There’s a provision that allows aliens in the U.S. to choose to be treated as a U.S. resident for tax purposes even if they would not otherwise qualify as a resident. Income tax rules themselves are already really confusing — and they are even more complicated for foreigners in the U.S. — so a typographic error could really confuse a taxpayer.
I think the IRS made a typographic error, but I’m not even sure how to get in touch with them to fix this.
Suppose you arrive in the U.S. for the very first time on October 1, 2015 to work for the foreseeable future on a TN-1 (NAFTA Professional) visa. Because the period from 2015-10-01 to 2015-12-31 is insufficient to meet the Substantial Presence Test, you would otherwise be a nonresident alien for tax year 2015. This would mean your income in the United States might be subject to taxation in the U.S. as well as in your home country. What if you wanted to be treated as a resident alien starting on October 1, 2015 — despite not satisfying the Substantial Presence Test?
I got a little confused when I first read the rule, because it seemed to require an impossibility:
Let me excerpt that to show why it’s so self-contradictory: “If you do not meet either the [GCT] or the [SPT] for 2014 … but you meet the [SPT] for 2014.”
Huh? Clearly they meant 2016 there. Moreover, if you met the SPT for 2014, the current tax year — 2015 — wouldn’t be your first year in the U.S.
This is confirmed by the bulleted list on the following page:
Motivating example resolved
If you are going to satisfy the Substantial Presence Test in the following tax year — 2016 — you can choose to pretend to be a U.S. resident from 2015-10-01 to 2015-12-31 as well, if you meet all of the requirements in the bulleted list above.
This post ties together some of my favourite things: 2D barcodes, high speed automation, printers, cryptographic signatures (!), postal mail and postage, fraud prevention, and even a little bit about patents!
Over dinner this week, I was revealed as one of those weirdos who actually read the fine print. Yep, once in a while—embarrassingly often—I’ll actually dig right into those long documents that come with the health insurance, the credit card offer, or the website signup.
Why? Because the purpose of these “Terms and Conditions,” or “Cardmember Agreements,” or whatever else they’re calling these lengthy, prewritten, one-sided contracts, is to modify default legal rules/rights in such a way that benefits the parties that wrote them. So, even if I don’t have any practical choice in whether or not to use Facebook, even if I can’t really negotiate with American Express and rewrite the terms of the extended warranty, at the very least it’s useful to know what my rights are—and what hidden benefits there might be that most people don’t know about.
So a friend thought it might be fun if I just occasionally write about these things. Perhaps a sort of Bad Terms & Conditions section on my blog, or … Digging through the Fine Print…
Still working on the name.
I’ll try not to fall into the bad habit of labelling companies “fascists” or something similarly colourful, which other blogshighlighting these issues inevitably find themselves doing. (I mean, literally every company that deserves any business does it, so what’s a conscientious consumer to do?) For what it’s worth, Consumerist already writes about this and does a pretty good job of it.