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December 31, 2011

IRS Uses John Does Summons to Catch Taxpayers Not Paying Taxes

 With anormal summons, the IRS seeks information about a specific taxpayer whose identity it knows. A John Doe summons allows the IRS to get the names of all taxpayers in a certain group. The IRS needs a judge to approve it, but recent IRS success may to lead to more.


A federal judge recently gave the IRS permission to serve a John Doe summons on California’s State Board of Equalization. The IRS wants names of Californians who gifted real property to their children or grandchildren between 2005 and 2010. The IRS believes many failed to file federal gift tax returns reporting family transfers. It’s not just Californians in the crosshairs. The IRS has already received information about intra-family property transfers from county and state officials in other states.


The IRS is using the  John Does summons to force foreign banks doing business in the US to reveal information on their US depositors with accounts outside the US.  Its use in the future may include other businesses doing business in the US which can provide the IRS with information about US taxpayers assets abroad.



December 30, 2011

Final Form 8938- Statement of Foreign Financial Assets Released

US Taxpayers including US Citizens, US Permanent Residents, and US Expatriates  may have to file Form 8938 with their US Income tax returns for 2012 to report their foreign financial assets.  The estimated time to complete this form is 1 to 3 hours.

Every taxpayer with assets located outside the US should review the instructions to this form to determine if they must file it. Read the Instructions to Form 8938 here.   Failure to file the Form 8938 when required can result in severe monetary penalties and criminal prosecution.


View the 2012 tax  year Form 8938  here.

FATCA Produces Fear Among US Expatriates and Foreign Banks

US Expatriates living Abroad and Foreign Financial Institutions are all in fear of the "sledge hammer" rules they must comply with in order to satisfy the IRS reporting rules on accounts owned by US taxpayers.  Some foreign banks are refusing to open bank accounts for US taxpayers in order to avoid having to comply with the extensive FATCA report rules.

 US taxpayers with sufficient foreign assets will have to start filing form 8938 with their 2012 tax returns which could take up to three hours to complete. That new form is in addition to the existing foreign assets reporting forms which must be filed which include Forms TDF 90-22.1, 5471, 8865, 3520, etc.

Taxpayers and financial institutions that fail to comply with the foreign assets tax reporting rules face severe monetary penalties and possible criminal prosecution.  We can help you avoid these dire consequences.

Read more  in  this New York Times Article

December 22, 2011

2011 Year End Tax Planning Moves for US Expatriate Taxpayers



By Don D. Nelson, Attorney, CPA, and Charles Kauffman, CPA
Kauffman Nelson LLP, Certified Public Accountants

