Archive for 'PFIC'

International Tax Lunch – PFICs

What: Passive Foreign Investment Companies (PFICs) — Presentation and discussion
When: Friday, January 10, 2014 at Noon (Pacific Time)
Where: HodgenLaw PC Conference Room, 80 S. Lake Avenue, Suite 680, Pasadena, CA 91101
Who: Elena N. Redko, CPA at HodgenLaw PC

Just in time for tax season, Elena will help you better understand PFICs. At the recent 2013 CalCPA International Tax Conference, she talked about PFICs with line-by-line directions on how to prepare Form 8621, and how to pull numbers off a Swiss bank account statement and plug them into a tax return. 

To register, please contact Olivia Park at olivia.park (at) or call +1-626-689-0060 extension 106.

Seats are limited to 10 in person and dial-in capacity is also available.

2013 International Tax Conference Speaker Profile: Elena Redko

2013 CalCPA International Tax Conference

You should attend the 2013 International Tax Conference on December 6, 2013 in San Francisco.

Elena is one of the speakers this year.

Speaker Profile: Elena Redko

Elena speaks to CPA groups all over the place, mostly about PFICs. She also teaches an accounting course at Glendale Community College, and is a Becker CPA exam review instructor. You will find out more here.

Who are you, in under 20 words?

A CPA (who’s becoming known as “The PFIC Girl”), a teacher, and an aspiring handstand master.

What are you talking about at the 2013 CalCPA International Tax Conference?

Complicated PFICs with step-by-step calculations and instructions. No definitions, we know these. We calculate numbers, we fill out forms.

Why should people attend your session?

Foreign mutual funds. Most people have them. Many of us know about them, what they are, how to find them on a bank statement, etc. But when it comes to the details and the calculations, the guidance is confusing and the forms are forever changing. This session is my attempt to do a calculations crash-course through three specific examples. One for QEF, one for Mark-to-Market, and one (long one) for Excess Distribution Regime.

The IRS estimates time needed to prepare tax returns. How good are these estimates?

The IRS warns you that Form 8621 will take some time to complete. Specifically, 46 hours and 38 minutes. That’s their estimate per form. You usually have more than one. About 30 more in our typical project.

How To Attend the International Tax Conference

I know. You are saying to yourself, “Yes, Yes! I MUST ATTEND!” No worries. You can attend in person, or you can watch the whole thing on the web.

December 6, 2013 is a Friday. Be in SF on Thursday night. I am going to do a totally unofficial little social gathering the night before, probably at the hotel. Hang out. Have a beverage. Talk shop.

Oh. Here is another reason to attend the International Tax Conference. If you tell your significant other about this event, he/she is likely to tag along for a weekend in San Francisco during the Christmas season. Union Square will be festive. You can spend all day Friday soaking up the international tax goodness while your S. O. is out having fun. What a deal, right?

How gain on disposition of a PFIC is taxed

Let’s say you own PFIC stock.  (Hint:  foreign mutual funds almost certainly are PFICs.  So even normal people can own PFICs, to their absolute horror.)

You sell your PFIC stock.  Better yet, you sell at a profit.  “Buy low, sell high!”  How hard can that be?  :-)  To make this example extremely simple, I am going to assume that you bought and sold the PFIC stock in a single calendar year, and that the PFIC never paid you a dividend (a “distribution” in PFIC jargon).

How will you report your gain on disposition of the PFIC stock on your tax return?  Is this capital gain or ordinary income?

Answer:  it depends.  I’m going to show you the default method here.

There are three ways that PFIC stock sales are taxed.  You will be shackled to using the default method unless you made a “mark-to-market” election or a “QEF” election.  If you don’t know what those words mean, then you probably didn’t make those elections and you are forced to use the default method described here.

If you use the default method, the Internal Revenue Code uses the phrase “section 1291 fund” to describe your PFIC.  So if you see this phrase on Form 8621 or in the Instructions to Form 8621, now you know what that means.

How much gain is taxed?

If you have a PFIC and you have a disposition, you first have to figure out “Do I have a gain or loss?” according to the normal rules of the Internal Revenue Code. The normal “sales price minus basis” stuff applies.  So let’s assume you have gain.  (Tax buffs call this “realized” gain.  You have income that is theoretically subject to tax, unless you can find a way out of being taxed.)

