Articles Tagged with California State Tax Issues


graphic to Manes Law residency tax blog

The Case

A new case from California’s Office of Tax Appeals brings some clarity to how strictly California dates a change of residency for income tax purposes when a resident moves out of state shortly before a liquidity event. The case, Appeal of J. Bracamonte, OTA, Case No. 18010932 (May 2021), emphasized the importance of how much time a resident spends in California after the purported move. Bracamonte also sheds light on the “interim home” problem, which occurs when a resident moves into an out-of-state rental pending purchase of a permanent home in their new home state, while retaining ownership of their former primary residence in California. Finally, the ruling – probably inadvertently – seems to provide guidance on the date for determining when a taxpayer’s residency status is relevant to a liquidity event (the date of the closing, the date of the income receipt, or the date when an enforceable agreement is in effect). The case can be found here.

Background: How Does California Date a Change of Residency?

Changing residency from California is binary: it happens on a specific date. How do we know that? The Franchise Tax Board, California’s tax enforcement agency, requires that a resident leaving California identify the specific date of the residency change on Schedule CA of the Form 540NR “Part-Year” return, which exiting taxpayers, with few exceptions, have to file for the year they move. The exact question on the schedule is: “I became a California nonresident (enter new state of residence and date (mm/dd/yyyy) of move).” By the way, nonresidents moving to California also have to complete Schedule CA, conversely disclosing the date they become residents.

It bears mentioning that changing residency is a legal concept, and most taxpayers don’t know the rules or how to apply them to a calendar. This means there is no easy answer to when a residency change occurs. In fact, it can be totally counterintuitive. When the FTB asks an ambiguous question, it’s usually intentional. The FTB hopes the taxpayer will make a mistake that might be advantageous to the tax authority. Serendipitously, the taxpayers in Bracamonte did just that, originally putting a move-date on their 540NR that made no sense factually, something they were grilled about during trial, presumably eroding their credibility in the eyes of the court.

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FAQ-300x169Manes Law has over two decades of experience in advising clients on California residency law, handling residency audits, assisting businesses relocate out of California, and appealing residency determinations. Based on this experience, we have assembled this list of frequently asked questions and provided brief answers.

1.Q. How does California tax residents versus nonresidents?

A. California taxes residents on all their income, from any source, no matter where it is generated. In contrast, nonresidents are only subject to California income taxes with respect to “California-source” income (that is, income generated in California). If a nonresident has no California-source income, then the nonresident should owe no taxes to California.

2.Q. I am a nonresident who owns a California vacation home. If I spend more than six months in California, am I automatically a resident?

A. No. There is a lot of mythology on the internet about the “six-month presumption.” While it’s always better from a residency perspective to spend less time in California, spending more than six months in California does not automatically make you a resident. In fact, no one thing will ever make you a resident, and no one thing makes you a nonresident. The test for legal residency is complex and involves many factors (discussed here). You can spend more than six months in California without becoming a resident, but you should plan carefully to make sure an extended stay plus other contacts don’t result in an audit or unfavorable residency determination. Nor is it a good idea to spend more than six months year in and year out. Doing so suggest a closer connection to California than your home state. In addition, beware of the nine-month presumption, discussed in the next question. See our article, “The Six-Month Presumption In California Residency Law: Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be“.

3.Q. I’ve heard that if I spend more than nine months in California, I am definitely a California resident. Is that true?

A. California law applies a “nine-month presumption” to visitors. That is, if you spend more than nine months in California in any tax year, you are presumed to be a resident. But the presumption is rebuttable. Other factors may apply that result in you not being a legal resident, despite the extended stay. Prudence, however, suggests you shouldn’t tempt fate with a stay of such length. As a practical matter, there is only one old case in which a taxpayer spent more than nine months in California and was able to rebut the nine-month presumption. So, be forewarned.

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Seasonal Visitors to California and Residency Anxiety

Out-of-state visitors who own vacation homes in California or otherwise spend significant time here on a seasonal basis (traditionally known as “snowbirds” because the season is inevitably winter) are often anxious about their residency status. There’s good reason to be. California rules for determining residency are notoriously difficult to grasp. It’s altogether possible for the innocent actions of a nonresident to trigger a residency audit. And sometimes the audit has a bad outcome, with tax consequences that bite. Let’s go over the basics of how California determines residency for tax purposes. They can be confusing, and sometimes brutal.

How Residents And Nonresidents Are Taxed

California residents are subject to California state income tax on all income regardless where earned. It doesn’t matter what or where the source. If a California resident derives income from investments in Saudi Arabia or from pensions accrued while working out-of-state, California will tax that income. The resident may qualify for a credit for paying taxes to other states, but the default rule is, a resident’s global income is subject to California income tax. Period. With a top bracket rate that is currently the highest in the nation, California residency comes with a significant tax impact.

In contrast, nonresidents are only subject to California state income tax on their “California-source” income.  That may be zero or it may be significant. California-source income takes many forms, some obvious, some more subtle. It could be rents derived from California real estate or income from business operations or wages for performing temporary work in-state (obvious). Or it could be a portion of the sales proceeds attributed to a noncompete clause when a founder sells his California business, or the gain from non-statutory stock options vested while the employee worked in California (not obvious). To celebrity name drop, when LeBron James, an Ohio resident, used to play the Lakers at Staples Center for the Cleveland Cavaliers, he paid California taxes on the income he made on game night, which in his case was no small amount. [By the way, now that James signed with the Lakers, he has a different problem: whether he can work for a California employer, train and practice here for a significant part of the year, and still remain a nonresident – the answer is yes, but that’s a different analysis (see, “Nonresidents Working Remotely for California Businesses: How to Take Paul Newman’s ‘The Sting’ Out of Your Taxes“).

So, the stakes can be high when determining whether a taxpayer is a California resident or not.

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