Thursday, December 15, 2011

Be Careful With Foreign Tax Information Returns

Today we filed an extension for a client company with a foreign subsidiary. I was recently reading a Chief Counsel’s Advice concerning the same type of tax return that our client will be filing in a few months.
There is an additional form to file when one owns a foreign corporation. That is Form 5471 “Information Return of U.S Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations.” The common ownership threshold for filing is 10 percent. There is a twist in which an officer or director has a responsibility to file, even if the officer or director owns no shares directly, as long as a US citizen owns at least 10 percent.
Frankly, this is a confusing return. There are four types of “filers,” and each has to fill-out – or not fill-out- certain sections of the return. One may have to provide an income statement for the foreign company, for example, or track its earnings and profits.
The 2010 HIRE Act amended the tax Code (Section 6501(c )(8)) so that the statute of limitations for an income tax return to which an international “information return“ relates does not start until the information return is filed.
What does this mean? Well, Form 5471 is considered an “information return.” This means that it has numbers on it, but there is no line that says “tax due.” There is a similar form (Form 8865) for foreign partnerships and another (Form 3520) for foreign trusts.
So you own (enough of) a foreign corporation to file Form 5471. The accountant doesn’t think about it and files the corporate return without it.  The IRS in CCA 201104041 clarified that the statute of limitations on the corporate return does not begin to run until the Form 5471 is filed.
The client referred to above is new to the firm. One of the reasons that they switched firms? Their former CPA had not been filing Forms 5471.
If you remember, there are also penalties for not filing foreign information returns, including Form 5471. That however is for another blog post.

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