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Welcome to Citizenship Solutions (and Green Card solutions) – John Richardson

Welcome to Citizenship Solutions – The blog of John Richardson

I am guessing (actually I know for sure) that you arrived here because of some aspect of being a U.S. citizen living outside the United States. Maybe you are a Green Card holder. Perhaps you are a former U.S. resident who has just learned that you may still be subject to U.S. “worldwide taxation” even though are a “tax resident” outside the USA. I also know how you are feeling.

“U.S. citizens” and “Green Card holders” are referred to as “U.S. Persons”. So, if you are a “U.S. Person Abroad”, well, life is pretty tough. in fact living as a “U.S. Person” outside the United States is: hard, expensive, confusing and (quite frankly) unsustainable.

Some of you are NOT in compliance with the intricate and (almost) impossible to understand web of tax and reporting requirements. Non-compliance has its share of problems.
Some of you ARE in compliance (as far as you know) with the intricate (and almost) impossible to understand web of tax and reporting requirements. Compliance also has its share of problems (stress, expense, anxiety).

Whether you are in compliance or not in compliance, you have problems. This is because:
U.S. citizenship is the one citizenship in the world that affects virtually every aspect of your life. in addition to the information on this blog, I help people with the following kinds of specific problems/questions (which include):

1. Are you a U.S. citizen at all? Have you relinquished U.S. citizenship along the way? If you have relinquished U.S. citizenship, are you a “U.S. Person” for FATCA and tax filing purposes?

2. Have you just received a “FATCA Letter” addressed to you as an INDIVIDUAL or to you as an ENTITY (corporation, trust, etc.)? How to respond. What’s a W9? What’s a W-8BEN-E anyway?

3. What about that old Green Card sitting in your drawer? You may still be subject to U.S. taxation, even when you don’t live in the USA! What are the tax obligations of Green Card holders? What to do? ….

4. Renouncing U.S. citizenship – What’s the “right way”? What’s the “wrong way”? The better question is “what’s the safest way”? What about that “back dated” relinquishment?

5. Green Card expatriation – How to exit the tax system and the U.S. immigration system.

6.  Oh My God!! The moment many of you will never forget. Yes it’s a problem. No it’s not as much of a problem as you think. Make certain that you respond and not react. If all you want to do is file U.S. taxes

7.  U.S. S. 877A “Exit Tax” consulting. If you think you can leave the “Land Of The Free” for free, you better think again. A bit about the the United States expatriation taxes. Those of you with a  non-U.S. pension and want to renounce U.S. citizenship should take specific note!

8. Retirement and financial planning (including pensions) as a “U.S. Person” abroad – You will be surprised at the problems you will have living as a U.S. tax compliant American abroad. Think (or maybe you shouldn’t) “PFIC“.

9. Coming into U.S. tax complianceWhat are the various options?  Why one option over another? What about “Streamlined” compliance? 99% of you should NEVER use “OVDP”!!

10. Non-U.S. AKA “Foreign Corporations” – Yes, these can be a BIG problem. Caution: The U.S. CFC tax rules may attribute income to YOU that you never received!

11. Getting a divorce? Are you a U.S. citizen married to a non-citizen? – Your U.S. citizenship will play a role.

Respond, don’t react! – Do NOT make any decisions without understanding the present and FUTURE consequences of those decisions.

So, how do I know this?

First, I am a person (Toronto based lawyer actually) who was born in the United States and has lived almost all of my life outside the United States. In other words, I have lived and do live these problems.
Second, I have spent the last few years of my life assisting “U.S. Persons abroad” survive the unjust imposition of FATCA, FBAR and “CBT” (AKA U.S. “place of birth taxation”) on Americans abroad. I work with many groups of people including: “accidental Americans“, long term dual citizens who wish to retain U.S. citizenship, long term dual citizens who feel they must renounce U.S. citizenship, Green Card holders (whether they live in the United States or not) and those who have ONLY U.S. citizenship. It’s what I do.

Third, I have been (and continue to be) actively involved in efforts to oppose FATCA in the courts and in the process of making submissions to the U.S. Treasury. If you want to learn about the Alliance For The Defense of Canadian Sovereignty lawsuit against the Government of Canada, see here.

I work with people all around the world! I have given “live presentations” about the “Problems of U.S. citizenship” all over Canada and Europe. I have given a number of “media interviews” about FATCA and the problems of U.S. citizenship. I have testified as a witness before the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance (May 2014). I have written hundreds of articles and blog posts about FATCA, FBAR and U.S. taxation-based citizenship. I have and continue to teach courses both for Americans abroad and for professionals who counsel U.S. citizens abroad.

Anyway, the blog is free. The counselling and assistance require individual consultations. Contact me if you want me to help you solve these problems as they apply to YOUR SITUATION.

John Richardson

P.S. Here is the one of the very first posts that I wrote on for this blog. Some posts are “timeless”. “What you need to consider BEFORE consulting a lawyer or tax professional“.

 

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"Coming Into Tax Compliance Book" – How Americans can come into U.S. tax compliance in a FATCA world

Are you “Coming To America” by entering the U.S. tax system as an American Abroad?

The “How To Come Into U.S. Tax Compliance” book for Americans abroad

John Richardson, LL.B, J.D.

