Removing US Withholding Tax from your royalties (Part 3)

Intro and disclaimer: I am a UK-based writer. Towards the end of 2012 I began proceedings to strip US Withholding Tax from any royalties earned through US companies. This short series of blog posts documents the process I followed. The usual caveats apply: this is the internet, folks, so you shouldn’t consider this to be professional advice. That said I hope you still find these posts of use. Okay, let’s get stuck in.

Part Three: Completing W-8BEN forms for each publishing platform

In the previous part I described how to apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) from the IRS. In this part I’ll detail how you can use your number to remove or reduce US Withholding Tax levied on your royalties.

There are a number of platforms writers can use to self-publish their work, such as Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and Smashwords. Both of these companies will automatically deduct 30% of your royalties to pay US Withholding Tax unless you apply to have this tax reduced or removed.

To do this you need to submit a completed W-8BEN form. You can download a form from the IRS website via this link: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw8ben.pdf

You will need to complete a W-8BEN form for each company you use to publish your work, e.g. one for Amazon, one for CreateSpace, and another for Smashwords. When a company has a completed W-8BEN form they can then reduce or remove the tax, meaning more royalties for you.

Here is a run-through how to complete the form. (The following assumes you are an individual tax payer, not a company. These instructions apply to the February 2006 revision of the W-8BEN form.)

– Enter your full name in line 1, e.g. LUCIAN POLL. Do not add any titles, e.g. no “Mrs” and no “Esq”. You might think your MBE is terribly important, but the IRS couldn’t care less.
– Enter N/A in line 2, as you are not a company.
– In line 3 tick the Individual box.
– Enter the house number and street of your permanent residential address, e.g. 123 ACACIA AVENUE
– Enter the remainder of your address in the next line, e.g. NORWICH, NORFOLK NR99 9ZZ
– Enter your country, e.g. UNITED KINGDOM
– If you have a chez away from chez enter it in line 5, otherwise leave it blank
– In line 6 enter your tax identification number. For an ITIN this will be three digits, a dash, two digits, a second dash, and then four digits, e.g. 999-99-9999
– Tick the SSN or ITIN box.
– Leave line 7 blank, as this is optional
– Line 8 is used to house a reference that identifies you to the company that is paying you royalties. Amazon’s example W-8BEN form has this section blank, but for my form I’ve put in my KDP publisher number, which I found on the account settings page of my KDP dashboard. Smashwords, on the other hand, requires you to enter either your email address or Smashwords display name. CreateSpace requires your membership number, which you can filch from the CreateSpace dashboard.
– Tick box 9a and enter your country of residence, e.g. UNITED KINGDOM.
– Tick box 9b, as you will have provided your tax number in line 6.
– Line 10 in Amazon’s example form is empty, however I have seen several people complete this line, so I’ve done likewise. Line 10 therefore reads as follows, with the gaps completed as highlighted:
The beneficial owner is claiming the provisions of Article 12 of the treaty identified on line 9a above to claim a 0 % rate of withholding on (specify type of income): BOOK ROYALTIES. Explain the reasons the beneficial owner meets the terms of the treaty article: BENEFICIAL OWNER IS A PERMANENT RESIDENT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM.
 – Skip Part III and move to Part IV. Sign the form, enter the date in MM/DD/YYYY format (remember this is a US form) and enter SELF for “Capacity in which acting”.

Your completed W-8BEN form will look a little like that shown below. (Click for a larger image.):

Example of a W-8BEN form, complete except for a signature and a date

Example of a W-8BEN form, complete except for a signature and a date

You will then need to post the form to the company that will pay you royalties. A covering letter for each form won’t go amiss. You are advised to make a copy of each  form you complete in case you receive any queries about your application.

The postal addresses for Amazon Digital Services and CreateSpace are much the same, which is unsurprising given one is a member company of the other. (Scroll down each respective page for the address.) The postal address for Smashwords can be found here.

And that’s it for this short series of posts on removing US Withholding Tax from your royalties. I hope you found it of some use.

Final note: If you see anything that is incorrect in any of these pages please let me know. It’s not my intention to misinform!

