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  • Jennifer S. Hill CPA

Proposed Regulations Address PFIC Rules

The Treasury and IRS have issued proposed regulations on provisions dealing with passive foreign investment companies (PFICs). Proposed regulations published on April 25, 2015, also have been withdrawn ( NPRM REG-108214-15).

U.S. persons who own interests in PFICs are subject to rules that limit deferral on passive income earned by foreign corporations ( Code Sec. 1291– Code Sec. 1298). In general, a PFIC is a foreign corporation that in any given year:

  • has income that is 75 percent or more passive income (income test); or

  • owns, on average, assets that are 50 percent or more passive-income-producing (asset test).

The proposed regulations provide general guidance regarding PFICs, and guidance on the PFIC insurance exception. Specifically, the proposed regulations cover:

  • the determination of ownership in a PFIC, and the treatment of certain income received or accrued by a foreign corporation and assets held by a foreign corporation under Code Sec. 1297;

  • rules for determining whether a U.S. person that directly or indirectly holds stock in a PFIC is treated as a PFIC shareholder, and whether a foreign corporation is a PFIC; and

  • whether a foreign insurance company is a qualifying insurance company (QIC) under Code Sec. 1297(f), and the amounts of income and assets that a QIC can exclude under the PFIC insurance exception.

General Guidance

The proposed regulations specify that, in applying the asset test, the period over which the average percentage is calculated is at least quarterly. However, taxpayers are allowed to use a shorter period, such as a monthly of daily measurement of asset values.

The proposed regulations address attribution of ownership under the look-through subsidiary rules of Code Sec. 1297(c) for determining PFIC status. These rules treat a foreign corporation (FC1) that owns 25 percent or more of another foreign corporation (FC2) as owning and earning a proportional amount of the other foreign corporation’s income and assets. The proposed regulations allow attribution from FC2 to FC1, if FC1 has a greater than 50 percent ownership interest in FC2.

The proposed regulation also provide a partnership look-through rule for the treatment of a partnership interest owned by a foreign corporation, for purposes of determining whether the foreign corporation is a PFIC. Under the rule, the same 25 percent ownership threshold applies to partnership interests as is applied to interests in corporations.

PFIC Insurance Exception

The income of a QIC derived in the active conduct of a trade or business is not treated as passive income for purposes of determining whether a corporation is a PFIC. The QIC test is based on the ratio of the foreign insurance company’s "applicable insurance liabilities" to total assets. Applicable insurance liabilities are the smallest of:

  • insurance liabilities on the company’s most recent applicable financial statement (AFS);

  • liabilities required by local law or regulation; or

  • as provided under Treasury regulations.

Current law allows a foreign corporation to use a local AFS if it does not do financial reporting based on the rigorous and widely-accepted U.S. generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) or international financial reporting standards (IFRS).

The proposed regulations provide a special rule for foreign corporations that change their method of preparing their AFS by ceasing to prepare this statement under either U.S. GAAP or IFRS without a non-federal tax business purpose for the change. The foreign corporation must continue to prepare its AFS under either U.S. GAAP or IFRS. Failing to do so will mean the foreign corporation has no applicable insurance liabilities for the QIC test.

Additionally, if an AFS is prepared under local accounting standards that do not require discounting unpaid losses and other loss reserves on an economically reasonable basis, AFS insurance liabilities must be reduced under U.S. GAAP or IFRS discounting principles.

Applicability Date

The proposed regulations are proposed to apply to tax years of U.S. persons that are shareholders in certain foreign corporations beginning on or after the date of publication of the Treasury Decision adopting these regulations as final regulations in the Federal Register.

Until the regulations are final:

  • taxpayers may choose to apply the proposed regulations (other than Proposed Reg. §1.1297-4and Proposed Reg. §1.1297-5) for open tax years;

  • U.S persons and shareholders in certain foreign corporations may apply Proposed Reg. §1.1297-4 and Proposed Reg. §1.1297-5, for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017; and

  • taxpayers may rely on Notice 88-22, 1988-1 CB 489, providing guidance on the income and asset tests.


Written or electronic comments and requests for public hearing must be received by September 9, 2019. Send submissions to: CC:PA:LPD:PR (REG-105474-18), room 5203, Internal Revenue Service, P.O. Box 7604, Ben Franklin Station, Washington, DC 20044. Submissions may be hand-delivered Monday through Friday between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. to CC:PA:LPD:PR (REG-105474-18), Courier's Desk, Internal Revenue Service, 1111 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20224, or sent electronically via the Federal eRulemaking Portal at (IRS REG-105474-18).

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