FOREIGN INVESTMENT IN REAL PROPERTY TAX ACT
The disposition of a U.S. real property interest by a foreign person (the transferor) is subject to the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act of 1980 (FIRPTA) income tax withholding. FIRPTA authorized the United States to tax foreign persons on dispositions of U.S. real property interests. A disposition means “disposition” for any purpose of the Internal Revenue Code. This includes but is not limited to a sale or exchange, liquidation, redemption, gift, transfers, etc. Persons purchasing U.S. real property interests (transferees) from foreign persons, certain purchasers' agents, and settlement officers are required to withhold 10 percent of the amount realized on the disposition of properties $1,000,000 and under, and 15 percent of the amount realized on the disposition of properties that exceed $1,000,000 (special rules for foreigncorporations). In most cases, the transferee/buyer is the withholding agent. If you are the transferee/buyer it is your responsibility to know if the transferor is a foreign person. If the transferor is a foreign person and you fail to withhold, you may be held liable for the tax. For cases in which a U.S. business entity such as a corporation or partnership disposes of a U.S. real property interest, the business entity itself is the withholding agent.
U.S. Real Property Interest
A U.S. real property interest is any interest, other than solely as a creditor, in real property (including an interest in a mine, well, or other natural deposit) located in the United States or the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as certain personal property that is associated with the use of real property (such as farming machinery or hotel furniture). It also means any interest, other than solely as a creditor, in any domestic corporation unless it is established that the corporation was at no time a U.S. real property holding corporation during the shorter of the period during which the interest was held, or the 5-year period ending on the date of disposition. If on the date of disposition, the corporation did not hold any U.S. real property interests, and all the interests held at any time during the shorter of the applicable periods were disposed of in transactions in which the full amount of any gain was recognized, then FIRPTA withholding would not apply.
Rates of Withholding
The transferee must deduct and withhold a tax equal to 15% (or other amount) of the total amount realized by the foreign person on the disposition. The amount realized is the sum of (1) The cash paid, or to be paid (principal only), (2) the fair market value of other property transferred, or to be transferred, and (3) the amount of any liability assumed by the transferee or to which the property is subject immediately before and after the transfer. The amount realized is generally the amount paid for the property. If the property transferred was owned jointly by U.S. and foreign persons, the amount realized is allocated between the transferors based on the capital contribution of each transferor.
A foreign corporation that distributes a U.S. real property interest must withhold a tax equal to 35% of the gain it recognizes on the distribution to its shareholders.
A domestic corporation must withhold a tax equal to 10% of the fair market value of the property distributed to a foreign shareholder if (1) the shareholder's interest in the corporation is a U.S. real property interest, and (2) the property distributed is either in redemption of stock or in liquidation of the corporation.
Exceptions from FIRPTA Withholding
Generally you do not have to withhold in the following situations; however, notification requirements must be met:
You (the transferee) acquire the property for use as a home and the amount realized (generally sales price) is not more than $300,000. You or a member of your family must have definite plans to reside at the property for at least 50% of the number of days the property is used by any person during each of the first two 12-month periods following the date of transfer. When counting the number of days the property is used, do not count the days the property will be vacant.
The property disposed of (other than certain dispositions of non-publicly traded interests) is an interest in a domestic corporation if any class of stock of the corporation is regularly traded on an established securities market. However, if the class of stock had been held by a foreign person who beneficially owned more than 5% of the fair market value of that class at any time during the previous 5-year period, then that interest is a U.S. real property interest if the corporation qualifies as a United States Real Property Holding Corporation (USRPHC), and you must withhold on any disposition.
The disposition is of an interest in a domestic corporation and that corporation furnishes you a certification stating, under penalties of perjury, that the interest is not a U.S. real property interest. Generally, the corporation can make this certification only if the corporation was not a USRPHC during the previous 5 years (or, if shorter, the period the interest was held by its present owner), or as of the date of disposition, the interest in the corporation is not a U.S. real property interest by reason of section 897(c)(1)(B) of the Internal Revenue Code. The certification must be dated not more than 30 days before the date of transfer.
The transferor gives you a certification stating, under penalties of perjury, that the transferor is not a foreign person and containing the transferor's name, U.S. taxpayer identification number, and home address (or office address, in the case of an entity.)
You receive a withholding certificate from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that excuses withholding.
The transferor gives you written notice that no recognition of any gain or loss on the transfer is required because of a non-recognition provision in the Internal Revenue Code or a provision in a U.S. tax treaty. You must file a copy of the notice by the 20th day after the date of transfer with the IRS.
The amount the transferor realizes on the transfer of a U.S. real property interest is zero.
The property is acquired by the United States, a U.S. state or possession, a political subdivision thereof, or the District of Columbia.
The grantor realizes an amount on the grant or lapse of an option to acquire a U.S. real property interest. However, you must withhold on the sale, exchange, or exercise of that option.
The disposition (other than certain dispositions of nonpublicly traded interests) is of publicly traded partnerships or trusts. However, if an interest in a publicly traded partnership or trust was owned by a foreign person with a greater than 5% interest at any time during the previous 5-year period, then that interest is a U.S. real property interest if the partnership or trust would otherwise qualify as a USRPHC if it were a corporation, and you must withhold on it.
Withholding Certificates Related to U.S. Real Property Interest
The amount that must be withheld from the disposition of a U.S. real property interest can be adjusted pursuant to a withholding certificate issued by the IRS. The transferee, the transferee's agent, or the transferor may request a withholding certificate. The IRS will generally act on these requests within 90 days after receipt of a complete application including the Taxpayer Identification Numbers (TIN’s) of all the parties to the transaction. A transferor that applies for a withholding certificate must notify the transferee in writing that the certificate has been applied for on the day of or the day prior to the transfer.
A withholding certificate may be issued due to:
A determination by the IRS that reduced withholding is appropriate because either the amount that must be withheld would be more than the transferor's maximum tax liability or the withholding of the reduced amount would not jeopardize collection of the tax.
The exemption from U.S. tax of all gain realized by the transferor, or
An agreement for the payment of tax providing security for the tax liability, entered into by the transferee or transferor.
At Sun Trust Title, we have established a network of certified public accounts that can handled FIRPTA related matters in an efficient and effective manner.