I have contributed to establishing the new “Citizenship Taxation” site. As part of launching that site, I have written a series of posts providing relevant information (in a broad sense) about how Americans abroad, who did not know about their U.S. tax obligations, can come into U.S. tax compliance.

Sooner or later, it’s likely that many people will receive a FATCA letter. In your panic, you should be careful. There are a number of things Americans abroad should consider before consulting a lawyer or tax professional.

This series of posts developed from my “Educational Outreach” program for Americans abroad. It is an effort to respond in a practical way to the questions that people have.

The chapters of “Coming Into Compliance Book” are:

Chapter 1 – “Accepting Cleanliness – Understanding U.S. Citizenship Taxation – To remain a U.S. citizen or to renounce U.S. citizenship

Chapter 2 – “But wait, I can’t renounce U.S. citizenship if I’m not a U.S. citizen. How do I know if I am a U.S. citizen?”

Chapter 3 – “No matter what, I must come into U.S. tax compliance – Coming into U.S. tax compliance for those who have NOT been filing U.S. taxes

Chapter4 – “Oh no, I have attempted U.S. tax compliance by filing tax returns. I have just learned that I have made mistakes. How do I fix those mistakes?”

Chapter 5 – “I don’t want to renounce U.S. citizenship. How to live outside the United States as a U.S. tax compliant person

Chapter 6 – “I do want to renounce U.S. citizenship. This is too much for me. How the U.S. “Exit Tax” rules might apply to me if I renounce

Chapter 7 – “I really wish I could do retirement planning like a “normal” person. But, I’m an American abroad. I hear I can’t invest in mutual funds in my country of residence. The problem of Americans Abroad and non-U.S. mutual funds explained.

Chapter 8 – “We all have to live somewhere. Five issues – “The problem of Americans Abroad and non-U.S. real estate explained

Chapter 9 – “Receiving U.S. Social Security – #Americansabroad and entitlement to Social Security

Chapter 10 – “Paying into Social Security – #Americansabroad, double taxation and the payment of “Self-employment” taxes

Chapter 11 – “Saving the children – INA S. 301 – “Residence” vs. “Physical Presence” and transmission of US citizenship abroad

Chapter 12 – “Issues surrounding 401k, IRAs, Roths and Americans Abroad

Chapter 13 – “Married filing separately” and the “Alien Spouse” – the “hidden tax” on #Americansabroad

Chapter 14 – “The Obamacare “Net Investment Income Tax” – Pure double taxation of #Americansabroad

Chapter 15 – “To be “FORMWarned is to be “FORMArmed” – It’s “FORM Crime” stupid!!

Chapter 16 – “Most “Form Crime” penalties can be abated if there is “reasonable cause”

Chapter 17 – “How to get “credit” for taxes (foreign) paid to your country of residence

Chapter 18 – “I don’t pay taxes in the country where I live. Can I “exclude” my foreign income from the U.S. tax return?

Chapter 19 – “Is it better to take the “Foreign Tax Credit” or the “Foreign Earned Income Exclusion” – a discussion


Chapter 20
– “The child tax credit: take it, leave it or how to take it

Chapter 21 – “How #Americansabroad can continue to use the #IRA as a retirement planning vehicle

Chapter 22 – “To share or not to share” – Should a U.S. citizen share a bank account with a “non-citizen AKA alien spouse? – Reporting Edition

The “Coming Into Compliance Book” is designed to provide an overview of how to bring some sanity to your life.
 Coming to America

You may remember the old Eddie Murphy movie about “Coming To America”.

Welcome to the confusing and high stakes rules for U.S. taxation and Americans abroad.
The United States has the most complex, confusing, most penalty ridden and most difficult anti-deferral regime in the world. McGill Professor Allison Christians has noted that Americans abroad are both:

“deemed to be permanently resident in the United States for tax compliance and financial reporting purposes” …

and are

“subject to the most complex aspects of the U.S. tax code regardless of any activity in the United States, and facing extraordinary compliance costs and disclosure risks even for nil returns”

Although Americans abroad are deemed to be resident in the United States, their assets are treated as “offshore”. In addition Americans abroad are subject to taxation in their country of residence.

All of this means that:

1. Americans abroad are subject to the worst and most punitive aspects of the U.S. tax system (there is no Homelander who is treated as badly as an American abroad); and

2. Denied most benefits of the tax systems of their country of residence.

To put it simply, Americans abroad get the worst of all possible tax systems.

The most horrific aspects of the U.S. tax system are saved for Americans abroad. Prepare to be shocked. As one commenter at the Isaac Brock Society site recently said:

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Renouncing US citizenship? How the S. 877A "Exit Tax" may apply to your Canadian assets – 25 Parts

Introduction:

usexittax

There is much discussion of the U.S. rules which operate to impose taxation on the residents of other countries and income earned in those other countries. You will hear references to “citizenship taxation”, “FATCA Canada“, PFIC, etc. It is becoming more common for people to wish to relinquish their U.S. citizenship. The most common form of “relinquishment is renunciation”. The U.S. tax rules, found in the Internal Revenue Code, impose taxes on everything. There is even a tax on “renouncing U.S. citizenship”. I don’t mean the $2350 USD administrative fee which everybody has to pay. (Isn’t that really a tax?). I mean a tax on your assets. To be clear:

You must pay a price to NOT be a U.S. citizen.

