FATCA Hearings in Washington, DC – April 26, 2017
April 26, 2017 – Washington, DC – REVIEWING THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF THE FOREIGN ACCOUNT TAX COMPLIANCE ACT https://t.co/VmeUIdJlqb
— John Richardson – lawyer for "U.S. persons" abroad (@ExpatriationLaw) April 30, 2017
Beginnings – It all began in July 2016
The purpose of this post is NOT to describe the hearing in detail (that has already been well done), but rather to provide my overall (and perhaps broader) impressions based on actually having attended the hearing.
The April 26, 2017 FATCA hearing in Washington was long in the making. It’s genesis was rooted in a meeting that took place in July of 2016 at the Republican National Convention. The planning and preparation involved the efforts and consistent cooperation (weekly meetings since August) of a number of people in different countries and on different continents. It was a privilege to have been part of this group. A list of the people who worked on making the hearing happen – the “FATCA prep team” – is described here. Those efforts culminated in what some witnessed “in real time” on April 26, and what thousands more will see (thanks to Youtube) in days to come.
The hearing has already been documented IN DETAIL and discussed in various places IN DETAIL, with the best commentary coming from posts at the Isaac Brock Society here and here and various Facebook groups here, here, here and here. (An example of ridiculous commentary is here.) When I say “commentary” I mean NOT ONLY the posts, but the rich and insightful comments. Seriously, this collection of “digital experiences” really is “History In The Making!”
Thinking about FATCA, What is it anyway?
I have written numerous posts about FATCA – “The Little Red FATCA Book” which you will find here. An explanation of how the Meadows “Repeal FATCA” bill would actually work is here. Basically, FATCA is the collective effect of a number of amendments (including the creation of a new Chapter 4 of Subtitle A of the Internal Revenue Code – which has made largely irrelevant by the FATCA IGAs) which are designed to identify, attack and impose sanctions on:
A. FATCA: Non-U.S. banks and other financial institutions
Forcing them to “hunt down” the financial accounts and entities (examples include mutual funds, corporations, trusts and some insurance policies) owned by “U.S. persons”. The goal is to “turn them over” to the IRS.
This imposes enormous compliance costs on non-U.S. banks. The obvious effect is that they will not want U.S. person customers. Would you? Interestingly the focus of the witnesses (Mr. Crawford and Mr. Kuettel) was primarily on the denial of basic access to financial and banking services.
Although important, this is only one half of the equation. What happens when “U.S. persons” learn (the vast majority had no idea) that they are subject to U.S. taxation?
B. FATCA: “U.S. Persons” with non-U.S. financial assets and bank accounts
It is not possible for “U.S. citizens” to BOTH: be U.S. tax compliant and live a productive life outside the United States, when they are also subject to the tax laws of other nations. (Digital nomads are the exception.) The reason is that U.S. citizens living outside the United States are living under a system where:
- They are presumed to live in the United States (which they don’t); and
- Their assets (which are local to them) are presumed to be “foreign” to the United States.
If you don’t understand (or don’t believe) why this is true, you will find an explanation here.
“When In Rome, Live As A Homelander” and do NOT “Commit Personal Finance Abroad!”
Although a major effect of FATCA is to subject Americans abroad to a very special set of tax rules (think PFIC, foreign pension, CFC, and a crushing burden of forms that impact ONLY Americans abroad), there was NO witness that even alluded to this as one of the effects of FATCA. (FATCA is the enforcer of the uniquely American policy of “taxation-based citizenship”). There was also no witness that described how a “FATCA letter” can lead to absolute financial ruin for honest taxpayers, who have made a life outside the friendly borders of the United States of America. There was no witness who explained the confiscatory effects of entering one of the IRS “Amnesty – Ministry of Love” programs.
This had had the effect of making it seem as though FATCA (in terms of the effect on Americans abroad) was just a simple “disclosure – Form 8938 issue. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If it were not for “taxation-based citizenship”, FATCA would be no more or less a problem for Americans abroad than it would be for Homelanders (which doesn’t mean it is not a problem). Unfortunately, the hearing did not provide evidence on this point.
(This is NOT a criticism. But, just imagine if there had been witnesses who had been identified as a “U.S. Person” because of FATCA, did NOT know about “taxation-based citizenship” and then were forced into the “Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program“. Now that would have been a story …!)
It is “taxation-based citizenship” that makes the effects of FATCA so hard on Americans abroad! In 2011, I remember thinking:
The United States can have either FATCA or it can have “taxation-based citizenship” but it CANNOT have both!