Articles Posted in California Residency Audit

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Residency mythsWhile not quite as prevalent as Bigfoot videos, myths about California’s residency tax rules abound on the internet. Of course, believing in Bigfoot won’t increase your chances of a residency audit, or cost you tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars if the audit goes against you. In contrast, misinformation about California’s rules for determining residency can have just that result. This article discusses the top five California residency tax fictions I often encounter at websites offering residency advice. They’re in no particular order, but my comments should provide some indication about how misguided they are and why.

The Basics

First, the basics. You can’t understand what’s misleading about many of the residency myths without first grasping the legal framework for California residency. The key concept is this: No one thing makes you a resident of California, and no one thing makes you a nonresident. Rather, California follows a “facts and circumstances” test. This means the Franchise Tax Board, California’s tax enforcement agency, weighs all the contacts a taxpayer has with California and every other jurisdiction. To determine residency status, the FTB scrutinizes the contacts under legal precedent, regulations, chief counsel rulings, and audit practices. Since this is what California tax authorities do, effective residency planning must do the same. Therefore, whenever someone says that this in-state contact results in California residency, or that out-of-state contact means you’re safely a nonresident, a fundamental misconception is at work.

Why It Matters

The reason residency status matters for tax purposes is also often misconstrued. California taxes residents on all their taxable income, from whatever source. That’s obvious to almost everyone who would broach the topic. But online discussions of California residency often miss the equally important corollary: California taxes nonresidents on all their taxable California-source income. Ignoring this second element of California’s tax law can lead to residency plans that go horribly astray.

For a more detailed discussion of how California determines residency status, see “Guidelines for Determining California Residency: A Primer for Serious Snowbirds”.

And now to the myths.  Continue reading →

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Promissory note sourcingNonresident individuals and out-of-state companies often make loans to California-based borrowers. It’s not unusual for those promissory notes to be secured with California real estate. The scenarios take many forms. A person may inherit the note from a parent, or they may feel obliged to make a loan to a child purchasing their first home. Or the note may be on the books of an out-of-state company as a result of the sale of assets or a subsidiary to a California buyer. Clients in these circumstances often ask me whether the interest from the note is California-source income. The short answer is, generally no. The long answer is, it depends.

Why It Matters

It obviously makes a financial difference if loan interest is California-source income. Nonresidents are taxed by California on income sourced to this state. If the interest on such loans are California-source income, the nonresident must file a nonresident return and pay California income taxes. An analogous situation applies to out-of-state companies that hold such notes. If the interest is revenue sourced to California, the lender is “doing business in California” and owes California taxes on that revenue. But even if the amount of tax is minor, there may be a larger downside. For nonresidents, a California income tax reporting requirement means that the Franchise Tax Board, California’s tax enforcement agency, will know everything about the taxpayer’s global income. That’s because the nonresident must attach a federal return, Form 1040, to the nonresident state return, Form 540NR. It’s not the end of the world, and it by no means guarantees a residency audit, but if the person’s global income is particularly high, and if there are indications of other significant contacts with California, then it could increase the chances of the FTB initiating a residency audit, something that promises unique unpleasantries for nonresidents. See, California Residency Audits: Three Year-End Tasks to Reduce the Risk for Nonresidents.

For business entities, having California-source income raises similar complications. An out-of-state company doing business in California has to register as a foreign entity and file all appropriate entity tax returns, regardless of how de minimis its California taxable income is. And, if the entity is a pass-through, the reportable California-source income may also require the principals to file nonresident returns. A double whammy. Continue reading →

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Manes Law Blog Tax Trap Most of the world knows the Palm Springs area for its picturesque golf courses, celebrity homes and halcyon weather. Among the taxing authorities in Sacramento, however, the words “Palm Springs” conjure up less carefree images. Spurred by the state’s appetite for tax revenues, the Franchise Tax Board, California’s main taxing authority, has tapped into a new revenue source; taxing seasonal visitors to our area as state residents.

Seasonal Visitors As Tax Targets

This is how it works. California taxes residents based on their worldwide income, from whatever source, no matter how far-flung. In contrast, California taxes nonresidents only on their income derived from California sources. For instance, these might include a limited partnership operating in California or rent from an investment property. Since California has the highest income tax rate in the country, visitors who suddenly find themselves defined as “residents” may face a large and unexpected tax liability.

Obviously, the FTB  would like to claim everybody who sets foot on California soil as a resident and subject their income to California tax. That’s their job, after all. As many seasonal visitors have discovered, the FTB’s policies sometimes seem not to fall too far short of that mark.

A special division of the FTB has for years systematically targeted seasonal “part-time” residents for audit (I use the term “part-time” loosely, since we are talking about nonresidents who spend part of the year here, not part-time legal residents per se; but the term has stuck). Though Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Sonoma counties experience their share of audits, historically the most common casualties are affluent “snowbirds” who own vacation homes in the Palm Springs area as an escape from the winter blasts of the Midwest or northern states.  In fact, many of the major cases in residency taxation are eerily similar: they usually involve Midwesterners who own winter vacation homes in Palm Springs and environs. If the FTB finds significant taxable income coupled with meaningful contacts with California (such as a vacation home, business interests or long visits to the state), it can lead to the launch of a full-blown residency audit.

