How do you know if you need to file an FBAR as an American expat?

How do you know if you need to file an FBAR as an American expat?

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With autumn well on its way, it's time to think about all things pumpkin spice, Halloween, and the FBAR. FBAR, or Foreign Bank Account Report, is mandatory to file for many Americans living in the Netherlands. Knowing which forms you need to file and when can be overwhelming. Nathalie Goldstein from MyExpatTaxes explains how to know if you need to file and gives some tips for getting it done before the October 15th deadline.

If you're reading this, you're probably living your best life abroad, soaking in new experiences, cultures, and cuisines. Amid all the excitement, it's important to remember that your responsibilities as a US citizen don't end at the border. And that means filing your FBAR. 

Don't let the acronym scare you - we're here to break it down in the friendliest way possible and help you figure out if you need to file. By the way, even if you don't need to file US taxes, you may need to file the FBAR!

What is FBAR?

First off, what actually is FBAR? While many associate the FBAR with their US taxes, the truth is, it's not a tax form at all. The form you need to file for the FBAR is FinCEN Form 114. FinCEN – short for Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, is part of the Department of the Treasury, not the IRS.

In essence, the FBAR requires US citizens living abroad (yep, that's you) to report their foreign financial accounts if the total value of those accounts (combined) hits or exceeds 10.000 US dollars at any point during a calendar year.

And what counts as a "Foreign Financial Account"? 

Next: what the heck are "foreign financial accounts"? These accounts include but aren't limited to:

  • Bank accounts: Yep, you've set up those checking and savings accounts in your new country.
  • Investment accounts: If you've ventured into stocks, mutual funds, or bonds abroad, these fall under the foreign financial account umbrella.
  • Retirement and pension accounts: Certain retirement or pension accounts count too. If you're socking away money for your golden years, take note.
  • Life insurance policies: Some types of life insurance or annuity policies with cash value are also part of the deal.
  • Online accounts: While cryptocurrency wallets don’t count (yet), any other non-US online financial account should be added to your FBAR. 

Who needs to file an FBAR?

If you're wondering if you need to file, consider the following key points:

  • The 10.000-dollar rule: If the total maximum value of your foreign financial accounts crosses or touches 10.000 US dollars at any time during the year, you've got some filing to do.
  • It's about the total: It's not just about one account. If your combined accounts' total value hits that magic 10.000-dollar mark, it's FBAR time.
  • Temporary spikes count: Even if the value went up only briefly, like during that unexpected windfall or vacation splurge, it still counts.
  • Joint accounts: Do you have joint accounts with someone who isn’t American? They count too.
  • Exchange rates: Remember, we're talking in good ol' US dollars here. So, when converting foreign currency, make sure you're using official Treasury rates or other approved methods.
  • Reporting deadline: The FBAR is due on April 15 of the year following the calendar year you're reporting on. But wait, there's more! You get an automatic extension until October 15 if life gets busy.
  • No skipping allowed: Ignoring your FBAR duties might result in some less-than-friendly penalties. We're talking fines and even criminal charges, folks. It's best to play by the rules.
  • Remember your kids: If your kids have accounts to which you have a signature, you will need to report that on your FBAR too. Plus, if your kids are US citizens, they'll also need an FBAR filed on their behalf.

What about when you take the leap and file your FBAR?

If you've read the above and decided you need to file your FBAR, there's no time like the present. Don't panic! It's more manageable than it sounds. You'll be filing electronically with FinCEN, and there's a wealth of resources and user-friendly guides to help you through the process. 

  1. Stay organized: Keep track of your accounts and their balances throughout the year. This will make the reporting process a breeze.
  2. Double-check your math: When calculating the combined value of your accounts, make sure you're using the correct exchange rates.
  3. Ask for help: If you need more clarification on something, feel free to reach out to tax professionals or financial advisors who specialize in international taxation.
  4. Keep records: Retain copies of your filed FBARs, just in case. It's always good to have a paper trail.

Stay on top of your FBAR!

There's nothing quite like the experience of living abroad, but it does come with some additional responsibilities, like taking care of both your Dutch and American tax affairs - including keeping Uncle Sam in the loop about your foreign financial accounts. The FBAR process might sound overwhelming at first, but armed with this friendly guide, you're well-equipped to navigate the world of foreign financial reporting. Remember, it's all about transparency and playing by the rules, which ultimately contributes to a more secure global financial system. So, go ahead and enjoy your international journey while staying FBAR savvy!

MyExpatTaxes was created by expats for expats. Now, they’re making FBAR filing easier than ever with MyExpatFBAR. Even if you don't need to file US Taxes, you can use MyExpatFBAR to file and have your questions answered by a real human. Try it out today!

Nathalie Goldstein


Nathalie Goldstein

Nathalie, CEO of MyExpatTaxes, is an American expat living in Vienna, Austria making her a customer of her own product. She believes that everyone should be empowered to save time,...

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