American International Tax – US Tax Changes in the New Year
Happy New Year!
As 2019 has now arrived and a new tax year begins, it’s time for our annual letter about tax changes affecting American expats and potential new tax pitfalls. However, I’d first like to personally thank everyone for helping us to grow so significantly in 2018, not just within Thailand but across Southeast Asia. Our primary source of this growth was due to the significant number of client referrals, which is the way we want to continue to grow in the future. For the new year we’re still based in our familiar office on Lat Phrao Soi 3.
There’s some good news going into the new tax year: changes to the tax law have both lowered tax rates and increased the standard deduction. The Additional Child Tax Credit has also increased from $1,000 per child to $1,400 per child. Not only will these changes raise the threshold for US tax liability, the potential tax refund for American taxpayers with children has increased significantly.
However, keep in mind that the IRS is still processing the most substantial changes to the US tax system in more than 20 years. Between the current government shutdown and the extent of the changes, I suspect that the start date for electronic filing for the new tax year may be delayed. If you’re expecting a refund, these changes may also result in delays.
I’d like to briefly mention a major problem we saw a lot more of over the last year. There was quite a noticeable increase in the number of scamming attempts using the guise of the IRS to trick people into transferring money. Many of these have moved beyond email phishing scams, and are now sophisticated scams involving online dating or a supposed American investor. The scams may run for months, and typically end up with a supposed transfer of money from America to a Thai account, only to be held up by the “IRS” who then request a withholding tax paid into a specific account.
IRS contact procedures are very strict and very regimented. Notices are sent through the mail if those are not answered they will send a new notice by certified mail. E-mail contact is never used, and phone contact is rarely attempted, and only done so after all other contact methods have been exhausted.
As a standard rule the IRS will never:
Send an e-mail asking you to verify account information
Send e-mail notices for taxes or penalties owed
Stop a bank transfer in order to ask for taxes
Call to demand payment over the phone
Threaten to immediately contact local law enforcement if taxes are not paid
Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe
Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone
If you’re contacted by the IRS for any reason, especially if you’re unsure if it’s really the IRS trying to get in touch, please feel free to give us a call. We will not only help verify the authenticity of the e-mail/letter/call, but can assist in responding to actual IRS correspondence as well.
One more important note regarding real notifications: DON’T PANIC! Most notices are simply looking for additional information or clarification and as such any questions are generally easy to resolve.
Social Media and the IRS
News reports are suggesting that the IRS will start more formal programs designed to scan social media for signs of tax evasion. The practicality of how this will be done is a complex issue, as IRS employees are barred from using their personal accounts in work situations and they are also prohibited from using false flag identities to gain access to information. I assume that this will essentially become an audit tool, where the IRS may eventually consider an audited individual’s social media account information. For example, an individual claiming poverty but frequently posting photos of yacht charters on the French Riviera may have some explaining to do. I don’t think that the IRS will be actively monitoring social media, however it may mean that if questions arise the IRS will be able to check.
Foreign Earned Income Exclusion
The Foreign Earned Income Exclusion has increased to $104,100 for the 2018 tax year. However, the ability to claim has become slightly more limited due to the IRS now including the following line:
“You are not considered to have a tax home in a foreign country for any period during which your abode is in the United States. For tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, you are not considered to have a tax home in a foreign country for any period during which your abode is in the United States”
Essentially, the IRS is getting a bit tougher on those who attempt to reside in the United States while claiming some of the benefits of the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. This does not really affect the physical presence test, but does have a bit of a detrimental effect on those with homes in the United States when they want to claim the bona fide residence test. This is a rare case but the definition of abode will become more important when claiming the exclusion going forward. Again, if in doubt call us.
For 2018 taxes filed in April of 2019, the standard deductions are as follows:
Again, if you have any questions or need any clarification about any aspect of the new tax changes, just give us a call to discuss the issue. An ounce towards prevention is far less expensive and worrying than a pound of tax problems.