2013 which is up from $8.17 billion in the previous year. The foreign tax credit was generally claimed for the tax paid in foreign countries on the dividend income repatriated to the U.S. by these holding companies. The data says that the holding companies reported $25.1 billion in such dividend income in 2013.

The data suggests that U.S. companies are bringing in more income from the foreign earnings to finance U.S. operations.

Since the tax incentives are not the motivation for repatriating the earnings, the economic factors seem to be the driving such a trend.

Alert: FIRPTA withholding rate goes up effective today, February 16th

Foreign investors are generally not subject to US tax on US source capital gain unless it is effectively connected with a US trade or business, or it is realized by an individual who meets certain physical presence requirements. 

Gain from the disposition of a U.S. real property interest (USRPI), however, is treated as income effectively connected with a US trade or business under the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA). This FIRPTA gain is subject to tax and withholding under Code Sec. 897 and Code Sec. 1445. 

Stock or a beneficial interest in a US real property holding corporation (USRPHC) is a USRPI. 

Under pre-2015 PATH Act law, in the case of any disposition of a USRPI by a foreign person, the transferee was required to deduct and withhold at the rate of 10% of the amount realized on the disposition. 

Effective dispositions made on or after February 16, 2016, the new PATH Act increases the FIRPTA withholding rate to 15% on the dispositions of USRPIs and other prescribed transactions. 

However, the PATH Act provides for a reduced FIRPTA withholding rate of 10% in the case of a disposition of property which is acquired by the transferee for use by the transferee as a residence, and the amount realized for the property does not exceed $1,000,000, provided the exemption for a residence bought for $300,000 or less does not apply.

No Form 1042 extensions, higher penalties and no refunds – IRS changes its ways!

As readers may recall, in 2013 IRS launched a new foreign payment practices (FPP) division under the LB&I to specifically oversee withholding agents’ compliance activities. The short article is intended to make the withholding agents and other affected taxpayers/ tax professionals aware that FPP has recently begun proposing significantly higher penalties for late filing of Form 1042-S and 1042 by the withholding agents.

Generally, Form 1042 and 1042-S are required to be filed by the withholding agent with regard to the U.S. source income paid to the non-U.S. persons. The forms must be prepared for the calendar year regardless of the withholding agent’s taxable year. These Forms are due on or before March 15th of the following calendar year. They must also be furnished to the payees by the same date. 

Until recently IRS was granting a 30-day extension for filing Form 1042-S when they filed application for extension of time to file on Form 8809 on or before March 15th. Form 1042 can be extended for 6 months by filing Form 7004. IRS has recently proposed regulations that will limit granting the automatic extension with regard to Form 1042-S. IRS proposed regulations state that the extension will be allowed only under extreme circumstances and may be denied if no such circumstances exist. Withholding agents must be bear in mind that IRS may not grant extensions in future and it may be considered not only late but late with intentional disregard. 

In case of intentional disregard of filing Form 1042-S, the penalty is greater of $250 per form or 10% of the amount required to be reported. Based on the facts and circumstances, in order to prove intentional disregard, IRS must show that 1) The filer was required to file an information return, 2) filer knew or should have known about the requirement to file, and 3) deliberately chose not to file or ignored the requirement to file (this occurs in case of repeated failures or delays in filings). 

Now think about this in another perspective. In Notice 2015-10, IRS stated that it will consider the refund claim only if it can trace the withholding payment as actually paid. In case the IRS cannot trace that, no refund will be issued. This along with the difficulties in applying for 1042-S extensions and increased penalties, withholding agents are well advised going forward to implement a serious process to file the forms in a timely manner.

 

Form 1042 – IRS makes some important changes

Last month IRS made changes to the instructions of Form 1042 – Annual Withholding Tax Return for US Source Income of Foreign Persons. As the readers may recall, IRS made some changes to Form 1042 earlier to coincide with the newly issued FATCA regulations under Chapter 3 and 4. The updated instructions were released to assist the withholding agents in preparing the Form. It is pertinent to note that although 2014 and 2015 versions of the Form are identical, IRS has made certain parts of the Form which were optional in 2014, as mandatory for 2015.

