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Tax Advice for Specific Needs
Imagine living abroad all your life, never having visited or spent time in the US. One day, you are informed that you may be subject to thousands of dollars in penalties for failure to file and pay US taxes. Thus begins the journey of understanding the intricacies of US tax law for Accidental Americans.
The above is often the story of the Accidental American — US citizens who live abroad and are unaware of their American taxpayer status. Their situation may arise in various ways:
Such is the case with French resident Fabien Lehagre, who was born in the US but left at the age of two. Twenty-eight years later, he discovered he had US tax-filing obligations after receiving a letter from his bank asking for his US tax identification number. Soon after, he established the Association of Accidental Americans.
Accidental Americans have the same US tax obligations as any other US taxpayer earning in the US. The US is one of two countries that engage in citizenship-based taxation rather than a territorial-based system. Individuals are taxed based on their citizenship irrespective of their residence, so their worldwide income is taxed, including taxes for Accidental Americans.
As there is no statute of limitations for unfiled returns, the IRS can collect taxes, penalties, and interest yearly. Significant penalties can also be assessed for failing to file FBARs, which report foreign financial accounts over $10,000. As Americans living abroad, further reporting may be needed and, consequently, additional penalties for foreign businesses, investments, pensions, and trusts.
Fortunately, a pathway toward compliance can help you avoid late filing, payment, and information return penalties. The IRS announced the availability of the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures in 2012 for those living abroad. Over the years, it has made changes, including making these procedures available to US residents.
Those that can avail of the procedures include individuals and estates of individuals.
To satisfy the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures:
To use the Streamlined Filing Procedures:
Taxpayers residing in the US do face a 5% miscellaneous offshore penalty for unreported foreign financial assets during the covered FBAR period, but successfully filing returns under the Streamlined Filing Procedures mean the following penalties will be abated: failure to file, failure to pay, accuracy-related penalties, information return penalties, and FBAR penalties.
Also, many taxpayers who get caught up find that no income taxes are owed when they utilize the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) or Foreign Tax Credit to offset their foreign income.
There are certain situations where the Streamlined Filing Procedures are not available to taxpayers; for example, when lack of filing was willful. Taxpayers may have other options they can use if this is the case. These options include:
Several avenues are available to get caught up with US filing obligations that do not necessarily involve paying hefty penalties to the IRS. Greenback can help guide you through the process of what works best for you to become compliant with your US taxes.
Filing expat taxes doesn’t have to be a hassle. Start your filing process with Greenback today.