In a previous post I started talking about services. I fail to understand why some folks back in the home country are so insistent that we “pay our fair share” but they don’t have an answer when I reply, “For what?”
Let me be very clear, folks, I get NOTHING from the U.S. government living abroad. Zero. I will receive no Social Security, no Medicare, no English-language or Civics education for my children, no useful help if I am arrested (What good is an English-speaking lawyer to me? I speak fluent French. Or the fact that they could visit me in jail? They admit they can’t get me released.) The Embassy people are very nice – it’s a pleasure to go down there once every 10 years or so and renew my passport but that’s about all the contact I have with them because they don’t have much in the way of services that would help me. And, to be honest, that was OK with me for a long time. I integrated very well into my host country and I hardly need them to hold my hand. But if they are going to insist on taxing me, then I want something for my money. Something relevant to my situation. Here is another suggestion that I came up with after I saw this:
“The IRS is also committed to educating all taxpayers so that they understand their U.S. tax responsibilities.” Nice idea. Now I’d like to see you put your money where your mouth is.
Outreach: Education is a start and I sincerely hope they are serious about it because this is going to be a tall order. There are about 100,000 American citizens living in France, a significant minority live in small villages and towns. There are even larger American communities in places like the U.K. and Germany. All this nonsense about how “we can’t possibly find and count these people,” is utter rubbish. Of course you can, you just haven’t tried very hard because you know it will cost the American taxpayer at home a pretty penny to do this. At the very least, you need to hand out or mail to everyone who requests a passport renewal a synopsis of this document, “The Tax Guide for American Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad.” Will some of these people react in outrage and renounce their U.S. citizenship once they know the facts? Of course they will but at least they are no longer living in ignorance and whatever they do from that point forward is their personal decision. However, even this is not adequate.
Tax Assistance: If Congress is going to keep making convoluted rules and imposing onerous reporting requirements than the IRS is going to have to start providing more personalized assistance to U.S. taxpayers abroad. This means more staff and I’m not talking about tax experts just off the boat from the U.S., I’m talking about people who understand the U.S. tax/financial systems AND the local ones. In Europe that would mean people who understand the tax and financial systems of over 27 different countries because the way U.S. tax law and local law interact is complex even for people abroad who don’t lead very complicated lives. (I once tried to explain a P.E.L. to an American tax lawyer and his eyes glazed over before I was halfway through.) Now the IRS offices in Paris and London already have very knowledgeable people. I’m just saying that we would need many MANY more of them to meet the needs of the 1 million+ American citizens and U.S. persons living in Europe. (The folks at the IRS should be 100% behind me on this one – what IRS agent could possibly complain about an exciting post in Paris or London or Beijing? Think of the recruiting possibilities? Join the IRS and See the World!)
To give you an idea of how limited their service is right now, just have a look at the Paris IRS office hours:
“Walk-In Assistance Monday-Friday : from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon. Phone Calls Monday-Friday : from 9:00 a.m.- 12:00 noon and from 1:30 to 3.30 p.m. Offices are closed on French AND US holidays.”
Not good enough. We need more staff, longer opening hours and information that is easily accessible (“pushed” to us rather than forcing us to “pull”). No U.S. citizen or resident alien should be obliged, just because he or she lives abroad, to have an accounting degree or to hire an expensive expatriate tax accountant/lawyer in order to be compliant. These things should only be necessary if the citizen/legal resident has a very complex tax situation – none of them should be necessary for an IT Manager, an English teacher, a Computer Programmer or the American spouse of a foreign national working part-time.
Is that clear enough for everyone?
Oh, and to add insult to injury, there is a FBAR helpline available (highlighted on the Paris IRS website) which is toll-free for people inside the US but those of us abroad have to pay the long-distance call.
Amazing, isn’t it?