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.

 

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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!!

Flying over international waters and in U.S.? Flight attendant denied exclusion

Recently in Rogers case, the DC court affirmed the Tax Court’s decision that a flight attendant who performed some duties in and over the U.S. and international waters could not exclude all of her wages under IRC 911 as foreign earned income.

The taxpayer worked as an international flight attendant based in Hong Kong. She performed in-flight duties and some pre-departure and post-arrival work and was generally paid according to her flight time. She received vacation time and benefits, and could receive guarantee pay for work that she would have performed on flights that were canceled. When she received guarantee pay, she was required to remain in Hong Kong awaiting reassignment to another flight. The airline provided the taxpayer with an apportionment of her estimated duty time between minutes spent in or over foreign countries, in or over the U.S., and over international waters. The taxpayer and her husband filed a joint return and excluded all of the taxpayer’s earnings as foreign earned income under IRC 911.

IRS and later Tax Court disallowed the foreign earned income exclusion for the portion of income allocated to her time within U.S. and allowed exclusion only for the flight time that the taxpayer was outside the U.S.

Foreign earned income exclusion is claimed on Form 2555 and the taxpayer must meet either bona fide residence test or physical presence test. There are several exceptions and rules as well as planning opportunities. CPA Global Tax professionals can help you navigate this.

U.S. Law firms consulting in India – trap for the unwary

International legal and independent professionals consulting in India often have issues receiving funds from their clients in India. India has stringent exchange control regulations contained in the Act called Foreign Exchange Management Act – FEMA. Accordingly all foreign remittances must go through certain procedures. Additionally, Income Tax Department asks for “Tax Residency Certificate” (TRC) from the US service provider so that the treaty benefits can be allowed. If TRC is not produced, the payer must withhold tax from the income remitted to US service provider. This is true regardless of where the services were provided.

Until recently, it was mandatory that TRC issued by foreign tax authority must contain all items required by the government of India in order to exempt any tax withholding requirements. As many of us are aware, Internal Revenue Service issues the US tax residency certificate in Form 6166 which cannot contain additional information as required by government of India. Due to this, in many cases, the Indian income tax department rejected the TRC issued by IRS and that resulted in withholding tax in India.

However, after a few representations, the government of India and the tax department agreed to accept the US residency certificate in its present Form 6166.

Accordingly the following documents are required to successfully receive payments form Indian companies without any withholding:

  1. Form 10F
  2. Permanent Account Number  (PAN or tax ID number)for India
  3. US Form 6166 for the relevant tax year
  4. Signed letter on US law firm’s letterhead stating that the law firm does not have a permanent establishment (PE) in India under the US – India tax treaty article.

Since the tax year in India runs from April 1 to March 31st, it is possible that some clients in India may request that the firm provide TRC issued by IRS in 2015 for payments processed in January through March 2015. Therefore US law firms may want to begin the process of collecting relevant data and partner signatures in advance, so as to file Form 8802 in a timely manner. This will expedite the process to receive TRC from IRS soon. Note that currently IRS charges a $85 user fee and processes the TRC within 45 days.

Please contact us to receive our assistance on both sides of the border.

Foreign television broadcast in US – is royalty paid to foreign corporation taxable?

French open is around the corner! Some French tennis broadcasting channels will broadcast the matches live via satellites in US. Ever imagined how the tax law would apply to the royalty income paid by US companies to foreign channels?

Interesting issue recently arose when a US subsidiary sought a Private Letter Ruling from IRS to clarify whether the royalty paid by US subsidiary to its foreign parent was subject to any tax withholding.

Facts of the case were, foreign broadcasting company created a subsidiary in US to distribute to US distributors that showed foreign television channels. US subsidiary would collect fee from US distributors and pay royalties to its foreign parent. Income tax treaty between US and the country where the foreign parent was resident of had a tax treaty and a provision for taxing royalty income. However, the royalty article in the US- and foreign country income tax treaty exempts all royalties from US income tax, except royalties or rentals from motion picture films.

IRS ruling favored the Taxpayer.  IRS treated the royalties paid by US subsidiary to Taxpayer (foreign parent) as royalties that are exempt from U.S. income under the royalties article of the income tax treaty between both countries.

It would be interesting to see if the royalties article will include royalties from television broadcasting when the treaty is up for negotiation again!