- The Foreign earned income exclusion for 2011 is now $92,900 per calendar year. The allowable foreign housing exclusion or deduction has also been increased.
- If you have over a certain minimum amounts of foreign financial assets, in 2011 you must file Form 8938 with your 2011 tax return to report those assets. This filing is in addition to filing Forms TDF 90-22.1, 5471, 8865, 3520, etc.
- Realize losses on stock while substantially preserving your investment position. There are several ways this can be done. For example, you can sell the original holding, then buy back the same securities at least 31 days later. It may be advisable for us to meet to discuss year-end trades you should consider making.
- Postpone income until 2012 and accelerate deductions into 2011 to lower your 2011 tax bill. This strategy may enable you to claim larger deductions, credits, and other tax breaks for 2011 that are phased out over varying levels of adjusted gross income (AGI). These include child tax credits, higher education tax credits, the above-the-line deduction for higher-education expenses, and deductions for student loan interest. Postponing income also is desirable for those taxpayers who anticipate being in a lower tax bracket next year due to changed financial circumstances. Note, however, that in some cases, it may pay to actually accelerate income into 2011. For example, this may be the case where a person's marginal tax rate is much lower this year than it will be next year.
- If you believe a Roth IRA is better than a traditional IRA, and want to remain in the market for the long term, consider converting traditional-IRA money invested in beaten-down stocks (or mutual funds) into a Roth IRA if eligible to do so. Keep in mind, however, that such a conversion will increase your adjusted gross income for 2011.
- If you converted assets in a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA earlier in the year, the assets in the Roth IRA account may have declined in value, and if you leave things as-is, you will wind up paying a higher tax than is necessary. You can back out of the transaction by recharacterizing the rollover or conversion, that is, by transferring the converted amount (plus earnings, or minus losses) from the Roth IRA back to a traditional IRA via a trustee-to-trustee transfer. You can later reconvert to a Roth IRA.
- It may be advantageous to try to arrange with your employer to defer a bonus that may be coming your way until 2012.
- Consider using a credit card to prepay expenses that can generate deductions for this year such as charitable donations. Remember, in general, only contributions to US charities are deductible on your US tax return.
- If you expect to owe state and local income taxes when you file your return next year, consider asking your employer to increase withholding of state and local taxes (or pay estimated tax payments of state and local taxes) before year-end to pull the deduction of those taxes into 2011 if doing so won't create an alternative minimum tax (AMT) problem.
- Estimate the effect of any year-end planning moves on the alternative minimum tax (AMT) for 2011, keeping in mind that many tax breaks allowed for purposes of calculating regular taxes are disallowed for AMT purposes. These include the deduction for state property taxes on your residence, state income taxes (or state sales tax if you elect this deduction option), miscellaneous itemized deductions, and personal exemption deductions. Other deductions, such as for medical expenses, are calculated in a more restrictive way for AMT purposes than for regular tax purposes. As a result, in some cases, deductions should not be accelerated.
- You may be able to save taxes this year and next by applying a bunching strategy to “miscellaneous” itemized deductions, medical expenses and other itemized deductions.
- Unless Congress extends it, the up-to-$4,000 above-the-line deduction for qualified higher education expenses will not be available after 2011. Thus, consider prepaying eligible expenses if doing so will increase your deduction for qualified higher education expenses. Generally, the deduction is allowed for qualified education expenses paid in 2011 in connection with enrollment at an institution of higher education during 2011 or for an academic period beginning in 2011 or in the first 3 months of 2012.
- You may want to pay contested taxes to be able to deduct them this year while continuing to contest them next year.
- You may want to settle an insurance or damage claim in order to maximize your casualty loss deduction this year.
- If you are age 70-1/2 or older, own IRAs and are thinking of making a charitable gift, consider arranging for the gift to be made directly by the IRA trustee. Such a transfer, if made before year-end, can achieve important tax savings.
- Make gifts sheltered by the annual gift tax exclusion before the end of the year and thereby save gift and estate taxes. You can give $13,000 in 2011 to each of an unlimited number of individuals but you can't carry over unused exclusions from one yearto the next. The transfers also may save family income taxes where income-earning property is given to family members in lower income tax brackets who are not subject to the kiddie tax.

Year-End Tax-Planning Moves for Businesses & Business Owners
- Businesses should consider making expenditures that qualify for the business property expensing option. For tax years beginning in 2011, the expensing limit is $500,000 and the investment ceiling limit is $2,000,000. And a limited amount of expensing may be claimed for qualified real property. These rules only apply to business located in the US and are not available to businesses located abroad. Those planning on purchasing new depreciable property this year or the next should try to accelerate their buying plans, if doing so makes sound business sense.
- If you are self-employed and haven't done so yet, set up a self-employed retirement plan. This must be done before year end. Remember you can only make a contribution to such a plan if you are taking the foreign earned income exclusion if you net taxable earnings from self employment exceed that exclusion.
- Depending on your particular situation, you may also want to consider deferring a debt-cancellation event until 2012, and disposing of a passive activity to allow you to deduct suspended losses.
- If you own an interest in a partnership or S corporation you may need to increase your basis in the entity so you can deduct a loss from it for this year (2012). This is done by making an additional capital contribution or loaning funds to the S Corporation.

These are just some of the year-end steps that can be taken to save on your international and expatriate taxes. By contacting us before year end, we can help you tailor a particular plan that will work best your international and expatriate tax situation.


Don Nelson/Charles Kauffman
Kauffman Nelson LLP

December 21, 2011

Many Expats may be able to Reduce the Taxes Owed the IRS

Many taxpayers who owe back taxes, or are now filing a lot of past year tax returns want to know how to "make a deal" with the IRS for a lower amount than the taxes, interest and penalties the IRS shows due. Essentially this can only be done by filing an "Offer in Compromise."  Most recently the IRS is only accepting less than 20 % of the Offers in Compromises filed with it.  Essentially to qualify you must show due to age, illness, etc. that you have limited prospects of making enough money to pay your past unpaid tax bills and in that event pay the IRS the current value of most of your assets.

If IRS does not accept your offer in compromise, you can enter into a payment plan to pay your tax bill over time.  If you cannot make any payments at this time, they may put their collection action on hold for a while in hopes that you will have sufficient funds to make payments later.  They will file a tax lien which does mess up your credit. The good news is most tax liens expire in ten year and the IRS has in the past not taken any action to extend that time.  Let us know if you need help dealing with the the IRS collection department or trying for an offer in compromise.

