GCC: Ever since I became an accidental business owner when this blog started making a little dough, I have had a small problem… Self-Employment taxes. Extra money and an interesting tax dilemma are fun problems to have, I agree, but those confounded SE taxes were totally ruining my Never Pay Taxes Again street cred. And that, I simply could not abide.
So I began exploring my options, writing as I went. For example, last year I shared Never Pay Taxes Again by Moving Abroad, which explains how digital nomads (working for themselves or a US employer) can reduce or eliminate their US federal income tax burden simply by traveling the globe. Amazing! But it still didn’t address my SE tax challenge.
Shortly thereafter, I had my first phone call to discuss creating a Belize Corporation with Stewart Patton, a US tax attorney, expat entrepreneur, and founder of U.S Tax Services.
“You’ve done your research”, he said.
“I think you’ve just solved my most annoying problem”, I replied.
We liked each other immediately.
See, even though the US tax code has something for everybody, it offers just a little bit more to business owners. Of course, with better tax benefits come more complicated rules. So I’ve asked Stewart to share a guest post about how expat entrepreneurs (like you? like me?) can truly Never Pay Taxes Again. This time, with your own Overseas Corp.
Tax-Savvy Expat Entrepreneur
Thanks Jeremy for inviting me to do a guest post, I really appreciate it.
Your previous post did an excellent job explaining the foreign earned income exclusion—that’s the rule that allows an expat to make about $100,000 per year without paying US tax.
That post has just about everything that an employee needs to know. As discussed in that post, if you have a job making less than about $100,000 per year, you really can travel the world and pay no US federal income tax.
But, if you own and operate a business (either in your own name or through an LLC), several special rules apply to make your tax picture much more complicated:
- You’re “self-employed” for US tax purposes, so you’re subject to the “self-employment tax,” which is about 15% up to $118,000 and about 3% over that amount. The foreign earned income exclusion works only for income tax purposes–it doesn’t help at all with the self-employment tax.
- If you net more than about $100,000 per year, then you’ll just have to pay US tax on the overage (assuming you don’t have high enough housing expenses to use the foreign housing deduction). Once the foreign earned income exclusion runs out, there’s nothing standing between you and a US tax bill.
- Then, even if you net less than about $100,000, two special rules limit the effectiveness of the foreign earned income exclusion for business owners. If your gross is over $100,000, the “scaleback rule” limits your use of the foreign earned income exclusion to account for the fact that business deductions also reduce your gross income. Then, if your business is one where capital is a material income-producing factor (such as an Amazon FBA business), you can only treat 30% of your net income as “foreign earned income” (you just have to pay US tax on the rest).
The above rules can get a little complicated in their details, but here’s the bottom line: a self-employed entrepreneur is simply going to pay US tax.
So that’s the bad news. Here’s the good news: you can avoid being a self-employed entrepreneur by instead owning and operating your business through a non-US corporation.
When you operate through a non-US corporation:
- You’re not self-employed, you’re an employee of a non-US corporation. So, you don’t pay self-employment tax, and the non-US corporation isn’t required to collect US employment taxes.
- If you net more than about $100,000 per year, you can leave that amount in the corporation, and you only pay US tax when you decide to cause the corporation to pay that amount to you. This allows you to invest those amounts on a tax-deferred basis. Your non-US corporation basically has the tax profile of a traditional IRA that you can pump way more than just $5,500 per year into.
- The two special rules discussed above (the scaleback rule and 30% rule) simply don’t apply.
So, as expat operating a business through a non-US corporation can pull about $100,000 out of the corporation as a salary and pay absolutely no US tax. No income tax, no self-employment tax, no tax at all.
Now, obviously, there are some ins and outs here. Nothing this good is without its complications. For example:
- This structure only works for a business, not a profession. A profession is where you sell your own time and attention; a business is where you sell something else, like another person’s time and attention or a product, whether digital or physical.
- This only works for businesses that aren’t operated by employees or independent contractors who are in the United States (but it’s okay to have a third party, like Amazon, providing services to your business).
- For that reason, this only works if you live outside the US more-or-less full time (i.e., you qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion). If you live in the US, there’s just no way to use a non-US corporation to pay less tax.
- If you’ve already started your business, putting it into a non-US corporation structure can be a taxable event. Then, if you move back to the US, you’ll have to take the business out of the non-US corporation, and that can be a taxable event as well.
For example, let’s say Jeremy forms a Belize company to hold GoCurryCracker—let’s call the company “GCC Inc.” Now, instead of operating the business in his own name, he operates it through his non-US corporation.
Jeremy hits all three of the requirements to use this structure:
- Since the business makes money from ads and affiliate commissions (instead of from Jeremy selling his own services), it’s a business and not a profession;
- Jeremy lives full-time outside the US; and
- The business doesn’t use the services of any employees or independent contractors who live in the US.
Now, salary paid to Jeremy by GCC Inc. isn’t subject to any US tax at all up to about $100,000 per year—no US federal income tax or self-employment tax. And Belize doesn’t impose any tax on the company’s earnings either.
Also, note that Jeremy can still bank in the US. Having a US bank account simply requires forming a limited liability company in which the Belize company is the sole member.
More generally, the business can be operated in a way such that no one knows that Jeremy owns it through a non-US corporation. Everything can simply be done through the US limited liability company.
As you can see, operating through a non-US corporation structure has absolutely fantastic US tax benefits. So how do you set one up exactly?
Normally, hiring a US tax attorney to help you with this process would cost thousands of dollars. The reason I know that is that I’m a US tax attorney who charges people thousands of dollars to help with this process. 🙂
But, I wanted to be able to help more people than I have time to help on a one-on-one basis. So, I created the Tax-Savvy Expat Entrepreneur online course. The course shows you exactly how to set this structure up yourself and goes into way more detail on everything discussed above.
Beyond just talking about how this all works, the course:
- contains links to the exact resources you need to put your structure together,
- provides the actual legal documents you’ll need to complete and submit along the way, and
- includes a one-hour call to make sure you understand everything and don’t have any problems setting it all up.
Tax-Savvy Expat Entrepreneur is a complete package that allows you to put together the best legal structure for your business all on your own.
Thanks!Learn more about Tax-Savvy Expat Entrepreneur
* links to the Tax-Savvy Expat Entrepreneur package are affiliate links.
GCC: In 2015, I paid $5,146 in SE taxes due to blog income. GCC Inc, a Belize IBC, would immediately save us $4k+/year. As income grows, we could pay no tax on $200k in earnings with his/her FEIE exclusions, and defer taxes on infinite earnings rather than just 50k or so from solo 401ks. Whether or not we intend to ever return to the US is a discussion we are having with some earnest, but I imagine next years’ tax return will look very different.