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November 25, 2012

How The IRS will find you Abroad When you Have Not Been Filing US Tax Returns

We are often asked by expatriates living abroad who have not filed their US tax returns for many years (and have seemed to have dropped of any IRS list)  how the IRS could ever find them or determine they are not filing their US tax return each year.  Here are just  some of the ways:

1.  Applying for social security benefits or pension benefits
2. Opening US bank and financial accounts
3. Inheriting money from their parents or others and failing to report income generated by those funds.
4. A Whistle blower. The IRS pays finders fees for those who turn in tax evaders whether the snitch is a US person or a foreign person.  The largest whistle blower fee paid to date  is $104 million.
5. Renew a passport (you now must give the Government your social secuirty number) which is then sent to the IRS.
6. From a foreign countries tax agency exchanging information with the IRS under treaties or  FATCA.
7. Form public domain information on the internet, websites, Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
8. Registering the birth of a child born abroad with the US Embassy.
9. Marriages or divorces (that are public record) that reveal your existence.
10. By entering the US with a foreign passport that shows you were born in the USA
11. Stolen information from foreign banks and financial institutions given to the IRS
12. When your older children apply to US colleges or learning institutions and list information about their payments who long ago dropped out filing tax returns.
13. From other Americans in the US or abroad who do business with you
14. From suspicious activities forms filed with the IRS (yes this is an actual IRS form often filed by Banks or other financial institutions, car dealers, etc ).
15. As a result of information provided to it by the Serious Organised Crimes Office (SOCA) or   the US Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
16. From data provided the IRS by other taxpayers entering the Offshore Disclosure Program.
17. Forming a corporation or LLC in a foreign country that requires you register yourself as the owner your US  citizenship.

An ever increasing number of countries are agreeing with the IRS (over 50 currently) that the best way for each of them to collect more taxes is to share information about their residents with other countrys' tax agencies.  Computers and the internet are making it easier to gather data and locate those who previously could successfully disappear into the world.  It is difficult to guess exactly when in the near future, but for sure within the next 5 to 10 years  there  will be no where to run and no where to hide.

We can help you surface with the IRS before its too late. Write for more information to and our website at 

November 18, 2012

US Tax Treaties May Allow Nonresidents to be Taxed at Lower Rates

Tax treaties may allow residents of foreign countries to be taxed at a reduced rate, or to be exempt from U.S. income taxes on certain items of income they receive from sources within the United States.  Whenever you are a US Nonresident and the US has a tax treaty with your resident country, you MUST review that treaty to determine if it has benefits.

Treaties rarely benefit US Citizens or Green Card Holders due to the savings clause contained in almost all treaties which state that the IRS can still continue to tax its US tax residents and Citizens under the regular tax law regardless of what a treaty might state.  A US taxpayer residing in a treaty country may be able to use the treaty to avoid adverse tax consequences in that country. There is no standard treaty so each applicable treaty must be reviewed to determine its consequences.  Unfortunately the language used in the treaties if often vague and unclear. The IRS has not done much to clear up the ambiguities and to explain those parts which are unclear.

Look here for the complete texts of many of the tax treaties in force and their accompanying Treasury Technical Explanations. For further information on tax treaties refer also to the Treasury Department’s Tax Treaty Documents page.

November 15, 2012

Why US Expats and Residents May want to give gifts or do Estate Planning Before Year End

It might be wise for everyone to consider making gifts before year end to their children or other loved ones and consider other estate planning strategies. Previously its was thought Congress might extend the currently generous annual gift tax exclusion and the lifetime estate and gift tax exemption which is until the end of 2012 over $5 million.  In 2013 the exclusion will go back to $1 million.

Nonresidents (not a US Citizen or permanent resident) only get a $60,000 exclusion with respect to estate taxes on their assets located in the US.

If Congress decides the funds are needed next year due to the "Fiscal Cliff" they may not extend the current exemptions and now is the time to act.  Read more in the following Forbes Article Will the Estate and Gift Tax Boomerang?

We can help you with revise or amend your living trust, wills, and successfully make last minute gifts to tax advantage of the current rules which may end 12/31/12. Email us at 

November 10, 2012

U.S. engages with more than 50 jurisdictions to curtail offshore tax evasion

The US Treasury, announced that it is engaged with more than 50 foreign country jurisdictions to improve international tax compliance as part of efforts to implement the information reporting and withholding tax provisions under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).

