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PRESENTED BY TAXES FOR EXPATS

US taxes and FATCA: ‘The time for hiding is over’

FATCA. Since July 2014, the five-letter acronym has instilled dread in the hearts of American expats all around the world.

US taxes and FATCA: 'The time for hiding is over'
Photo: Flickr/Pictures of Money

“The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) requires banks to report information to the IRS regarding all financial accounts held by American clients,” Ines Zemelman, expat tax specialist and founder of Taxes for Expats, tells The Local. “The age of financial privacy is over.”

American citizens must report their worldwide earnings and assets to the IRS no matter where in the world they live.  With the implementation of FATCA, expats who have spent years avoiding this uncomfortable truth are being reminded of it — as well as being punished if they don’t comply.

This development has led to many foreign banks trying to track down their American clients – and in some cases, lessen their own burden by simply refusing Americans service.

Many expats have begun to receive a ‘FATCA Letter’ from their bank requesting certain information about their US tax status (and asking them to complete either Form W-9 or W-8). The letter usually offers a brief explanation of the FATCA legislation that requires the bank to share your name, address, and other personal details with the American tax authorities – the Internal Revenue Service.

But what if you're not compliant? Some expats choose to ignore the request – but this high-risk approach is likely to quickly bring about a negative outcome.

Your bank might simply close your account, or even freeze your funds. Alternatively, your details may be forwarded to the IRS anyways and you may end up with a big red flag by your name.

“If you are not presently compliant with US tax laws, the time for hiding is over,” Zemelman says. “Your goal should now be to make the appropriate IRS voluntary disclosure to come clean and resolve your undisclosed foreign accounts.”

For expats who are not yet compliant with US tax filings, including submitted FBARs (Foreign Bank Account Report) and tax returns, Taxes for Expats recommends three steps.

“Respond to the bank immediately and tell them you are in the process of filing,” advises Zemelman. “Ask to set up a timeline or get an extension.”

Next, contact a professional US expat tax preparation company such as Taxes for Expats.

“If you were not working against the clock you could try to do it all on your own – but it's not something we'd advise if the bank is already on your case,” Zemelman remarks.

Finally, make sure to take advantage of the Streamlined Filing Procedure, which can help you become fully compliant without the risk of penalties. The procedure requires completing three years of tax returns and six years of FBAR, and will put you in the clear once and for all.

Think your bank won’t know you’re American? You’re probably wrong, Zemelman warns.

Foreign banks have a list of various criteria to examine when determining if clients have a significant connection to the US. Every account is evaluated individually.

“Your birthplace is shown on your passport – even if it’s not a US one. Likewise, a client may have transferred funds to the US or may have an American address,” Zemelman says.

If banks fail to comply and report your information to the US, they get slapped with heavy fines – so instead they opt to play nice with Uncle Sam.

“If you are an American with an overseas bank account, it is likely that your bank has already asked or is going to ask about your US compliance status,” Zemelman says. She advises US citizens outside the US to plan for this – as foreign banks have essentially become enforcement agents of the IRS.

So what do you do when the bank in your country of residence starts sniffing around and asks about your US tax compliance status? It doesn’t have to be a nightmare, Zemelman says – if you handle it right.

“Don’t wait for the enforcement division to find you,” Zemelman concludes. “Come forward and fix your US tax situation first.”

This article was produced by The Local and sponsored by Taxes for Expats.

For members

WORKING IN SWEDEN

CHECKLIST: Here’s what you need to do if you move away from Sweden

What authorities do you need to inform before you leave, are you liable to Swedish tax and how can you access your Swedish pension? Here's a checklist.

CHECKLIST: Here's what you need to do if you move away from Sweden

Tell the relevant authorities if you’re leaving for more than a year

If you’re planning on leaving Sweden for more than a year, you will have to let the authorities know. The main authorities in question are Skatteverket (the Tax Agency) and Försäkringskassan (the Social Insurance Agency).

