When a U.S. business expands abroad, it is frequently believed that the income of foreign subsidiary corporations will not be taxed in the U.S. until dividends are distributed to the U.S. shareholder. This is known as tax deferral, which is the general expectation of clients. However, in the U.S., tax deferral may be overridden by provisions accelerating the imposition of U.S. tax on U.S. shareholders of foreign corporations. As a result, income may be taxed before a dividend is distributed. This article describes the anti-deferral provisions of U.S. tax law that may be applicable in certain situations.
The Internal Revenue Code contains two principal anti-deferral regimes that may impose tax on a U.S. taxpayer on a current basis when its foreign subsidiaries generate income. These provisions reflect a policy under which Congress believes the deferral rules are being abused to inappropriately defer U.S. tax, especially if foreign tax is not imposed for one reason or another. The two regimes are the:
- Controlled Foreign Corporation (“C.F.C.”) regime under Code §§951-964, also known as the “Subpart F” provisions; and
- Passive Foreign Investment Company (“P.F.I.C.”) regime under Code §§1291-1298.
Controlled Foreign Corporations
Under Code §957(a), a foreign corporation is a C.F.C. if stock representing more than 50% of either the total combined voting power or the total value of shares is owned, directly, indirectly, or by attribution, by “U.S. Shareholders” on any day during the foreign corporation’s taxable year. With respect to a foreign corporation, a U.S. Shareholder is defined as a “U.S. person” that owns, under the foregoing expanded ownership rules, stock representing 10% or more of the total voting power of all classes of the foreign corporation’s stock that is entitled to vote. A “U.S. person” includes a U.S. citizen or resident, a U.S. corporation, a U.S. partnership, a domestic trust, and a domestic estate. Stock ownership includes indirect and constructive ownership under the rules of Code §958. Consequently, ownership can be attributed, inter alia, from foreign corporations to shareholders, from one family member to another, and from trusts and estates to beneficiaries, legatees, and heirs.