 The U.S. has already signed a bilateral agreement with the government of the U.K. Treasury is in the process of finalizing intergovernmental agreements and hopes to finish negotiations in this respect with: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan, Switzerland, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Guernsey, Ireland, Isle of Man, Jersey, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Norway.                                                                                                       
Treasury is also maintaining an active dialog with several countries to conclude an intergovernmental agreement. Jurisdictions include: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, the Cayman Islands, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Israel, Korea, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Malta, New Zealand, the Slovak Republic, Singapore, and Sweden. The government expects to finalize the agreements with many of the listed countries by the end of the year.
Additionally, Treasury is discussing viable options for intergovernmental cooperation with: Bermuda, Brazil, the British Virgin Islands, Chile, the Czech Republic, Gibraltar, India, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Romania, Russia, Seychelles, Saint Maarten, Slovenia, and South Africa.
The government stated it will continue exploring ways of engaging other interested jurisdictions in intergovernmental cooperation including at a meeting of senior government officials and financial institutions.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO US TAXPAYERS LIVING ABROAD? Now is the time to file all past unfiled US tax returns and report all foreign bank accounts, financial accounts, foreign corporations and partnerships, foreign mutual funds, etc.  If you wait until the IRS gets your information from a foreign source, the risk of high monetary penalties and criminal prosecution increases dramatically.  We can help you get compliant and avoid these problems before it is too late.  Email us at for further assistance or with questions.

November 7, 2012


The California voters have spoken. They passed 
Proposition 30  which retroactively increases income taxes effective January 1, 2012 for those with high incomes. The following rate increases are effective for seven years:

Governor's Ballot Initiative
10.3% (1% increase) on income of:$250,001–$300,000 for single/MFS;
$340,001–$408,000 for HOH; and
$500,001–$600,000 for MFJ.
11.3% (2% increase) on income of:$300,001–$500,000 for single/MFS;
$408,001–$680,000 for HOH; and
$600,001–$1,000,000 for MFJ.
12.3% (3% increase) on income of:More than $500,000 for single/MFS;
More than $680,000 for HOH; and
More than $1,000,000 for MFJ.

(Note: Income in excess of $1 million is also subject to the 1% mental health surcharge.)

November 4, 2012

Chief of IRS Criminal Investigation Divisions Comes After Those No Disclosing Foreign Accounts and Assets

 On October 18th, the chief of the IRS’ Criminal Investigation Division, Richard Weber, stated that his 4000 special agents will continue to focus on unreported foreign bank accounts.

You do not want to see one
of these in person
The requirement to file FBARs (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts) dates back to the Bank Secrecy Act in the 1970′s. No attempts were made to enforce this until until the last 4 to 5 years.  Failure to report a foreign account is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Civil penalties can include the greater of $100,000 or 50% of the high account balance for each year an account is unreported. Even “innocent” violations can result in penalties of up to $10,000 per year.

The  IRS has been looking at banks outside of Switzerland (where they originally began their enforcement efforts). Those banks includes several Israeli banks as well as financial institutions in the Bahamas, India, China, Australia,  Hong Kong, Liechtenstein and others not yet announced.

Speaking before a New York CPA group, Weber said that the IRS and Department of Justice would soon be announcing a new round of indictments involving unreported accounts. These prosecutions will involve banks outside of Switzerland.   The IRS has posted CID special agents around the world.  One indication is that they now have a field office in Panama which was a popular place for US taxpayers to hide their money and income.

There is presently an amnesty program to help taxpayers with unreported accounts. This includes those with foreign hedge funds, investments, bank accounts, CD’s and the like. The program, called the 2012 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program offers greatly reduced penalties and a promise of no criminal prosecution.  This program may not work for everyone. Some taxpayers may achieve lower or no penalties by negotiating directly with the IRS outside of the Disclosure program.  The important part is not to wait until the IRS discovers you first because it will then be too late to avoid higher penalties and criminal prosecution.

The procedures and rules for entering the program or surfacing with the IRS outside of the program are complicated.  You should speak with  a tax lawyer right away if you are one of the millions with unreported accounts (and other foreign assets that require reporting on your tax return such as foreign corporations, foreign partnerships and LLCS, passive foreign investment companies, etc.)

Don D. Nelson, Attorney, CPA with over 20 years of expatriate and international tax experience has represented or advises hundreds of clients with a wide variety of offshore reporting issues. His  clients include dual nationals, US permanent residents, taxpayers with offshore accounts, and expatriates who have businesses abroad or who have retired in other countries.

For more information, contact him at  All inquiries are protected by the attorney – client privilege and kept in strict confidence.

November 1, 2012

US Nonresidents Must Pay Tax on Their US Income

If you are a US nonresident (this is someone who does not have a green card or is not a US Citizen) and come to the US to work for a few months, you are obligated file a US tax return on your US source earnings (whether paid by a US company or a foreign company).  Your earnings might be exempt from tax under US tax treaty with your home country, but you still need to file the return to claim that  treaty exemption. Depending on the social security agreements in effect, it might even be subject to US self employment tax (social security) if you are an independent contract.

If you as a nonresident are going to file a US tax return, you need to secure a taxpayer identification number also. That process has recently become somewhat cumbersome and difficult.

A nonresident working in the US may under the laws of the state in which he or she works also be required to file a state tax return.

Failure to file a tax return will result in the statute of limitations for later requiring a return or tax to never run out.  Therefore, when in doubt you should as a nonresident always file a return.

The good news is that US nonresidents are not subject to tax on their interest income from banks, savings and loans and US treasury bills or on their capital gains from the sale of US stocks (so long as theses are investments and not connected with their US business).

Learn more about the US taxation of nonresidents at