Försäkringskassan

You have to tell Försäkringskassan when you leave so they can assess whether or not you still qualify for Swedish social insurance. As a general rule, you aren’t eligible for Swedish social insurance if you move away from Sweden, but there are exceptions, such as maternity or paternity benefits if you’re moving to another EU country.

This also applies to any family members who move with you – any over-18’s should send in their own documentation to Försäkingskassan about their move abroad. If you’re moving abroad with anyone under 18, you can include them in your own report to Försäkringskassan.

If both legal guardians are moving abroad together, both need to include any children in their application. If one legal guardian is moving abroad and the other is staying in Sweden, you need the guardian staying in Sweden to co-sign your application. If you are the sole legal guardian of any under-18’s travelling with you, you don’t need any documentation from the other parent.

You can register a move abroad with Försäkringskassan on the Mina sidor service on their website, here (log in with BankID).

Skatteverket

If you are moving abroad for a year or longer, you also need to tell the Tax Agency. This also applies if you were planning on moving abroad for less than a year but ended up staying for longer.

If you move to another Nordic country, you will also need to register your move with that country’s authorities if you will be there for six months or more. You’ll be deregistered from the Swedish population register the same day you become registered in another Nordic country’s register.

This doesn’t mean that you’ll lose your personnummer – you’ll still be able to use it if you ever move back to Sweden – but you will no longer be registered as resident in Sweden.

Similarly to Försäkringskassan, you will also need to report any children you are bringing with you, and both legal guardians must sign the form, whether or not both guardians are moving abroad or not.

In some cases, you may still be liable to pay tax in Sweden even if you live abroad – particularly if you are a Swedish citizen or have lived in Sweden for at least ten years. This could be due to owning or renting out property in Sweden, having family in Sweden, or owning a business in Sweden.

You can tell the tax agency of your plans to move abroad here.

Contact your a-kassa, if relevant

If you are member of a Swedish a-kassa (unemployment insurance), make sure you tell them that you’re leaving the country. As a general rule, you have unemployment insurance in the country you work in, so you will most likely have to cancel your a-kassa subscription.

If you are moving to another country with the a-kassa system, such as Denmark or Finland, it may pay to wait until you have joined a new a-kassa in that country before you cancel your membership in Sweden.

This is due to the fact, in some countries, you only qualify for benefits once you fulfil a membership and employment requirement. In Sweden and Denmark, you must have been a member for 12 months before you qualify. In Finland, the membership requirement is 26 weeks.

If you qualify for a-kassa in Sweden before you leave the country, you may be able to transfer your a-kassa membership period over to your new a-kassa abroad and qualify there straight away, but this usually only applies if your period of a-kassa membership is unbroken.

Check what applies in your new country before you cancel your membership in Sweden – your a-kassa should be able to help you with this.

Contact your union, if relevant

Similarly, if you are a member of a Swedish union or fackförbund, let them know you’re moving abroad.

If you’re moving to another Nordic country, they might be able to point you in the direction of the relevant union in that country, if you want to remain a member of a union in your new country.

If you’re moving to another EU country, you may be able to remain a member of your Swedish union as a foreign worker with the status utlandsvistelse.

If you chose to do this, you will usually pay a lower monthly fee than you do in Sweden, and they can still provide assistance with work related issues – although it may make more sense to join a local union in your field with more knowledge of the labout market.

If you don’t want to be a member of a union in your new country and don’t want to be a member of a Swedish union, you should contact your  union and ask them to cancel your membership.

Collect relevant documents regarding your Swedish pension

If you have worked in Sweden and paid tax for any length of time, you will have paid in to a Swedish pension. You retain this pension wherever you move, but you must apply for it yourself.

To do so, you will need to give details of when you lived and worked in Sweden, as well as providing copies of work contracts, if you have them. If you have these documents before you leave Sweden, make copies so that you can provide them when asked.

If you move to the EU/EES or Switzerland, you may also have the right to other, non-work based pensions, such as guarantee pension for low- or no-income earners, or the income pension complement (inkomstpensionstillägg).

Currently, you can receive your Swedish pension once you turn 62 – although there is a proposal in parliament due to raise pension age to 63 for those born after 1961 from 2023, so this may change.

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