Asked by Lai Chong Chao

Is it still worth it to invest in StashAway and Autowealth when they contain mainly US ETFs and equities which are subjected to 30% withholding tax?

An investment in StashAway or Autowealth will probably contain a high proportion of US ETFs and equities. I’m pretty new to investment, but I caught this part mentioning that there is this 30% withholding tax for all US investments. How does it work? Does this mean when I sell them off eventually, all my earnings will need to slash off a big chunk of 30% of it? Doesn’t this sound not worth it and invest in something else instead? For instance, Asian equities that doesn’t have this kind of tax.

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  • Nicholes Wong
    Nicholes Wong, Diploma in Business Management at Nanyang Polytechnic
    Top Contributor

    Top Contributor (Mar)

    Level 6. Master
    Answered on 16 Jan 2019

    The tax is on dividend. So example you get 1% dividend for a particular us stock. You will have to pay 0.3% to US government and you keep 0.7%. If you were to buy ireland domiciled ETFs from london stock exchange, the withholding tax will be reduced to 15% as they have tax treaty with the US. If you dont want to buy etf yourself, robo advisors are alright.

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  • Amanda Ong
    Amanda Ong, Head Of Client Engagement & Pr at Stashaway
    Level 3. Wonderkid
    Answered 1w ago

    Hi Lai Chong,

    Just jumping in to help you with your question :)

    To clarify, all dividends of US-listed securities are subject to 30% dividend withholding tax (WHT). These taxes are applicable as long as you own US listed assets, regardless whether the assets were bought through StashAway, or via your own broker. The WHT is held at source and the rest of the dividends are redistributed back to your StashAway portfolio(s) and reinvested automatically.

    Under the QII (Qualified Interest Income) rule, some of the dividend WHT from US domiciled funds (e.g. US government bonds) can be claimed back. Our broker will do this on your behalf and there is no involvement on the customer's part. We will do this once a year, and will notify you via email if you have any claimable WHT, which would be redistributed to your portfolio and automatically reinvested. We reimbursed clients their WHT refund for the year 2017 in October 2018 and will do the same every year.

    For further illustration, you may like to view the Dec 2017 iShares report on QII ETFs (link: https://www.ishares.com/us/literature/tax-information/qualified-interest-income-qii-percentages-2017.pdf). Some examples of QII ETFs that StashAway invests in are 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT) and 10-20 Year Treasury Bond (TLH).

    Our investment team has given serious consideration to the 30% WHT and have considered other exchanges that have lower or no withholding tax. However, at the end of the day, we have decided to stay with US-listed securities despite the tax implications due to the its deep liquidity, reputable fund management and most importantly, the lower tracking error. If you'd interested to see a comparison between US-listed securities and foreign securities, here(link: https://www.stashaway.sg/r/etf-taxes-returns-and-tracking-errors) is an article that presents its case.

    I hope this does clarify some of your concerns. If you have any further questions, please feel free to reach out to us at [email protected]

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