Articles Tagged with leaving 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 graphic tax burden by stateA recent study comparing the states by income tax, sales tax, property tax, average overall tax burden and average effective income tax rates, including dollar for dollar and by percentage, produced expected results about California’s high tax burden, but also some surprising insights. It wasn’t unexpected that California failed to appear in the lowest 10 states for any tax category. What was surprising for some, however, is that California didn’t appear in the top 10 states for any category except average overall tax burden, and sales taxes. In fact, this confirmed what residency tax planners should know as a matter of course: changing residency from California doesn’t equal tax nirvana for every taxpayer. The details matter. How much tax savings a residency change can produce, if any, or if indeed leaving California will result in a higher overall tax burden (to a taxpayer’s consternation), depends on numerous factors, including the destination state.

The study, carried out by HireAHelper, an online booking agency geared to people looking for moving services, used Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. It conforms to similar studies over the last decade or so.

The Results

The study showed that California’s average total effective state and local income tax burden  (income taxes, sales taxes and property taxes) is – no surprise –  in the top ten, in a dollar for dollar comparison. Only New York, Illinois, Oregon, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Minnesota exceeded California in this category. However, as a percentage, using median income, California is squarely in the middle of the states at 8.9%, tied with South Carolina, of all places. California is also not in the top ten states for effective income taxes, using a method of applying the average effective rate to the median income and expressed in dollars (that is, what median income taxpayers actually pay in dollars versus what they would pay based on marginal rates – but query whether that’s a helpful metric). As might be expected, California appears in the top 10 states with the highest sales tax rates.

Needless to say, the traditional zero income tax states of Nevada, Texas, Washington State, Wyoming, Florida, South Dakota and Alaska came out smelling like a rose in overall tax burden, and also in almost every other category.

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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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It’s no secret that California has a high state income tax rate. In fact, it has been the undisputed income tax champion for the past decade or so (the middle brackets are more compressed, and some states even have higher middle bracket rates). Nonetheless, despite somewhat overblown media reports, most Californians aren’t in a position to tear their businesses up by the roots and transplant them to low- or zero-income-tax havens like Nevada, Texas and Washington State. Often those businesses have to operate in California, since that’s where the market for the product or service is, or there is valuable cachet in having a California location such as Silicon Valley or Orange County. And often for small businesses and startups, the owner has to be present in-state for the enterprise to operate and grow.

But that’s not always the case, especially when a taxpayer owns numerous entities and some of the income derives from service contracts (usually for management work) among the entities or between the entities and the owner. Moreover, as e-commerce continues to grow in market share, a physical presence in California becomes less and less necessary for many businesses, and relocation may result in tax savings for sales to non-California customers. Some companies may have started in California, but as they’ve prospered, they can operate from any state. In cases like these, some strategic use of out-of-state entities can result in large enough tax savings to make the major step of relocation worthwhile. But details matter.

The Rules Of California Residency Taxation

Before we can address the benefits and pitfalls of relocation, we need to first give an overview of California’s income tax system relating to individual residency and business domicile. Changing residency is not a panacea for every tax problem. It only works in certain situations. And to determine where it works requires understanding the basic rules of how California taxes individual residents, nonresidents and businesses.

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FAQ-300x169Manes Law has 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 taxed by California on “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 6 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 6 months in California does not make you a resident. In fact, no one thing will ever make you a resident. The test for legal residency is complex and involves many factors. You can spend more than 6 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. 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 9 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 9 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 so long a stay.

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