What is Subpart F Income?

Generally, the taxation of earnings and profits in the U.S. of a controlled foreign corporation (“CFC”) are deferred until repatriation through the distribution of dividends. A CFC is a foreign corporation that is owned more than 50 per cent of vote or value by a U.S. person or persons (i.e. U.S. citizens, resident individuals, U.S. partnerships and corporations, non-foreign estates and U.S. trusts) who each own at least 10 per cent of vote or value. However, there are exceptions to the deferral with respect to passive and certain types of active business and personal services income. These types of income, under specific circumstances, are taxable in the hands of the U.S. person whether or not distributed to the shareholder. The deemed income inclusion is what is referred to as “Subpart F” income. The Subpart F rules are anti-deferral provisions to prevent U.S. persons from delaying the recognition of taxable income through the use of foreign entities.

What are the changes?

Beginning in 2018, a US citizen resident in Canada, who is required to accrue passive income (or other subpart F income) on his US personal tax return under the subpart F provisions of the CFC rules, will exclude the income from his US tax return if a Canadian corporate tax of over 18.9 per cent is paid on the income. This is what is commonly referred to as the “high-tax exception”. In Ontario, investment income is taxed at 50.17 per cent to the CFC (including capital gains taxed at 25.09 per cent), therefore, the high-tax exception would apply to exclude the investment income from being taxed currently as subpart F income. The current provisions ignore any subsequent reduction to the corporate tax as a refundable dividend tax on hand (“RDTOH”) once the income is distributed to the shareholder as a dividend for purposes of the high-tax exception.

Why were the changes enacted?

Treasury is aware that certain jurisdictions use a tax integration system where the corporate income tax paid by the CFC is refunded when the income is distributed, even if the shareholder is subject to little or no tax on receipt. This has raised concerns where CFCs are formed specifically to exempt passive income (or other subpart F income) from US taxation under the high-tax exception. To address this perceived abuse, proposed regulations were released on November 28, 2018 that modify the high-tax exception. Now, if foreign taxes paid or accrued are reasonably certain to be refunded to the shareholder on a subsequent distribution, such foreign taxes are not treated as paid or accrued for purposes of the high-tax exception.

What about capital gains?

As previously noted, Ontario’s tax rate on investment income is 50.17 per cent. After the RDTOH, the tax is reduced to 19.5 per cent on a subsequent distribution and the high-tax exception should apply. However, the high-tax exception with respect to capital gains will not be available due to a reduced tax rate of 9.75 per cent after the credit for the RDTOH. There may be situations where accumulated RDTOH can reduce the effective tax rate to below 18.9per cent. In this case, the high tax exception will not apply.

The regulations are still in proposed form and may change after the IRS receives comments from the public. If enacted in its original or revised form, it will be effective for tax years ending after December 4, 2018.

Three things to know about updates to the EIN application form

In an effort to improve security and transparency around the Employer Identification Number (EIN) application process, the Internal Revenue Service has published updated instructions to Form SS-4, Application for Employer Identification Numbers.

An EIN is an identification number assigned to sole proprietors, corporations, partnerships, estates, trusts, employee retirement plans and other entities. It is the equivalent to a Canadian Business number and all businesses operating in the U.S. must have an EIN in order to file tax returns or entity classification elections with the IRS. In some cases, it is also required to open a U.S. bank account.

If you are a Canadian doing business in the U.S., there are three key takeaways from these updates:

1) Requirement for an SSN or ITIN. EFFECTIVE MAY 13, 2019, taxpayers cannot apply for an EIN unless the responsible party named on the application has either a social security number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). While it is not expressly described in the new instructions to the application, it is understood that an EIN can be assigned to an international applicant (i.e. an entity that has no legal residence, principal office, or agency in the United States or a U.S. possession) if an SSN, ITIN, or EIN for the responsible party is not available. In this case, the applicant can enter “foreign domicile” on line 7b of Form SS-4.

2) Change to the definition of “responsible party”. As of December 2017, the IRS requires that an EIN applicant’s “responsible party” must be an individual who owns or controls the entity or exercises ultimate effective control over the applicant. The responsible party can be a U.S. or non-U.S. person, but it can no longer be an entity. (Government entities and military are exempt.)

3) Elimination of the “check-the-box” exception. The “check-the-box” exception no longer applies. Prior to this change, a SSN or ITIN was not required to apply for an EIN if the reason for obtaining an EIN was to file IRS Form 8832, Entity Classification Election (i.e. a “check-the-box” election to change the entity’s classification for federal tax purposes). In the most recent version of the application, the IRS has eliminated this exception.

The check-the-box election as a planning tool

The “check-the-box” election has been a popular post-mortem planning tool used by Canadians to avoid the U.S. estate tax on U.S. situs assets held by a non-U.S. taxpayer at death. A Canadian partnership is initially created to own the U.S. situs assets and, following the death of the non-U.S. taxpayer, a check-the-box election is made to treat the Canadian partnership as a corporation for U.S. tax purposes. A non-U.S. decedent who, at death, holds shares of a foreign corporation (which serves as a “blocker”) that owns U.S. situs assets is not subject to the U.S. estate tax. The “check-the-box” election can be effective up to 75 days prior to the date the election is filed, which effectively permits the ownership by the non-U.S. decedent of the “foreign corporation” to occur prior to the date of death.

The U.S. estate tax is assessed at up to 40% of the fair market value (and not the gain) of the U.S. situs assets, however, the lifetime estate tax exclusions that are permitted under the Canada-U.S. Treaty may provide relief from the U.S. estate tax. Because the lifetime estate tax exclusions have doubled for 2018 through 2025 under the Trump Administration’s new tax Act, this planning tool may prove to be less effective until the end of 2025.

Advance Planning is Highly Recommended

Limited Liability Companies (“LLC”) that are wholly-owned by non-US persons must now comply with the reporting requirements of Form 5472, Information returns of a 25% Foreign-Owned U.S. Corporation or a Foreign Corporation Engaged in a U.S. Trade or Business.  The Form must be attached to a proforma U.S. tax return (i.e. Form 1120, U.S. Corporation Income Tax Return) and is due by the 15th day of the fourth month following the end of the foreign owner’s tax year or calendar year. For a calendar year foreign owner, the tax return is due April 15.

Because the ITIN application process is quite onerous and may take months to complete, advance planning is critical to ensure that elections are made in a timely manner and the U.S. filing requirements are met by the due date.

There is no change to the application process for tax professionals who act as a designated third-party in completing the process for an entity.