What the Facebook Co-Founder’s Story Really MeansMay 12 • Categorized as Citizenship & Residency,Investments
by Brandon Rowe
By now, most readers will be aware that Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, Brazilian by birth and an American citizen since 1998, left his adopted homeland in 2009 for Singapore and filed papers to renounce his US citizenship last fall.
Of course, none of this was noticed until the hype of the Facebook IPO brought him back into the spotlight, triggering a storm of faux outrage and indignation over Saverin’s “disloyalty”.
It was only a matter of time before someone had to fix it and, right on cue, two US Democrats stepped in to propose a new, draconian tax law to capitalize on the mania.
There’s only one problem: Saverin didn’t actually do anything wrong.
According to current regulations, a US citizen deemed a covered individual* who renounces citizenship pays an exit tax that treats his currently-owned stock holdings (and virtually all personal assets for that matter) as if they’d all been sold on the day of expatriation.
As Saverin falls into this category, that means he’ll pay approximately half-a-billion dollars if the calculations made here are right.
So the reality is that Saverin is actually paying more by leaving the US—at least in the short term—than he would have had he stayed. Long term, yes, he’ll end up paying fewer taxes, but at the price of making his current liability huge.
But apparently that’s not enough for our two sadly misguided Democratic Senators and the others that have jumped on the bandwagon.
In addition to the capital gains levied on everything you own, US Senator Chuck Schumer (D) of New York and Senator Bob Casey (D) of Pennsylvania want to penalize expats who’ve renounced citizenship by taxing all future capital gains earned in the US at 30%.
It’s called the “Ex-Patriot” act (Expatriation Prevention by Abolishing Tax-Related Incentives for Offshore Tenancy) and, according to the Atlantic Monthly, might even have been designed specifically to punish the entrepreneur who helped create a billion-dollar company.
So what does this job-killing, foreign investment-destroying, mother of all stupid ideas actually aim to do?
Well, in a nutshell, an expat with a net worth of $2 million or greater (or an average income tax liability of at least $148,000 per year over the last five years) will be presumed to be seeking to avoid paying tax and will have the 30% gains applied to them “no matter where he or she resides.” It will also backdate 10 years.
That’s pretty heavy and certainly does nothing to encourage would-be energetic and ambitious entrepreneurs to come in and build a business that would provide jobs, revitalize the economy and restore America to its former prosperity.
Rather, such legislation is simply another step in the disturbing trend that has accelerated since 9/11—and especially over the past few years—where authorities from “the land of the free” directly interfere ever more with an individual’s freedom: a freedom to work as he wants, to live as he wants, and even, to leave if he wants without fear of punishment.
And indeed, whether or not the Ex-Patriot act was created as a specific punishment for Saverin, it’s a clear signal to all of us – the government wants you on the hook, now.
It’s already bad enough the United States is the only major country in the world that taxes you based on just carrying its passport – no matter how long you live outside the country. Now, they want to tax you if you ever made the mistake of acquiring or had the misfortune of being born with US citizenship, no matter how long after you’ve attempted to correct that through renunciation.
It’s disturbing that governments can break their own rules and apply retroactive laws that, under any other situation, would be deemed illegal and subject to prosecution.
But, it can still get worse.
What might the future hold? As economic conditions get worse, could the US turn into another Argentina or South Africa – basically barring citizens from taking out anything but a small bit of cash to travel with?
Americans are already pariahs on the international finance stage. Carrying a star-spangled passport will already get you thrown out of many foreign financial institutions – banks, brokerages and the like.
Assuming the nonsense being spouted by the two Democratic senators from New York and Pennsylvania actually does get passed, it’s likely going to make the search for foreign asset diversification that much more difficult.
After all, who wants to deal with citizens whose government plans to come after them long after they’ve handed in their travel papers? Who’s to say that the US government won’t soon require foreign financial institutions to ensure that former US citizens aren’t breaking any tax laws, under the threat of significant penalties?
Even if such a situation would apply to a very small fraction of an institution’s customers, the fact that it exists would probably cause many institutions to simply bar anyone who fills out the “Place of Birth” on the KYC documentation as “United States of America.”
So, what’s the solution?
Sadly, there is no fool-proof plan. But there are still options and ones you would be wise to consider while still available.
First, while the window is open, move some money overseas in the form of a foreign bank account. While it’s getting ever more difficult for Americans to do so, some jurisdictions still have potential – Canada, for example.
Most of the major banks in the great white north will still accept their American cousins so long as all the proper reporting documentation is completed.
While you won’t get any privacy with the account (then again, Americans can’t get any privacy anywhere anymore), you do get some cash outside that can’t be immediately seized without following well-established international legal procedures.
In other words, you get options.
Next, consider getting your investments outside the US – both by using international brokerage services, but also by investing in companies that aren’t heavily exposed to the increasingly anti-business, anti-freedom, anti-common sense ideas that seem to now float around regularly in the mind of the average US politician.
You might also consider storing your gold overseas and/or purchasing a personal residence in another country as a way to store some value and give you other options should you decide to get out of dodge.
But, however you plan to do it, be sure to actually do it. The case of Eduardo Saverin, while disturbing in and of itself, is only the latest attempt by the authorities to use manipulative and coercive measures to clamp down on basic human rights.
As much as possible, try not to get in the way.
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