tax audit

Well-Traveled? Don’t Get Tripped Up on Tax Day

Cross-border issues to remember while filing U.S. taxes (first in a series)


Key Takeaways:

  • The IRS takes the definition of “global” seriously. All global income, including employee stock option plans, must be reported.

  • There is an increased focus on offshore income tax compliance.

  • The IRS also expects to hear from all U.S. citizens and green card holders living overseas.

  • Taxpayers might be failing this compliance simply because they are not aware of the rules.

  • Make sure your advisors are staying up to date on offshore income rules. 

 

As you get ready to put the final touches on your tax return, here are some important things that you and your financial advisors should remember with respect to global income compliance.

All global income must be reported

If you are a U.S. resident or U.S. citizens (whether NRI, PIO or OCI), you must pay taxes in the U.S. on all global income. A U.S. resident is a green card holder and/or someone who has been physically present in the United States for at least 31 days during the current year and for at least 183 days during the three-year period that includes the current year and the two preceding years. To satisfy the 183-day requirement, count all the days that you were present in the current year, add one-third of the days you were present in the first year before the current year, and then add one-sixth of the days you were present in the second year before the current year.

Global income will include:

  • Any salary partly received in another country.

  • Any income received overseas for freelance or consulting work.

  • Interest on bank deposits and other securities held overseas.

  • Dividends from shares and mutual funds.

  • Capital gains from sale of assets.

  • Rent from property.

Remember, your global income will be taxed in the U.S. as per rules that apply to similar income in the U.S. For instance, while dividends may be tax-free in India, they are taxed in the U.S., and hence your dividends from India will be taxed in the U.S. The same goes for capital gains. According to U.S. law, the definition of “long term” is one year for all assets, but it may be different in other countries. When you file tax returns in the U.S., you must take into account this difference and treat overseas capital gains as per the time period specified in U.S. law.

If you have paid tax in the overseas country from which the income described above is derived, you must check the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement to see if you are eligible to claim a foreign tax credit.

Tip: When you fill in Schedule B of your tax return Form 1040, pay close attention to line 7. Line 7 asks if the taxpayer had, during the tax year, held any financial interest in or signature authority over a foreign financial account (such as a bank account, securities account or brokerage account). Make sure you confirm that you indeed had overseas investments.

ESOP taxation

Did you exercise an employee stock option plan (ESOP) in 2017? If so, that’s one more thing you must declare on your U.S. tax return. In the U.S., the value of ESOPs granted is taxed at the time when the employee exercises the option.

You must add the total value of their ESOP compensation to your total income in the U.S. Since you may have also paid tax in the country where the ESOP originated, you will be eligible to claim a tax credit in their U.S. tax returns. You must refer to the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement.

Tip: You can disclose this as other income in Form 1040. You can claim foreign tax credit using Form 1116.

U.S. citizens and green card holders living overseas

In this connected world, you may be constantly on the move. This is a red flag.

Regardless of where you live, all U.S. citizens and green card holders must file tax returns in the U.S. based on their total global income. You must pay taxes on such foreign income unless a treaty or statutory exclusion or foreign tax credit applies to reduce your U.S. tax liability to zero.

In such cases, if you are a U.S. citizen or a green card holder residing overseas, on the regular due date of your return, you are allowed an automatic two-month extension to file your return and to pay any amount due without requesting an extension. So this year, the automatic two-month extension goes to June 15. But remember, while no penalty is charged, interest is still charged on the balance due between April 15 and June 15.

If you are unable to file a return by the automatic two-month extension date, you can request an additional extension to October 15 by filing Form 4868 before the automatic two-month extension date. However, any tax due payments made after June 15 will be subject to both interest charges and failure-to-pay penalties.

Tip: Filing U.S. tax returns from overseas can be quite a challenge. Not all software is equipped to handle foreign tax issues such as earned income exclusions—Form 2555, foreign tax credit—Form 1116, Form 8938, Form 8833 and so on. In such cases, you and your advisors will need to file a paper return.

Conclusion

Foreign income compliance is becoming increasingly important to the IRS. As the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) gathers steam, opportunities to come into compliance without harsh penalties will diminish. The sooner you act the better.

In the next installment of this article series, we’ll look at the various additional forms that must be included with the 1040 to be compliant with global income reporting.



DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily express the views of our firm and should not be construed as professional tax advice.

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc.  The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles.  Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

9 IRS Audit Red Flags for Retirees

Here is a nice article provided by Joy Taylor of Kiplinger: 


In 2015, the Internal Revenue Service audited only 0.84% of all individual tax returns. So the odds are generally pretty low that your return will be picked for review.

That said, your chances of being audited or otherwise hearing from the IRS escalate depending on various factors. Math errors may draw an IRS inquiry, but they’ll rarely lead to a full-blown exam. Whether you're filing your 2015 return in October after getting an extension or looking ahead to filing your 2016 return early next year, check out these red flags that could increase the chances that the IRS will give the return of a retired taxpayer special, and probably unwelcome, attention.

1.  Making a Lot of Money

Although the overall individual audit rate is only about one in 119, the odds increase dramatically as your income goes up, as it might if you sell a valuable piece of property or get a big payout from a retirement plan.

IRS statistics show that people with incomes of $200,000 or higher had an audit rate of 2.61%, or one out of every 38 returns. Report $1 million or more of income? There's a one-in-13 chance your return will be audited. The audit rate drops significantly for filers reporting less than $200,000: Only 0.76% (one out of 132) of such returns were audited, and the vast majority of these exams were conducted by mail.

We're not saying you should try to make less money—everyone wants to be a millionaire. Just understand that the more income shown on your return, the more likely it is that you'll be hearing from the IRS.

