FATCA – the full employment act for the tax compliance industry…
Bloomberg Tax is reporting a nearly 50% increase in the number of Enrolled Agents with foreign addresses. The article is troubling on many levels, starting with the title: “U.S. Tax-Dodging Crackdown Overseas Brings Foreign-Adviser Surge.” Apparently, the editorial team at Bloomberg has different ideas, because today they published “Stop Treating American Expats Like Tax Cheats.”
FATCA is truly the full-employment act for the tax compliance profession. Below the fold, I’ll examine the following issues raised by the increase in US tax compliance professionals outside of the US:
Has the IRS really “gone global”?
What support does the IRS provide international taxpayers?
When the US Congress considers legislation, one of the standard criteria often applied is that the proposed bill should be revenue neutral – that is, any new costs must be offset by new revenue. But, should this be a consideration for proposals to move to a system of residence based taxation?
No other developed country taxes nonresidents solely on the basis of citizenship. Those who left the US as toddlers to return to their parents’ home country are (under US law) US citizens, but most do not identify as Americans and have few, if any, ties to the US. Taxing the residents of other countries who no longer have substantial ties with the United States is clearly over-reach. While there might be many opinions about exactly where to draw the line, a line must be drawn. It is a question of doing the right thing – and the revenue generated does not alter the immorality of taxing those who are clearly domiciled in other countries.
Furthermore, it is not clear how much revenue is actually generated by the taxation of nonresident citizens – or how much revenue might be generated by taxing nonresidents under the provisions currently applied to nonresident aliens. So any calculation of “revenue neutrality” is only a very rough approximation.
On 15 October 2019, the IRS amended its FATCA FAQs (aimed at Foreign Financial Institutions – FFIs) by adding Q3 to the questions on Reporting. The new Q3 outlines the procedures that FFIs subject to a Model 1 IGA will be subject to in the event that they report accounts with missing or invalid identification numbers (SSNs). This new question is clearly aimed at easing the anxiety of Accidental Americans at the expiry of Notice 2017-46, which allowed FFIs to report date of birth instead of SSN on existing accounts if the FFI was unable to obtain an SSN.
This is significant because there have been many newsoutletsreporting that a large number of bank accounts (especially in Europe) would be closed at the end of 2019. The problem arises because there are many US citizens who have always lived outside of the US and may not have a Social Security number. Many of these individuals don’t even identify as Americans and don’t understand why they must go through the bureaucratic hassle of obtaining an SSN (not easy if you’re an adult and living outside the US). In September, the IRS made it possible for these individuals to renounce their US citizenship and follow US tax law without obtaining an SSN. However, the cost of renouncing (USD2,350 per person) is prohibitive for many, and the cost of having US tax returns prepared professionally can also be excessive.
FATCA forces banks all over the world to report their US Person account holders to the IRS either directly or indirectly through their local tax agency. As reported on this website, Australia is sending information on over 800,000 accounts to the IRS. This data transfer has been shown in a report to the European Parliament to violate GDPR in the EU. In the UK Jenny has decided to fight back. But, I’ll let Jenny tell you about it in her own words. Here’s the email she just sent out announcing the crowd-funding of her legal challenge:
I have some exciting news. For the past several months I have been working with the London law firm Mishcon de Reya to organise a challenge to HMRC’s indiscriminate, disproportionate reporting of British citizens’ private data to a foreign government under FATCA. The details are at https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/fatcahmrcprivacybreach/.
FATCA is a domestic US law that was adopted into UK law in 2012 with no assessment by the UK government of its effects on individual rights, particularly those of ‘accidental Americans’, and it has since had a detrimental impact on me and thousands of other British citizens, as well as costing the UK economy millions (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/tax/11050777/British-families-billed-500-to-prevent-Americans-dodging-tax.html). HMRC refuses to report to the public or Parliament what FATCA is achieving (https://ico.org.uk/media/action-weve-taken/decision-notices/2019/2614446/fs50751683.pdf). A policy that makes the people transparent to the government whilst keeping the government hidden from the people is unacceptable in the UK. Indiscriminate, disproportionate transfers of personal data also contravene the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into effect last year and require transfers to be limited to the stated purpose. British citizens resident in Britain, working and banking locally and earning an average UK wage, do not owe US tax. Therefore there is no reason to transfer their data outside Britain. However, HMRC continues to do so, and refuses to offer individuals any details on this, or right of reply, or opportunity to check or correct their own data.
