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IR-2012-65 allows Dual Citizens who Don’t Owe Tax in the US a Pain-Free Way to Become Compliant

First of all, which dual citizens don’t owe tax in the US? As a general matter, a dual citizen who have been living in a foreign country and been paying that country’s tax (as appropriate) probably does not owe much tax in the US (if any). The US taxes its citizen’s income no matter where they earn it anywhere in the world. But the US also works in cooperation with almost every country in the world (except for countries such as Cuba, Iran and Yemen…i.e., countries we have no relations with). If you are an American citizen living in France (you might also be a French citizen), and you have been paying your appropriate French tax for the money you earn in France, odds are you will not owe tax in the US. Why is this so? Most foreign countries have higher tax rates than the US. So as long as the income is of a type which we recognize (such as wages for services, or gains for stock sales, or rental income, or dividends, etc), the US will credit income earned in France by the dual French/US citizen. Thus, after the credit, the US citizen probably owes $0 US tax or very little US tax, on the amounts he earns in France. And the same goes for that US citizens with most every other country.

Now let’s not confuse the issue of whether the dual citizen owes any US tax with the obligation of the dual citizen to: (a) file US tax returns; and (b) file FBARs annually if they have bank accounts outside the US with over $10,000 at any point in the calendar year. Those obligations generally exist whether the person owes US tax or not. But for those people the new guidance is terrific. Those individuals must complet their past-due tax returns (at least 3 years) and delinquent FBARs (at least 6 years), and they’ll probably have no penalty to get compliant provided you don’t owe significant US Tax. A great deal.

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So a few months ago on this blog we informed you that the IRS offered a new FBAR amnesty program (now the 3rd program it’s offered), but that it only had released the broad stokes of the program (see our entry from February 16, 2012, for our last discussion of this topic). Since then, the IRS has established new procedures for dual citizens who have foreign bank accounts but who have paying the appropriate tax on the amounts in the those accounts in the foreign country at issue. Taxpayers with this situation can resolve it rather easily without having to go through a formal amnesty program (see our post from July 5, 2012, discussing this new option). However, that program won’t be available for everyone, and for the rest there is now the 2012 Overseas Voluntary Disclosure Program (the “OVDP”). On June 26, 2012, the IRS issued a set of Frequently Asked Questions and Answers (this is new guidance to assist taxpayers under the 2012 OVDP).

Background

Again, recall US tax citizens or residents must file a “FBAR” (a “Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts”) annually, provided the US citizen or tax resident has over $10,000 in financial account(s) which are not located in the United States. The term financial account includes any savings, demand, checking, deposit, or other account maintained with a financial institution in addition to certain annuity and life insurance contracts, commodities and precious metals and safe deposit accounts. The FBAR is filed on a US Treasury Form TD F 90-22.1, by June 30 of the year after the US citizen or resident had a non-US account.

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On June 26, 2012, the IRS announced a new initiative to help US citizens living in another country (very likely dual citizens) catch up with their unfiled US tax returns and FBARs.

Background

In our law office in Palm Springs, we regularly see clients who may be Americans by birth, but who live in (and are also probably a citizen of) another country (usually Canada). While the dual American/Canadian may enjoy visiting Indian Wells three months a year, she really lives in Vancouver. But since she was born in Seattle, she has a social security number, she is a US citizen, and (whether she wants one or not) she has an obligation to file a US tax return every year (even though maybe she’s never filed one in her life). Plus, since she has bank accounts outside the US in Canada with more than $10,000 in them, she has an annual FBAR filing requirement as well.

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We’re speaking about US citizens or residents (and US tax residents can be citizens of any country who happen to stay in the US too long in a given year, this could be citizens from any country outside of the US who may visit Palm Springs, or Rancho Mirage or Palm Desert long enough for a given year that they are deemed a US tax resident; we are also speaking of citizens of foreign countries who are US green card holders). US citizens and residents must declare to the Department of Treasury their foreign bank accounts (provided they have over $10,000 in aggregate foreign bank accounts/ assets…not a high bar). They must file these information returns (called “FBARs”) by June 30 of each year. Many US citizens and tax residents (particularly those who are current or former citizens of another country) are unaware of the FBAR requirement, which was enacted in 2003. That is why the IRS amnesty programs can be so valuable. In 2012, the IRS is again offering a FBAR amnesty program. This is the third such amnesty program. There is no guarantee there will be a fourth.

