How a US LLC can Uniquely Benefit a UK Resident

A prospective client approached me recently regarding the benefits of establishing a US Limited Liability Company (US LLC), becoming a non-resident of the UK, and in which order should he proceed. Due to the unique status of how the UK interprets US LLC status, residents of the UK can receive some very unique benefits if they neither incur US or UK “effectively connected income”. This was my answer:

Well I first must fully agree with you about non-res status. It can be a real deal changer. However, in your case it is not absolutely necessary, and I would feel free to proceed with a company formation prior to actually leaving the UK.

If you own a US LLC it will be treated very oddly because of the way that the US and the UK deal with how US LLCs are treated for tax purposes.

In the USA the default setting of the US LLC is “disregarded entity” which means it does not exist for US tax purposes. So if you do not live in the USA and you do not earn “effectively connect US source income” then you will owe no US taxes. In fact you will not even have to file tax returns. This will be the case even if you have a US bank account and do all your banking in the USA. Just receiving money in the USA, even if that money comes from US sources, does not create a tax liability. For that you need to do more; make things, store things, deliver things, maintain permanent offices and staff, etc. from inside the USA.

Now that all sounds pretty good! However, it only gets better for citizens of the UK. Even though the US considers the US LLC to be a “disregarded entity” the UK treats the US LLC as a separate entity. If the US LLC does no business in the UK and incurs no income in the UK then there will be no UK taxes due from the income earned by the US LLC. Now you will need to pay taxes on income you receive as a salary or profit distribution, but you will be able to provide yourself with many tax free benefits since the US LLC will have no taxes to pay anywhere. Money you do not distribute to yourself, or use for your personal benefit will be deferred taxation allowing you to further invest that money. Now it is wise to be careful about how you give yourself these “tax free benefits” since the UK may decide that what you are really doing is giving yourself income and then fraudulently evading taxes; not good. So don’t be greedy. If you are receiving real economic benefits while living in the UK then pay taxes on that income. Keep in mind that you get to choose how you get paid and can select the method with the least tax; profit distributions, salary, reimbursement for contract work, etc. You get to choose whatever is best for you, but again don’t be greedy.

This takes us to the interesting issue of how to really avoid UK taxes. Move out of the UK. I am not a UK attorney, and I do not even pretend to play one on TV, but it is my understanding that in order to gain full non-resident status you must do more than just leave the UK and stay out a certain number of days. You must also obtain a legal residency in some other country. In this regard there are a lot of interesting options out there.

I chose the Republic of Georgia for a number of reasons. For me it was mostly lifestyle issues and economic opportunities, but there are also a lot of tax benefits to be had here. Getting a residency is simple and easy, and it can lead to citizenship for some in under a year! I don’t know of any place else on earth where that is possible without some sort of ancestral claim or a huge investment in the country; at least not a country that I would actually want to be part of.

Some other interesting options that provide great tax benefits: Montenegro, Mexico, Malta, Latvia, etc. Each has its advantages and its disadvantages. Note, you do not necessarily have to live in the country that you have a residency. It might just be a legal formality so that you can claim non-res status. On the other hand it might be nice to combine the issue of tax status and where you like to live.

“Disregarded Entity” vs “Taxable Association”: What is the best way to structure your LLC?

For the past 15 years I have been promoting the USA as the ultimate banking solution for non-residents (or as some might say a “Tax Haven” for non-residents). My traditional proposal was to simply set up a US LLC, take the default election of ‘disregarded entity’ (“disregarded entity” is an LLC that is treated by the Internal Revenue Service as a complete pass through entity. For tax purposes it does not exist. For all other purposes it does.), open a bank account, and as long as you are not earning any US Source/Effectively Connected Income, you are fine. No need to file tax returns let alone pay any taxes.

