Monday, July 25, 2011

New Reporting For Foreign Bank And Other Financial Accounts

I have mentioned on this blog that I have in-laws overseas (England). My wife and I have discussed buying property and retiring (some day!) overseas. She e-mailed me something recently on property in Ecuador that caught her eye. I only recall that the average temperature was not equal to the surface of the sun, which surprised me. (It’s called Ecuador because it is on the equator.)
Let’s say that my wife and I retire overseas. We would be expatriates. Nope, this is not a bad word. It means a person who lives outside his/her country of citizenship.
What tax issues should an expatriate know about? There are many, but today I want to talk about the HIRE Act, FATCA and the brand-new IRS Form 8938 Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets.
Congress passed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act ("FATCA") as part of the HIRE Act in 2010. The intent was to make it difficult for US taxpayers to evade tax by hiding assets overseas. FATCA requires US persons to file yet another form (Form 8938) to report foreign financial assets.
Form 8938 is out in draft. Interestingly, its instructions are NOT out. Form 8938 will be attached for the first time to your 2011 tax return.

Please note that this form is IN ADDITION to Form TD 90-22.1 (the "FBAR") you may already be filing with Treasury by June 30th of every year. The FBAR is required when you have more than $10,000 in foreign financial accounts.
Form 8938 is primarily geared but not necessarily limited to financial accounts.  You have to report (as I read it) foreign rental property, for example, as long as it is income-generating.  This is an issue for a couple of our clients, so I intend to go back and verify this point.
Form 8938 does have a higher reporting threshold - $50,000 – than the FBAR.
Form 8938 may require substantial time to prepare. Part I is relatively straightforward and asks you to disclose your overseas bank accounts. Part II asks you to disclose foreign financial interests (other than bank accounts) and their maximum value during the year. Depending on the financial interest, you may also have to disclose mailing addresses and other information. Part III requires the disclosure of “tax items” attributable to foreign interests previously disclosed. “Tax items” are interest, dividends, royalties and such other income, so you will (effectively) be tracing the income from the disclosed assets to a specified line on your individual income tax return.
The IRS did realize that some of this information is being disclosed on other tax filings already in their possession. Foreign corporations, for example, file Form 5471.  Foreign partnerships file Form 8865. Foreign trusts file Forms 3520 and 3520A. Part IV allows you exclude these financial interests from 8938 reporting. You do however have to provide some information on how many and what type of filings the IRS will receive on your behalf. Presumably there will be computer matching for the IRS to double-check that it has all these filings.
My take on all this? Does it seem reasonable to you that this level of reporting kicks-in at $50,000? Why not $10 or $15 million – a more reasonable threshold if in fact it is the “fat cats” that FATCA is going after?

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