US Income Tax Withholding
Non-US persons (whether individuals or entities, such as foreign corporations) are subject to US. tax at a flat 30% rate on certain kinds of income they receive from US sources. Sometimes an Income Tax Treaty negotiated with the US and another country can be used to reduce this tax rate.
The tax is withheld at source by the payer of the income. This payor, also known as a “withholding agent”, has responsibility for withholding the required tax and paying it over to the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In the event withholding is required and the withholding agent fails in its duties, the agent can be held personally liable for the tax. For this reason, payors are usually very careful to ensure they have undertaken all the necessary actions, part of which is to obtain a certification from the payee as to whether the payee is a US person or a foreign person.
The 30% (or lower Treaty rate) withholding tax is required only for payments made to foreign payees, it is not required when the payee is a US person. Foreign persons complete one of the forms in the Form W-8 series (e.g., Form W-8 BEN). US persons do not complete a form in the W-8 series. Instead, they use Form W-9.
When the payor of the income has the W-8BEN on file, the payor will be apprised that the payee is a non-US person and will undertake its withholding duties. If the payee is a US person with a completed Form W-9, the payor will know it does not have to withhold this 30% tax.
US Source Income Subject to Withholding Tax
Listed below are some types of income that are subject to withholding when paid to non-US persons, if the payments are from US sources: Certain kinds of Interest (including certain original issue discount / OID); Dividends; Rents; Royalties; Premiums; Annuities; Compensation for, or in expectation of, services performed; Substitute payments in a securities lending transaction; or Other fixed or determinable annual or periodical gains, profits, or income.
Certain types of US source income are not subject to foreign-person withholding. Some examples of such income are:
• Broker proceeds (e.g., sales of US stocks / securities)
• Short-term OID (183 days or less)
• Bank deposit interest
• Foreign source interest, dividends, rents, or royalties
• Proceeds from a wager placed by a nonresident alien individual in the games of blackjack, baccarat, craps, roulette, or big-6 wheel (a later blog post will cover US tax issues on gambling winnings of foreign persons)
However, you may still be required to submit Form W-8BEN to claim an exception from US information reporting and so-called “backup withholding” for these types of US source income.
If a non-US person (whether an individual or a foreign entity) will receive any of these certain types of income, he must provide the Form W-8BEN directly to the payor of the income (do not submit the Form to the IRS) to establish that he is not a US person and to claim that he is the beneficial owner of the income. Form W-8BEN must be signed and dated by the beneficial owner of the income, or, by an authorized representative as evidenced by a duly completed Power of Attorney (The IRS Form 2848, Power of Attorney, may be used for this purpose).
*How Long is the Form W-8BEN Valid?
The Form W-8 BEN must be kept up-to-date. If it is not, the foreign person may find that the agent has wrongfully withheld tax on the income. It is quite time-consuming, costly and cumbersome to get wrongfully withheld amounts refunded from the IRS.
Generally, a Form W-8BEN provided without a US “Taxpayer Identification Number” (TIN) will remain in effect for a period starting on the date the form is signed and ending on the last day of the third succeeding calendar year, unless a change in circumstances makes any information on the form incorrect. For example, a Form W-8BEN signed on September 30, 2008, remains valid through December 31, 2011. A Form W-8BEN with a US TIN will remain in effect until a change of circumstances makes any information on the form incorrect, provided that the withholding agent reports on Form 1042-S at least one payment annually to the beneficial owner.