Trader Tax Battle Of The States: California Vs. Texas

July 14, 2016 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA

Click to read Green's blog post in Forbes.

Click to read Green’s blog post in Forbes.

Trading is a virtual business: All you need is money, a home office with computers, multiple monitors, high-speed Internet, market information and other trading services. Trading does not require an outside office or customers.

As a trader, you can move to a tax-friendly state. For example, if you retire from a job in high-tax California, New York State/City, Massachusetts, or New Jersey, you can move to tax-friendly Texas, Florida, or Washington.

Seven states do not have individual income tax regimes including Texas, Florida, Washington, Nevada, South Dakota, Alaska, and Wyoming. Tax Foundation publishes a handy state map: State Individual Income Tax Rates and Brackets for 2016.

“Currently, fifteen states and the District of Columbia have an estate tax, and six states have an inheritance tax. Maryland and New Jersey have both,” according to Tax Foundation’s Does Your State Have an Estate or Inheritance Tax? Many of the states with an estate or inheritance tax are in the northern part of the country.

In my five-part blog series “Trader Tax Battle Of The States,” I list states by population size. I cover the top eleven states, plus others, too. Over the past decade, some high-tax states lowered taxes to be more competitive and slow the exodus of residents to tax-free states. A few jurisdictions tax S-Corps, the preferred choice of entity for business traders, and I explain ways to reduce state or city S-Corp taxes.

1. California:

– S-Corps owe Franchise Tax (FT), which is the greater of 1.5% of net income or $800 minimum tax, even in a short year. There are two exceptions to minimum FT: For a first-year S-corp, or an S-Corp formed after Dec. 17, providing it did not conduct business until Jan. 1 of the following year. CA S-Corps.

The 1.5% FT rate is meaningful, so it is important for traders to reduce it. There are two ways: Trade a smaller amount of funds, so you do not owe FT above the $800 minimum. Alternatively, use a dual entity structure: A trading general partnership, which is exempt from FT, and an S-Corp management company for employee benefit plan deductions with lower income, and thereby lower FT.  Most trading income remains in the general partnership, free of FT.

The S-Corp’s income should be under $53,333, so you pay the $800 minimum tax only ($800 divided by 1.5% FT equals $53,333).  Calculate S-Corp net income after deducting officer compensation, health insurance, and retirement plan contributions. The partnership pays the S-Corp a monthly administration fee and profit allocation defined in the partnership agreement. The S-Corp needs this income to pay compensation and the employee benefits. In effect, the dual entity structure carves out net income to limit FT to the minimum, and the remainder of the income is exempt from FT. For a trader with consistent trading income over several hundred thousand, the dual entity structure delivers meaningful tax savings.

There are two routes to S-Corp tax treatment: Form an LLC or Corporation, and elect S-Corp treatment on Form 2553 within 75 days of inception.

– LLC tax: An LLC owes the $800 minimum FT, but not the 1.5% FT rate paid by S-Corps. The minimum FT applies to single-member LLC’s (SMLLC), LLC’s filing a partnership tax return, and limited partnerships (LP’s). General partnerships are exempt from the $800 minimum tax.

– LLC fee: There is a fee based on gross income: $0 if gross income is under $250,000, $900 if under $500,000, $2,500 if under $1M, $6,000 if under $5M, $11,790 if over $5M. Instructions (page 2 LLC Fee). Gross income includes net trading gains.

– If an LLC elects S-Corp tax treatment, California waives the LLC fee. California also waives the $800 minimum tax for first year S-Corps, whether formed as an LLC or corporation.

CA has a progressive individual income tax system, and the top rate is 13.3% on income over $1 million. Tax Table.

CA does not have an estate or inheritance tax.

2. Texas:

– Franchise Tax (FT) on limited liability entities and trusts. The FT rate is 0.75% for most entities times gross margin (defined below). The no tax due threshold is $1.11 million. TX exempts general partnerships from FT, providing they are owned entirely by natural persons.

“Exempt entities: Passive entities including partnerships (general, limited and limited liability) and trusts (other than business trusts) may qualify as a passive entity and not owe any franchise tax for a reporting period if at least 90% of the entity’s federal gross income is from net capital gains from the sale of real property, net gains from the sale of commodities traded on a commodities exchange and net gains from the sale of securities,” per 2016 Texas Franchise Tax Report Information and Instructions.

Unfortunately, an S-Corp does not qualify as an exempt entity.

Gross margin is total revenue times 70%, minus Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), minus allowed compensation, minus the no tax due threshold of $1.11 million. After this calculation, most traders will not have an amount subject to FT, and there is no minimum FT.

If you expect significant trading income, which subjects you to a material amount of FT, consider a dual entity solution: A trading general partnership or LLC, which is exempt as a passive entity, and an S-Corp management company, which won’t exceed the FT threshold.

Few TX traders pay FT.

TX does not have an individual income tax.

TX does not have an estate or inheritance tax.

TX is one of the best tax states for traders.

See the rest of my upcoming five-part blog series: Trader Tax Battle Of The States
New York Vs. Florida;
Midwest Vs. Southeast Top 10 States;
New Jersey, Washington & Massachusetts;
Nevada, New Hampshire & District Of Columbia

Attend our Webinar or watch the recording afterward: Trader Tax Battle Of The States.