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Removing US Withholding Tax from your royalties (Part 2)

Intro and disclaimer: I am a UK-based writer. Towards the end of 2012 I began proceedings to strip US Withholding Tax from any royalties earned through US companies. This short series of blog posts documents the process I followed. The usual caveats apply: this is the internet, folks, so you shouldn’t consider this to be professional advice. That said I hope you still find these posts of use. Okay, let’s get stuck in.

Part Two: Applying for a US Tax Identification Number

In the previous part I discussed what US Withholding Tax entailed, and gave an overview of the steps non-US residents need to take in order to remove or reduce the tax from their earnings.

In this post I’ll go into more detail on these steps, specifically in applying for a Taxpayer Identification Number. These posts are written from the perspective of an individual tax payer, not a company. (Amazon’s KDP help pages contain a decent amount of information for those who wrap up their tax affairs within a company.)

Step 1 is to gather some appropriate ID. You’re going to need it to accompany your application form, because Uncle Sam will want to know who you are. If you have a valid passport then that should be all you require, otherwise you’ll need ID to prove your foreign status and identity, for example a birth certificate and a driver’s licence. My passport expired recently but I decided to bite the bullet and invest in a new one, if only for all those American book signings I’ll be doing in the next ten years. 😉

Step 2 is to download and complete a W-7 form from the IRS website. (Here’s a link: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw7.pdf ) The W-7 form is an editable PDF file that can be (mostly) completed on screen and saved on your computer. Why “mostly”? Well, let’s go through completing this form and you’ll see why.
(Note: this guide is for the January 2012 revision of the W-7 form, and remember I’m assuming you are an individual UK taxpayer.)
* In the set of tick boxes a – h you need to tick boxes a and h.
* Next to box ‘h’ enter EXCEPTION D ROYALTIES on the dotted line
* Underneath that enter the treaty country as UNITED KINGDOM
* To the right of that, under treaty article number, enter 12
* In line 1a enter your first name, middle name(s) and surname in the appropriate boxes
* If you were born under a different name enter it in line 1b – again first name, middle name(s) and surname.
* In line 2 enter your house number and street name in the first part, e.g. 123 ACACIA AVENUE, and then the remainder of your address underneath, e.g. NORWICH, NORFOLK, UNITED KINGDOM, NR99 9ZZ
* You can ignore line 3 unless you have another non-US address that acts as your chez away from chez, in which case enter it in much the same fashion as you did your main address in line 2.
* In line 4 enter your date of birth in MM/DD/YYYY format, e.g. 05/04/1990 for 4th May 1990. Remember this is a US form you are filling out. In the box to the right of that enter your country of birth, for example UNITED KINGDOM.
* Oddly, line 5 is actually a box further along to the right. In here indicate whether you are male or female.
* Line 6 is a biggie, so I’ll split it out further:
—> For 6a enter your country of citizenship, e.g. UNITED KINGDOM
—> For 6b enter your National Insurance Number, e.g. AB123456C
—> Leave 6c blank unless you have a US visa
—> For 6d enter your ID details. Assuming you are including your passport, tick the passport box, for “Issued By:” enter UK (there isn’t enough room to type UNITED KINGDOM), for “No.:” enter your passport number, e.g. 123456789, and for “Exp. date:” enter your passport’s expiry date, again in MM/DD/YYYY form, e.g. 12/13/2014.
—> For 6e, assuming this is the first Tax Identification Number you are applying for, tick the No/Do Not Know box.
—> Lines 6f and 6g can be left blank if you answered no for 6e.
* Sign and date the form (remembering MM/DD/YYYY). Enter your full telephone number. For my form I had to manually write the number as +441603123456 because the form only allowed 12 characters to be input.

Your completed W-7 form will look something like the example shown below. (Click for a larger image.)

Example W-7 form, complete except for signature and date.

Example W-7 form, complete except for signature and date.

Step 3 – With your W-7 form completed you need a letter (signed, and on official letterhead) from someone in the US stating they are going to pay you royalties. Smashwords will give you access to their letter once you have accrued $10 in royalties, whereas Amazon offer their royalties letter for all – just fill in your name and the date (again in MM/DD/YYYY format).