Be aware that most of the Companies on TV that advertise they can reduce the amount owed the IRS will take an advance payment of $4,000 to $10,000 (non-refundable) and more often than not fail to get your offer in compromise accepted.  You should deal with reputable CPAs or Attorneys if you hire someone to file one for your.

Read more about Offers in Compromise on the IRS website.

Video on how to file for an IRS Offer in Compromise 

December 15, 2011

IRS Releases Guidance on Foreign Financial Asset Reporting


The Internal Revenue Service in coming days will release a new information reporting form that taxpayers will use  starting this coming tax filing season to report specified foreign financial assets for tax year 2011.

Form 8938 (Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets) will be filed by taxpayers with specific types and amounts of foreign financial assets or foreign accounts. It is important for taxpayers to determine whether they are subject to this new requirement because the law imposes significant penalties for failing to comply.

The Form 8938 filing requirement was enacted in 2010 to improve tax compliance by U.S. taxpayers with offshore financial accounts. Individuals who may have to file Form 8938 are U.S. citizens and residents, nonresidents who elect to file a joint income tax return and certain nonresidents who live in a U.S. territory.
Form 8938 is required when the total value of specified foreign assets exceeds certain thresholds.  For example, a married couple living in the U.S. and filing a joint tax return would not file Form 8938 unless their total specified foreign assets exceed $100,000 on the last day of the tax year or more than $150,000 at any time during the tax year.

The thresholds for taxpayers who reside abroad are higher. For example in this case, a married couple residing abroad and filing a joint return would not file Form 8938 unless the value of specified foreign assets exceeds $400,000 on the last day of the tax year or more than $600,000 at any time during the year.

Instructions for Form 8938 explain the thresholds for reporting, what constitutes a specified foreign financial asset, how to determine the total value of relevant assets, what assets are exempted, and what information must be provided.

Form 8938 is not required of individuals who do not have an income tax return filing requirement.

The new Form 8938 filing requirement does not replace or otherwise affect a taxpayer’s obligation to file an FBAR (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts).  For more go to the FBAR page on this website.

Failing to file Form 8938 when required could result in a $10,000 penalty, with an additional penalty up to $50,000 for continued failure to file after IRS notification.  A 40 percent penalty on any understatement of tax attributable to non-disclosed assets can also be imposed. Special statute of limitation rules apply to Form 8938, which are also explained in the instructions.

Form 8938, the form’s instructions, regulations implementing this new foreign asset reporting, and other information to help taxpayers determine if they are required to file Form 8938 can be found on the FATCA page of irs.gov.

See TD 9567.

December 9, 2011

IRS announces more information on "reasonable cause" excuse and elimination or reduction of FBAR (TDF 90-22.1) late filing penalties.


