There is a common misconception among Green Card Holders (a common name for US permanent residents) that their US income tax obligations are limited in nature in comparison to US citizens. In this article, I seek to dispel this erroneous myth and provide some general outlines of the US income tax obligations of Green Card Holders.
US Income Tax Obligations of Green Card Holders: Worldwide Income Reporting
I receive a lot of phone calls from Green Card holders who believe that their US income tax reporting obligations are limited only to US-source income (sourcing of income, by the way, is also a very complex subject and I often see egregious mistakes committed even by experienced accountants).
This is not correct. In fact, US permanent residents and US citizens are both considered to be “tax residents of the United States.” US tax residents are required to report their worldwide income on US tax returns and pay US income taxes on foreign-source income (and, obviously, US-source income).
Thus, if you have a Green Card and you have foreign assets (such as foreign bank and financial accounts, foreign businesses, foreign trusts, et cetera), you must report the income from such foreign assets on your US tax returns.
Be careful! You must remember that all foreign income must be reported in US dollars and according to US tax laws. Leaving aside the issue of currency conversion (which is a topic for another article), the reporting of foreign income under US tax laws may be extremely challenging because foreign tax laws may treat this income in a different manner. Let me emphasize this point – the treatment of income under foreign local tax rules may not actually be the same as the treatment of the same income under US tax rules.
For example, Assurance Vie accounts in France may be completely tax-exempt if certain conditions are met. However, the annual income from these accounts must be reported on US tax returns.
Moreover, to make matters worse, these accounts may contain PFIC (Passive Foreign Investment Company) investments which are treated in a very complex and generally unfavorable manner under US tax laws. The calculation of US tax liability in this case may be extremely complex (especially since the French banks are not required to keep the kind of information that is necessary to properly calculation PFIC tax and interest).
US Income Tax Obligations of Green Card Holders: Reporting of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts
As US tax residents, the Green Card holders are also required to disclose their ownership of certain foreign bank and financial accounts to the IRS. Many US permanent residents are shocked to learn about these requirements and the draconian penalties associated with failure to file the required information reports.
The top two bank and financial account reporting requirements are FinCEN Form 114 (known as “FBAR” – the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts) and Form 8938 (which was born out of FATCA). Other forms, such as Form 8621, may apply.
It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss these requirements in detail. However, it is impossible to overstate their importance, especially the FBAR, due to potentially astronomical non-compliance penalties (including criminal penalties). You can find more information about these requirements at sherayzenlaw.com.
US Income Tax Obligations of Green Card Holders: Reporting of Foreign Business Ownership
Many US permanent residents are surprised to find out that they may be required to provide detailed reports about their foreign businesses – corporations, partnerships and disregarded entities. Indeed, Green Card holders may be subject to burdensome and expensive US reporting requirements on Forms 5471, 8865, 926, 8938, et cetera. These forms may require Green Card holders to provide foreign financial statements translated under US accounting standards, including US GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Practices).
Again, you can find more information about these requirement at sherayzenlaw.com.
US Income Tax Obligations of Green Card Holders: Reporting of Foreign Trusts
Another complex trap for Green Card Holders is reporting of an ownership or a beneficiary interest in a foreign trust (generally, on Form 3520). This complicated topic is beyond the scope of this article, but you can find more information about these requirements at sherayzenlaw.com.
US Income Tax Obligations of Green Card Holders: Other Reporting Requirements
There are numerous other US income tax obligations of Green Card Holders that may apply. Moreover, US has multiple income tax treaties with various countries which may modify your particular tax situation. In order to fully determine your US tax obligations as a Green Card holder, it is best to consult with an experienced international tax attorney.
Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With Your US Income Tax Obligations
Sherayzen Law Office is a specialized international tax law firm which is highly experienced in helping US Permanent Residents with their US income tax obligations and reporting requirements. One of the unique features of our firm is that our tax team provides both legal and accounting services to our clients throughout the world.