Articles Tagged with taxing nonresidents

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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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9baf90353963d26daaa1c54235b10b38-cool-pumpkin-carving-carving-pumpkins-300x300California’s Franchise Tax Board (FTB) sends out 4600 Notices “Request for Tax Return” when it gets a tax “information return” with a California address on it, but the taxpayer doesn’t file a California return, either as a resident (a Form 540) or as a nonresident (a Form 540NR).  An “information return” are documents like a 1098, 1099, K-1 or W2.  There are other reasons, but this is a major one.

To give a common example, if a nonresident owns a vacation home in California with a mortgage, and he told the lender to send the Form 1098 mortgage interest form to his vacation home address, he has likely just earned a 4600 Notice.  That’s because the FTB will see a 1098 with a local address associated with a person who hasn’t filed a California tax return.

This is a common mistake.  It also happens with Form 1099-INT involving bank interest from a local bank account (often involving de minimis amounts), or payments from brokerage accounts or out-of-state pensions.  The lesson is, nonresidents should never use a California address (whether it’s a vacation home or a relative’s place) for any tax information document.

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keep-calm-and-happy-6-months-257x300You don’t have to be a tax lawyer to know that the way to avoid becoming a resident of California is to spend less than six months here.  Right?  Well, not exactly.  The “six-month presumption,” as it’s called, which is mentioned in one form or another in almost every Google search result of California residency rules, isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.  That’s not to say the amount of time spent in California doesn’t play an important role in determining legal residency.  It does.  But the real rule is more complex.  In fact, relying on the six-month figure as somehow magical can get a nonresident in tax trouble.

What Is The Six-Month Presumption?

The six-month presumption is established by regulation.  You would think it says something simple like: if you spend no more than six months in California, you’re not a resident.  That’s the popular online version.  And frankly it’s the version many auditors for the Franchise Tax Board (California’s taxing authority) seem to have in mind.  But that’s not the legal rule.

Rather, the rule has various qualifiers: if a taxpayer spends an aggregate of six months or less in California, and is domiciled in another state, and has a permanent abode in the domicile state, and does nothing while in California other than what a tourist, visitor, or guest would do, then there is a rebuttable presumption of nonresidency.  What would a tourist, visitor or guest do?  According to the regulations, nothing much more than own a vacation home, have a local bank account for local personal expenses, and belong to a “social club” (read country club).

These qualifiers call for some parsing. Continue reading →

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shutterstock_business_beach-1-300x199The digital economy has allowed increasing numbers of nonresidents to work remotely for California firms without becoming California residents, and even without paying California income taxes (see my article Nonresidents Working Remotely for California Businesses ).  At the same time, more and more nonresidents find themselves being offered lucrative temporary employment in California.  This is particularly true for software developers or other information technology and e-commerce specialists who are in high demand by California’s thriving internet firms to complete a particular project.  But it’s also true for medical professionals, management strategists, actors, professional athletes, artists, corporate trainers, even part-time teachers in a specialty field.

What all these professionals have in common is project work.  The employment in California is temporary in that it involves completing a particular project or term of service.  It isn’t permanent.  It isn’t open-ended.  Of course, temporary is a relative term.  Some projects may only last a few months; others may require more than a year to complete.  The issue confronting nonresidents working temporarily in California is whether they will be taxed only on their California-source income or become a resident in the eyes of California’s tax authority, the Franchise Tax Board.  To control that, nonresidents working in California should have a plan.

Why It Matters?

At first blush, it might not seem to matter whether a nonresident working on a temporary basis in California is deemed a resident or not.  The wages or 1099 (independent contractor) income received while working in California is taxable by California regardless of residency status.  That’s inescapable because the work is performed in California.  If all the income the worker receives during that tax year comes from the project, it doesn’t make any difference what his residency status is.

However, if the taxpayer has other sources of income, it makes a big difference.  The FTB only taxes nonresidents on income sourced to California.  But it taxes residents on all their income, from whatever source.  And the top rate is 13.3% (in 2017).

Continue reading →

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In “Nonresidents Working Remotely for California Businesses” I discussed how the internet economy, ecommerce and constant connectivity has allowed increasing numbers of nonresidents to provide services to California businesses without setting foot here.  As long as those nonresidents meticulously follow the rules, they can work remotely free from California income taxes.  Or at least they can minimize the amount they do have to pay.

But the remote economy is a two-way street.  The technology that lets a Colorado resident work for a Los Angeles firm from his offices in Boulder, also allows him to run his Colorado business while vacationing at a Southern California beach house.  More and more nonresident business owners are doing just that.  And that can lead to California tax problems.

This isn’t a theoretical issue.  The idea of taking a vacation of any significant length without doing any work is obsolescent.  Research shows over 50% of employees work while on vacation, and as to business owners, the figure is around 85%.  Moreover, since business owners can increasingly operate their business from anywhere, including a California vacation home, the lines between an extended vacation and running a business remotely are becoming blurred.  Whether this is a good or bad development, it can result in unexpected and unpleasant tax consequences.