Are Nonresident Pension/Retirement Benefits Taxable in Ohio?

As noted in our prior article regarding Disclaiming Ohio Tax Domicile for Income Tax Purposes, former Ohio residents who move outside Ohio for retirement or otherwise often seek to maintain some contact with Ohio – perhaps retaining a home or business here. But, what happens when retirees leave Ohio to settle elsewhere for their golden years, yet continue to receive a pension or retirement income from their prior work in Ohio? Generally, the answer is that nonresident retirement benefits are not taxable for Ohio income tax purposes, so long as they qualify as a covered type of “retirement income.” This article will provide a brief overview of this exclusion for Ohio state income tax purposes, while also noting some potential risk with respect to Ohio local income tax relating to nonresident pension benefits.

Nonresident Retirement Benefits Excluded from Ohio Income Taxation

Federal law prohibits a State (including any political subdivision of a State) from imposing an income tax on any retirement income of an individual who is not a resident or domiciliary of that State (as determined under the laws of that State). 4 U.S.C. Sec. 114(a), (b)(3). For purposes of the federal prohibition, “retirement income” is defined at 4 U.S.C. Sec. 114(b)(1)(A) through (I). Instructively, in 1996 the Ohio Department of Taxation (ODT) issued Information Release No. 3/11/1996 (later revised and superseded in May 2007) (the Information Releases) in response to the above-noted federal prohibition.

The Information Releases provide fairly detailed guidance as to the circumstances under which a nonresident retiree’s retirement benefits may become subject to Ohio tax/tax withholding despite the federal prohibition. The circumstances are limited, but as always it is best to consult your tax attorney or consultant to fully review your facts and circumstances along with applicable guidance to determine taxability of any income.

Ohio Localities Taxing Nonresident Retirement Benefits

The Ohio Board of Tax Appeals (OBTA) in Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. et. al. v. City of Columbus Board of Tax Appeals et. al., Ohio BTA No. 2010-1590, May 12, 12015, 2015 WL 2338054 (Nationwide) considered a taxpayer challenge to a municipal income tax on retirement benefits of a nonresident. As noted, this differs from the initial question presented in that it was a challenge to Ohio municipal income tax as opposed to Ohio state income tax, but it is worth reviewing as it indicates a different result for local income taxability of nonresident retirement income.

Interestingly, the OBTA upheld the City of Columbus Municipal Board of Tax Appeals’ (MBTA) decision finding that the employers were required to withhold municipal income tax on the nonresidents’ retirement benefits. Among other arguments, the taxpayers contended that:

  1. The Columbus income tax ordinance required withholding by employers from employees’ income only, such that once the employment relationship terminated, no further withholding could be required. The OBTA rejected this argument as too restrictive a reading of the ordinance.
  1. The Columbus income tax ordinance did not tax pension income. The OBTA recognized that the income/benefits from the retirement plan at issue constitute a pension benefit, but rejected the taxpayers’ argument stating “we find no support in the city ordinances for [the taxpayers’] claim that the city does not tax pensions . . . .” The taxpayers had cited the Columbus income tax instructions in support of this claim, but the OBTA noted it found no similar reference in the Columbus ordinances.
  1. Federal law (4 U.S.C. Sec. 114) prohibited the city from taxing the nonresidents’ retirement benefits and the MBTA’s decision otherwise was error. In reviewing this argument, the OBTA stated that this federal prohibition relates to imposition of tax based upon a state’s statutory scheme. Thus, the OBTA stated that because there is no Ohio state law preventing the municipalities from imposing tax on nonresident retirement income, the OBTA did not need to address the federal prohibition.

Summary & Biz&TaxHax Tip:

The OBTA’s decision in Nationwide appears to be an incorrect analysis of the federal law prohibiting State taxation of nonresident retirement income, and which clearly includes “political subdivisions of a State” (such as cities, townships, villages) in the prohibition. All of this discussion aside, Nationwide doesn’t affect the federal prohibition as it relates to Ohio income tax on nonresident retirement income. It is important for former Ohioans (or those considering retiring outside Ohio) to consult an experienced Ohio tax attorney or consultant to ensure proper tax domicile review and planning based on their specific facts and circumstances. An Ohio tax lawyer or Ohio tax consultant can assist you in: determining taxability of particular items of income (such as retirement or pension benefits), evaluating your specific facts and circumstances to support non-Ohio domicile under common law, and filing the Affidavit to obtain the appropriate tax results.