In the UK, justice in a complex case like this is often closed to average-wage people like me, because of the requirement to pay court costs. However, Crowd Justice are working with me and my firm to facilitate crowd funding for this challenge. I would be grateful if you might consider a donation to this cause, which is crucial to protect individuals from indiscriminate transfers of sensitive information through unsafe chains highly vulnerable to data hacking and identity theft. Any donation, large or small, will be vastly appreciated, as will your efforts in spreading the word about this cause.
As you will see on the Crowd Justice site, none of this money goes to me. It all goes directly into supporting the legal work for this cause.
If you have any questions about the cause or about me, please do not hesitate to get in touch by email reply.
Thank you so much for your commitment to justice for ordinary citizens like me.
On Friday 6 September, the IRS announced new “Relief Procedures for Certain Former Citizens.” These procedures mirror the current Streamlined Offshore Filing Procedures with some differences that might be attractive to some who have renounced or wish to renounce their US citizenship. Taken in conjunction with other recent IRS announcements, this new procedure is a “carrot” to encourage compliance before the IRS applies the “stick” of recently announced compliance campaigns. However, this begs the question of why the IRS would want to encourage compliance among non-citizens whose US tax liability would be dwarfed by the combination of the cost to the IRS of processing their returns and the cost to the individual of having the returns prepared.
I was sad to hear of the death of Jack Bogle last week. Jack was the “father” of modern index funds. He founded Vanguard Investments in the 1970s. His no-load, low-fee index fund was a major innovation in a world where investing had been only available to those who were willing to pick their own stocks or pay professional fund managers large fees to get results that weren’t statistically any better than a broad market index.
An index fund invests in all of the shares in the market (or the index that measures the market) – there are no investment decisions to make, and very little trading is necessary. This innovation has delivered market returns to small investors all over the globe at very low cost .
So, why am I talking about Jack Bogle and index funds on a website devoted to Australia/US cross-border tax issues? Because nonresident US citizens are punished for owning local versions of this basic investment!
HR 7358, introduced on 20 December 2018, represents a watershed moment for American citizens residing OUTSIDE of the US. You can read a bit about the bill over at Citizenship Solutions – where a draft has also been posted. The official bill should be posted on congress.gov in a day or two.
This is a HUGE step forward! While the naysayers are already active on Facebook and Twitter complaining that this bill will never pass because there’s not enough time left in the current Congress, they fail to realise that any step forward is a victory. Enormous effort has gone into getting sufficient support in Congress to get this far. We need to acknowledge the significant time and effort that has been expended by people like Solomon Yue, Suzanne Herman, John Richardson, and Keith Redmond; and by organisations such as American Citizens Abroad, Republicans Overseas and Democrats Abroad. They have been working consistently over a period of years to get this far. Someone in Congress now recognises the problem – this is the first step in ultimately achieving a solution.
As 2018 draws to a close, the community of nonresident US taxpayers has been inundated with articles about GILTI and the transition tax. These provisions have a disproportionate impact on nonresidents because people tend to earn their income close to home, so US taxpayers living outside the US are much more likely to be individual shareholders in a corporation that the US deems a CFC. However, there has been less attention paid to several other provisions in the 2017 tax reform package that will also have a disproportionate effect on those US taxpayers who are residents and taxpayers of other countries.
Individual shareholders of US Controlled Foreign Corporations face a difficult deadline on 15 December. That’s the last date to file a timely 2017 tax return (assuming all possible extensions have been granted). For those who feel they must comply with the §965 transition tax, this is the last date to make an election to spread the tax over eight years. We have been covering this tax provision at Fix The Tax Treaty since before the Tax Reform legislation was passed (list of posts). Comprehensive coverage of the transition tax is available in a series of posts by John Richardson over at www.citizenshipsolutions.ca. For affected shareholders, the transition tax can destroy the nest egg they have built up over a long career. The purpose of this post is to consider how this injustice can be fixed.
My last four posts were an attempt at a broad overview of the Global Intangible Low-Taxed Income (GILTI) provisions that were part of the US Tax Reform enacted in December 2017. I started with a discussion of a comment made on behalf of the Israeli Ministry of Finance. This comment is quite unusual because most countries refrain from commenting on domestic regulations in another country. Following on from that post, I explained the underlying rationale behind GILTI, the mechanics of GILTI for corporate US shareholders and how the rules differ for individual US shareholders. This post provides a high level summary to tie the series together.