Continue reading →

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California Residency AuditsHundreds of thousands of nonresidents have vacation homes, investments, business operations, and other substantial contacts in California. Many fear those contacts will trigger a residency tax audit – California’s system for determining which taxpayers are legal residents and hence liable for California’s state income tax. The concern is warranted, if often exaggerated by internet myths about the Franchise Tax Board, California’s tax enforcement agency, peeping through your keyhole. California is in fact notably aggressive among the states in claiming out-of-state taxpayers as residents. With the highest state income tax in the nation, California cares about residency status much more so than do low or zero income tax states. Because it matters, the FTB wants the facts, ma’am. A residency audit is California’s unpleasant way of getting them.

Fortunately, however, once you understand how California’s residency audit system works, you can plan to reduce your risk. Let’s discuss three end-of-year actions nonresidents can take to avoid the most common scenarios that lead to a residency audit.

What Is A Residency Audit?

First, it helps to know what a residency audit actually is and how they are triggered.

It’s critical to understand that California residency audits are not typical financial audits. Rather, they turn on a taxpayer’s legal status with California as a result of lifestyle. Most taxpayers – and tax professionals – are only familiar with tax audits involving financial and business matters. These usually revolve around underreported income, disputed deductions and losses, charitable gifts, business expenses. The taxpayer’s role in the

 

Manes law pull quoteBut what makes a person a resident of California has nothing to do with tax concepts per se. It is a separate body of law, built up helter-skelter over many years, through regulations, FTB rulings and court decisions

 

examination is often limited to instructing a CPA to handle the matter and enduring a disagreeable meeting or two with the auditor. But again, California residency audits are not financial audits. They rarely involve the usual suspects found in standard tax examinations. The auditor is inquires into where the taxpayer spends his time, what he is doing while in California as opposed to other states, what assets he owns and where, what organizations he belongs to and why, what goods and services he purchases, the location of the gym where you can find him running on a treadmill. In short, a residency audit is very intrusive and pries into a taxpayer’s private life more than his business activities. Continue reading →

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Doing Business in CaliforniaThe Franchise Tax Board, California’s taxing authority, has consistently taken an aggressive stance in claiming out-of-state businesses have income tax reporting requirements for “doing business in California.”  The FTB reached a limit in Swart Enterprises, Inc. v. Franchise Tax Board, Cal. Ct. App. (5th App. Dist.), 7 Cal. App. 5th 497 (2017).  In that case, a California appeals court ruled against the FTB’s claim that a foreign corporation with a passive .02% ownership in a California LLC was doing business in California.  As a result, the FTB was forced to modify its ruling on doing business in California by members of multi-member limited liability companies.

FTB Walks Back Prior Ruling

Specifically, the FTB has modified California FTB Legal Ruling No. 2014-01, 07/22/2014, which sets forth the FTB’s analysis on a number of “doing business” scenarios involving members of multiple-member LLCs that are classified as partnerships for tax purposes.  The ruling had asserted that the distinction between “manager-managed” and “member-managed” LLCs, made no difference in determining whether a member of the LLC was doing business in California.  The reasoning in Swart Enterprises made that assertion untenable.  As a result, the FTB has removed the language and replaced it with the innocuous phrase: “a narrow exception may apply in limited circumstances.”  Continue reading →

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boomerang image for manes residency articleIt’s no trick to leave California to avoid its high income taxes – if that’s all you want to do.  But in fact, most people who change their legal residency from California have more in mind.  They also want to retain contacts with the state.  That might mean a vacation home, it might be managing a California business remotely, it might involve meeting potential clients or investors in California for an out-of-state entity.  The last situation, which is fairly common, requires planning, since changing residency may not be enough to avoid California income taxes if your work for your out-of-state business brings you back to California.

When Changing Residency Isn’t Enough

A typical situation involves a business owner who changes legal residency and moves his business out of state.  Well and good.  Unless a taxpayer changes legal residency, everything else is moot from a tax perspective, and if the company operates out of California, distributions to its out-of-state owner are also subject to California tax.  But the fact is California is an economic powerhouse.  Few businesses, especially those in high-tech and financial services (which are increasingly the same thing), can succeed without participating in the California market.  And that often means meeting with and cultivating potential clients or investors in Los Angeles or Silicon Valley, where the capital, expertise and demand resides.

If that’s the case, it’s important to understand the differences between personal residency as opposed to doing business in California versus working while present in California.  These are three separate tax issues, which require different approaches to manage. Continue reading →

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ill-never-make-that-mistake-again-ill-never-make-that-mistake-again-lyric-1-233x300With Tax Day having come and gone, the Franchise Tax Board, California’s tax authority, is now busy sending out its annual 4600 Notices, also known as “Request for Tax Return” letters.  Almost all 4600 Notices are sent to nonresidents, mostly those who own a vacation home or have a business interest in California, and have made one of several common mistakes.  For a full discussion of what a 4600 Notice is, see “They’re Back: FTB 4600 Notices Coming Soon to You.”

