Passive Foreign Investment Company - PFIC

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DEFINITION of 'Passive Foreign Investment Company - PFIC'

A foreign-based corporation that has one of the following attributes:

1. At least 75% of the corporation's income is considered "passive", which is based on investments rather than standard operating business.

2. At least 50% of the company's assets are investments that produce interest, dividends and/or capital gains

PFICs include foreign-based mutual funds, partnerships and other pooled investment vehicles that have at least one U.S. shareholder. Most investors in PFICs must pay income tax on all distributions and appreciated share values, regardless of whether capital gains tax rates would normally apply.

BREAKING DOWN 'Passive Foreign Investment Company - PFIC'

PFICs are subject to complicated and strict tax guidelines by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which covers treatment of these investments in Sections 1291 through 1297 of the income tax code. Both the PFIC and the shareholder must keep accurate records of all transactions, including share basis, dividends and any undistributed income earned by the company.

The strict guidelines are set up to discourage ownership of PFICs by U.S. investors. PFIC shares won't even receive a step-up in cost basis as is the case with nearly all other marketable, appreciable assets. An option that investors have is to seek qualification of a PFIC investment as a qualified electing fund (QEF). This may reduce the tax rate on certain transactions but also forces the investor to pay taxes even on income earned by the foreign company that is not distributed to shareholders.

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