That is no longer entirely the case. FATCA has not changed the tax treatment issues, but has changed the reporting requirements for US payors. The issue of the W-9 (reporting form for US resident payees receiving funds) and W-8Ben (reporting form(s) for non-US residents receiving funds) was always a little murky but now it is downright impossible. Non-residents receiving payments from US payors, even if the funds are “not effectively connected” to US income, are now facing serious problems. No one really understands how the new W-8Ben system works since they have replaced the one form with 4 or 5 related forms that no one really understands how to use. And the penalties for getting it wrong are quite serious so payors are paying a lot more attention, or just choosing not to do business with anyone who cannot execute a W-9.

In short, it has become very difficult for non-residents to use their US bank accounts to receive funds from US payors.

My solutions:

For those non-residents who do not need to receive funds from US payors, the Disregarded LLC is still fine. Nothing to worry about.

For those receiving money from US payors, we need a more sophisticated structure. The US LLC will elect to be a ‘taxable association’ (that is an entity that will be taxed separately like a C Corporation), but it will only act as an agent of a non-resident business (with a written agency agreement) to resell non-resident goods and services in the USA. 90% of the gross income goes to the foreign provider (with appropriate W-8Ben — that will be very easy), and all operating expenses will come out of the 10% agency fee — there should be little or no taxes.

This solution is simple and easy to implement. In fact old Disregarded LLCs can be converted to “Taxable Association” LLCs with little effort. The only downside is that there is now a requirement to file an annual tax return which means there is a requirement to maintain a good set of books so that the tax preparer can accurately file the return. There may be no taxes due, but failure to file a tax return can cause a lot of problems. I have always advised my clients to maintain a set of books for professional reasons, but they were not required for US tax purposes. Now they are.

If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact me.

Important Updates to the Privacy Passport®

Nothing ever stays the same, but sometimes things get better. This is the case for the Privacy Passport®. For more information see:



High-Tax Nations Under Increasing Pressure

OECD_logo.svgThe Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was initially established to promote economic progress and world trade. It has now become a front organization committed to protecting the high-tax inefficient elements of the First World Economies from economic competition.

Twenty years ago the OECD took aim at “tax havens” that provide(d) tax-free and private banking for the wealthy businesses and individuals of the world. This effort has largely been successful by dishonestly painting “tax havens” as facilitators of drug cartels and terrorist organizations. As such the ability to freely move your money around the world has been severely curtailed, at least among the members of the OECD nations.

Now the OECD nations have taken it upon themselves to stamp out “tax competition” where ever it may be found. Tax competition is when one jurisdiction competes with another jurisdiction for business by lowering or simplifying the tax rate. For the high-tax rate nations who control the OECD this is a grave danger. They have already taxed their nations into economic stagnation with low growth rates and high unemployment. They have bought off restive populations with expensive social programs that provide cradle to grave security, but give little hope of jobs or economic advancement. Up and coming nations that try to attract industry by creating a lower and more efficient tax climate for business are real threats.

It remains to be seen how successful these efforts will be. Attacking the “tax havens” was a much easier project since most of them were small economically struggling Third World nations trying to us private banking, beneficial legal systems, and liberal financial service regulations to bootstrap themselves out of poverty. Such countries were relatively easy to intimidate into compliance. Even Switzerland was forced to dramatically adjust its age-old banking rules in order to comply with its neighbors.

However, the OECD seems to be having less success in the area of “tax competition”. In Europe, the heart of OECD darkness, countries are modernizing their tax codes in order to provide their own citizens and foreign businesses better opportunities to compete. Ireland, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, etc. have all established lower flat rate tax systems that have increased the efficiency of the tax system making these countries more attractive for foreign investors. Russia has recently implemented a broad ranging tax reform that lowered the tax rate to a flat 12%. In most cases, as the tax rates go down and the tax codes are simplified, the tax receipts actually go up. Companies spend less money trying to avoid taxes, and instead invest their time and efforts in making more money which in turn creates more tax revenue.

Attacking impoverished Third World countries who tried to become “tax havens” is one thing. “Tax Competition” is a much harder concept to stamp out as is seen even among the OECD nations themselves.

