IRS offers tax relief to expats who renounced U.S. citizenship

The Internal Revenue Service outlined new procedures Friday to allow some expatriates who have relinquished their U.S. citizenship the chance to comply with their U.S. tax and filing obligations and in turn qualify for relief from back taxes, penalties and interest.

The Relief Procedures for Certain Former Citizens will apply only to individuals who haven’t filed U.S. tax returns as U.S. citizens or residents, owe a limited amount of back taxes to the U.S. government ($25,000 in the past six years), and have net assets of less than $2 million. Only those taxpayers whose previous compliance failures were non-willful can take advantage of the new procedures, according to the IRS. Many in this group may have lived outside the U.S. most of their lives and not been aware that they had U.S. tax obligations.

The relief comes nearly a decade after passage of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA, which was included as part of the HIRE Act of 2010. FATCA required foreign financial institutions to report the assets of U.S. taxpayers to the IRS, or else face penalties of up to 30 percent on their income from U.S. sources. The controversial law prompted many foreign banks to close the accounts of their U.S. expatriate customers and made it difficult for many of them to find banking services. Some of them had lived abroad nearly their entire life and were unaware they were U.S. citizens. The law led to a steady uptick in U.S.-born citizens who lived abroad renouncing their citizenship, but the IRS still expected them to pay taxes on the money they earned previously.

A man walks past the IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Eligible individuals who want to use the new relief procedures are required to file outstanding U.S. tax returns, including all required schedules and information returns, for the five years preceding and their year of expatriation, according to the IRS. Provided that their tax liability doesn’t exceed a total of $25,000 for the six years in question, the taxpayer will be relieved from paying U.S. taxes. The purpose of the new procedures is to give relief to certain former citizens. Individuals who qualify for the procedures won’t be assessed penalties and interest.

The IRS said it is offering the procedures without a specific termination date, but it will eventually announce a closing date prior to ending the procedures. Individuals who relinquished their U.S. citizenship any time after March 18, 2010, the year FATCA was enacted, are eligible as long as they satisfy the other criteria of the procedures.

The IRS cautioned that the procedures are only available to individuals. Estates, trusts, corporations, partnerships and other entities can’t use the procedures.

The IRS intends to host an online webinar in the “near future” providing more information and practical tips for making a submission to the Relief Procedures for Certain Former Citizens. However, it urged caution before taxpayers decide to renounce their citizenship.

“Relinquishing U.S. citizenship and the tax consequences that follow are serious matters that involve irrevocable decisions,” said the IRS. “Taxpayers who relinquish citizenship without complying with their U.S. tax obligations are subject to the significant tax consequences of the U.S. expatriation tax regime. Taxpayers interested in these procedures should read all the materials carefully, including the FAQs, and consider consulting legal counsel before making any decisions.”

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