Petros, who authored the post this comment is a response to, is the pen-name of the founding administrator of the Isaac Brock Society. He has started this series of Petros Principles as a means of communicating guidelines which he believes have helped him and others deal with the United States’ world-wide tax invasion. He says:
Inordinate fear of the IRS is dangerous because it has caused some people to lay down all of their normal defense mechanisms and like an innocent lamb to stand paralyzed before the toothless lion.
One of the major roles of the cross-border compliance industry has been to frighten their clients and the public about the IRS’s power, and the media has too often created panic by consulting the compliance industry as their principle experts for information on US expat tax issues
The following response, by USCitizenAbroad will be of great help to anyone who is (understandably), in a confused and frightened state and in danger of being so overwhelmed, that reason and a considered assessment of what can/cannot be done by the IRS, that they simply over-comply, over-pay and lose way too many LCU’s.
July 18, 2016 at 10:26 am
With due respect and appreciation for ALL the comments on this thread, this comment is to remind people of what Petro’s original point is (I think):
Petros is saying that fear can be such a dominant factor that it overwhelms all else and makes it much harder to make a “decision”. When “fear” is the dominant factor, people will “react to the fear” and NOT “decide on the facts”. There is NO way to know for certain what would be the result of any one decision.
Petros is not (I don’t think) saying that people should be “fearless”. He is simply saying that one cannot allow decisions to be made primarily based on fear. On this point, I do agree (for what it’s worth) with him.
My perception of the Fear, The IRS, The Condors and Americans (so called) abroad:
About the fear:
I seriously doubt that long term Americans abroad are on the radar of the IRS. But, I don’t know and nobody really knows. Nevertheless, there is no indication to think that they are.
When people experience fear and the trauma associated with the fear they seek safety which includes certainty. They incorrectly believe they have a “tax problem”. They don’t a tax problem they have a “compliance” (maybe) problem. Suggest you read an old post on this issue:
About the tax compliance community
If you go to a “tax lawyer/accountant” you will achieve CERTAINTY. But, the CERTAINTY will be at the cost of (possibly) turning over a lot of money to the process (U.S. taxes, compliance fees, etc.). Understand that if you go to a “cross border professional” they will approach the problem in terms of compliance with the Internal Revenue Code. Actually, in most cases they will suggest “heightened compliance” (“we are not really sure if this form is required, so you should file it anyway” – WRONG, WRONG, WRONG and WRONG). Understand that U.S. tax law is NOT enforced by the IRS. It is enforced by the tax compliance community.
About the Internal Revenue Code
Because the Internal Revenue Code is a U.S. law which applies outside the USA, there is no way to know with certainty whether you are ever in compliance anyway. I don’t think (just my opinion) that you respond to this uncertainty with “over compliance”. I think (just my opinion) that you solve it by “defensible compliance”. “Over compliance” means that you have absolutely and completely entered the “prison of citizenship taxation”. Your life is absolutely over unless you renounce. “Defensible compliance” means that you are doing the best can, but when things are ambiguous (“Not even your IRS knows for sure”), you don’t resolve ambiguities in favor of the IRS. One example of this would be the ongoing discussion of whether TFSAs and RESPs are “foreign trusts”. Although this example is “overdone”, it is an example where tax compliance people are likely to say: “Well, we don’t know for sure, so why not fill out these forms!” Well: you are not the one who must live with the consequences of filling out the forms!
About Americans abroad
If the “compliance process” costs you a significant percent of your net worth (and it could depending on your situation), you will no longer have “fear” but you will have extreme (dangerously so) “anger”.
In other words, you will have converted the disabling emotion of “fear” into the disabling emotion of “anger”. As a great and late trial lawyer used to say in his closing remarks to the jury:
“It’s not what you take from them, it’s what you leave them with”
See this older post:
My point is largely this:
Whether you are in U.S. tax compliance or not you have a problem. The problem is that you have a U.S. connection. After destroying Americans abroad, the USA will begin destroying the Homelanders (who will think it is just great).
So, you have three options:
1. Take steps to get a CLN (usually renunciation) so that you CANNOT be accused of being American. In most cases this means the 5 years of compliance and renunciation. If you can achieve this for the cost of a used car you are doing well. The difference is that:
– used car is just a depreciating “asset”
– a CLN is simply the best investment that any human being can have in the world. It will grow in value every second of every minute, of every hour, of every day, of every month, of every year for the rest of your life!
2. Take steps to understand why you are NOT American so that you can defend the accusation of being American. (The FATCA IGA specifically allows for this possibility).
3. Live your life and ignore the whole thing.
I am neither discouraging this nor encouraging this. It depends entirely on you. In some cases, the cost of “buying your freedom” is so low that it might be worth doing. In fact there are many Canadian citizens (who with the help of the tax community”) have actually “pretended they are Americans” (even though they know they are NOT) so that they can renounce and get a CLN.
The people who have paid the highest price in emotional and financial terms are the ones who have turned this over to the lawyers and accountants to “do the right thing”. And I am NOT saying that ALL lawyers and accountants are a problem. But, enough are they you should be VERY careful in your choice of adviser. For a recent example, have a look at the following post from Jack Townsend’s blog where he references the story of two women in their 90s and one in her 80′s who tried to do the “right thing”. It was NOT the decision of the three elderly women to enter OVDP. It was the decision of their lawyer. Now, we can’t tall all the factors leading to the lawyer’s decision to enter OVDP, but we can certainly see the consequences of the decision. Returning to the original point, this is what happens when people have so much fear that they cannot think clearly (or at all).
Petros is not saying ignore fear. Petros is not saying don’t have fear. What Petros is saying is:
Do NOT allow the fear to overcome everything else – a point that I do agree with!
What would FDR likely say about this crisis and trauma?
It is NOT true that the ONLY thing we have to fear is fear itself!
It IS true that the most dangerous thing we have to fear is fear itself!