What Expats Should Know About Their U.S. Tax Obligations
Expats may decide to leave the U.S. due to work, retirement, or other reasons. Tax reduction may also be a motivation for moving to a foreign country, but the United States uses citizenship-based taxation. Therefore, the taxpayer still has a continuing obligation to file and pay U.S. taxes (although they may be eligible for some exclusions, such as the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion).

Tax Mistakes Expats Should Avoid

First, expats need to continue to file and pay their taxes. Many other countries use territorial-based taxation, which only taxes income earned inside the country. The United States, on the other hand, taxes citizens on all worldwide income.

Are Dual Citizens Required to File FBARs
Dual citizens, along with all other “United States persons”, must file a Report of Foreign Bank Accounts (FBAR) if the aggregate value of their foreign financial accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the year. This requirement applies to U.S. citizens, residents, green card holders, and those who must file taxes because they are substantially present in the United States. It also applies to legal entities, including corporations, partnerships, and trusts.

While other countries only tax their citizens on income earned within the country’s borders, the United States taxes its citizens—and other individuals who have a filing requirement—on all worldwide income from any source. This requirement, along with the FBAR filing requirements, can create problems for expatriates, immigrants, and anyone else with offshore bank accounts.

Expats who move abroad are still responsible for complying with U.S. tax law as long as they remain U.S. citizens. Even if you live abroad for the entire year, and none of your income would be taxable, you may still have to file a tax return. If you open a bank account in a foreign country, and the aggregate value of all of your foreign accounts exceeds $10,000 during the year, you must file an FBAR.

What is a “Financial Interest” in a Foreign Accounts for FBAR Purposes
Any United States person with a financial interest in or signature authority over a foreign financial account, where the aggregate value of all foreign financial accounts exceeds $10,000 at any point during the year, must file a Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR). These terms can be difficult to apply in some situations, and can lead to FBAR compliance issues for those that are unaware that they have a filing requirement.

“Financial Interest” in a Foreign Account

If you are the owner of record for a foreign account, you have a financial interest, even though the account is maintained for the benefit of another person. Spouses are not required to file separate FBARs if all the foreign accounts that the non-filing spouse is required to report are owned jointly with the filing spouse, and filing spouse files an FBAR for all of the accounts, along with an Authorization to Electronically File FBARs.

The Tax Consequences of Inheriting Foreign Assets
U.S. taxpayers who inherit foreign assets must handle the tax consequences of their inheritances with great care. In addition to taxing all worldwide income, the U.S. also includes foreign assets in the gift and estate tax calculation, which determines whether estate tax will be assessed. Heirs who receive foreign assets also have to consider their Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR) and other foreign account reporting requirements, or risk facing significant penalties.

What Happens When You Inherit a Foreign Account?

If you are a “United States person”—including citizens, permanent residents,(individuals who hold green cards) or must file taxes due to their substantial presence in the United States—you may suddenly have an FBAR filing requirement if you inherit a foreign financial account. If the aggregate of all of your foreign financial accounts exceeds $10,000 at any point during the year, you must file an FBAR.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for FBAR Penalties?
The IRS has six years from the due date of the FBAR to assess the FBAR penalty. In addition, the IRS can assess a separate penalty for each unreported account for each tax year that an FBAR has not been filed, causing the total amount of penalties to add up quickly for some taxpayers.

The current civil FBAR penalties are $12,459 per violation for non-willful violations and the greater of $124,588 or 50 percent of the balance in the account at the time of the violation, for each willful violation. An individual with five foreign financial accounts who has not filed any required FBARs for the past six years could then face a penalty of over $373,000, and that is assuming that the violations are considered to be non-willful.

These penalties can be reduced in certain cases if the IRS believes that penalty mitigation is appropriate. Taxpayers will no previous history of criminal tax violations who cooperate with IRS examiners may receive reduced penalties. If you need assistance negotiating a reduced FBAR penalty, contact a tax attorney with FBAR experience.

How Does the IRS Collect FBAR Penalties?
The IRS imposes severe penalties on taxpayers who fail to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR). Those who are required to file an FBAR and fail to do so can face the following penalties:

  • a civil penalty not to exceed $12,459 per violation for non-willful violations that are not due to reasonable cause
  • a penalty equal to the greater of $124,588 or 50 percent of the balance in the account at the time of the violation, for each willful violation

Former IRS Revenue Officer Gets Prison Time for Tax Evasion
A former IRS revenue officer used his knowledge of the tax system to evade more than $573,000 in taxes over a 16-year period. Henti Lucian Baird hid his income—which was ironically made as a tax consultant—in bank accounts that he created in the names of his children. He has been sentenced to 43 months in prison for tax evasion and corruptly endeavoring to impede the administration of the revenue laws.

The Tax Evasion Scheme

Baird operated a tax consulting business from 1989 to 2014, after working for 12 years for the IRS. His inside knowledge of the IRS appears to have influenced how he structured his finances to evade federal income taxes, while avoiding detection for many years.

Which Option Should You Use to Settle Your Tax Debt?
Choosing the wrong option to settle your tax debt can be a very costly error. If you apply for an installment agreement, when you could have eliminated some of your debt with an Offer in Compromise, it could end up costing you thousands, and you can’t expect the IRS to notify you of your alternative settlement options. They will simply accept your payments, while you are forced to take on debt or deal with other financial difficulties in order to pay off your tax debt.

There are several options available to settle your tax debt. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, many taxpayers will be able to use one or more of these methods to reach a tax debt settlement.

Installment Agreements

How the IRS Pursues Payroll Tax Collections
Payroll taxes represent both the employer and employee portions of Social Security and Medicare taxes, along with Federal income taxes that are withheld from an employee’s paycheck. The IRS takes an especially hard stance on the failure to remit payroll taxes, and uses aggressive collection efforts when pursuing these delinquent taxes.

The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty for Delinquent Payroll Taxes

The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty (TFRP) is a “penalty” equal to the trust fund portion of corporate unpaid payroll taxes..

Actions to Take Before You Can Pursue an IRS Tax Settlement
Before attempting to settle your IRS tax debt, there are a few things that every taxpayer should do. While some tax settlement cases can be fairly straightforward, there may be more advanced settlement options available for certain taxpayers, and missing out on these opportunities may prevent you from eliminating significant back taxes, penalties, or interest.

Follow these steps before attempting to settle you tax debt:

File Back Tax Returns