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What is a foreign tax credit?

What is a foreign tax credit?

Unraveling the Foreign Tax Credit

In our increasingly globalized world, it's not uncommon for individuals to find themselves working or earning income from foreign countries. Whether you're an expatriate, an investor with foreign assets, or a global entrepreneur, understanding the intricacies of the foreign tax credit becomes crucial. The foreign tax credit is a tax relief provision specifically designed to alleviate the burden of double taxation, a situation where you're taxed on the same income by both your home country and the foreign country where you earned the income.

Balancing Domestic and International Tax Liabilities

The foreign tax credit, exclusive to U.S. citizens and resident aliens, is an important component of the tax code. It effectively allows these taxpayers to offset income taxes paid to a foreign government against their domestic tax liability. This mechanism aims to prevent a scenario where an individual's foreign income is taxed twice – once by the foreign country where the income was earned and again by the United States.

Foreign taxes paid on various income streams such as wages, dividends, interest, royalties, and similar items generally qualify for the foreign tax credit. However, it's important to note that there are specific requirements and limitations that must be met to be eligible for the credit.

Tax Credits vs. Tax Deductions: Understanding the Difference

Tax credits and tax deductions are both mechanisms designed to lighten the tax load, but they work differently. A tax deduction reduces the amount of income considered taxable, whereas a tax credit reduces the tax owed dollar-for-dollar. When applying for the foreign tax credit, taxpayers are essentially reducing their domestic tax obligation in direct proportion to the amount of foreign tax paid.

What makes tax credits particularly appealing is their ability to decrease tax liability more significantly than deductions. However, the foreign tax credit is categorized as a non-refundable credit, which means it cannot result in a refund nor can it be carried forward into subsequent tax years.

Additional Tax Exemptions for Foreign Income

Beyond the foreign tax credit, the U.S. tax code provides further avenues for taxpayers with foreign income. One notable provision is the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, which, as of 2016, permits expatriate workers to exclude up to $100,800 of their foreign income from U.S. taxation. However, this exclusion amount is still taxed at the applicable tax brackets as if the exclusion had not been taken.

Moreover, there's the foreign housing credit, allowing for an additional exclusion for substantial housing costs incurred while living abroad. This credit can significantly increase the total exclusion amount and reduce taxable income.

If a taxpayer has foreign income beyond these exclusions, they can still apply the foreign tax credit to further mitigate their domestic tax obligation. Thus, understanding and leveraging these tax provisions can significantly lighten the financial burden of international work or investment.

The foreign tax credit serves as a testament to the complexity and global reach of the U.S. tax code. For U.S. citizens and resident aliens with foreign income, it's an invaluable tool that can significantly reduce double taxation. However, navigating these tax laws requires a comprehensive understanding of their mechanics, potential benefits, and limitations. With careful planning and possibly the aid of a tax professional, taxpayers can efficiently leverage these provisions to optimize their global income and mitigate their tax liabilities.

Summary:
A foreign tax credit (or deduction) allows a citizen who earned income in another country to reduce the amount of domestic income taxes owed if the foreign government has already taxed the income abroad.

Workers who earn income in a foreign country may be entitled to a credit or deduction on their domestic income taxes if they show that this income was already taxed by the foreign government where the income was earned. In the US, there are at least three types of foreign income tax exemptions, with a foreign tax credit being one of them.

Ex-patriot workers can take a Foreign Earned Income Exclusion up to $100,800 (in 2016), which reduces the amount of their income which will be subject to income taxes in the US, but it will be taxed at the brackets applicable if the exclusion had not been taken. They may also be eligible for a foreign housing credit, which will increase their total exclusion amount by up to $30,000 or more if they are paying a substantial amount for housing abroad, or if the company is paying for it but it is part of the employee’s reported income.

The Foreign Tax Credit can be taken instead of these two options, or, if the individual has earned income over and above those exclusions which has also been taxed abroad already, they can apply the Foreign Tax Credit to reduce the amount of domestic income tax owed.

Tax credits reduce dollar-for-dollar the amount of taxes owed, while deductions reduce the amount of taxable income considered. Tax credits are often categorized as non-refundable, meaning you can’t get an actual refund using them and you usually can’t carry them forward. The Foreign Earned Income Credit is a non-refundable credit.
 

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What if I Want to Retire Abroad?
What is a Foreign Tax Deduction?

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