Why a United Kingdom Limited Partnership?

business_2172838bFor clients who wish to protect their assets, reduce their taxes, and obtain financial privacy using a corporate entity is ideal. One of my favorits is the United Kingdom Limited Partnership (UK LP).

The UK LP is easy to establish, and once established requires zero reporting since it is a truly 100% “pass through” entity. The income from the UK LP is attributed to the partners without the need to file a partnership return in the UK. If the partners are not in the UK and the income is not derived from UK business, there will be no UK taxes and thereby no reports or tax returns that need to be filed. Now since the UK has some of the best tax treaties around, this income may also be tax exempt in your home country.

In addition, as long as you are not “doing business” in the USA (this usually means making, providing, storing and/or transporting goods or services inside the USA), there will be no tax liability in the USA either, although you may end up owing taxes on the profits of the UK LP if you are a citizen or resident of the USA and depending upon how ownership was set-up.

There are many ways of setting up a UK LP depending upon the needs of the client. Let’s chat if you have any questions!

How and Why an International Privacy Trust can Help You!

privacyI often advise clients to use an “International Privacy Trust” to own the business entities they form in order to provide them with greater asset protection, tax planning, and financial privacy. But I also tell them, “The only thing you want to do with the International Privacy Trust is to have it passively own the shares in those companies; no bank accounts, no contracts, no financial transactions, etc.”

This seems to cause a lot of confusion, “If the International Privacy Trust is so great, why don’t we use that instead of the US LLC, UK LP, or Belize IBC?”

A good question.

Without going into complicated legal issues it is important to understand that the “Trust” was developed through a totally different legal process than was the “Company”. Trust Law is different than Corporate Law. There are different rules that apply, and things are interpreted differently.

For example: If you set up a Trust, and you name yourself to an important position in the Trust, or in some way just maintain effective control over the officers of the trust, there is a real risk that the entire trust will be set aside as a “grantor’s trust” or worse a “sham entity”. However, if you set up a company, you can be the sole shareholder, sole officer, sole employee, chief bottle-washer, etc. and have no such problems.

Again, this is because a Trust is treated differently than a Company. This does not mean the Trust is not useful; it is very useful. It simply means you must be cautious in how you use the Trust.

A Trust is very helpful in providing arms-length ownership of assets that you want removed from your estate. A Trust is very helpful at providing added privacy and confidentiality. With careful design and execution, the Trust can be a very helpful tool.

In order to avoid the charge that the Trust is a grantor’s trust, which will result in negative tax implications, (at least under “common law” jurisdictions) certain precautions need to be taken. The client cannot be the Trustee, Sole Protector, Beneficiary, etc. of a Trust. The client also needs to be at “arms-length” distance from the Trust in all transactions; that is the client cannot have effective day-to-day control of the Trust despite what the paperwork says. By limiting what the Trust actually does, this risk is lowered, and hopefully eliminated.

Another risk is the accusation that the Trust is just the “alter-ego” of the client, or a “sham entity” which will result in the entire Trust being set aside. Again, this is when the client for one reason or another is deemed to have effective day-to-day control over the actions of the Trust. Again, limiting the actions of the Trust to only passive actions such as holding shares in business entities removes this as a reasonable risk to be concerned about.

So, I advise my clients to have an International Privacy Trust that DOES NOTHING OTHER THAN own the shares of the business entity they establish. The client gets the benefit of having an effective Trust that removes the assets from his or her estate thereby providing legal and legitimate asset protection and tax benefits, but can still take an active role in the business with the business entity which is owned by the Trust. This is often referred to as a “hybrid” entity approach.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

The Philosophy of Learned Hand

Learned Hand was perhaps one of the greatest legal minds in American History. Although not a Supreme Court judge, his analysis on and off the bench influenced a generation of legal scholarship. And what a fantastic name!!!!