The IRS has issued a Fact Sheet for U.S. citizens or dual citizens residing outside the U.S. who may have been unaware of their U.S. tax and information filing obligations and are now seeking to come into compliance. The Fact Sheet outlines information about the delinquent filing of federal income tax returns and Form TD F 90-22.1, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBARs).
Background. U.S. citizens must file a federal income tax return for any tax year in which their gross income is equal to or greater than the applicable exemption amount and standard deduction. A U.S. citizen is required to report his worldwide income on his federal income tax return—that is, all income, regardless of which country is the source of the income. Generally, a taxpayer only need to file returns going back six years.
Under Code Sec. 6651(a)(1), a taxpayer who fails to timely file their tax return is subject to a penalty equal to 5% of the unpaid tax, plus an additional 5% for each month (or fraction thereof), up to 25%. No penalty is due if no tax is due. Code Sec. 6651(a)(2) generally provides for an addition to tax in the case of any failure to pay the tax shown on any return required to be filed on its due date, unless it is shown that the failure is due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect.
The Code Sec. 6651(a)(2) penalty commences on the due date of the return, determined without regard to filing extensions and is 1/2% of the amount of tax shown on the return, plus an additional 1/2% for each month (or fraction thereof), up to 25%.
Code Sec. 6651(c)(1) provides that the failure to file penalty is reduced by the failure to pay penalty for any month where both apply.
Background on FBARs. Each U.S. person who has a financial interest in or signature or other authority over any foreign financial accounts, including bank, securities, or other types of financial accounts in a foreign country, if the aggregate value of these financial accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year, must report that relationship each calendar year by filing an FBAR with the Department of the Treasury on or before June 30th of the succeeding year.
Potential penalties for failure to file/pay. The fact sheet provided guidance on reasonable cause with respect to the reasonable cause for the failure to file or pay penalties. Generally, reasonable cause relief is granted when the taxpayer can demonstrate to the IRS that he/she exercised ordinary business care and prudence but nevertheless failed to meet the tax burden. Factors demonstrating whether or not ordinary business care and prudence were exercised include: the reasons provided for failing to meet the tax obligations; the taxpayer's compliance history; the length of time between the taxpayer's failure to meet the tax obligation and the subsequent compliance; circumstances beyond the taxpayer's control.
The facts and circumstances that the IRS considers in determining whether reasonable cause exists are: the taxpayer's education; whether the taxpayer has been previously subject to the tax; whether the taxpayer has been penalized before; whether there were recent changes in the tax forms or law that the taxpayer could not reasonably be expected to know; and the level of complexity of a tax or compliance issue.
Depending on facts and circumstances of a particular case, taxpayers may be able to establish reasonable cause if they can demonstrate that they were not aware of specific obligations to file returns or pay taxes. In addition to the failure to file and failure to pay penalties, the IRS said that other civil penalties may arise, including the accuracy-related penalty, fraud penalty and the other information reporting penalties.
Potential FBAR penalties. A taxpayer that fails to file a FBAR may be subject to either a willful or non-willful civil penalty, in the absence of reasonable cause. Generally, the civil penalty for willfully failing to file an FBAR can be up to the greater of $100,000 or 50% of the total balance of the foreign account at the time of the violation. Alternatively, non-willful violations that the IRS concludes are not due to reasonable cause are subject to a penalty of up to $10,000 per violation. No penalties are imposed if the IRS determines the violation was due to reasonable cause.
Factors weighing in favor of a determination that an FBAR violation was due to reasonable cause include reliance upon the advice of a professional tax advisor who was informed of the existence of the foreign financial account, that the unreported account was established for a legitimate purpose and there were no indications of efforts taken to intentionally conceal the reporting of income or assets, and that there was no tax deficiency (or there was a tax deficiency but the amount was de minimis) related to the unreported foreign account. Factors weighing against such a determination include whether the taxpayer's background and education indicate that he should have known of the FBAR reporting requirements, whether there was a tax deficiency related to the unreported foreign account, and whether the taxpayer failed to disclose the existence of the account to the person preparing his tax return. No single factor is determinative, the Fact Sheet said.
Although the IRS has established penalty mitigation guidelines, examiners may nevertheless determine that a penalty is not appropriate or that a lesser (or greater) penalty amount than the guidelines would otherwise provide is appropriate. In some instances, examiners may issue a warning letter rather than impose a penalty.
The Fact Sheet advises that if a taxpayer learns that he was required to file FBARs for earlier years, he should file the delinquent FBARs and attach a statement explaining why they were filed late. A taxpayer need not file FBARs that were due more than six years ago, since the statute of limitations for assessing FBAR penalties is six years from the due date of the FBAR. No penalty will be asserted if the IRS determines that the late filings were due to reasonable cause.
In addition, the Fact Sheet notes that beginning in 2012, U.S. taxpayers who have an interest in certain specified foreign financial assets with an aggregate value exceeding $50,000 must report those assets to the IRS on Form 8938 (Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets) with their tax return.
The Fact Sheet can be viewed on the IRS website athttp://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=250788,00.html.

December 5, 2011

Surrender of your US Citizenship or Loss of Citizenship Can Eliminate Need to File US Tax Returns

We have assisted hundreds of  US expats with the surrender of their US Citizenship or Permanent Residency. If you go through the process you will never have to file a US Tax Return again.  The State Department does require that you have Citizenship in another country before they will allow you to surrender your US Citizenship.  It is a two part process.  The legal surrender at the US Embassy or consulate and the second part is filing the proper forms with the IRS.   You must file at least the last five years US Tax returns and other foreign reporting forms and pay any taxes, interest and penalties that might be due along with a Form 8854.

Read the State Department rules on citizenship surrender or loss HERE.   For assistance email us at ddnelson@gmail.com or visit our website at www.TaxMeLess.com 

December 2, 2011

US IRS to go easy on American residents in Canada Per the Globe & Mail

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service is poised to waive potentially massive penalties for Americans who agree to come clean and don't owe any taxes, The Globe and Mail has learned.

The new rules will be announced within weeks by the IRS, according to David Jacobson, the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, who has been swamped with complaints from anxious Canadians.

"What the IRS is saying here is that if ... you don't owe taxes to the U.S., and you file your return and they show you don't owe taxes, there aren't going to be any penalties for having filed late," Mr. Jacobson said in an interview Thursday.

Fears of a looming U.S. tax crackdown has caused a wave of angst among the roughly one million Americans living in Canada. Many of them long ago stopped filing, assuming they owed no tax.

READ MORE IN  THE GLOBE & MAIL ARTICLE HERE