Articles Tagged with Doing Business in California

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Manes Law Blog imageNobody needs reminding that California is a high income tax state. Most people know there can be tax benefits from changing residency or maintaining nonresidency status where California is involved. With a top bracket rate of 13.3%, California residency at the time of a large capital gains event (such as a startup sale or IPO, for instance), can result in millions of dollars of state income taxes, while across the border in Nevada, the tax would be zero. But details matter. The amount of tax savings, if any, achievable through strategic residency tax planning depends on various moving parts: sources of income, types of compensation, connections people want to or must maintain with California, community property rules (for married couples), the cost and inconvenience of acquiring nonresident status, to name a few. The refrain found everywhere on the internet that huge tax savings beckon every resident to flee the state is simplistic at best. Accordingly, considerable forethought, usually with CPA assistance, is advisable before committing to a residency plan. This article discusses why.

How California Taxes Residents vs. Nonresidents

First the basics.

California residents are subject to California state income tax on all their taxable income regardless of the source. It doesn’t matter if the income comes from the moon, if it is taxable, then California tax system claims jurisdiction. It’s possible a California resident to qualify for a credit for taxes paid in another state for out-of-state income, and some income types are exempt on their face in California (such as social security retirement benefits), but the default rule remains: a resident’s worldwide income is subject to California income tax. Period.

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Manes Law residency myth busting articleI discussed my top five internet myths about California tax residency rules in a previous article. Here are five more. Again, they’re in no particular order, but my comments should provide some indication about how important they are and why.

Myth #1: Leave California, Sell Your Business And You’re Home Free

Many of my clients are founders exiting startups, either through an IPO or purchase by another company. Or they are long-term business owners in traditional industries who plan to sell their California-based company after retiring out of state. The widespread internet meme insists these scenarios always result in zero California income tax on the gain, even though the sale is of a California business.

The basic concept is correct: if a nonresident sells his interest in a California business (that is, corporate shares, limited liability company memberships, partnership interests), the traditional rule is California can’t tax the gain. But not so fast. Numerous factors play a role in determining whether a business sale by a nonresident will escape California’s tax system.

The first is, the transaction must in fact be the sale of a business interest, not the sale of business assets. For good tax reasons, purchasers often prefer to buy assets, not business interests, if the value in the company is in the assets, not the brand. And in some industries, an asset sale is the standard for a business purchase. But take note: if the assets are situated in California, an asset sale by a nonresident results in California-source income, taxable by California regardless of the residency status of the seller. Generally, only interest sales are eligible for tax-free treatment by California when the owner is a nonresident.

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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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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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wireless-internet-connection-500x500-300x237With more and more companies forgoing brick and mortar by operating their business through the internet, tax authorities find it increasingly difficult to determine which enterprises are subject to state income taxes and which aren’t. Typically, California has taken an aggressive stance. In 2011, it passed a new law that defined “doing business” in California beyond being physically present by having offices or operations.  Instead California sought to define what constituted an “economic nexus” to the state, using factors such as sales, payroll, and inventory. In 2013, comprehensive regulations went into effect casting a broad net over the activities of out-of-state corporations and pass-through entities (LLCs, partnerships, S corporations) as doing business in California. Judicial decisions interpreting those rules are just starting to trickle in.  The picture that is emerging indicates that non-California internet businesses need to be wary or they may find themselves subject to California taxation.

Why Does It Matter Whether Your Company Is “Doing Business” in California Or Not?

First, why does it matter if California determines an internet company is “doing business” in California? It may matter a great deal. The determination that an out-of-state entity is doing business in California is one of the ways California can impose income taxes on that business, even if they have no physical presence in California (the other is based on the entity earning California-source income). In some cases, there may be a tax liability even if the company made zero income from California sales.

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