Now that you know you have realized gain, you have to figure out whether the gain is recognized.  (This is tax insider jargon for “the income you received is going to go onto your tax return and tax will be imposed.”)  The default assumption of the Internal Revenue Code is that all realized gain will be recognized, unless you can find an explicit exception that applies to you.

These explicit exceptions are called “nonrecognition” provisions in the Internal Revenue Code.  Let’s just assume (to make my example easy) that all of your profit from “buy low, sell high” will be recognized.

Ordinary income or capital gain?

At this point we know the gain on sale of your PFIC stock will be taxable.  We just don’t know whether it will be capital gain (you owned some stock as an investment, and you sold it) or as ordinary income.

The default PFIC taxation rule is in Section 1291.  It is called the “excess distribution” rule.  It flatly states that gain from disposition of PFIC stock will be taxed as if it is an “excess distribution.”  See Section 1291(a)(2).  So now we have to know how an “excess distribution” is taxed.

Again, Section 1291 helpfully (!) hardwired the answer to that question for us.  An “excess distribution” is taxed as ordinary income.  See Section 1291(a)(1)(B).

Put it on Form 8621

Dispositions of PFIC stock are reported on Form 8621.  You will be filing Form 8621 along with your tax return.  Here is how you do it:

  • First, fill in the top part of Form 8621, page 1.  This is where you put your name and address and all that fun stuff.
  • Second, in Part I, don’t do anything.  You are doing a simple sale of the PFIC stock using the default rules.  You didn’t make any elections.
  • Part II does not apply to you.  It would only apply if you had made a Qualified Electing Fund election.  We assume you did not.
  • Part III does not apply to you.  You did not make a Mark-to-Market election.
  • Part IV is where all the guts and glory reside.  For you, at least.  Lines 10a through 10e will not apply.  Our example deals with gain on a disposition only.
  • At Line 10f, enter the gain you recognized on the sale of your PFIC stock.
  • At Line 11a, prepare the statement that is requested and staple it to the back of your tax return.
  • At Line 11b, take the amount of gain that is allocable to the current year (the year you’re doing your tax return for) from the statement you just made, and write in the number.  In our example, you bought and sold the PFIC stock in the current year, so all of the gain is reported here on Line 11b.  (Pro tip:  in my example, the amount on Line 10f is the same as the amount on Line 11b).
  • Line 11b tells you to report the number shown on Line 11b as “other income” on your Form 1040.  For the 2010 version of Form 1040, this is line 21.
  • Lines 11c, 11d, and 11e are all blank.
  • Part V doesn’t apply to you, because you never made any elections as to this PFIC.

Ta-DAH!  You’re done.

PFIC distributions by nonqualifying funds mean ordinary income

In blog posts here and here I discussed the treatment of disposition gain by a taxpayer who sells a PFIC.  In those two blog posts I assumed that a taxpayer bought a PFIC and sold it in the same calendar year, and I further assumed there were no distributions by the PFIC.  (I am trying to define as clean and simple a fact pattern as possible so it is easy to identify the moving parts in the taxation of PFIC gain).

Disposition gain is ordinary income

My position was that the disposition gain is ordinary income.  One of my readers had a comment and question about how this worked, and whether in fact the disposition gain should be short term capital gain.  That would be logical.  :-)

The final answer is:  ordinary income.  You can see the reasoning in the other two blog posts, but my correspondent emailed me with his further research on the point and the way in which he came to the same conclusion.

§1.1291-3(a) says when you have a gain on sale of a PFIC look to §1.1291-2(e)(2), which talks about how the tax is figured, which is our case is ordinary income. It bypasses the calculation of the excess distribution, and that first year exception entirely. So, you are indeed correct.

Tracking the logic through the Proposed Regulations

Here’s what my correspondent is saying.  He points to Proposed Regulations Section 1.1291-3(a), which says:

Any direct or indirect disposition of stock of a section 1291 fund within the meaning of paragraphs (b), (c), (d), and (e) of this section is taxable to the extent provided in section 1291, this section, and section 1.1291-6. For dispositions of stock of a section 1291 fund that qualify for nonrecognition treatment, see section 1.1291-6. Gain is determined on a share-by- share basis and is taxed as an excess distribution as provided in section 1.1291-2(e)(2). Unless otherwise provided under another provision of the Code, a loss realized on a disposition of stock of a section 1291 fund is not recognized.