Step 4 – Send off your application. By this point you should have: 1) a letter from, say, Amazon; 2) your completed W-7 form; and 3) appropriate ID (I’m assuming your passport). These all need to find their way to the IRS so they can process your application. You could stick them all in an envelope and send them off to the States, but perhaps a better way would be to use the US Embassy. They can create a notarised copy of your passport, check your application for obvious errors and forward everything on to the IRS. They then return your passport quickly by Special Delivery. (I got mine back in 4 days.) All this for a fee of exactly zero pence too – you just need to pay to get the documents there. (Special Delivery cost me £5.90.)

I’d strongly recommend writing a covering letter to accompany your documents. Here’s one I used that seemed to do the trick:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I would like to apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number in order to strip US Withholding Tax from any royalties I receive from Amazon for my self-published work.

I have completed the W-7 form, which please find enclosed along with my passport and a letter from Amazon regarding payment of royalties.

Please could you arrange for a notarised copy of my passport to be forwarded to the IRS along with my W-7 form and letter? If there are any problems with my application please do not hesitate to contact me on ______________.

Thank you in advance for your help.

Yours faithfully

(Before sending everything off I would recommend taking a copy of your W-7 form. If the IRS come back with queries at least you can see what you sent.)

As mentioned you should receive your passport by Special Delivery in around a week. Your W-7 application form, if successfully processed, should yield a US tax number in around 7-8 weeks. Once you have your tax number you can move onto the next stage.

Coming next in Part 3: Completing W-8BEN forms for each publishing platform

Final note: If you see anything that is incorrect in any of these pages please let me know. It is not my intention to misinform!

Removing US Withholding Tax from your royalties (Part 1)

Intro and disclaimer: I am a UK-based writer. Towards the end of 2012 I began proceedings to strip US Withholding Tax from any royalties earned through US companies. This short series of blog posts documents the process I followed. The usual caveats apply: this is the internet, folks, so you shouldn’t consider this to be professional advice. That said I hope you still find these posts of use. Okay, let’s get stuck in.

Part One: US Withholding Tax – if you don’t need to pay it, don’t pay it!

If you are a non-US resident then companies like Amazon and Smashwords are required by law to withhold 30% of the gross payment to you and hand it over to the IRS. This is US Withholding Tax and it is essentially a default setting to make sure Uncle Sam gets paid when a non-US resident earns a slice. The tax applies to interest payments, dividends, rent payments, and, among other things, royalty payments.

The trouble with this arrangement, however, is that you can get stung for tax twice: once by Uncle Sam and again by the taxman in your own country. For example if you are a basic-rate taxpayer in the UK and you earn $100 through Amazon, Uncle Sam will take his $30, and you will owe the UK taxman 20% of the $70 remaining, leaving you with $56. That $56 equates roughly to £35. Once your bank has charged you a £5 processing fee to pay in a US$ cheque and then applied its terrible exchange rate on the remainder you end up with approximately Bugger All.

(I have assumed the worst-case scenario here, namely UK tax applied immediately after US Withholding Tax. It may be that UK tax can applied on the monies you finally get from the bank, but I’m no accountant. It’s a moot point either way, as you will discover.)

This double-taxation of your hard-earned royalties is, of course, is a trifle unfair, but fear not! Many countries have a tax treaty in place with the US that allows non-US residents to waive all or part of the Withholding Tax. In order to do this, however, you need to be on Uncle Sam’s books.

In short, you’re going to need a US tax number. You can apply for one by completing a W-7 form from the IRS if you are an individual, or, if you have structured your tax affairs within a company, then you’ll need to complete a SS-4 form. (This series of posts will only cover the process from the perspective of an individual non-US resident. Amazon KDP’s help page has more info on completing the SS-4 form.)

It will take 7-8 weeks for the IRS to process your application and to issue a tax number. For example I submitted my application late October 2012 and received my Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) early December 2012.

Once you have received your tax number you can then apply to have the US Withholding Tax waived or reduced from your assorted income streams. For that you will need to complete and submit a W-8 form to each US-based publishing platform you use. Bingo! More royalties for you, and a little more tax into HMRC’s coffers to boot. Your social conscience may rest easy again. (You were, of course, going to declare that extra source of income, weren’t you?)

Okay, that’s a run-through of what the tax is and what you need to do in order to reduce or remove it from your earnings. I’ll go into more detail on these steps in subsequent posts.

Coming next: Applying for a US Tax Identification Number

Final note: If you see anything that is incorrect in any of these pages please let me know. It’s not my intention to misinform!