Learn From The Criminal Nation-less Corporations, How To Avoid Paying Taxes
For Many of the U.S. Nation-less Corporation's Money ‘Offshore’ Means: New York, Manhattan
- By DAVID KOCIENIEWSKI - May 21, 2013 - The New York Times
Like some of the nation’s prominent chief executives, Apple’s Timothy D. Cook has a simple proposal to help spur the economy and encourage corporate tax compliance: give American companies a tax break to bring to the United States untaxed profits parked overseas.
But much of that money is already home.
Nation-less Corporations based in the United States now hold more than $1.6 trillion in cash classified as “permanently invested overseas.” These funds will face the 35 percent federal corporate tax only if it is returned to the country.
In the convoluted world of corporate tax accounting however, simple concepts like “overseas” and “returned to the country” are not as simple as they appear.
Apple’s $102 billion in offshore profits is actually managed by one of its wholly owned subsidiaries in Reno, Nev., according to the Senate report on the company’s tax avoidance. The money is tracked by Apple company bookkeepers in Austin, Tex. What’s more, the funds are held in bank accounts in New York.
Because the $102 billion is technically assigned to two Irish subsidiaries, however, the United States tax code considers the money to be under foreign control, and Apple is legally entitled to avoid paying taxes on it.
Tax experts say that such an arrangement is not uncommon among American multinationals. During the last several years, major companies like Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Google and Abbott Labs have lowered their tax bills by arranging for their billions in profits to flow to subsidiaries that are technically offshore — even though some of the money is placed in United States Treasury bonds and other government securities.
Because the money is nominally held by the offshore companies, the tax code deems the money nontaxable, even if the funds are physically held in the United States. The savings to American companies is huge: the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that if foreign profits of United States corporations were fully taxed it would generate an additional $42 billion this year for the government — about half the amount of the automatic spending cuts enacted as part of the so-called sequester.
The companies say that they need to shield their money overseas, however, because the official corporate rate of 35 percent is the highest in the world and puts them at a competitive disadvantage. And while the offshore money may be in American banks and controlled from home, executives say it would be irresponsible to return the money to their shareholders or invest it in the United States because of the high tax rate.
Just last month, Apple announced it would pay for its dividends to shareholders by taking on $17 billion in debt rather than tap into the untaxed foreign profits. Mr. Cook said it would have been a disservice to shareholders to use the “offshore” earnings and pay the 35 percent federal income tax.
But Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who heads the committee, brushed aside those claims. “You can bring the money home,” he said. “You’d just have to pay your taxes on it.”
Apple is one of about 20 major corporations that have been pushing for a fresh tax break, known as a “repatriation holiday,” which would allow them to bring the money to the United States at a drastically reduced rate. John T. Chambers, chief executive of Cisco, has led a sustained lobbying effort for such a policy, promising that it would act as a stimulus to encourage investment and increase jobs in the United States.
A similar policy was enacted in 2004, which prompted American companies to return more than $300 billion in foreign earnings at the reduced rate of 5.25 percent. But it led to no discernible increase in American investment or hiring. On the contrary, some of the companies that brought back the most money laid off thousands of workers, and a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research later concluded that 92 cents on every dollar was used for dividends, stock buybacks or executive bonuses. A study by the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that a similar program would result in $79 billion in forgone tax revenue over a decade.
Opponents of the repatriation tax break say that Apple’s accounting maneuvers show how easily major companies can shield their profits from the government, even putting companies without aggressive tax departments at a competitive disadvantage.
“The offshore companies are a fiction and the statement that the money is offshore is a fiction,” said Edward D. Kleinbard, former staff director for the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation. “What they are asking for is a reward for having gamed the system.”