How you ever heard of the phrase, “You can run but you can’t hide?” Never is it truer than when it comes to the American government and taxes.
Back in the day, Americans looking to avoid paying taxes could hide substantial amounts of money in offshore banking accounts or build their assets by investing in foreign corporations.
This practice has largely ended; however, due to stronger tax policies and disclosure agreements with other countries. One of the ways the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) keeps tabs on American entrepreneurs is through Form 5471.
It’s not just about taxes
One of the first things people should know about Form 5471 is that it is a reporting requirement for all Americans who have a foreign registered corporation. Form 5471 is an informational form, meaning that the American government is simply seeking knowledge about the types of interests its citizens have in corporations registered foreign nations. It requires detailed facts and disclosures but won’t necessarily have an impact on the amount of money you pay in taxes.
That’s not to say that Form 5471 can’t impact your taxes. If you complete this form and then don’t file taxes at all, for example, that’s going to be a big clue to the IRS that something is amiss. This might kickstart an investigation.
Who needs to file?
Form 5471 is required for U.S. citizens who hold an ownership stake in foreign corporations. It is designed to ultimately prevent fraud by informing the federal government in to who owns what and where. With this intelligence, officials can match profits to tax returns, lowering tax evasion cases.
Americans don’t have to worry about Form 5471 unless they have at minimum 10 percent ownership in certain types of foreign corporations. This includes officers, directors, or shareholders.
However, the issue becomes more complicated when you bring into play Foreign-Controlled Corporations, which are typically foreign companies majority owned by Americans.
Further muddying the waters are American entrepreneurs and digital nomads who have established corporations to reduce or even defer the amount of U.S. taxes they must pay.
Can I file Form 5471 myself?
The short answer is not likely. Completing Form 5471 is complex and time-consuming. In addition to several different definitions of who needs to file, the form itself includes numerous schedules that must be reviewed as part of the multi-page document.
Filers should be prepared to share details about the corporation’s registration, income, balance sheet, account periods, stock types and more.
What if I don’t file?
Failure to complete Form 5471 if required comes with stiff penalties. The first penalty is $10,000 and if the taxpayer continues with failure to comply, the penalty can max out at $50,000 for each offense.
Therefore, most experts recommend that Americans who question whether or not they need to file this form consult with a professional tax preparer who specializes in expat taxes. Form 5471 must be filed by June 15 annually.
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