8. Some expatriates can escape the exit tax.
In general the exit tax is unforgiving and has broad application. Yet if you have less than $600,000 of income from the deemed sale of your assets on expatriation, you pay no tax. This exemption amount is adjusted for inflation and is $627,000 for 2010. If your gain exceeds this amount, you must allocate the gain pro rata among all appreciated property.
However, this exclusion amount must be allocated to each item of property with built-in gain on a proportional basis. This involves a complicated process of multiplying the exclusion amount by the ratio of the built-in gain for each gain asset over the total built-in gain of all gain assets. The exclusion amount allocated to each gain asset may not exceed the amount of that asset's built-in gain. Moreover, if the total allowable gain of all gain assets is less than the exclusion amount, the exclusion amount that can be allocated to the gain assets will be limited to that amount of gain. For example, in 2010, if the total allowable gain in an expatriate's assets was $500,000, then that $500,000 would be the limit instead of $627,000.
Fortunately not all expatriates face the exit tax; only "covered expatriates" do. Under prior law, you generally had to give notice you were expatriating to trigger the rules. Now if you relinquish your passport or green card, it's generally automatic. But some expatriates, even under the new law, can escape the exit tax. The financial thresholds (see point five above) can still exempt you. Some people born with dual citizenship who haven't had a substantial presence in the U.S. and certain minors who expatriated before the age of 18-and-a-half are also exempt. However, those people must still file an IRS Form 8854 Expatriation Information Statement.
9. You can elect to defer the exit tax.
If you do face the exit tax, you can make an irrevocable election (on a property-by-property basis) to defer it until you actually sell the property. This election allows people to leave the U.S. and expatriate without triggering immediate tax as long as the IRS is assured it will collect the tax in the future. To qualify, a covered expatriate must provide a bond or other adequate security for the tax liability. There are specific requirements for these security bonds. Plus, there is an updating and monitoring of the bond in case it becomes inadequate to cover the tax. The IRS scrutinizes these elections on a case-by-case basis, so hire an expert. There are detailed requirements for filing the deferral election, including documentation, and copies of various documents.
One of these requirements is appointing a U.S. agent for the limited purpose of accepting communications with the IRS. Plus, the taxpayer must waive any tax treaty benefits that might otherwise impact the IRS getting its money. It doesn't appear that many of these deferral elections have been made so far.
There's another reason, other than the bond, not to defer. When you do sell, you'll pay taxes at the rate then in effect, which will likely be higher. If the Obama Administration has its way, when the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of this year, the top rate on long-term capital gains will rise from 15% to 20%. Plus, the just-passed House reconciliation package to the Senate's health care bill (if also approved by the Senate) is supposed to impose an additional 3.8% tax on net investment income for taxpayers with threshold income amounts of $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for joint filers. This could raise the top capital gains rate to 23.8% for those taxpayers.
10. You'll need professional help.
As you might expect, there are forms to file and procedures to follow if you expatriate. In fact, if you are wavering, the paperwork alone may keep you stateside! You must file IRS Form 8854 (in some cases for 10 years). Additional special forms (Form W-8CE if you have any deferred compensation items, a specified tax deferred account, certain non-grantor trusts, etc.) are also required. A good source is IRS Notice 2009-85.
Still, get some professional help. As this mere scratching of the surface suggests, the tax rules regarding expatriation for citizens and long-term residents are complex, even dizzying. Gone are the days when one could renounce U.S. citizenship and stand a good chance of avoiding U.S. tax. If you're facing these issues, or even if you are a beneficiary of someone else who is facing them, get some professional help. Bon voyage!
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