Retiring Overseas? What You Need to Know about IRS Penalties

Retirees living abroad have to take special care with their tax returns. If you forget to check it off this box on Schedule B when you live overseas, it could mean big trouble with the IRS.

It’s something you don’t hear discussed often, but there are people who like to hide money overseas. Others just love the idea of retiring to a European country where they can live out a life-long dream. However, according to a recent article from CNBC titled “How to retire overseas and avoid IRS penalties,” Congress enacted the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA, in 2010 expressly to increase tax compliance by Americans, who keep financial assets outside of the U.S.

FATCA works through what is called “dual reporting.” Other countries agree to report on assets owned by American account holders. Those living outside of the U.S. must report honestly what they have in those foreign bank accounts every year, when they file their income taxes.

For people who are not big-time tax evaders hiding large amounts of money offshore and make an honest mistake, it can become a nightmare.

One client forgot to tell his accountant about an account with $3,500 that he owned in a foreign bank. The penalties were stiff. An attorney who was experienced in tax situations faced by people living outside of the U.S. had to be retained.

Here’s the thing: most automated tax preparation programs default to answering “No” on Schedule B, where the person filling out the form is asked if they have a bank account in a foreign country.

Who has to file? All Americans living overseas are required to file a tax return. It doesn’t matter if you pay foreign taxes, or even if the U.S. has a tax treaty with the country.

In addition to a 1040 form, you must file additional forms for the foreign earned income exclusion or the foreign tax credit form.

The only exception might be if you receive Social Security benefits and have no other income sources. That is a “might,” though—check with your CPA!

Some people choose to retire outside of the U.S., in the hope of keeping healthcare costs manageable.  However, any gains from having lower healthcare costs would evaporate quickly in the face of tax penalties from the IRS.

Be certain to work with a CPA who has experience in overseas tax requirements and FBAR rules (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts).

Remember that the form is very specific: if you have any overseas accounts, you must report them to the IRS. It doesn’t matter how large or small they are.

Reference: CNBC (Aug. 25, 2018) “How to retire overseas and avoid IRS penalties”

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