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Expat Tax Essentials
Many expats live abroad for years without realizing they must file US tax returns yearly. If this is you, don’t panic. The IRS has created a way for you to get caught up penalty-free called the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures.
Expats pick up their lives and migrate worldwide, sometimes never intending to reside stateside again. To embrace the “new” of their expatriate adventure, US citizens may overlook their “old” responsibilities.
A great example of this is their remaining responsibility to file US taxes. For many of the estimated 9 million US expats currently scattered worldwide, it would be a great shock to learn that they continue to have a tax-filing obligation with the IRS each year.
The US is one of only three countries that taxes its citizens on their worldwide income regardless of their location (Eritrea and North Korea are the other countries, for all you trivia buffs out there). It is not uncommon to come across expats who have not submitted tax returns in years because they were unaware of the need to do so or were told by their US-based accountant that they didn’t have to file.
What can be done for expats who find themselves in this predicament? If you haven’t filed in ten years, will the IRS want all ten returns? Can I catch up on taxes without facing harsh penalties?
If you find yourself asking those questions, the IRS’s Streamlined Filing Procedures may be the answer you are looking for.
The IRS created this amnesty program in 2012 to incentivize taxpayers to become tax compliant voluntarily; so far, it has been a massive success! It has helped over 65,000 US taxpayers become compliant.
The Streamlined Filing Procedures was created in 2012 to encourage US expats to get caught up on their delinquent taxes. The program was initially considered an alternative to the IRS’s other disclosure programs (for example, the now-closed Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program).
The Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures are created to help low-risk individuals become tax compliant. The process is designed to be a less burdensome way to get caught up than the OVDP. Streamlined filing requires only a certain number of tax returns to be filed, which can cut down on the time, effort and expense needed to catch up.
The program was more strict in its original incarnation, and many expats got bumped out of the low-risk category. Fortunately, the IRS removed these restrictions in 2014, opening up the program to a broader audience to help more taxpayers catch up on taxes.
There are two versions of the Streamlined program, a Domestic program for individuals who live in the US and a Foreign program for individuals living abroad. US expats can use the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures to become tax compliant while living abroad.
The program is designed specifically for Americans outside the US to help them catch up on their missed taxes and requires that the individual be physically present outside the United States for 330 days in one or more of the past 3 years.
Currently, to qualify for the Streamlined Offshore Filing program, you must:
To prove your eligibility for the Streamlined Program, you must include a signed statement (Form 14653) certifying this fact as part of the package you submit to the IRS.
Unlike its older cousin, the OVDP (Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program), for which you were required to submit eight years of returns and an array of additional forms, the Streamlined Filing Procedures are, well, streamlined.
To complete your Streamlined Filing, you will need to submit the following:
To file under the Streamlined Compliance Procedures, expats must complete all the tax forms required for each federal and FBAR filing, along with a special form to certify eligibility for the program.
Tax forms required for Streamlined Filing include the following:
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A streamlined filing requires filing multiple years of tax returns and additional forms you may never have heard of, so preparing to file under the Streamlined Procedures can feel daunting. A bit of preparation in advance can help make the whole process as painless as possible.
To prepare, we recommend the following:
You’ll have to act quickly if you need to amend a Streamlined return. Once the IRS has begun reviewing your submission, you cannot amend it.
The process for amending a Streamlined tax return requires you to:
No, the great news about the Streamlined Filing Procedures is that the IRS waives all late-filing and late-payment penalties for those who qualify and submit their completed Streamlined filing.
If you qualify for the program and comply with all the instructions for filing, you will not be subject to failure-to-file, failure-to-pay, or FBAR penalties. It is critical to know that you must submit your Streamlined Filing before the IRS contacts you about not filing. If you have been contacted by the IRS or they have begun to investigate you, then the Streamlined rules will not apply.
The circumstances of taxpayers with foreign financial assets vary widely, the IRS will continue offering the following options to address previous failures to comply with US tax return obligations:
If you don’t believe you qualify for the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures, book a consultation with an experienced expat accountant to have them recommend the best course of action.
If you’re not sure if you qualify for the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures, book a consultation with an experienced expat accountant to have them recommend the best course of action. Contact us, and we’d be happy to help you.