In a famous ruling concerning the duty of the individual regarding the law, he clarified the traditional rule that people do not have a duty to go beyond the written meaning of the law. That is you should only have to guide your actions by the rules laid out by the law, and not by the unwritten intentions of the lawmaker or your own subjective intentions. In Helvering v. Gregory, 69 F. 2d 809, 810 (2nd Cir, 1934), aff’d 293 U.S. 465 (1935) he stated that:

 “[A] transaction, otherwise within an exception of the tax law, does not lose its immunity, because it is actuated by a desire to avoid, or, if one choose, to evade, taxation. Any one may so arrange his affairs that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which will best pay the Treasury; there is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes.

“Over and over again Courts have said there is nothing sinister in so arranging one’s affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everybody does so, rich and poor, and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands. Taxes are enforced exactions, not voluntary contributions. To demand more in the name of morals is mere cant.”

In this ruling Learned Hand made it clear that the government has no right to expect taxpayers and citizens go beyond the mandates of the law and do what is best for the state. It is enough if what they do is within the technical boundaries of the law. The individual need not guide every action by the consideration of what is best for the government.

This was the basic sentiment that drove the American Revolution and the Founders: The Government is the Servant of the Citizens, not the Master.

Sadly, our sentiments have changed. Contrast Learned Hand’s statement with the “sham transaction doctrine” as approved by the court in Jacobson v. CM, 915 F. 2d 832 (2nd Cir, 1990):

“Transactions that are entered into solely for the purpose of obtaining tax benefits and that are without economic substance are considered shams for Federal income tax purposes and purported indebtedness associated therewith will not be recognized…. [A] sham transaction [is] a transaction that is lacking in objective economic reality and that has no economic significance beyond expected tax benefits.”

No longer is working within the law enough. No longer is it enough to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’. Now the taxpayer/citizen must act with subjective intention of doing what is best for the government; paying taxes. Now the government has the right to not only examine WHAT you did, but they can now examine WHY you did it!

As World War II was drawing to an end, and Learned Hand looked back on his generation and the terrible destruction that had taken place, he wrote:

 “What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws, and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. And what is this liberty which must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few; as we have learned to our sorrow.” Learned Hand, P. 190, The Spirit of Liberty (1944).

When Going “Offshore” Should be Avoided

Many people come to me saying that they want to go offshore to protect their assets and reduce their taxes, but are often not ideal candidates. I try to explain that I do not offshore-financial-advicehelp people go “offshore”. What I do is help people protect their assets, reduce their taxes, and obtain greater financial privacy, all in a legal and ethical manner. Offshore structures are just some of the tools that sometimes come in handy to reach these goals.

For many people, “Going Offshore” is not just the wrong tool to use to accomplish these goals, but for many it is a very dangerous and unwise tool. As I described in my prior article, “What is Jurisdiction?”, the point of going “offshore” is to take advantage of another jurisdiction that may provide more friendly laws and regulations in regards to taxes, asset protection and privacy.

However, just setting up a foreign company and then doing business inside the old jurisdiction will not work. You need to be in a situation where some or all of your business can be successfully transplanted to that new more friendly jurisdiction. Examples of “offshore” friendly businesses are: importing/exporting, software design (particularly if you are already using offshore technicians or have significant offshore clients), Internet services, financial services, entertainment industry, and other types of intellectual property. If you do not have a business that lends itself to “going offshore” then it would be wise to focus on more cost-effective domestic alternatives.

If what you are doing is entirely defined as “US Source Income” (that is you are making, providing, storing, and/or delivering a product or service inside the USA from resources located inside the USA) then there is very little reason to “go offshore”. Setting up a foreign company that is going to do business inside the USA will require the foreign company to submit itself to the laws and tax regulations of the jurisdiction. Far from reducing taxes and protecting assets, this often results in some very negative tax consequences and subjects otherwise safe assets to US liabilities. It is for this reason that most non-US companies and investors usually establish US companies to act as affiliates and/or subsidiaries of the non-US structure.

So the bad news is that “going offshore” may be unsuitable for many if not most US taxpayers.

The good news is that there are a lot of reasonably priced alternatives that can still help to protect your assets, reduce your taxes, and obtain greater financial privacy.

