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Financial Accounts & Investing Abroad
Under FATCA (Foreign Asset Tax Compliance Act), many US expats are required to report their foreign assets to the IRS by filing Form 8938. FATCA generally requires Americans to report all their foreign assets when filing their taxes. However, there are some types of assets that are exempt from this requirement—including real estate located in the United States and certain retirement plans meaning that some expats have FATCA exemption.
Let’s look at the details.
The Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act (FATCA) is a US law that requires US citizens to report specified foreign financial assets that exceed certain thresholds.
FATCA was originally passed to stop Americans from evading their US tax obligations by hiding money in offshore bank accounts. But while the primary purpose of the law is foiling domestic tax evasion, many expats get caught in the crossfire. After all, it’s only natural that Americans living abroad would own foreign assets and store their money in foreign accounts.
The good news is that not all Americans living overseas meet the standards for FATCA reporting. And, if this form is for a US account, then you don’t need a FATCA code, either.
The thresholds for FATCA filing depend on your filing status and where you live. For expats who’ve passed the bona fide residence test, the thresholds are much higher.
Now, you may be wondering: what exactly qualifies as a “specified foreign financial asset?” According to the IRS:
“Specified foreign financial assets include foreign financial accounts and foreign non-account assets held for investment (as opposed to held for use in a trade or business) …”
That category generally includes:
But for a clearer idea of which foreign assets to include when calculating whether you need to file a FATCA report, let’s look over which ones are exempt.
When you live in the US, tax day is simple: April 15th! When you move abroad, it’s not so straightforward! Learn about all the expat deadlines and extensions you need to know to file.
The IRS has identified three categories of financial assets that are exempt from FATCA reporting:
1. Financial Accounts Held by an Exempt Beneficial Owner
2. Certain Retirement Plans and Other Tax-Deferred Accounts
3. Certain Insurance Contracts
Under the FATCA law, a US payor is defined as a foreign branch of a US financial institution or a US branch of a foreign financial institution. Certain foreign subsidiaries of US corporations are also considered US payors.
The term “exempt beneficial owner” has been defined by the IRS as an individual who has a financial interest in one or more foreign financial accounts but is not a US citizen, US resident, or US corporation.
Beneficial interest in a foreign trust or foreign estate is also exempt from FATCA reporting—as long as you weren’t aware of the interest before as a FATCA-exempt beneficial owner. (However, if you’ve received a distribution from the foreign trust or estate, the IRS won’t accept a claim that you weren’t aware.)
Finally, another common foreign asset that’s exempt from FATCA reporting is any social security, social insurance, or similar program managed by a foreign government.
For more details on what foreign financial assets are exempt, check out the instructions provided by the IRS.
The penalties for failing to file a FATCA report when required can be steep. The IRS lists the possible fines as:
“$10,000 per violation, plus an additional penalty of up to $50,000 for continued failure to file after IRS notification, and a 40% penalty on an understatement of tax attributable to non-disclosed assets.”
However, if you haven’t filed a FATCA report yet, don’t panic. As long as you were unaware that you needed to file, you can use the IRS Streamlined Filing Procedures to become compliant without facing any harsh penalties.
Better yet, whether you’re compliant or not, you never have to file your FATCA report alone. At Greenback, we help expats around the world optimize their financial strategies and fulfill their US tax obligations.
FATCA is an extremely complicated endeavor, impacting a broad spectrum of foreign individuals. Some of these individuals will be more affected than others, and some are not directly impacted at all. Taxpayers should understand what these changes mean for them, as well as their tax filing obligations.
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