2.  Failing to Report All Taxable Income

The IRS gets copies of all 1099s and W-2s you receive. This includes the 1099-R (reporting payouts from retirement plans, such as pensions, 401(k)s and IRAs) and 1099-SSA (reporting Social Security benefits).

Make sure you report all required income on your return. IRS computers are pretty good at matching the numbers on the forms with the income shown on your return. A mismatch sends up a red flag and causes the IRS computers to spit out a bill. If you receive a tax form showing income that isn't yours or listing incorrect income, get the issuer to file a correct form with the IRS.

3.  Taking Higher-Than-Average Deductions

If deductions on your return are disproportionately large compared with your income, the IRS may pull your return for review. A large medical expense could send up a red flag, for example. But if you have the proper documentation for your deduction, don't be afraid to claim it. There's no reason to ever pay the IRS more tax than you actually owe.

4.  Claiming Large Charitable Deductions

We all know that charitable contributions are a great write-off and help you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. However, if your charitable deductions are disproportionately large compared with your income, it raises a red flag.

That's because the IRS knows what the average charitable donation is for folks at your income level. Also, if you don't get an appraisal for donations of valuable property, or if you fail to file Form 8283 for non-cash donations over $500, you become an even bigger audit target. And if you've donated a conservation or facade easement to a charity, chances are good that you'll hear from the IRS.


Be sure to keep all your supporting documents, including receipts for cash and property contributions made during the year.

5.  Not Taking Required Minimum Distributions

The IRS wants to be sure that owners of IRAs and participants in 401(k)s and other workplace retirement plans are properly taking and reporting required minimum distributions. The agency knows that some folks age 70½ and older aren’t taking their annual RMDs, and it’s looking at this closely.

Those who fail to take the proper amount can be hit with a penalty equal to 50% of the shortfall. Also on the IRS’s radar are early retirees or others who take payouts before reaching age 59½ and who don’t qualify for an exception to the 10% penalty on these early distributions.

Individuals age 70½ and older must take RMDs from their retirement accounts by the end of each year. However, there’s a grace period for the year in which you turn 70½: You can delay the payout until April 1 of the following year. A special rule applies to those still employed at age 70½ or older: You can delay taking RMDs from your current employer’s 401(k) until after you retire (this rule doesn’t apply to IRAs). The amount you have to take each year is based on the balance in each of your accounts as of December 31 of a prior year and a life-expectancy factor found in IRS Publication 590-B.

6.  Claiming Rental Losses

Claiming a large rental loss can command the IRS’s attention. Normally, the passive loss rules prevent the deduction of rental real estate losses. But there are two important exceptions. If you actively participate in the renting of your property, you can deduct up to $25,000 of loss against your other income. This $25,000 allowance phases out at higher income levels. A second exception applies to real estate professionals who spend more than 50% of their working hours and more than 750 hours each year materially participating in real estate as developers, brokers, landlords or the like. They can write off losses without limitation.

The IRS is actively scrutinizing rental real estate losses. If you’re managing properties in your retirement, you may qualify under the second exception. Or, if you sell a rental property that produced suspended passive losses, the sale opens the door for you to deduct the losses. Just be ready to explain things if a big rental loss prompts questions from the IRS.

7.  Failing to Report Gambling Winnings or Claiming Big Losses

Whether you’re playing the slots or betting on the horses, one sure thing you can count on is that Uncle Sam wants his cut. Recreational gamblers must report winnings as other income on the front page of the 1040 form. Professional gamblers show their winnings on Schedule C. Failure to report gambling winnings can draw IRS attention, especially because the casino or other venue likely reported the amounts on Form W-2G.

Claiming large gambling losses can also be risky. You can deduct these only to the extent that you report gambling winnings. And the costs of lodging, meals and other gambling-related expenses can only be written off by professional gamblers. Writing off gambling losses but not reporting gambling income is sure to invite scrutiny. Also, taxpayers who report large losses from their gambling-related activity on Schedule C get an extra look from IRS examiners, who want to make sure that these folks really are gaming for a living.

8.  Writing Off a Loss for a Hobby

Your chances of "winning" the audit lottery increase if you file a Schedule C with large losses from an activity that might be a hobby—dog breeding, jewelry making, coin and stamp collecting, and the like. Agents are specially trained to sniff out those who improperly deduct hobby losses. So be careful if your retirement pursuits include trying to convert a hobby into a moneymaking venture.

You must report any income from a hobby, and you can deduct expenses up to the level of that income. But the law bans writing off losses from a hobby.

To be eligible to deduct a loss, you must be running the activity in a business-like manner and have a reasonable expectation of making a profit. If your activity generates profit three out of every five years (or two out of seven years for horse breeding), the law presumes that you're in business to make a profit, unless the IRS establishes otherwise. If you're audited, the IRS is going to make you prove you have a legitimate business and not a hobby. Be sure to keep supporting documents for all expenses.

9.  Neglecting to Report a Foreign Bank Account

Just because you may be traveling more in retirement, be careful about sending your money abroad. The IRS is intensely interested in people with money stashed outside the U.S., and U.S. authorities have had lots of success getting foreign banks to disclose account information. The IRS also uses voluntary compliance programs to encourage folks with undisclosed foreign accounts to come clean—in exchange for reduced penalties. The IRS has learned a lot from these amnesty programs and has been collecting a boatload of money (we’re talking billions of dollars). It’s scrutinizing information from amnesty seekers and is targeting the banks that they used to get names of even more U.S. owners of foreign accounts.

Failure to report a foreign bank account can lead to severe penalties. Make sure that if you have any such accounts, you properly report them.


Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc.  The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles.  Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.