Emphasis added by yours truly.

Proposed Regulations Section 1.1291-2(e)(2) in turn says:


(i)  IN GENERAL.  To determine the taxation of an excess distribution, the excess distribution is first allocated pro rata to each day in the shareholder’s holding period (as determined under section 1.1291-1(h)) of the share of stock with respect to which the distribution was made. The holding period of a share of stock of a section 1291 fund is treated as ending on (and including) the date of each excess distribution solely for purposes of allocating the excess distribution.

(ii) ALLOCATIONS INCLUDED IN INCOME.  The portions of an excess distribution allocated to pre-PFIC years and the current shareholder year are included in the shareholder’s gross income for the current shareholder year as ordinary income.

(iii) ALLOCATIONS NOT INCLUDED IN INCOME.  The portions of an excess distribution allocated to prior PFIC years are not included in the shareholder’s gross income for purposes of this title. These amounts are subject to the deferred tax amount. The deferred tax amount is an additional liability of the shareholder for tax and interest for the current shareholder year. For the calculation of the deferred tax amount and the foreign tax credit that may be taken to reduce the deferred tax amount, see sections 1.1291-4 and 1.1291-5.

Here is how to understand that passage:

  1. First, you allocate the excess distribution pro rata across the holding period.  Prop. Regs. Sec. 1.1291-2(e)(2)(i).
  2. Then, take the amount that you have allocated to years before the PFIC was a PFIC, and include it in income as ordinary income.  The income is reported on the current year income tax return.  Prop. Reg. Sec. 1.1291-2(e)(2)(ii).
  3. Additionally, take the amount of gain you have allocated to the current year, and include it in income as ordinary income on your tax return.  Prop. Reg. Sec. 1.1291-2(e)(2)(ii).
  4. Finally, any excess distribution that is not allocated to the years in which the PFIC was not, uhhh, a PFIC, and any gain that is not allocated to the current year gets treated in a special way.  Don’t include it in the shareholder’s income for the current year.  Instead, you are going to do a special calculation which will result in a thing called the “deferred tax amount.”  Prop. Reg. Sec. 1.1291-2(e)(2)(iii).

As my correspondent points out, this logic tree completely bypasses the calculation of excess distribution–as well as the rules for the first year which define “total excess distribution” (not “excess distribution”) as zero in the first year of the holding period.  We are starting with the assumption that the disposition gain is excess distribution, because the Bible Internal Revenue Code told us so.  [Did that cue up a little song in your head from your childhood? It did for me. :) ].

Internal Revenue Code Section 1291(a)(1)(B)(i) says:

(1) Distributions.  If a United States person receives an excess distribution in respect of stock in a passive foreign investment company, then–

(A) the amount of the excess distribution shall be allocated ratably to each day in the taxpayer’s holding period for the stock,

(B) with respect to such excess distribution, the taxpayer’s gross income for the current year shall include (as ordinary income) only the amounts allocated under subparagraph (A) to–

(i) the current year, or

* * * *.


Thanks to reader CP for this.  It forced me to go back and read the Code and Proposed Regs and think things through.  It is one of the reasons why releasing is so important. For those of you outside the priesthood of tax arcana, it gives you a glimpse into why tax law is so damned hard to do.

In conclusion, a simple declarative statement (because Don Schaut told me when I was a young pup lawyer that clients are grownups and deserve straight answers):

If you buy PFIC stock and sell it in the same year at a gain, the gain is treated as ordinary income, not short-term capital gain.




Why the steady stream of PFIC posts?

We do a lot (and I do mean a LOT) of work with PFICs — Passive Foreign Investment Companies. As a result we have a lot of stuff on this topic stored in our collective brains at the firm. We also have fiercesomely complex spreadsheets designed by David, and tweaked by David, Elena, and Debra.

I’m writing these blog posts in an effort to remove some of the witchcraft and tom-foolery out of PFICs and the preparation of Form 8621. Expect a metric ton of posts on the topic. I have not yet begun to tax-nerd out on you.

Feel free to ping me questions about PFIC issues. I have a steady accumulation of topics sitting in Evernote waiting for action. I’ll get to it eventually.

Also, please drop a comment or ping me an email if you think I’m dreadfully off the rails on my interpretation of All Things PFIC. It helps me get smarter, and it helps the other readers when bad information gets corrected.