The easiest and simplest of these is the good old tried and true “S Corporation” which combines limited liability protection with a convenient “pass through” tax treatment. A favorite of small businesses and investors for decades, the S Corporation provides adequate asset protection by segregating the liabilities of the business from the assets of the owners. Establishing an S Corporation is simple and even a Limited Liability Company (hereinafter an LLC) can be used for those like me who think the LLC is simply the greatest thing since sliced bread. In addition the S Corporation can provide significant savings in “self-employment” taxes (the 15.3% you have to pay for Social Security and Medicare). Instead of having to pay the self-employment tax of 15.3% up to the $113,700 cap (for 2013), you can give yourself a modest salary, and take the rest of the profits as profit distributions. Although you will have to pay taxes on the profit distributions, the savings of 15% can add up very quickly and is a safe and secure way of saving taxes as long as you pay yourself a “reasonable” salary with withholding. For additional privacy you can use a Revocable Trust to own the shares and appoint a nominee officer to be named in any official papers, thus obtaining near anonymous treatment.

For most small businesses an S Corporation is all they need to protect their assets and significantly reduce their taxes. However, if the operations of the business require significant investment of capital and involve significant exposure to liabilities, additional efforts may need to be taken to insure necessary protection is in place. For such situations we have developed the “Advanced Corporate Fortress”. This combines three (3) US entities that are used together to limit the exposure of the business assets to liabilities, and to maximize the tax savings of the owners. First a C Corporation is established that will stand alone as a taxable entity. All assets of the business will be placed into this C Corporation for protection. An LLC treated as a “disregarded entity” will be established to do anything that involves any exposure to liability. Although the LLC will be owned 100% by the C Corporation, it will have little or no assets that could be seized by a potential litigant. Finally an S Corporation is established to provide management and possibly employee payroll services for the LLC. In summary the C Corporation holds the assets of the business behind its protective wall, the LLC acts as a shield to protect the C Corporation since the LLC will be exposed to any and all liabilities but has no assets, and the S Corporation helps further protect the owner’s interests and reduce the owners taxes as described above. There are also several other advanced strategies that can be used to take advantage of the fact that the C Corporation has a very low initial tax bracket, thus allowing you to place some income into the C Corporation at a reduced tax rate and then lending it out to the S Corporation which can then deduct the interest payments on the loan as deductible expenses thereby further reducing the taxes of the owners.

Now for some people, none of this is necessary. They have no business and are only concerned with protecting their assets. For these people the “Personal Preservation Fortress” is ideal. It is simple yet provides extremely powerful protection. The Personal Preservation Fortress uses two entities to provide the ultimate in asset protection. An LLC is established to hold all the assets of the individual(s). The individual(s) will receive 99% of the shares of the LLC. An Irrevocable Trust is established naming someone other than the owner(s) of the LLC as beneficiaries (this is usually children, grandchildren, pets, etc.). The Trust will receive a 1% interest in the LLC and nothing else. Here is why this system works: creditors can only take what you have. If all you have is a partial interest in an LLC, then the creditors can only take that. Now in most states creditors who seize an LLC interest of less than 100% receive only an “assignment” of that interest, not the interest itself. As such they cannot vote the shares, and they cannot demand distributions from the LLC. This is because the LLC is treated as a partnership and most states provide protection to the other partners from being forced to accept as full members involuntary additions to the partnership. Although the creditor cannot vote the shares and cannot demand a distribution of income or assets, the creditor may be liable for demands of additional capital. That is the creditor may be required to pay additional funds into the LLC in order to maintain its economic position. Finally, if the LLC produces taxable income this income does not need to be distributed to the members, but the members still must pay taxes on the income. So the creditor would have to pay taxes on income earned by the LLC which the creditor did not actually receive. Finally, the only remaining voting member of the LLC is the Trust, which is “influenced” by the owners who act as members of the Trust Committee. The Trust Committee can remove the Trustee if the Trustee fails to satisfy the Trust Committee. As you can see, this is a very unpleasant situation for a creditor to be in, and you can expect them to start negotiating on reasonable terms. The best part about this system is that it applies to all creditors including the dreaded Internal Revenue System.

