Americans Renouncing Citizenship Due to Taxes

March 14, 2014

In just a few months, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) will go into effect to attempt to deal with Americans living abroad who owe taxes to the federal government. But as it stands now, the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) is the law in operation, requiring Americans with foreign accounts of $10,000 or more to report the account's highest balance to the IRS every year. The 2010 law requires all non-U.S. financial institutions to provide the IRS with detailed information about American account holders. If they do not, they could face severe penalties. FATCA is designed -- using a controversial dragnet-like method -- to catch those Americans thought to be evading taxes by hiding their wealth in foreign bank accounts. The way FATCA does this is by requiring that all non-U.S. financial institutions pass along detailed information about American account holders, or potentially face steep penalties, says USA Today.

  • Six million Americans live abroad, yet fewer than 1 million of them regularly file tax returns.
  • The IRS estimates that they owe somewhere between $40 billion and $123 billion in unpaid taxes.
  • In 2013 alone, 3,000 Americans renounced their citizenship, a 221 percent increase from 2012.
  • In 2008, only 231 people renounced their U.S. citizenship.
  • A financial consultancy firm, the de Vere Group, conducted a poll finding that 68 percent of expatriates have considered giving up their American citizenship because of FATCA.

The United States is one of only two countries in the world that base their taxes on nationality rather than residence -- Eritrea is the other one.

  • For example, if a French citizen lives and works in Germany, paying taxes there, France does not require him also to file French taxes. Americans, however, are obligated to file a tax return no matter their residence and no matter how much tax they have paid to that other nation.
  • The United States does have reciprocal tax agreements with other nations that can reduce an expatriate's American tax liability down to nothing, however.
  • A study by H&R Block found that one third of Americans abroad were simply confused by how they were supposed to file taxes.

Source: Kim Hjelmgaard, "Americans Abroad Find Citizenship Too Taxing to Keep," USA Today, March 8, 2014.

 

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