Foreign Dividends in California: Apple Loses on Dividend Ordering. Now What?

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Last week, the California Court of Appeal in Apple Inc. v. Franchise Tax Board rejected Apple's claim for preferential ordering for dividends paid by foreign subsidiaries. The court did, however, conclude that Apple was entitled to deduct interest that the FTB had disallowed under the Foreign Investment Interest Offset rules. This alert summarizes the dividend ordering issue and discusses steps that taxpayers can take to mitigate its impact.

What happened?

Before 1989, Apple filed its California returns on a worldwide basis, so all earnings of its foreign subsidiaries were factored into the calculation of tax. Under California law,1 a dividend paid out of those pre-1989 earnings is "previously taxed" and is eliminated. Beginning in 1989, Apple made a water's-edge election. During that year, only a small portion of the earnings of the foreign subsidiaries (i.e., the portion that was subpart F income) was included in the water's-edge return. So only a small portion of the foreign earnings generated in 1989 was taxed; the rest was untaxed.

Please see full alert below for more information.

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