This tax is found in S. 877A of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code.

It’s defined as the:
Tax responsibilities of expatriation

Few people are aware of this tax. Fewer still understand how it works.  As FATCA operates to enforce U.S. taxation on many Canadian citizens, and increasing numbers wish to NOT be U.S. citizens, the importance of understanding the U.S. “Exit Tax” increases.

It is particularly important to understand what triggers the “Exit Tax”. You will be subject to the “Exit Tax” if you are a “covered expatriate”. You must know what that means and why, sooner or later, everybody will become a “covered expatriate”.
The “Exit Tax” is not a simple “token tax”. For Canadians, the tax can be a significant percentage of their net worth. Furthermore, the tax is payable NOT on actual gains, but on “pretend gains”. (Where would the money come from to pay the tax?)
Hang on to your seats. You will shocked, amazed and horrified by this.

Since the advent of FATCA in Canada, this issue is increasingly important.*

To be forewarned is to be forearmed!

This is a 25 part series which is designed to provide you  with some basic education on:

How the U.S. S. 877A Exit Tax rules work; and

How they particularly affect Canadians with a U.S. birthplace, who lived most of their lives in Canada.

This will be covered over a 9 day period in a “9 part” series. (It has since been expanded to 25 posts and counting.)

Although this series is beginning on “April Fools Day”, I assure that this is NOT a joke.

The 25 parts are:

Part 1 – April 1, 2015 – “Facts are stubborn things” – The results of the “Exit Tax

Part 2 – April 2, 2015 – “How could this possibly happen? “Exit Taxes” in a system of residence based taxation vs. Exit Taxes in a system of “citizenship (place of birth) taxation

Part 3 – April 3, 2015 – “The “Exit Tax” affects “covered expatriates” – what is a “covered expatriate“?”

Part 4 – April 4, 2015 – “You are a “covered expatriate” How is the “Exit Tax”  actually calculated

Part 5 – April 5, 2015 – “The “Exit Tax” in action – Five actual scenarios with 5 actual completed U.S. tax returns

Part 6 – April 6, 2015 – “Surely, expatriation is NOT worse than death! The two million asset test should be raised to the Estate Tax limitation – approximately five million dollars – It’s Time

Part 7 – April 7, 2015 – “Why 2015 is a good year for many Americans abroad to relinquish U.S. citizenship – It’s the exchange rate

Part 8 – April 8, 2015 – “The U.S. “Exit Tax vs. Canada’s Departure Tax – Understanding the difference between citizenship taxation and residence taxation

Part 9 – April 9, 2015 – “For #Americansabroad: US “citizenship taxation” is “death by a thousand cuts, but the S. 877A Exit Tax is “death by the guillotine”

Part 10 – April 10, 2015 – “The S. 877A Exit Tax and possible relief under the Canada U.S. Tax Treaty

Part 11 – April 11, 2015 – “S. 2801 of the Internal Revenue Code is NOT a S. 877A “Exit Tax”, but a punishment for the “sins of the father (relinquishment)

Part 12 – April 12, 2015 – “The two kinds of U.S. citizenship: Citizenship for “immigration and nationality” and citizenship for  “taxation” – Are we taxed because we are citizens or are we citizens because we are taxed?”

Part 13 – April 13, 2015 – “I relinquished U.S. citizenship many years ago. Could I still have U.S. tax citizenship?

Part 14 – April 14, 2015 – “Leaving the U.S. tax system – renounce or relinquish U.S. citizenship, What’s the difference?

Part 15 – May 22, 2015 – “Interview with GordonTLong.com – “Citizenship taxation”, the S. 877A Exit Tax, PFICs and Americans abroad

Attention: Parts 16 – 21 focus on the “dual citizen exemption in the context of Canada’s Citizenship laws.

Part 16 – February 16, 2016 – “Why the S. 877A(g)(1)(B) “dual citizen exemption” encourages dual citizens from birth to remain US citizens and others (except @SenTedCruz) to renounce” – Note that this module is composed of Parts 16 – 21 – six posts.

Part 17 – February 16, 2016 – The history of Canada’s citizenship laws: Did the 1947 Canada Citizenship Act affirm citizenship or “strip” citizenship and create @LostCanadians?

Part 18 – February 16, 2016 -The S. 877A “dual citizen” exemption – I was born before the first ever Canada Citizenship Act? Could I have been “born a Canadian citizen”?

Part 19 – February 16, 2016 – The S. 877A “Dual Citizen” exemption: The 1947 Canada Citizenship Act – Am I still a Canadian or did I lose Canadian citizenship? (The “Sins Of The Father”)

Part 20 – February 16, 2016 -The S. 877A “Dual Citizen” exemption: The 1947 Canada Citizenship Act and the requirements to be “born Canadian

Part 21 – February 16, 2016 – “The S. 877A “Dual Citizen” exemption: I was born a dual citizen! Am I still “taxed as a resident” of Canada?