Structure of the IRS Amnesty Program

Although the IRS has yet to provide (much) specific guidance on the 2012 amnesty program, it will almost certainly follow the framework provided in the 2011 program. So it makes sense to review generally the 2011 program (the “OVDI Program”). Taxpayers who made voluntary disclosures under the 2011 OVDI Program could expect the following penalties/payments:

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In January, the Internal Revenue Service reopened the offshore voluntary disclosure program to help people hiding offshore accounts get current with their taxes. Although details of the 2012 program were not immediately available, the parameters will likely be very similar to the 2011 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (“OVDI”). While 2011 OVDI Program seemed straight-forward, it turned out it was anything but straight-forward.

US Citizens or Tax Residents Must File a FBAR Annually

US tax citizens or residents must file a “FBAR” (a “Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts”) annually, provided the US citizen or tax resident has over $10,000 in financial account(s) which are not located in the United States. The term financial account is broadly defined and includes any bank, securities derivatives, or other financial instrument accounts. It also includes any savings, demand, checking, deposit, or other account maintained with a financial institution in addition to certain annuity and life insurance contracts, commodities and precious metals and safe deposit accounts. The FBAR is filed on a US Treasury Form TD F 90-22.1. The FBAR is filed with the US Department of Treasury by June 30 of the year after the US citizen or resident had a non-US account. The FBAR requirement has been in existence since 2003.

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In January, the Internal Revenue Service reopened the offshore voluntary disclosure program to help people hiding offshore accounts get current with their taxes. Although details of the 2012 program were not immediately available, the parameters will likely be very similar to the 2011 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (“OVDI”). While 2011 OVDI Program seemed straight-forward, it turned out it was anything but straight-forward.

Canadian Snowbirds Who Are US Citizens or Tax Residents Must File a FBAR Annually

US tax citizens or residents (i.e., Canadians who are in the US a little too much in a given year) must file a “FBAR” (a “Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts”) annually, provided the US citizen or tax resident has over $10,000 in financial account(s) which are not located in the United States. The term financial account is broadly defined and includes any bank, securities derivatives, or other financial instrument accounts. It also includes any savings, demand, checking, deposit, or other account maintained with a financial institution in addition to certain annuity and life insurance contracts, commodities and precious metals and safe deposit accounts. Canadian snowbirds will likely have no shortage of these back in Canada. The FBAR is filed on a US Treasury Form TD F 90-22.1. The FBAR is filed with the US Department of Treasury by June 30 of the year after the US citizen or resident had a non-US account. The FBAR requirement has been in existence since 2003.

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We are continuing with our series on how the US taxes non-US citizens who visit the US regularly. In the Palm Springs area for instance, we frequently see Canadians who maintain a local property for a good chunk of the winter months. For those Canadian citizens who are not lawful US residents, and do not have a green card, they must stay mindful of the amount of days actually spent in the US. An individual who establishes a “substantial presence” in the United States can make him or herself subject to US tax on their worldwide income (i.e., a potential tax on income of a foreign citizen which otherwise has no connection to the United States). An individual has a substantial presence in the US if the individual is present in the US at least 31 days during the current year and at least 183 days for the three-year period ending on the last day of the current year, using a weighted average approach. The mechanics of this test were discussed in Part I of this series. Even if an individual establishes a substantial presence in the US in a given year, that person can still avoid being subject to US tax by declaring a “closer connection” to a tax home in another country. To accomplish this, the foreign citizen individual must file a Form 8840 with the IRS (the “Closer Connection Exception Statement”).

Even if the individual meets the substantial presence test, the individual can be treated as a nonresident alien (and not pay US tax on their worldwide income) if the individual:

1) is present in the United States for less than 183 days during the year;