Legal ruling 1996-6
September 12, 1996
Subject: Foreign Banks with United States (California) Operations Water's-Edge Election-Bad Debt Reserve Calculation
- When a foreign bank with United States (U.S.) (California) branch operations makes a water's-edge election, what is the correct method of calculating the beginning bad debt reserve balance for U.S. branch operations?
- When a foreign bank with U.S. (California) branch operations terminates a water's-edge election, what is the correct method of calculating the foreign bank's beginning bad debt reserve balance for the income years following the termination of the U.S. branch's water's-edge election?
- Corporation A, a foreign bank with U.S. (California) branch operations, makes a water's-edge election. Corporation A has requested an opinion as to the correct beginning bad debt reserve for the U.S. branch operations for the first year of the water's-edge election and has proposed three alternative methods to compute the beginning bad debt reserve: first, use zero as the beginning bad debt reserve; second, use the ending bad debt reserve for the worldwide entity; or third, recompute the beginning bad debt reserve based solely on the experience of the U.S. branch operations.
- Corporation B, a foreign bank with U.S. (California) branch operations, terminates its water's-edge election. Corporation B has requested an opinion as to the correct beginning bad debt reserve for the worldwide entity and has proposed three alternative methods to compute the beginning bad debt reserve: first, use zero as the beginning bad debt reserve; second, use the ending bad debt reserve for the U.S. branch operations alone; or third, recompute the bad debt reserve based on the experience of the worldwide entity.
Every bank doing business within this state shall annually pay to the state a tax according to or measured by its net income. (See California Revenue and Taxation Code (Rev. & Tax.) §§ 23151, 23181, and 23183.)
Under the unitary method of taxation as applied by California, the business income of each entity included in the combined report is combined, and an apportionment formula is applied to the unitary business income to derive the group's income from California sources. In a procedure commonly described as "intrastate apportionment," each taxpayer member of the group determines its apportioned share of the California business income in accordance with FTB Legal Ruling 234, October 27, 1959, as modified by FTB Notice 90-3, June 8, 1990 (see, also, Appeal of Kaiser-Frazer Sales Corporation, Cal. St. Bd. of Equal., Nov. 7, 1958). Each taxpayer then adjusts its apportioned share of the business income by any California nonbusiness income or loss and any adjusted net operating loss carryovers in order to determine its net income subject to California taxation. Unlike the Federal consolidated return which imposes a joint and several liability, each taxpayer member in the combined report has an obligation to file its own return and pay its own tax liability on its income from California sources (Rev. and Tax. Code §18601 (obligation to file a return), §23037 (defining the term "taxpayer"), §23151 (imposition of tax), §25101 (measure of tax on California source income), see, Safeway Stores, Inc. v. Franchise Tax Board (1970) 3 Cal.3d 745, 752, fn.8).
Notwithstanding Rev. & Tax. § 25101, a qualified taxpayer which is subject to the franchise tax may elect to determine its income derived from or attributable to sources within California pursuant to a "water's-edge" election in accordance with Rev. & Tax. §§ 25110-25115.
Rev. & Tax. § 25110(a)(4) provides that the income from a foreign bank is included in a water's-edge combined report only to the extent of its income derived from or attributable to sources within the U.S., as determined by federal income tax laws. This is commonly referred to as the "deemed subsidiary" rule since the foreign bank's U.S. branch operation is deemed to be equivalent to a U.S. subsidiary. Rev. & Tax. § 25110(a)(4) further states that the income shall be limited to and determined from the books of account maintained by the bank with respect to its activities conducted within the U.S.
U.S. source income of foreign banks is classified as either fixed or determinable annual or periodical income not attributable to a U.S. trade or business (FDAP) (see Internal Revenue Code (IRC) § 881(a)(1)), or income attributable to a business conducted in the U.S. by the foreign bank (effectively connected income or ECI). (See IRC § 882(a)(1).) A foreign bank which has FDAP or ECI must file a federal tax return on Form 1120F, U.S. Income Tax Return of a Foreign Corporation.
IRC § 585(a)(2)(B) states that in the case of a foreign bank, only loans outstanding, the interest on which is effectively connected with the conduct of a banking business within the U.S., are included in the calculation of the bad debt reserve.