Part 22 – February 29, 2016 – “The S. 877A “Dual Citizen” exemption: MUST certify tax compliance for the five years prior to relinquishment

More on the United States Expatriation Tax – ongoing miscellaneous:

Part 23 – “How the 1966 desire to “poach” capital from other nations led to the 2008 S. 877A Exit Tax

Part 24 – “Clinton Treasury representative Les Samuels explains why the U.S. Exit Tax SHOULD apply to the assets of Americans abroad

Part 25 – “Relinquishing US citizenship: South African Apartheid, the Accidental Taxpayer and the exit tax
 
________________________________________________________________________________________
* Why this is of increased importance: The role of FATCA and U.S. taxation in Canada

A picture/video tells a thousand words. Have a look at the “Rick Mercer FATCA video” in the following tweet:

FATCA is U.S. law which is designed to identify financial assets and people, outside the United States, that the U.S. believes are subject to its tax laws. (It makes no difference whether the person is a Canadian citizen”.) This includes people who were:

– born in the U.S.

– Green card holders

– people born to U.S. parents in Canada

– “snow birds” who spend too much time in the United States

The Government of Canada is assisting the United State to implement FATCA in Canada. To be specific:

– on February 5, 2014 the Government of Canada formally agreed to change Canadian law to identify “U.S. connected” Canadians in Canada

– in May of 2014, the Government of Canada passed Bill C 31 which contained the implementing legislation

– on July 1, 2014 FATCA became the law in Canada

– since July 1, 2014 many Canadians have received a “FATCA Letter” (can the U.S. claim you as a taxpayer?)

The Alliance For The Defence Of Canadian Sovereignty has sued the Government of Canada in Federal Court on the basis that the participation of the Canadian Government in FATCA, is in violation of the Charter Rights of Canadians. You can keep up with their progress on the Alliance blog” which is here.
FATCA is a tool to enforce “U.S. taxation in Canada”. The result is that more and more Canadian citizen/residents  will be forced to pay U.S. taxes. But, U.S. tax rules include much more than tax. They are source of comprehensive information gathering and “information returns”. Typical returns required by U.S. taxpayers in Canada include: FBAR, FATCA Form 8938, Form 5471, Form 3520, Form 3520A and many more.

In addition, U.S. tax rules are different from Canadian tax rules. The most painful example is that when:

– Canada allows a “tax free” capital gain on your principal residence
– the U.S. imposes a 23.8% tax on the sale of your principal residence (you get a $250,000 deduction)

Sound horrible?

It is, but:

It’s only Canadian citizens with a past “U.S. connection” who will be subject to these taxes. It is estimated that approximately one million Canadians may be subject (as “U.S. Subjects”) to these rules. But, Canadians with a “U.S. connection” are members of families. Therefore, U.S. taxation in Canada will impact all members of a Canadian family which has at least one “U.S. connected” member.

John Richardson Follow me on Twitter @Expatriationlaw

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What you should consider before contacting a lawyer

decision

The Reality of U.S. Citizenship Abroad

Nobody denied that the unintended targets of Congressional legislation aimed at those who supposedly “owe allegiance” to the USA, now assisted by craven foreign governments anxious lest their financial services entities lose access to the US market, are mostly unlikely to do anything at all. But the whole idea of universal self-assessment of taxation is to keep the taxpayer in an anxious condition, to make him overpay if possible, but at least not to underpay. Those now faced with an unprecedented, even retroactive, enforcement campaign and who must, if they wish to become compliant and avoid penalty or even prosecution (should they be identified in the future), sacrifice much of their wealth, even become insolvent.

Comment at the Isaac Brock Society blog – July 29, 2013

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Summary Of The Reporting Obligations Triggered By Relinquishing US Citizenship Or Abandoning The Green Card

The American Expat Financial News Journal reliable reports information about the “Name and Shame List”. The report generally includes information about the number of people on the list, people who are reported more than once and often attempts to determine whether those on the list are citizenship relinquishers or green card abandoners.

The purpose of this brief post is to explain the statutory basis for the reporting obligations, identify the relevant statutes and clarify some common misconceptions. To summarize:

1. All individuals renouncing (whether “covered expatriates are not) US citizenship during the relevant period are to be included on the “Name and Shame List”.

2. Green Card holders that are “long term” residents” are required to be included on the list

It is common knowledge that the lists contain many inaccuracies.

Which statutes are relevant to determining the reporting obligations?

IRC 6039G – https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/26/6039G

IRC 877 – https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/26/877

IRC 877A – https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/26/877A

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Should tax residency Be Based On The “Circumstances Of Your Birth” Or The “Circumstances Of Your Life”?

Panel session – US Expat Tax Conference from Deborah Hicks on Vimeo.

Should taxation be based on the “circumstances of your birth” or the “circumstances of your life”? President Obama doesn’t think (apparently) that the “circumstances of your birth” birth should determine the “outcome of your life”. Should the “circumstances of your birth” determine your tax residency?

This is a second post exploring what is the true meaning of U.S. citizenship-based taxation. In an earlier post – “Toward A Definition Of Citizenship Taxation” – I explored the contextual meaning and effect of U.S. “citizenship taxation”. The only “contextual effect” and “practical meaning” of U.S. citizenship taxation may be described as:

Therefore, the practical meaning of “citizenship taxation” is the United States imposing taxation on the non-US source income earned by people who live in other countries. To be clear: citizenship taxation means that the United States is claiming the residents of OTHER countries as US residents for tax purposes!