Finally, there is a unique structure that combines the benefits of an Individual Retirement Account with a tax-free entity:”The IRA Rescue Plan”. This program was initially established to assist people with large amounts of IRA money earning low rates of return who wanted to invest in unconventional investments that would otherwise be prohibited or difficult with a traditional IRA. First, the funds in your current IRA must be transferred to a more cooperative Custodian (conventional Custodians like banks, brokers, etc. only make money when you trade or keep your funds in their institution). We then establish a LLC following the dictates of an important US Tax Court ruling and have the IRA Custodian buy 100% of the shares of the new LLC. The client is then appointed President of the LLC, and does whatever he or she wants to do with the money (subject to basic good faith business limitations). The IRS requires that certain rules be maintained regarding distribution of funds from the LLC to the client, but these rules essentially involve reasonable compensation to insure that the client is not “defrauding” the LLC and thus unreasonably avoiding taxes and penalties on the IRA withdrawal. The long and short of it is that the IRS does not want you to transfer the funds from your IRA to an LLC, and then raid the piggy bank and avoid paying the withdrawal fees and penalties. If care is taken, funds can be paid to the client. Now, not only do we have the IRA funds in an entity managed by the client totally free and clear of the IRA limitations as to investments, the LLC is also a tax exempt entity since all profits of the LLC “pass through” to the IRA which pays no taxes on interest, dividends and/or capital gains. Furthermore, the IRA is one of the few entities to withstand the recent changes to the Bankruptcy Code. Funds in an IRA are still safe from creditors, and the LLC, being owned by the IRA, is thus protected.

As you can see, there is an amazing number of options available for people who may find “offshore” planning too risky, or who simply do not fall into a category whereby they could benefit from “going offshore”. If anything, the choice may be too much to deal with. But that is a good thing. Having plenty of options on how to protect your assets, reduce your taxes, and obtain greater financial privacy is a consumers dream come true. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us.

“How Delaware Thrives as a Corporate Tax Haven”

“How Delaware Thrives as a Corporate Tax Haven”

An interesting, if typically biased, article about Delaware companies.

delaware_signI often say that the USA is the greatest tax haven on earth, only you cannot be a US citizen or live here. This is because US laws provide a tremendous degree of legal protection and tax benefits for foreigners who are non-residents. To a lesser degree Delaware does this for the rest of us.

This article describes how Delaware provides an ideal jurisdiction for business formation, but of course throws in the rather unfair characterization that it is all somehow unfair, perhaps even criminal in nature. The article emphasizes the fact that Delaware company formation provides a tremendous degree of privacy, making it very difficult to determine who is the real owner of a Delaware company. The article points out that many criminals have chosen Delaware, arguably because of its privacy. But this characterization is grossly unfair. The privacy that can be obtained by using states likes Delaware is only a small part of why Delaware is such a popular jurisdiction. The fact that a few bad eggs take advantage of this privacy does not make it a bad thing.

The article focuses on tax policy, but implies that somehow the privacy that is obtained by using a Delaware company is the issue. This is simply not true. Privacy and Tax Reduction are two very different things.

There are many valid reasons to choose to incorporate in Delaware. The primary reason why Delaware is so popular is because Delaware has chosen to be a low tax jurisdiction thus attracting businesses. It is also popular because its corporate law is so advanced and secure. Finally, Delaware is very popular because it provides a great haven for legal asset protection planning and it provides financial privacy.

None of these reasons are bad; least of all the financial privacy provided. I am confident that more honest people benefit from such privacy than there are criminals that take advantage of it. If such privacy was taken away, criminals would simply use false names and/or sham owners; after all they are criminals. The privacy provided by Delaware and other states protects the honest who are trying to protect their assets and personal privacy more than it covers for criminal activities. Perhaps the other states should stop complaining about Delaware “robbing them of tax revenue” and instead emulate Delaware and other low tax, business friendly jurisdictions.