Ohio Supreme Court Adds Difficulty for Out-of-State Retirees or Executives Seeking to Disclaim Ohio Domicile for Income Tax Purposes

Establishing Domicile Outside Ohio: Affidavit and Statutory Presumption Pre-March 23, 2015

When former Ohio residents decide to move outside Ohio, they often seek to maintain some contact with Ohio, yet establish tax domicile in their new state of residence. There are a few common (often interrelated) reasons that Ohioans decide to leave the state, such as:

1. Retirement (often to Florida, to avoid cold, snowy Ohio winters);

2. Work (as part of a transfer, or perhaps an executive who performs most of his/her duties outside Ohio); and

3. Obtaining a lower (or zero) state income tax rate (often high or fixed income individuals, such as executives or retirees).

Until recently, a retiree or executive moving his or her primary residence from Ohio to another state could more easily maintain some contact with Ohio, while also establishing tax domicile outside Ohio. This way, the taxpayer could obtain an income tax benefit (or at least avoid having tax reporting and payment obligations in both the new state and Ohio), and keep some ties with his/her former home state.

To ensure tax domicile outside Ohio and obtain the above-noted benefits, the taxpayer could file an Affidavit of Non-Ohio Domicile with the Ohio Department of Taxation, attesting that during the tax year he/she was not domiciled in Ohio because he/she had:

1. Fewer than 213 (effective 3/20/2015; previously, fewer than 183) Ohio contact periods; and

2. An abode in a state outside Ohio.

Under Ohio law, as long as the taxpayer’s Affidavit did not contain a false statement, this filing created an irrebuttable presumption that the taxpayer was not domiciled in Ohio during the tax year. See R.C. 5747.24(B)(1).

March 23, 2015 Forward: Ohio Supreme Court Decision Invalidates Affidavit Presumption of Non-Ohio Domicile

The recent Ohio Supreme Court decision in Cunningham v. Testa, Slip Opinion No. 2015-Ohio-2744, basically rendered this statutory presumption of non-Ohio domicile (where a taxpayer files the Affidavit of Non-Ohio Domicile) ineffective. In Cunningham, the Court reasoned that the Affidavit must still be supported by facts and circumstances that would withstand the common law test of domicile. So, it is no longer enough to simply file the Affidavit attesting that the taxpayer has fewer than 183 Ohio contact periods for the year and is not domiciled in Ohio. One needs to actually review the taxpayer’s relevant facts and circumstances related to determining domicile under the common law rule.

Under common law, domicile is a question of intent–whether the taxpayer intends to remain in a jurisdiction permanently, or at least indefinitely–based on all relevant facts and circumstances. A non-exhaustive list of facts and circumstances relevant to determining domicile include:

1. Filing federal income tax returns (address listed on federal returns);

2. Voter registration;

3. Automobile registration;

4. Driver’s license;

5. Location of spouse and children;

6. Mailing address/address where mail is received;

7. Various exemption/credit/etc. application filings (in Cunningham, the taxpayer’s had claimed a homestead exemption application for their Cincinnati home prior to later filing the Affidavit of Non-Ohio Domicile, which was inconsistent);

8. Courts will also look to the place where an individual was: born, raised, educated, married, resided for significant time, etc.

Effectively, following the Cunningham decision it appears that a taxpayer can still use the Affidavit, but it is important to do a self-review of factors to ensure that the total facts and circumstances support the taxpayer’s Affidavit claiming non-Ohio domicile. In other words, it seems that a taxpayer can’t simply rest on the fact that he has less than 183 contact periods in Ohio and has another residence outside Ohio during the tax year to claim no Ohio domicile (as many previously believed would suffice) – the weight of all relevant facts and circumstances must support the position as well.

Summary & Biz&TaxHax Tip

In summary, the Cunningham decision seems to provide the Ohio Department of Taxation significant authority and leverage to require taxpayers filing the Affidavit to further support domicile outside Ohio by the weight of common law factors. So, unless and until the Ohio Legislature addresses this Ohio tax domicile issue, Cunningham appears to be the controlling rule. Accordingly, it is important for former Ohioans (or those considering a move outside Ohio) to consult an experienced Ohio tax attorney or consultant to ensure proper tax domicile review and planning based on their specific facts and circumstances. An Ohio tax lawyer or Ohio tax consultant can assist you in evaluating your specific facts and circumstances to support non-Ohio domicile under common law, and filing the Affidavit to obtain the appropriate tax results.