If you receive a 4600 Notice, the first order of business is to timely and effectively respond.  Whether that means filing a nonresident tax return (a Form 540NR) or providing a proper legal explanation for why you don’t have to, depends on the circumstances.  Second, assuming the notice gets resolved favorably, the next task is preventing the same problem from recurring in future years.

Automatic vs “Reviewed” Triggers

4600 Notices don’t just happen.  They are triggered.  The trigger is usually one of several common, avoidable mistakes by nonresidents.

In my practice, the typical 4600 Notice involves a nonresident who owns a vacation home in California with a mortgage.  Out of convenience or just as an oversight, the nonresident tells the mortgage lender to send the Form 1098 Mortgage Interest Statement to the vacation home.  Form 1098 is the “information return” mortgage lenders generate to report loan interest.  They send one copy to the FTB and another to the borrower.  If the “Payer/Borrower” address on the 1098 is in California, and the borrower doesn’t file a state tax return, the FTB will automatically send a 4600 Notice.  Continue reading →

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sfHo7Ho8_400x400The global economy has enabled growing numbers of California residents to find employment overseas, often in Pacific Rim or European countries.  Many of these jobs are in financial services or high-tech industries and can be very lucrative.  The temptation is to pack up and leave without thinking about the California tax consequences.  But that can be a costly mistake.  California has special rules for changing residency to another country.  If they aren’t scrupulously followed, expatriates can find themselves facing a large California tax bill along with the cheerful balloons at their welcome home party.

Changing Residency To Another State vs Another Country

Changing legal residency from California to another state has fairly straightforward rules, if you’re willing to seriously pull up stakes.  If you keep a vacation home, or a business, or work remotely, then it gets complicated.  But the concept is direct enough: to change your legal residency from California to another state you have to (a) intend to change your residency (that is, intend to leave for other than temporary or transitory purposes) and (b) physically move to the new state (you can’t just think about moving).

How the Franchise Tax Board, California’s taxing authority, determines intent and what constitutes “moving” is another matter.  California residency law has few bright-line rules, and its “facts and circumstances” test can sometimes seem like a Kafka novel in its excruciating focus on seemingly casual details used to punish the unwary.  That said, if you follow the regulations and case law, and avoid common mistakes, you can have some degree of certainty about establishing yourself as a nonresident in another state, just by leaving and not looking back.     Continue reading →

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Bitcoin-California-Residency-300x300The fortunes currently being made in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency investments and trading offer unique opportunities for tax planning that other appreciated assets often do not.  This article discusses one of those aspects: the importance of residency planning in reducing cryptocurrency tax liability at the state level.

What Makes Cryptocurrency Conducive To Residency Tax Planning?

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are unique assets in many ways.  But for residency tax planning purposes, these three factors make all the difference.

First, much of the taxable gain in appreciated cryptocurrency investment remains unrealized – that is to say, the investors have yet to sell or exchange their initial investment.  This is due to the volatile nature of cryptocurrency values, but it’s also a result of the second factor.

Second, unlike traditional investments, the Bitcoin phenomenon has been driven by young disruptive investors, not the usual Wall Street sages with briefcases stuffed with earnings-to-value reports.  Many of my clients made relatively small investments, either directly or through mining, in their early twenties, and now, as they enter their thirties, they find themselves sitting on millions or even tens of millions of untaxed appreciated cryptocurrency.  Because younger people tend to be mobile, they can move anywhere before cashing out.  Which brings us to the third factor. Continue reading →

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bribe-300x150Whistleblower awards are big business.  In 2016 alone, the IRS paid over $60 million to whistleblowers.  The SEC awarded a similar amount.  A patchwork of other whistleblower laws involving 57 federal statutes and 44 states, including California, also result in tens of millions in annual payouts.  Not all whistleblower laws involve awards, but rather damages for retaliation.  For instance, Penn State was ordered to pay coach Michael McQueary $12 million after firing him for reporting the notorious Jerry Sandusky to college officials.  Though the amounts vary widely year to year, the trend is more tips filed, more whistleblower cases, bigger awards.

Whistleblower cases usually take a long time, with many obstacles along the way that can derail final payment.  The average is three years.  It’s a long wait, but it does provide an opportunity for tax planning for those who don’t want to be taxed by California for an award that can run from hundreds of thousands to tens of millions of dollars (my practice has involved tax planning for clients who received awards along most of this spectrum).

How Are Whistleblower Awards Taxed?

At the federal level, the taxation of whistleblower awards has been highly litigated and subject to Congressional tinkering.  But the ultimate result is the proceeds of the award are taxed as ordinary income.  How to calculate the amount of the “proceeds,” and whether a deduction for attorney’s fees (which are usually a large percentage of the award) is allowed, depends on the particular federal statute that applies.

Continue reading →