Rev. & Tax. § 24348(a)(1) provides:
There shall be allowed as a deduction either of the following: (A) Debts which become worthless within the income year in an amount not in excess of the part charged off within that income year. (B) In the case of a savings and loan association, bank, or financial corporation, in lieu of any deduction under subparagraph (A), in the discretion of the Franchise Tax Board, a reasonable addition to a reserve for bad debts.
The portion of this statute allowing a reasonable addition to a reserve for bad debts for banks, savings and loan associations and financial corporations, has been augmented by Title 18, California Code of Regulations, § 24348(b) (Reg. § 24348(b)), which provides the procedure by which a taxpayer may calculate a reasonable addition to its bad debt reserve.
A bad debt reserve is an accounting method for absorbing debts reasonably expected to become worthless within the upcoming year. (Roanoke Vending Exchange, Inc. v. Commissioner, (1963) 40 T.C. 735.) A bad debt reserve is not intended to provide for all possible losses a bank might incur, but only for losses arising in the normal course of making customer loans. "Bad debt reserve accounts are intended to handle only normal losses that arise in the ordinary course of a taxpayer's day-to-day operations. Losses which are rare or unpredictable in nature and amount should be handled apart from the taxpayer's bad debt reserve." (Appeal of H-B Investment, Inc., Cal. St. Bd. of Equal., June 29, 1982; see also Rev. Rul. 74-709, 1974-2 C.B. 61.)
Accounting principles provide that accrual of loss contingencies for a bad debt reserve is appropriate only in situations where there is a probable loss and the amount of the loss can be reasonably estimated. (See "Accounting for Contingencies", Statement of the Financial Accounting Standards Board No. 5.)
1. Making a Water's-Edge Election
If a foreign bank conducts business through the use of U.S. (California) branches and files its California tax returns on a worldwide basis, the ending bad debt reserve reflects the bad debt experience of the entity on a worldwide basis, considering the foreign bank and its domestic branches as a single entity. The ending bad debt reserve of the worldwide entity is a tax attribute, a portion of which relates to the U.S. branch operations. The issue is how much of that tax attribute should be included in the U.S. branch operations' water's-edge return.
The taxpayer's (U.S. branch) method of accounting must clearly reflect income. (See Rev. & Tax Code § 24651.) Generally, using a zero beginning bad debt reserve for the U.S. branches alone will not correctly match income and deductions once a water's-edge election is made because it would ignore that portion of the ending bad debt reserve balance of the worldwide entity attributable to the U.S. branch operations. Therefore using zero as the beginning bad debt reserve for the U.S. branch operations is in most cases not correct because it will not clearly reflect income.
Once a water's-edge election is made, the bad debt reserve should be revised to reflect only the loss history of the U.S. branch operations. A bad debt reserve balance which reflects worldwide loss history is not permissible for use by the U.S. branch operations because such a bad debt reserve would include foreign loss history which did not arise in the normal course of making loans by the U.S. branch operations. (See Rev. & Tax. § 25110(a)(4).) Therefore the ending bad debt reserve of the worldwide entity is not a correct beginning reserve for U.S. branch operations filing on a water's-edge basis.
Accordingly, it is necessary to recalculate the beginning bad debt reserve balance for the U.S. branch operations when a water's-edge election is in effect, as of the date of the water's-edge election. The beginning bad debt reserve must be recalculated, segregating the experience of the U.S. branch operations to reflect only the loan loss experience of the U.S. branch operations. In order to clearly reflect income, the U.S. branch operations must compute its beginning bad debt reserve using a method consistent with the worldwide bad debt reserve computation of the prior year. This results in a "reasonable addition" to a reserve, as required under Rev. & Tax. § 24348(a)(1)(B). By restating the beginning balance to reflect only U.S. eligible loans, charge-offs, and experience, this method avoids distortion of income by correctly matching income and deductions for the U.S. branch operations.
Most taxpayers will compute their beginning water's-edge bad debt reserve using U.S. bad debt loan history and either the three year average, the six year average, or the book reserve which is limited to one percent of the amount of loans outstanding at the close of the income year, consistent with the prior year's ending reserve method. Some taxpayers may have calculated their worldwide beginning bad debt reserve balance using a method other than the three year average, the six year average, or the book reserve with the one per cent limitation. Such taxpayers will compute their beginning water's-edge bad debt reserve based on the following formula: