Regardless of where you are living now, being a United States citizen creates a potential filing obligation with the IRS. Green card holders and all US citizens are required to file a US return, no matter where they live, as long as their income from all sources (earned in the US and abroad) is just over $10,000. Many people incorrectly assume that because they have never owed money to the IRS, they don’t have to file. Earning anything over $10,500.00 does require you to file, however. The US has treaties with many foreign countries that will reduce or even eliminate actual owed tax. You cannot, however, take advantage of these benefits if you don’t file.
What forms could you be required to complete for your Federal Income Tax Return?
Similar as when living in the US, you will need to fill out a 1040 form. The forms specifically applicable to you are 2555 and 1116. These are the forms by which one would declare foreign earned income and qualify for the Foreign Tax Credit. The Schedules differ depending on your individual situation. If you have a foreign bank account or other financial accounts outside the US, you would also need to complete informational forms 114 (FBAR) and 8938. Additionally, if you hold investments in a TFSA, hold Canadian mutual funds, or own shares of a foreign corporation, there are additional filing requirements that must be completed.
Do you qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion?
The IRS qualifies individuals as eligible for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) if you fall into one of three categories:
- You are citizen of the US who qualifies as a bona fide resident of another country for a period of time containing one entire tax year.
- You are a resident alien of the US whose home country has an income tax treaty with the US. Additionally, you must be a bona fide resident of another country for a period of time containing one entire tax year.
- You are a citizen or resident alien of the US whose physical absence from the US constitutes a minimum of 330 days out of any 365.
Can housing expenses be excluded or deducted?
It is sometimes possible to exclude and/or deduct housing expenses when living overseas. Rent, repairs, utilities and insurance are some of the things that might be deductible either in part or in whole.
Can you deduct foreign taxes paid?
As a general rule, tax owed the US on foreign income can be substantially reduced or even zero if you have already been taxed on that same income in your country of residence. You can claim these paid taxes either as credits on your Federal return or claim each amount as an itemized deduction. The optimal choice between deduction or credit depends on your country of residence and whether or not this country has a tax treaty with the US as often there are substantial differences between US and foreign tax laws with respect to what the foreign country taxes and what it does not tax. For example, even though some countries do not tax capital gains, these are subject to US tax as are foreign employer contributions to foreign social security and retirement pension funds, as well as both employer and employee contributions to foreign deferred-income plans.
When is the tax return due?
For Americans living within the US, the tax return is always due on April 15th or the following Monday (if the 15th is a weekend or a holiday). A two month extension is automatically given to citizens living abroad putting the due date (for filing purposes) at June 15th. The two month extension is automatic, but an additional extension can be filed for if needed. The filed-for extension moves the due date (for filing purposes) as far back as October 15th. Neither of these extensions apply to paying taxes. Any taxes owed, regardless of whether you are stateside or abroad, are due on April 15th.
What are FBAR and FATCA Form 8938?
In order to help track those Americans who are not reporting their foreign income, IRS and the US Treasury have recently instituted a number of informational forms that must be filed.
- Form 114, the“FBAR”. This is a relatively simple form that is used to collect basic information on foreign financial accounts controlled by a US citizen living in the USA or outside the US. The form is filed with the Treasury Department and is not filed with the tax return. As it is only an informational form, it will not have a direct impact on the individual’s tax liability. Financial account definition includes: a bank account, brokerage account, mutual fund, unit trust, or other types of financial accounts. Reporting is required if the combined total of such accounts totals $10,000 USD or more. As of July 2013, this form is required to be filed electronically.
- It’s important to note that the FBAR must be received by the Department of the Treasury by June 30th each year. There is no extension for filing this form.
- FBAR Penalties. The penalties for non-filing of the FBAR are extremely harsh. They range from an automatic penalty of $10,000 to 50% of the balance of the account. Even worse – if the IRS investigator can prove that an individual willfully withheld the information from the government, criminal charges can be filed.
- Form 8938 (Specified Financial Assets) must be attached as an annex to your 1040 return. The reporting requirements for foreign financial assets are more extensive and more complicated than those for the FBAR (which has to be filed as well). The threshold for reporting depends on the total amount of foreign assets held, on where you are domiciled, and your filing status.
Form 8938 is required under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), passed into law in March 2010. FATCA also requires foreign financial institutions banks, brokers, pension funds, insurance companies, hedge funds, mutual funds, trusts to report to the IRS holdings of their clients who are US persons. This came into force on January 1, 2014 and will allow the IRS to cross-check between reports of foreign financial institutions and individual filings of Form 8938. Institutions that do not comply will have a 30% withholding tax imposed on all transactions concerning US securities. In addition, FATCA will require that any foreign company not listed on a stock exchange or any foreign partnership which has 10% U.S. ownership to report to the IRS the names and tax I.D. number (TIN) of any US owner.
The US tax laws are very complex and numerous to navigate. As evidenced by the above, the filing threshold for US persons is quite low and there are potentially many US individuals who are not filing based on erroneous information. For a deeper discussion of how these issues might affect your business, please contact your local EPR Office.
Prepared by Aaron Rumley, CPA, CA, a partner in our member firm, Rumley Holmes in Barrie, Ontario. Aaron is a member of the EPR Canada Group Tax Committee.