U.S. persons ought to be aware of the potential tax heartaches associated with investing in mutual funds held by foreign banks or foreign brokerage firms. When making such investments through U.S. firms, any appreciation or depreciation of value of the funds is not recognized as gain or loss until the fund is sold or liquidated. This is not the case with the same type of investments in foreign firms. Each year the U.S. investor must pick up as income or record a loss in the appreciation or depreciation of value of the funds even though there was no sale or liquidation of the funds. Essentially, such an investor looses the advantage of deferring gains which is enjoyed by those investors dealing with U.S. firms.
To understand how this operates – Under the Internal Revenue Code, there is a concept called Passive Foreign Investment Company or “PFIC”. A foreign corporation is classified as a PFIC if it meets one of the following tests:
- Income Test– 75% or more of the corporation’s gross income is passive income (interest, dividends, capital gains, etc.)
- Asset Test– 50% or more of the corporation’s total assets are passive assets; passive assets are investments that produce interest, dividends or capital gains.
The IRS has extended the characterization of a PFIC to include most foreign-based mutual funds, hedge funds and other pooled investment vehicles.
A. U.S. taxpayer with these investments is required to fill out Form 8621 and include it with his Form 1040 along with the appropriate PFIC income and tax computations. The IRS offers various complicated methods of reporting PFIC income. Under one such method, “Mark-to-Market”, the IRS requires the reporting of the value of a mutual fund from year to year and taxes any appreciation in the mutual fund values from year to year. The tax rate that applies is 20%. This is in addition to the normal taxation of dividends and capital gains that domestic mutual funds are taxed on.
Reporting the appreciation of a mutual fund from year to year may end up being no small task as oftentimes a typical stock portfolio will contain twenty to thirty funds which may involve lots of trade activity over the course of many years. The taxpayer needs to keep accurate and comprehensive records of all information on the mutual fund(s) including share basis, yearly balances, and any sales or purchases from year to year.
If you have never reported your foreign investments on your U.S. Tax Returns, the IRS has established the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (OVDI) which allows taxpayers to come forward to avoid criminal prosecution and not have to bear the full amount of penalties normally imposed by IRS. Taxpayers who hire an experienced tax attorney in Offshore Account Voluntary Disclosures should result in avoiding any pitfalls and gaining the maximum benefits conferred by this program.