Following parts of Form 1042-S are accordingly mandatory for 2015:

  • Withholding agent’s Chapter 3 and 4 status code must be entered on page 1 under the withholding agent’s name.
  • Reconciliation of U.S. source fixed or determinable annual or periodical (FDAP) income in section 2 of Form 1042 must be completed. This schedule reconciles the total U.S. source FDAP income subject to withholding under Chapter 4 with the total amount of U.S. source FDAP income reported on Forms 1042-S.
  • It is required that withholding agents now summarize the reasons why the amounts were not subject to Chapter 4 withholding such as amounts paid with respect to grandfathered obligations, amounts paid that were characterized as excluded nonfinancial payments, etc.).

Structuring investment in India – Does Mauritius Holdco work?

Air-Mauritius

Tax authorities worldwide distaste the word “treaty shopping” as such. In recent times, OECD has worked out guidelines for BEPS and most U.S. tax treaties have “Limitation of Benefit” clause that prevents abusive tax planning. However, there may still be some opportunities available to U.S. investors in India; one such avenue is investing via Mauritius Holdco structures.

A lot of foreign investors prefer to route their investment through Mauritius in India. Since the India- Mauritius double tax avoidance agreement offers exemption from capital gains tax to Mauritian residents. It has been the key incentive provided by the Indo-Mauritius tax treaty where by tax on capital gains is exempted for investors from Mauritius. As per the last finance bill almost 42% of the foreign direct investment into India is routed through Mauritius.

The Indian High Court recently upheld that The Tax residency Certificate issued by Mauritius authority would be sufficient in claiming the tax benefit.

In a recent verdict by Indian High Court against the advance ruling made to Serco BPO Private Limited, the court upheld: “Once it is accepted that the certificate has been issued by the Mauritian authorities, the validity thereof cannot be questioned by the Indian authorities.”

The Income Tax authority raised questions on the residency of Blackstone Mauritius and Barclays Mauritius and was of the opinion that selling of shares of SKR BPO was mere a tool of tax avoidance.

Few important takeaways from the court decision:

  • The tax resident certificate is sufficient evidence to establish the taxpayer as resident of Mauritius.
  • Capital gains routed through investment into India through Mauritius would remain not taxable.

Though 2013 Indian Budget bill raised the same issue that mere residency certificate though necessary but may not be sufficient to claim benefits of the India – Mauritius Income tax treaty. The Income tax authority might have wider discretion to determine whether a foreign investor had used treaty benefits for the only reason of tax avoidance.

Recent High Court verdict is welcome news for foreign inbound structures. Accordingly, once the Tax Residency Certificate is received from Mauritian authority, the treaty should not be questioned to.

BEPS and Planet Mars

NASA recently announced that your name can be put on the planet Mars. This is incredibly great news for the people with good fortunes who are thrilled by the opportunity to gain their foothold in the universe and enhance their fame. However, in another space mission, scientists are attempting to find out if any life exists in other planets.

Think about it. If they indeed were able to find the life on Mars and if the inhabitants there happen to be much more advanced than the humans on earth, they are likely to have a tax law that can tax such inbound activities. Beware and think before you make that tempting decision. 

Putting your name on a planet may have its other side. If “cross planet” law applies and absence a tax treaty (we are not aware about any as of today), just by putting your name can create economic “nexus” and a Permanent Establishment in Mars. If BEPS – Base Erosion and Profit Shifting – laws are much more advanced than our planet earth, you may receive a tax bill from Martian tax authority as soon as your name appears there.

Not enough information is available at this stage if IRS has signed any information exchange pact under FATCA with Mars or whether the tax agencies around the globe are secretly using the “trick” to disclose your name to Martian government!

It will certainly be to your advantage to consult a “cross planet” tax advisor who can keep you out of any trouble. Watch out and do not fall in the trap – think before you leap!!