Americans abroad need tax justice too
“Why are we doing this to folks? Why are we tormenting them in this way?” IRS Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson asked in an address to Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association FATCA Policy Symposium in Washington last year.
These “folks” are Americans living abroad: NGO workers, English teachers, physicians, taxi drivers, lawyers, bar tenders, nurses, accountants, engineers, stay at home parents, retirees, U.S. military veterans, entrepreneurs promoting American-made products creating jobs in the United States and others..
But according to some members of Congress and advocates for tax justice in the United States, these “folks” are really tax cheats, tax evaders, traitors, Fat Cats, criminals, money launderers, drug traffickers, and terrorist financers hiding “illicit activities” in their bank accounts.
If you listen to the “folks” themselves, you get a very different picture. They are simply Americans living rather ordinary lives in Australia or Zimbabawe instead of Maine or California. And it should be no surprise that they have bank accounts where they live, work, earn income—and pay taxes.
These “folks” are tormented by the same problems: FATCA and Citizenship-based taxation (CBT).
The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) was passed in 2010 as part of the Hire Act. It was claimed at the time that this law was meant to catch Americans living inside the United States who move their money to offshore tax havens in order to avoid taxes. However, the law was written so broadly that it targeted seven million Americans living outside the United States.
These “folks” are not FATCATS with offshore bank accounts. These are U.S. citizens with regular checking and savings accounts, retirement accounts and college saving accounts located in countries where they live. These are local accounts for Americans abroad—not offshore or foreign.
Congress and the U.S. Treasury demand every financial institution on the planet report accounts of all “U.S. persons,” including assets, account balances, transactions, account numbers and other personal identifying information. This includes accounts held with non-U.S. spouses or business partners or accounts of an employer, charity or non-profit organization where an American has signing authority.
Now, because of FATCA, these “folks” are being tormented by local banks closing accounts and denying U.S. persons basic bank accounts, retirement programs and mortgages.
Even those who are fully tax compliant in the United States and their country of residence (where they are often citizens) are experiencing discrimination on the basis of national origin. Today, having an American birthplace or passport and living outside the United States means being a target and a pariah and living with the fear that banks will pull a mortgage or close bank accounts just because that person is a “U.S. person.”
Most countries tax the world-wide income of the residents of their countries. Only two tax their citizens living outside that country—United States and Eritrea. Yet the United States condemned Eritrea at the United Nations for their practice.
Filing U.S. taxes from abroad is not only more complicated, it is more costly. Americans abroad must pay exorbitant sums to international tax specialists just to file the paperwork that shows they owe absolutely nothing to the U.S. government.
Not only does this put them at a competitive disadvantage in the global market but since over 80 percent of Americans abroad owe no taxes to the IRS when they do file, the United States gets mostly paperwork to process, not tax revenue. The only people making money from this torment are lawyers and accountants in the compliance industry.
Some members of Congress and advocates for tax justice would have you believe that FATCA is the only way to catch criminal tax evaders. They insist CBT is just another way of making people pay their “fair share”.
Americans abroad take strong exception to being tarred as tax evaders and criminals. They don’t understand the logic behind the taxation because we all seem to agree that for most Americans abroad zero is a “fair share”.
The question is not will lawmakers “stand with the American people”? Americans abroad ARE “the American people.”
Americans abroad want to know if their fellow Americans and lawmakers will stand with them.
There is a simple solution to end the torment of honest Americans by their own government. United States should join the rest of the world and move to residence based taxation—including scrapping FATCA for Americans abroad.