I 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 and retire 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 has to 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.