That’s amazing stuff! Most countries believe that they are sovereign and that includes sovereignty over matters of taxation. Yet, any country that is a party to a U.S. tax treaty has actually agreed that a subset of the treaty partner’s tax residents are ALSO U.S. tax residents! Although nobody questions the right of the United States to prescribe its own definition of tax residency, few would agree that the United States has the right to claim the residents of other countries as U.S. tax residents. Yet, this is what the U.S. citizenship taxation regime means. This U.S. extraterritorial claim of taxation is at the root of the FATCA administration problems and at the root of the the events that led to Treasury Notice 2023-11 (released on December 30, 20220).

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Report Of Members Of The PETI Committee Of The EU Parliament Of Their July 2022 FATCA Visit To Washington

Prologue

July 2022 – A FATCA Delegation Goes To Washington, DC

This post is to document a small part of the practical impact of the US citizenship taxation regime. It is a continuation of a series of posts exploring what US citizenship taxation is and how it impacts people who live outside the United States and the countries where they live.

The first post – “Toward A Definition Of Citizenship Taxation” – concluded that the only practical and contextual meaning of citizenship tax is:

Therefore, the practical meaning of “citizenship taxation” is the United States imposing taxation on the non-US source income earned by people who live in other countries. To be clear: citizenship taxation means that the United States is claiming the residents of OTHER countries as US residents for tax purposes!

The second post – “Should tax residency Be Based On The “Circumstances Of Your Birth” Or The “Circumstances Of Your Life”?

The US claim of tax residency is based on the “circumstances of their birth”. The “push back” from those impacted is based on the “circumstances of their life”.

Combining the themes of the first two posts we see that:

The United States claims the right based on and only an individual’s “circumstances of birth” to impose regulations and taxation on that individuals’s income earned outside the United States when his “circumstances of life” are such that he lives outside the United States.

Or to describe it slightly differently:

The United States claims the right based on and only an individual’s “circumstances of birth” to impose taxation on the non-US source income of people when their “circumstances of live” are that do NOT live in the United States.

Or maybe …

The United States claims the right based on and only an individual’s “circumstances of birth” to regulate, penalize and tax those individuals when they no longer live in the United States. This includes imposing tax on the non-US source income of people who do NOT live in the United States.

It is very difficult to arrive at a succinct and simple description of what tax and regulation of individuals based on a a “U.S. birthplace” means.

The effect of claiming these nonresidents as US tax residents results in a massive interference (because of the punitive US tax treatment of non-US assets and income sources) in their ability save, invest and carry on businesses in their country of residence AND their ability (because of FATCA) to access bank accounts in their country of residence.

Categories of problems caused by this US extra-territorial claim of tax residency include (but are not limited to):

1. Direct taxation of non-US source income earned by nonresidents

2. Expensive and penalty compliance requirements which interfere withe the ability to manage the financial/retirement planning options in their country of residence

3. The ability to open and maintain basic bank and investment accounts

The problem of bank account access

The European Delegation visiting Washington, DC in July of 2022 was concerned with and ONLY with access to bank and financial accounts. Significantly and disappointedly the delegation expressed no objection to the U.S. extra-territorial tax policies that “claim” European residents as tax residents of the United States.

Banking Access Problems Of European Residents Who Are US Citizens

The perception in July of 2022

On July 18 to 22 of 2022, a delegation from the PETI Committee of the European Union made a visit to Washington, DC to discuss “FATCA Concerns” with US Treasury and certain members of Congress. An excellent report on the meeting was written by Helen Burggraf in the American Expat Financial News Journal. On January 25, 2023 those members delivered a live report to the European Parliament of the visit.

The perception in January of 2023

The following video – January 25, 2023 in which the delegates report on their trip to Washington to the PETI Committee is worth watching.

https://multimedia.europarl.europa.eu/en/event_20230125-0900-COMMITTEE-PETI_vd?start=20230125080941&end=20230125111858

The members discuss:

– how they experienced the meetings

– the necessity of continuing to work on the “European FATCA” problem

– the general attitude of their American hosts towards the FATCA problem (in some cases outright denial).

I would say that the sentiment was “cautious optimism”.

(The article by Stephen Gardner referenced in the above tweet continues additional commentary.)

The video also includes the thoughts of “Prof Carlo Garbarino – Bocconi University, Milano, Italy” who prepared the following report titled: “FATCA LEGISLATION AND ITS APPLICATION AT INTERNATIONAL AND EU LEVEL: – AN UPDATE”

IPOL_IDA(2022)734765_EN

John Richardson – Follow me on Twitter @Expatriationlaw

Part 7: US Supreme Court Denies Toth Cert Petition. Justice Gorsuch Invites Lower Courts To Consider Constitutionality of FBAR Penalties

Prologue – Before The Supreme Court – The Background To The Toth FBAR Case

This Is Post 7 in a series of posts describing the statutory and regulatory history of Mr. FBAR.

These posts are organized on the page “The Little Red FBAR Book“.*

Historically the strength of America has been found in its moral authority. As President Clinton once said:

“People are more impressed by the power of our example rather than the example of our power…”

The FBAR penalty imposed on Ms. Toth is an example of the legal power to impose penalty and NOT an example of the restraint on power and the application of law in a just way. I have heard it said that when a person (and by extension country) loses its character it has lost everything.

