Tax Traps and Landmines in Your Offshore Corporation

Tax Traps and Landmines in Your Offshore Corporation

01/11/2013 - 8:10 AM
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Offshore Corporation

An Offshore Corporation can provide extraordinary tax planning opportunities to those living and working offshore. For the misinformed, this same structure is fraught with risk and may blow up in your face if planned or reported incorrectly.

I take calls every day from those who want me and my team of U.S. licensed tax experts to form an offshore corporation and to discuss their tax filing obligations. Most of you have done your research and are well versed on the topic. You have searched the web, called around, got a few quotes, and talked to a variety of sources.

I take great pride in the fact that my readers are well informed and I’m glad you, like me, are significantly invested in being offshore. Unfortunately, so much of the information on the internet, or provided by unscrupulous unlicensed promoters, is incorrect and intended to deceive.

For example, I was speaking with a potential client…we will call her Ms. Q…yesterday. By way of background, she is living and working in California, is self-employed, and most of her clients (and revenue) are from Asia. She had been talking with a promoter in Nevis and was convinced she could operate her business through a Nevis corporation and not pay any tax.

Here is the gist of her conversation with the promoter:

Q: If my Nevis offshore company earns money from Asia, will I pay any taxes on that money if I don’t bring it in to the U.S.?

A: No, you will not pay any taxes in Nevis. Your offshore company is not required to file a tax return or pay any taxes of any kind.

Q: Do I need to follow certain accounting standards, file accounting reports, or keep records?

A: No, Nevis does not require you to keep business records, provide audited statements, or file any documents. Basically, all you need to do is pay your monthly fee to keep the company in good standing.

Q: Can my offshore corporation retain earnings?

A: Sure, you can retain as much capital in your Nevis Corporation as you like. Nevis imposes no requirements on dividends or corporate capital.

Q: When will I need to pay taxes on the money earned by my offshore corporation?

A: In most cases, clients must pay tax on the money they pay themselves in salary. So, you may need to pay taxes on your earnings when you take them out of the company.

Q: Is my offshore bank account private?

A: Absolutely. We value your privacy in Nevis and have very strict laws preventing disclosure of your offshore corporation or bank account to anyone.

The client came away from this conversation with the belief that her bank account would be secret and that no taxes would be due unless and until she repatriated money from Nevis to the U.S. The promoter stuck to the facts, misdirects but did not lie, and gave only one side of the story…that of Nevis…ignoring the client’s obligations in her home country.

In fact, the tax rules for offshore corporations are rather simple:

1. If you are living and/or working in the United States, an offshore corporation or LLC provides no tax benefit. Where your clients are located is irrelevant. Your domicile while performing the work controls.

a. The offshore corporation will provide unparalleled asset protection, access to international markets, the ability to diversify out of the United States and its currency, and other benefits, but it is tax neutral for the U.S. resident.

2. If you are living and operating a business outside of the United Sates, and qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, then doing business through an offshore corporation may reduce or eliminate all U.S. taxes.

(Note: An IRA or other retirement account may achieve significant tax savings by going offshore but this is outside the scope of this article. For more information on this topic, click here.)

In other words, if you are living in the U.S., an offshore corporation should not increase or decrease your U.S. tax bill. It may require you to file a number of forms with the IRS, but it should be tax neutral. If you are living outside of the States, then an offshore corporation may be a great tax tool and you should consult with a U.S. licensed expert.

Ms. Q was asking all the right questions, but to the wrong person. If you ask a Nevis attorney a tax or legal question, you will get an answer according to the law of Nevis. As a U.S. citizen, it is important that you operate from a tax free jurisdiction like Nevis, Belize or Panama, but the majority of your tax planning and structuring concerns involve the U.S. tax code. So, your offshore corporation must be created and maintained by a U.S. licensed tax expert.

Here is another example: I recently received a call from an investment advisor who had read my article on International Taxation. He came away from that page thinking that an offshore corporation can be used to eliminate self-employment taxes for those living in the U.S.

To eliminate self-employment and/or Social Security, Medicare, and FICA taxes through an offshore corporation, you must 1) live and work outside of the United States, 2) operate your business through a non-US corporation, and 3) qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.

A U.S. resident may operate his business through an offshore corporation for asset protection or other reasons, but your salary will be fully taxed. Your corporation should issue a W-2 and have proper withholding. If a W-2 is not filed, or a payroll system is not in place, you should report all income from the offshore corporation on your personal return as being subject to self-employment tax.

The moral of the story: If you carry a U.S. passport, your offshore corporation or international asset protection structure must be created and maintained by a U.S. licensed tax expert. Failure to comply with the various tax laws can result in extremely draconian penalties. For example, click here for FBAR rules or click here for the IRS Disclosure Initiative.

If you are considering incorporating offshore, please contact me for a confidential consultation. We can be reached at (619) 550-2743 or info@premieroffshore.com. For more information on offshore corporations, please click here.

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