Last week, Facebook’s initial public offering hit the market like tickets to the season’s hottest concert. Shares opened at $38, unlocking billions in new wealth for founders and early investors. While shares have actually fallen below that IPO level, investors will probably “like” Facebook for quite some time!
Taxes played a lead role in Facebook’s IPO. The company went public largely so founder Mark Zuckerberg could pay $2 billion in taxes to exercise options on 120 million shares. And six insiders, including Zuckerberg, have set up annuity trusts most likely intended to minimize gift and estate taxes on transfers to future heirs. (In Zuckerberg’s case, those future heirs haven’t even been born — how’s that for advance planning!) But one Facebook founder has taken an even more drastic step to avoid tax — he’s actually renounced his American citizenship!
Eduardo Saverin was born in Brazil in 1982. His wealthy father moved the family to Miami in 1993 to avoid kidnapping threats, and Saverin became a U.S. citizen in 1998. He met Zuckerberg while the two were students at Harvard and, using his family’s wealth, became Facebook’s first investor. But Saverin was squeezed out shortly thereafter, reportedly at the urging of more experienced backers. He sued Zuckerberg, and settled out of court for what appears to be something between 2% and 4% of the company — worth as much as $4 billion at last week’s market close.
Now, Americans like Saverin who give up their citizenship do pay an “exit tax” on the value of appreciated assets as of the time they leave. That means, essentially, you’re taxed as if you sold everything the day before you surrender your U.S. passport. You’ll file Form 8854 to calculate and report your tax. If you can’t afford to pay on the spot, you can even “finance” it as long as you post adequate security.
In Saverin’s case, that means he pays based on the pre-IPO value when he left in September — but he avoids tax on any appreciation after that date. This could spell hundreds of millions in savings. And where has Saverin settled? Singapore, where he has lived since 2009, and where the tax on capital gains is zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. The Wall Street Journal reports that Saverin has become a Kardashian-like figure in his new home: “Mr. Saverin is regularly spotted lounging with models and wealthy friends at local night clubs, racking up tens of thousands of dollars in bar tabs by ordering bottles of Cristal Champagne and Belvedere vodka, according to people present on these occasions. He drives a Bentley, his friends say, wears expensive jackets and lives in one of Singapore’s priciest penthouse apartments.”
Saverin is hardly the first American to de-friend Uncle Sam. The IRS publishes a quarterly list of Americans who leave, one that totaled 1,781 in 2011. And, while Saverin denies he left to avoid taxes, outrage has grown over his move. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Bob Casey (D-PA) have even introduced legislation that would punish future Saverins — their so-called “Ex-Patriot Act” (“Expatriation Prevention by Abolishing Tax-Related Incentives for Offshore Tenancy”) would impose a 30% tax on future expatriates’ gains after they leave our shores.
Are you working to create the next Facebook? There are lots of ways to pay less tax when you eventually sell, and they don’t require you to give up your citizenship!