The Story Of Monica Toth – Three Perspectives

Perspective 1: The story of Ms. Toth’s encounter with Mr. FBAR as described by Justice Gorsuch in his dissent:

In the 1930s, Monica Toth’s father fled his home in Germany to escape the swell of violent antisemitism. Eventually, he found his way to South America, where he made a new life with his young family and went on to enjoy a successful business career in Buenos Aires. But perhaps owing to his early formative experiences, Ms. Toth’s father always kept a reserve of funds in a Swiss bank account. Shortly before his death, he gave Ms. Toth several million dollars, also in a Swiss bank account. He encouraged his daughter to keep the money there—just in case.

Ms. Toth, now in her eighties and an American citizen, followed her father’s advice. For several years, however, she failed to report her foreign bank account to the federal government as the law requires. 31 U. S. C. §5314. Ms. Toth insists this was an innocent mistake. She says she did not know of the reporting obligation. And when she learned of it, she says, she completed the necessary disclosures. The Internal Revenue Service saw things differently.

Pursuant to §5321, the agency charged Ms. Toth with willfully violating §5314’s reporting requirement and assessed a civil penalty of $2.1 million—half of the balance of Ms. Toth’s account—plus another $1 million in late fees and interest.

Perspective 2: The issue in the Toth case as described in a September 20, 2022 post:

The penalty imposed on Ms.Toth was dependent on a finding of “willfulness”. “Willfulness” is a question of fact to be determined by the court. In the Toth case the District court deemed Ms. Toth to be “willful” as a court imposed sanction. There was no independent evaluation of the facts to determine whether she was “willful”. Absent an independent evaluation of the facts, can there ever be a finding of willfulness necessary to support the 50% account penalty?

Perspective 3: The August 26, 2022 PETITION FOR A WRIT OF CERTIORARI to the Supreme Court of The United States described the issue as follows:

QUESTION PRESENTED

The Bank Secrecy Act and implementing regulations require U.S. persons to file an annual report — called an FBAR — if they have foreign bank accounts containing more than ten thousand dollars. The maximum civil penalty for willfully failing to file the report is either $100,000 or half the balance in the unreported account, whichever sum is greater. 31 U.S.C. § 5321(a)(5)(C)-(D). Using this formula, the government imposed on petitioner a civil penalty of $2,173,703.00.

The question presented is whether civil penalties imposed under 31 U.S.C. § 5321(a)(5)(C)-(D) — penalties that are avowedly deterrent and noncompensatory — are subject to the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause.

Eighth Amendment Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

The indisputable facts include (but are not limited to) that, Mr. FBAR is being used to confiscate approximately two million dollars of a Swiss Bank account with a balance of approximately four million dollars. The account was owned by an 82 year old woman and was funded by money received from her father in Argentina. The account was initially funded by money that was NOT and never was subject to US taxation. The penalty was based on the penalty for failing to file an FBAR. In addition, the necessary condition of “willfulness” was based on a court sanction and NOT on an independent evaluation of the facts.

These facts resulted in Ms. Toth’s encounter with Mr. FBAR in the penalty zone!

The Supreme Court Response – January 23, 2023:

I had the opportunity to discuss the decision in a podcast with Dubai based lawyer Virgina La Torre Jeker.

On January 23, 2023 the Supreme Court of the United States (Justice Gorsuch dissenting) denied the cert petition. In other words, the court declined to consider whether Ms. Toth’s 2 million willful civil FBAR penalty, based on a 4 million Swiss bank account balance, violated the “Excessive Fines” clause of the eighth amendment. (The effect of the court’s decision to NOT hear the case means that the US government is now – through the law of FBAR – in a position to confiscate two million from Ms. Toth. But,”It’s The Law”.)

More broadly and abstractly, the refusal to grant the cert petition means that the court refused to hear the case. The court’s refusal to hear the case is NOT equivalent to a ruling that civil willful FBAR penalty is constitutional. It means only that the Supreme Court of the United States will NOT be the court (at least as of January 23, 2023) to decide the issue. In his dissent Justice Gorsuch reinforces this point (and invites lower courts to consider the issue) by writing:

For all these reasons, taking up this case would have been well worth our time. As things stand, one can only hope that other lower courts will not repeat its mistakes.

Nevertheless, the court’s refusal to hear the Toth case will likely be interpreted:

– by the IRS (and other government agencies) as a license to continue a growing penchant to impose punitive FBAR penalties in general and engage in civil forfeiture in particular

– by the public as a continuing signal that there is a clear distinction between the interpretation of law and the application of justice and never shall the twain meet

– by the legal profession that the penalties under Title 31 are a subset of civil forfeiture penalties in general

– by the international community as further confirmation that the United States is a country lacking proportionality between violations of the law and the penalties imposed

Interestingly and significantly Justice Gorsuch penned a vigorous dissent*. In this dissent he took the time to describe the facts, describe the history of penalty in the United States and to explain why the court should have agreed to hear the Toth appeal. Justice Gorsuch appeared to rely on an amicus curie brief filed by California law professor Beth A. Colgan**. Excerpts from both are included as Appendixes *A and **B to this post.

One is left with the impression that:

Justice Gorsuch is an island of justice and sanity in an ocean of unfairness, injustice and insanity.

The world eagerly awaits the Supreme Court’s decision in the Bittner FBAR case!

