Tax Fairness for Americans Abroad Act: An Update

Tax Fairness for Americans Abroad Act: An Update
February 16, 2020

In 2018, Congressman George Holding introduced a bill called the “Tax Fairness for Americans Abroad Act of 2018” (TFFAAA) just before the Congressional holiday recess. The bill would exclude foreign-sourced from US taxation while the US citizen was a qualified resident abroad. We’ll give you an update on the TFFAAA bill so that you’re up to speed on what the future holds for expat taxation!

What Is the Tax Fairness for Americans Abroad Act?

The Tax Fairness for Americans Abroad Act proposes a new section of the Internal Revenue Code that would allow qualified nonresident citizens (i.e.; American expats residing in a foreign country) to exclude all foreign-sourced income from US taxation. This means that expats would only pay taxes on their US-sourced income.

How Would the TFFAAA Affect Americans Abroad?

If passed, the TFFAAA would not change the US citizenship-based taxation to a territorial taxation system. The core tax code would remain in effect. This means that US persons, citizens, and residents (aka Greencard Holders) would be subject to US taxation under all of the current laws.

Why not try to abolish citizenship-base taxation entirely? To do this, nearly the entirety of the tax code would need to be rewritten. That’s why many see the TFFAAA as the first step in the goal to address the tax issues and problems for expats residing overseas.

However, the TFFAAA would expand tax relief for expats significantly. The Act would remove limitations on how much and which kinds of foreign income expats can exclude from US taxation. Overall, most expats and advocacy groups would consider the TFFAAA an important victory for Americans abroad.

How Would You Qualify as a Nonresident Citizen Under TFFAAA?

In short, it pretty much follows the bona fide residence and physical presence tests for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. So, you’d need to meet the following criteria:

  • Be a citizen of the US
  • Have a “tax home” in a foreign country
  • Be fully compliant for the prior three taxable years
  • Meet the other requirements of either the bona fide residence or physical presence test for the taxable year
  • No federal employees are considered nonresident citizens

After determining you meet the five points of a nonresident citizen, you could elect annually to be taxed as a qualified nonresident citizen. However, any sale of personal property is only excludable for the periods you elect to be a qualified nonresident citizen; essentially, all capital gain transactions would need to be calculated by allocating for any years the TFFAAA did not protect the foreign personal property, foreign homes, stocks, etc.

What’s the Current Status of the Tax Fairness for Americans Abroad Act?

In 2018, the Republicans Overseas group initiated the bill and found Congressman George Holding to introduce it as the Tax Fairness for Americans Abroad Act. After being sent to the Ways and Means Committee for further consideration, the bill was presented to the 115th Congress. But because the bill was not passed and this Congress is no longer in operation, the Act would need to be reintroduced with a Democrat as a cosigner for the bill to move forward.

While Congressman Holding continued to advocate for the interests of Americans abroad throughout 2019 and 2020, the Act failed to gain traction in Congress. With Congressman Holding unlikely to run for office again in 2020, the future of the bill is uncertain. However, the introduction of the bill is still seen as a significant landmark by expat advocacy groups. The TFFAAA has spurred important discussion among lawmakers, paving the way for future bills to support the interests of Americans abroad.

What’s Missing from the Tax Fairness for Americans Abroad Act?

While the TFFAA benefits many expats, the proposal is far from perfect. The bill benefits only certain US persons living overseas. The provisions do not address the multitude of other problems in expat taxation, such as:

  • The TFFAAA would not change FATCA or FBAR reporting. If you had an aggregate bank account balance of $10,000 in foreign financial accounts, you would continue to file the FBAR annually.
  • All informational reporting remains unchanged. US persons with ownership in foreign businesses will need to continue any annual reporting requirements for 10% or more ownership in a foreign corporation, like Form 5471. In addition, the GILTI calculations are not addressed.
  • The bill does not address foreign currency conversion transactions, PFICs or foreign trusts reporting and taxation.
  • The bill means you cannot elect to qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and also to be a nonqualified resident citizen, so, any US sourced income would be taxed as a nonresident, subject to any treaty-based positions that nonresidents currently claim.
  • Expats would still need to calculate any portion of foreign personal property sales for the periods they were not a qualified nonresident citizen.
  • Because of the compliance requirements, the Tax Fairness for Americans Abroad Act does not address any “accidental Americans” and the issues they face banking overseas.

What’s Next for the TFFAAA?

As the fight for expat tax fairness continue, the Tax Fairness for Americans Abroad Act will likely serve as a historic step on the path to future legislation. American Citizens Abroad (ACA), an organization that promotes the interests of US citizens overseas, continues to raise awareness and gather support for the bill and other pre-expat legislation.

To read more on the topic, download our guide devoted to the Tax Fairness for Americans Abroad Act to get all the facts.

Greenback Can Make Filing Taxes Simple for Americans Abroad

Since expats still have complicated filing requirements, Greenback can help you get through them with ease. Get started with Greenback, and we’ll make the process easier than you imagined possible.

Every expat should know these 25 things about US expat taxes. Find out for yourself.
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