CPF vs. Superannuation – Do I Pay Tax on Gains, Report the Account?
Two of the most common Foreign Retirement plans we handle are the Singaporean Central Provident Fund (CPF), and the Australian Superannuation Fund (“Super”).
*This CPF vs. Super comparison analysis was prepared exclusively by Golding & Golding and no portion of it has been authorized for use or reproduction on any other blog or website.
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CPF vs. Superannuation for U.S. Tax
The following is a summary of the difference between a CPF and Superannuation as provided by Golding & Golding, A PLC.
Sean M. Golding, Board-Certified Tax Law Specialist
Our Managing Partner, Sean M. Golding, Board-Certified Tax Law Specialist is the only Attorney nationwide who has earned the Certified Tax Law Specialist credential and specializes in IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure and closely related matters.
In addition to earning the Certified Tax Law Certification, Sean also holds an LL.M. (Master’s in Tax Law) from the University of Denver and is also an Enrolled Agent (the highest credential awarded by the IRS.)
He is frequently called upon to lecture and write on issues involving International Tax.
What is a Singapore CPF?
A CPF is a mandated retirement scheme in Singapore. Both the employer deferrals and employee contributions are required. A CPF has multiple components to it, and the funds are broken down into different categories.
While the rules will vary depending on whether the portion of the contribution is mandatory or not, and whether it exceeds certain thresholds or not, typically the portion of the Employers Contribution that is compulsory or “mandatory” is not taxable, while the portion that is voluntary is taxable.
The employer contributes to the CPF, and then the employer can seek to recoup the money contributed for the employee’s share of the contribution.
What is an Australian Superannuation Fund?
A Superannuation is a retirement fund. As provided by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission:
It’s similar to a managed fund where your money is pooled with other members’ money and invested on your behalf by professional investment managers.
Generally you will not be able to access this money until you retire. Your employer will make contributions to your super fund and you can top it up with your own money.
The government may also make contributions if you are a low income earner. Most people can choose which super fund they’d like their super contributions paid into. For most people, your employer must pay an amount equal to 9.5% of your salary into your super fund account.
This is on top of your salary or wages. Over the course of your working life, these contributions from your employer add up, or ‘accumulate’, which is why they are known as accumulation funds. Your super money is invested by your super fund so you will earn investment returns on the money. There are several different types of superannuation funds.”
How Is the CPF Taxed in the U.S.?
Unlike a Superannuation, the IRS has issued memorandum regarding the taxation of CPFs…and it is not good.
If you are a U.S. Person, the CPF is taxed twofold by the IRS:
First, the amount of income that is deferred from your salary and deposited directly into the CPF is taxed by the IRS (even if tax deferred in Singapore).
Second, the growth within the fund is also taxed. The IRS has issued memoranda on each of these issues.
How is a Superannuation Taxed in the U.S.?
Even though the IRS has not ruled specifically as to the tax treatment of Superannuations and the U.S and Australia Income Tax Treaty is silent as to the specific issue of Superannuations — there are signs that the Superannuation contributions/deferrals may be taxable by the U.S., even if it the growth may not be taxable (except under certain situations).
What Does the U.S. – Australian Treaty Say about Supers?
The U.S. and Australia Treaty is silent on Superannuation Funds. In other words, the tax treaty does not provide any specific guidance on superannuation funds.
Is Australia Superannuation Social Security or Pension for U.S. Tax?
Until the IRS rules on this issue, there are two main comparisons:
- Is a Superannuation similar to U.S. Social Security; or
- Is a Superannuation similar to a Foreign Retirement Pension?
U.S. Social Security
U.S. social security contribution is relatively simple, and a way of life for U.S. Persons (subject to any applicable totalization agreement). We all pay (subject to a totalization agreement) 6.2 percent and your employer pays 6.2 percent. If you’re self-employed, you pay 12.4 percent. You don’t pay Social Security taxes on earnings greater than the annual cap. You and your employer each pay 1.45 percent.
When a person reaches a certain age, they begin receiving social security payments and the age in which a person begins taking social security can vary.. A person can typically elect to begin receiving U.S. Social Security at different ages, and then based on the total income received by the person, that will determine whether a portion or all of their social security is taxed (when a person earns less additional income, then less of the social security is taxed, and vice versa).
Comparing the CPF vs. Superannuation Fund
While a Superannuation and CPF are not identical, they are very similar. Both are mandated retirement funds by their respective governments, and both are classified as privatized social security by the SSA (Social Security Administration).
But, while the IRS has ruled on taxation of a CPF, the IRS has not ruled on Superannuations.
Therefore, the CPF will serve as good comparison. And, for all you tax geeks (like us) out there, we know they are not identical, but the CPF serves as a solid base for comparison purposes.
A Superannuation is very similar to a CPF
- Both are deferred from salary.
- Both have their own identifier number (aka “assigned account number”)
- Neither is required if it is not a local employer
- Both can be depleted in full by the employee/owner
- Both offer periodic distributions but they are not mandatory (a person can take the full deduction)
As to the CPF:
- Salary Deferrals are taxable
- Growth within the fund is taxable.
As to the Superannuation, it is probably safe to:
- Pay U.S. Tax on any income you earned from an employer that was diverted to a Superannuation – while you were a U.S. Person
- Pay U.S. Tax on Distributions, if you are a U.S. Resident
- Report the Super (see below)
- Consider the pros and cons of paying tax on the growth (especially HCE, Highly Compensated Employee)
International CPF and Superannuation Reporting
Putting income tax issues aside for a moment, the CPF and Superannuation must be reported on various IRS international tax forms and the failure to report may lead to extensive fines and penalties (although there are IRS approved programs designed to reduce, minimize, and/or eliminate penalties).
*The goal of this article is just to keep you informed of how the IRS may rule and provide an alternative opinion to some other information presented online. We are not making any concrete statement that you should pay tax on any accrued but non-distributed income growth.
What if You Never Paid Tax or Reported?
Depending on facts facts and circumstances of the noncompliance the IRS has the right to issue extremely lopsided penalties against any individual who is out of IRS compliance.
Even a cursory review of the IRS penalties and the Standard of Proof required by the IRS to prove the penalties reflects that even minor infractions can result in significant penalties.
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Sean holds a Master's in Tax Law from one of the top Tax LL.M. programs in the country at the University of Denver. He has also earned the prestigious IRS Enrolled Agent credential. Mr. Golding's articles have been referenced in such publications as the Washington Post, Forbes, Nolo, and various Law Journals nationwide.
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