John Richardson – Follow me on Twitter @Expatriationlaw

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Part 3 – Notice 2023-11: Is FATCA Aimed At Resident Americans, Residents Of Other Countries Or Both?

Summary – The Reader’s Digest Version …

Although FATCA was clearly motivated by the behaviour of US citizens resident in the United States, Treasury did NOT interpret the “purpose” as being limited to prevent abuses by “residents of the United States”. Rather Treasury appears to have interpreted the purpose of FATCA (very broadly) to target residents of other countries.

Had Treasury done what it was required by statute to do (consider the purpose of IRC 1471) it might have approached its responsibilities very differently. What began as an attempt to curb the behaviour of US residents became an attack on residents of other countries who happen to be US citizens. The evidence further suggest that the FFIs most heavily impacted by FATCA are located in the high tax jurisdictions where US citizens abroad are most likely to reside. Can it reasonably be concluded that the purpose of IRC 1471 – AKA FATCA – was to attack the residents of other countries and the banks in those countries? If not, then why did Treasury target the whole world, rather than the parts of the world with conditions that facilitated tax evasion for resident Americans? Can anybody seriously make the claim that banks in Canada, the UK, Australia New Zealand and other first world democracies were attractive locations for tax evaders? Yet, this is precisely what Treasury did.

It didn’t have to be this way!

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State Department Announces Intention To Reduce Fee To Issue Certificates Of Loss Of Nationality From $2350 To $450

Introduction And General Context

On Friday January 6, 2023 the State Department announced its intention to reduce the administrative fee for issuing CLNs (“Certificates Of Loss Of Nationality”) for US citizenship relinquishments from the current $2350 to $450. Notably in 2015 the State Department increased the fee from $450 to $2350.

The precise language found in the Declaration of Assistant Secretary For Consular Affairs Reena Bitter was:

3. Under 31 U.S.C. 9701, 22 U.S.C. § 4219, and Executive Order 10718, the Department has the authority to establish fees to be charged for official services provided by U.S. embassies and consulates. The Department intends to pursue rulemaking to reduce the fee for processing CLN requests from the current amount of $2350 to the previous fee of $450, as set in 75 FR 36522 on June 28, 2010. The Department will consider any necessary changes to this fee, as appropriate, in a future rulemaking.

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The reduction was announced in conjunction with a lawsuit launched by the Association Of Accidental Americans arguing that the $2350 renunciation fee is unconstitutional. The announcement and general context is described in the article at the American Expat Finance News Journal.

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Those wishing to better understand the lawsuit might be interested in a 2020 podcast I did with the lawyer Marc Zell.

Should you delay your renunciation until the new fee is in effect?

On January 9, 2022 there was a live hearing in Washington, DC exploring issues related to the lawsuit. During the hearing the Judge questioned the State Department lawyer about the plans to reduce the fee from $2350 to $450. It is apparent that:

1. There is no clear date on which the reduced fee will take effect.

2. There is no evidence that those who paid $2350 will be entitled to any kind of refund.

In many countries the waiting list to renounce or relinquish US citizenship continues to be long. Some of those waiting are dangerously close to being “covered expatriates” (based on the net worth test). “Covered expatriates” are generally subject to the 877A expatriation tax rules.

In most cases, those seeking to renounce US citizenship are probably best to avail themselves of the opportunity to renounce regardless of the fee on their renunciation date.

John Richardson – Follow me on Twitter @Expatriationlaw

Toward A Definition Of US Citizenship Taxation

Prologue

The term “citizenship tax” is abstract and meaningless without context. What does it really mean? In this short post I attempt to describe the defining aspect of US tax residency in simple terms.

Bottom line:

The ONLY contextual meaning of taxing based on citizenship is that it allows the US to impose tax on income earned outside the United States by people who live outside the United States.

Here is why …

What exactly is “citizenship taxation”? How/why does citizenship matter? It’s not what the “treaty partner” countries think!

1. Like all countries the United States imposes worldwide taxation on its residents. Individuals living in the United States will meet the “substantial presence” requirements and are therefore taxable on their worldwide income. Citizenship is irrelevant.

2. Like all countries the United States imposes taxation on income sourced in the United States. Generally the United States will have the first right of taxation and has the ability to withhold tax. Citizenship is irrelevant.

3. Like no other country (OK, sort of Eritrea) the United States imposes taxation on the non-US source income of people who do not live in the United States and do live in other countries. The US usually claims this right because those people were “Born In The USA” (making them US citizens). Therefore, the US imposes worldwide taxation on people who live in other countries. Citizenship is relevant because it is why the US claims the right to tax people who don’t live in the US and are residents of other countries.

4. Therefore, the practical meaning of “citizenship taxation” is the United States imposing taxation on the non-US source income earned by people who live in other countries. To be clear: citizenship taxation means that the United States is claiming the residents of OTHER countries as US residents for tax purposes!

5. This means that: Every country in the world who signs a tax treaty with the United States that includes a “saving clause” is agreeing that the United States has the right to tax income earned in the treaty partner country by residents of the treaty partner country. It is obvious that countries signing these treaties have no idea what they are signing. The problem has been further illuminated by the recent US Croatia tax treaty that allows the United States to imposes taxation on Croation residents who ARE and WERE US citizens.

So, US citizenship taxation means that the US can tax the non-US source income of residents of other countries!

