Frequently Asked Questions
Working with Greenback: Common Client Questions

Are you an American living abroad struggling to navigate the tax process? Greenback specializes in tax for expats. Get all the information you need now!

How will the new tax bill affect me as an expat?

Greenback experts have compiled a list of changes in taxation that expats will encounter under the new law. Some of the deductions and exclusions remain the same, while others have undergone significant changes. Click here to get all the information you need for the upcoming changes to expat taxes!

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What is a W-9 and a W-8 and is there a difference between the two?

The W-9 is used for anyone with a tax ID number (SSN or ITIN) and basically says, “Hey IRS/Treasury, this is my Tax ID number!” Many banks are now requesting this document because of FATCA reporting requirements. Since they are required to report the assets of their American customers to the US, the W-9 or W-8 (in rare cases) is best suited for that.

Even though the W-9 is just a reporting document (you are not taxed on anything), if you are not caught up on your US filing regulations (i.e., tax returns and FBARs), it could cause trouble. Coming forward to the IRS to voluntarily become compliant is better than having your bank provide that information to the IRS. Otherwise, it could appear that you are hiding something and raise a red flag.

Lastly, the W-8 series is used to certify that the filer is not an American citizen or resident. Even though there are many of these, usually US citizens or residents won’t encounter them at all – they’re used most often by non-residents with US-sourced income.

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My only significant income is a scholarship from a research foundation, which is not taxable under my country’s tax laws. How much (if any) of this scholarship needs to be declared on my US tax return?

In most cases, the scholarship will be taxable in the US. Unfortunately, there is a clause in most tax treaties that makes the tax-free status inapplicable when you’re a US citizen or permanent resident.

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I made a mistake on my taxes several years ago and just now realized that I could have excluded that tax paid. Can I amend the return and get a refund?

The IRS has a statute of limitations in place that limits the length of time where one can claim a refund. For those who filed a 1040, you have 3 years after the due date of the return, or 3 years after the date the return was actually filed, whichever is later.

For more information, the IRS website has a list of specific rules.

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I will be outside the US for 330 days, but not in one calendar year. Can I still use the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion to reduce my tax bill?

Yes, the Physical Presence Test requires that you be inside a foreign country for 330 days in any 365-day period. This can run from January to December or from June to May. If the time is split across 2 tax years, you will get a pro rata exclusion for each year. If you have not yet been abroad for 330 days but you will be, you can file for an extension using Form 2350, which will allow you to wait until you meet the 330-day requirement.

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What income is reportable on my US tax return?

The IRS taxes its citizens and resident aliens on their worldwide income. If you have savings and investments outside the USA, these would be taxable by the IRS; however, if you have paid tax on these savings and investments locally, you may receive a tax credit on your US taxes for the amounts paid to the foreign government.

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What are the tax deadlines in the USA?

The US tax year is the same as the calendar year, and resident aliens need to file their taxes by April 15th of the year following the tax year (April 17th in 2018). This is the same for all US citizens living in the USA. In addition, if you have more than $10,000 in all of your foreign bank accounts, then you will also need to file a Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR). Note that the FBAR deadline is the same as the federal filing deadline (April 17th) – and you may file an extension for up to six months.

Please note: if you owe tax to the US, your interest will start accruing from the first tax deadline – April 17th. Additionally, if you did not request an extension to October 15th, a late payment penalty of 5% may be assessed each month until the tax is paid.

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What is the threshold for filing if I am self-employed?

If you have self-employment income of over $400, you will need to file a US tax return.

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Can you still file for me even if I don’t have records or paperwork for my income?

In short, the answer is yes. We have found that in many foreign countries (especially in the Middle East where they have no income tax), the documentation that comes along with your income (if you receive any documentation at all!) can be very different from what you would receive in the US. Fortunately, our experience in dealing with these types of situations allows us to  file your US return anyway.

In situations like these, we will ask that you provide your total income and the total taxes paid. We will also need information on any other income and/or expenses paid out – this would include bank interest and dividends, school payments, childcare expenses, housing costs, etc. Lastly, any proof of employment would help. A statement from your employer which states you are employed will help, should the IRS question your non-W2 income. Having copies of your bank statements that show the deposits you receive from your employer is another good idea.

Generally, once you start working with a preparer, they will request any other necessary information. As each situation is different, these documents may vary depending on the circumstances!

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Can Greenback e-file for me?

For the vast majority of our customers, Greenback can e-file your tax return with the IRS on your behalf. There are some cases in which the IRS does not allow e-filing, such as if you are filing late and/or for multiple tax years at once. In that case, we will inform you and provide you with instructions to file a signed paper version. Then you will need to sign the form and submit directly to the IRS.

There are also times when the IRS e-file system is down – generally at the end of the year when they are updating the system for the coming tax year. In these cases, you will need to print, sign, and mail in a paper version.

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