repatriation tax

6-step guide to dodging taxes just like Apple

May 23, 2013: 5:00 AM ET

Tax avoidance works beautifully -- and legally -- for Apple and other multinationals. Why not make it work for you?

apple-generic-logo-monsterFORTUNE -- It's faddish -- and fun -- these days to talk about the income taxes that Apple does or doesn't pay. Hey, as we learned this week from a Senate report and hearings, Apple's tax strategems are even slicker than its products are. Many of them involve the "intellectual property" gambit that multinational companies frequently use.

They set up subsidiaries in low-tax places like Ireland and Luxembourg to own copyrights to their products. Then their subsidiaries in high-tax countries like the U.S. make tax-deductible payments for the products they make to the low-tax subsidiaries.

The key to Apple's success, as the company tells us over and over (and over), is that its products empower its customers. So I decided to set up a strategy like Apple's to see if I could lower my personal income tax bill.

Here's how this would work.

1. First, I would create seven Irish entities, which I would call SLICK 1 through SLICK 7. SLICK stands for SLoan Intellectual-property Cash Kept offshore. You'll see in a bit why you need seven of them.

2. I would give each SLICK one-seventh of the intellectual property rights to my future Fortune stories, the same way that Apple (AAPL) bestows IP rights to iPhones and such to its low-tax subsidiaries.

3. I would make a deal where Fortune would pay my first 29 days of salary each year to SLICK 1, the second 29 days to SLICK 2, and so on, cycling through the whole year.

4. I would get the cash from Ireland back to myself in the good old-fashioned American way, by borrowing it. My SLICKs can't pay me dividends without triggering income tax, but they can make me short-term loans. After each SLICK got paid by Fortune, it would lend the proceeds to me at the cheapest permissible rate. I would roll over these loans every 29 days, using the proceeds of new loans to repay the old ones. (Cool!)

5. Going the 29-day, 7-subsidiary route would put me in accord with U.S. tax law, under which you can borrow from foreign affiliates for up to 30 days at a time, and up to 60 days for the year, without triggering repatriation tax. (Do the arithmetic, and you'll see this is the reason you need seven subsidiaries.) This is a strategy made famous by Hewlett-Packard (HPQ). If it works for HP, why not for me?

6. Then, having avoided massive amounts of U.S. taxes, I would whine about America's unfair and uncompetitive tax system, and wait for the government to cave in by allowing low-tax repatriation as part of "tax reform."

Sure, I'm not actually proposing that you do this, if only because there are a variety of practical and logistical problems that I've not dealt with. Not to mention possible ethical problems. But you know what? This kind of tax avoidance thinking works beautifully -- and legally -- for Apple and other multinationals. If it turns out to work for you and you feel like sharing the savings with me, I'm game. Drop me a line, and I'll tell you how to wire the money to SLICK 1. Assuming that my accountant loses his mind and allows me to set it up.

More on Apple's taxes:

Guess which senator asked Apple the smartest questions?

Tim Cook's testimony on Apple's taxes: The reviews are in

Mr. Cook came to Washington and escaped unscathed

Sen. Rand Paul: 'The Senate should apologize to Apple'

  • Bring on the corporate tax holiday!

    Giving companies a tax break on repatriated profits may not lead directly to new jobs, but it would likely boost the economy by propping up the dollar and fueling stocks.

    By Vishesh Kumar, contributor

    FORTUNE -- When it comes to the hot button issue of a tax holiday for US corporate profits held overseas, many lawmakers are once bitten, twice shy.

    That's understandable -- the last time Congress decided to give companies a MORE

    Apr 29, 2011 5:00 AM ET
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