John Richardson – Follow me on Twitter @Expatriationlaw

Part 2 – Notice 2023-11: Non-US Banks May Be Forced To Sever Ties With US Citizen Clients Because Of FATCA

Introduction – The Readers’ Digest Version

This is Part 2 of a series of posts discussing the world of FATCA and how IRS Notice 2023-11 is likely to impact it. In Part 1 I described how Notice 2023-11 imposes significant additional obligations on both non-US banks and the IGA Model 1 governments. (This post will be best understood by first reading Part 1 and understanding the additional compliance burdens imposed on non-US banks as a result of Notice 2023-11.) The purpose of this post (Part 2) is to suggest that the overall context of FATCA, the FATCA IGAs and US citizenship taxation will incentivize non-US banks to purge US citizen clients. It is reasonable to conclude, that US citizen clients are a clear and present danger to their businesses.

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Part 1 – Notice 2023-11: The Carrot, The Stick And Heightened FATCA Enforcement On Overseas Americans

Welcome To 2023 – A Year Of Heightened FATCA Enforcement

On December 30, 2022 US Treasury released Notice 2023-11. The broad purpose of the Notice is to prescribe conditions that would allow non-US banks to temporarily avoid a designation of “significant non-compliance” under the FATCA IGAs. It is important to note that Notice 2023-11 is NOT simply a “stay of execution”. It is a “stay of execution” that is conditional on both non-US banks and their governments participating in a significant escalation of FATCA enforcement on US citizens who live outside the United States.

The purpose of this post is to comment on and analyze the provisions of Notice 2023-13 which strongly incentivize non-US banks to purge themselves of existing US citizen clients. In Part 2 I will explain why I believe that non-US banks may be forced to close the accounts of all their US citizen customers.

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Prologue And Summary Of The Issue

Through a combination of FATCA (“Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act”) found Chapter 4 of the Internal Revenue Code and the FATCA IGAs (the mechanism for countries to comply with FATCA) the United States has created conditions where US citizen customers are a burden and risk to non-US banks. These provisions have created conditions that threaten punitive financial sanctions on non-US banks who cannot notify the IRS of a US citizen’s Social Security Number. Generally this is because the US citizen has lived abroad for many years and does NOT have a SSN. This situation has created worry for the banks and for their US citizen customers. The fact that the US citizen does NOT have a SSN is NOT relevant to the reporting obligation imposed on the bank. To be clear: The FATCA IGAs mean that non-US banks can easily be in “significant non-compliance” for the failure to comply with something that is impossible to comply with.

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“Bear Necessities”: Argentina US #FATCA IGA Confirms No Obligation Of Reciprocity On US

The Readers Digest Version: A Tweet By Tweet Explanation

Prologue – Argentina December 5, 2022

The State Department website featured the following announcement:

On December 5, Ambassador Marc Stanley and Argentine Minister of Economy Sergio Massa signed an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) to facilitate implementation of the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). The IGA advances the shared objective of improving international tax compliance. The United States enters into bilateral FATCA IGAs with foreign jurisdictions to provide for the implementation of FATCA through domestic reporting and automatic exchange of information.

This IGA will enable the reciprocal exchange of certain financial account information between the United States and Argentina, while ensuring appropriate data protection. The United States enacted FATCA in 2010 to combat offshore tax evasion. There are currently 113 FATCA IGAs in effect between the United States and foreign jurisdictions.

Note the inclusion of the word “reciprocal”. Describing an agreement as reciprocal does not make it reciprocal. The US Argentina FATCA IGA is a reminder of how one-sided and unequal these FATCA IGAs really are. The reason for the inequality is that the United States imposes “citizenship taxation” and Argentina (like the rest of the world) imposes “residence taxation”. Therefore, the terms of the FATCA IGAs reflect the attempts of the United States to use its system of “citizenship taxation” to claim the residents of OTHER countries as US tax residents.

Detailing The Inequality Of The US Argentina FATCA IGA

or read the Threadreaderapp version here.

In the spirit of bringing an exciting end to 2022, the United States and Argentina have entered into a FATCA Intergovernmental Agreement. The Model 1 FATCA IGAs are not and were never intended to impose reciprocal exchange of information obligations on the United States. Not only does the US get far more than it gives, but the definition of “reportable accounts” reflects the difference between a US tax system based on citizenship and an Argentine tax system that is based on “residence”. One result is that under the FATCA IGAs information flows from a country (Argentina) where the US citizens are likely to live to a country (the United States) where the US citizens reported on do NOT likely live. On the other hand, the agreement clearly states that the US will send information (what little it is obligated to send) from a country where the person does NOT live (the United States) to a country where they do live (Argentina). An important effect of the FATCA IGAs is they assist the United States in claiming the tax residents of other countries (in this case Argentina) as US tax residents as well. This is one of many respects in which the FATCA (“Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act”) is different from the CRS (“Common Reporting Standard”).

To put it simply: the FATCA IGAs have the effect of expanding the US tax system into the FATCA partner country (in this case Argentina).

Summary …

For the “Bare Necessities” click on the following tweet …

Those interested in a more detailed discussion of why the FATCA IGAs are not reciprocal are invited to read the discussion here.

John Richardson – Follow me on Twitter @Expatriationlaw