File or flee

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

While nearly all of us have said – one time or another – we’re mad about something and want to move to another country, few of us have packed up for the trip. But, last year, not only did a record number of Americans flee the good ol’ U.S. of A., they also renounced their citizenship. Just quit!

The exact number – 2,999 – is 217% more than the year before.

It’s likely some left with hurt political feelings. But the Treasury Department blames three other things: increased awareness of an obligation to file U.S. tax returns by U.S. citizens and U.S. “tax residents” living outside this country; the ever-increasing burden of complying with our tax laws and fear generated by the potentially bankrupting penalties for failure to file tax returns when an individual holds substantial non-U.S. assets.

In other words – they reason – file or flee.

This country is one a very few requiring its citizens permanently living abroad to continue filing returns and paying taxes in the nation of citizenship. And the policy is very actively pursued. In 2009, UBS Bank of Switzerland was fined $700 million for providing services to more than 4,000 U.S. account holders on the tax evasion list. Department of Justice and other fed agencies regularly publicize names of banks and other sources who aid in hiding wealth of Americans as well as the names of the “hiders.”

Filing forms are quite complicated and there are lots of ‘em. Next year, the recently enacted Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act will require foreign financial institutions to report accounts and other holdings of American citizens to the I.R.S. Every year.

So, a lot of folks with a lot of assets decided to pack up and leave. For good. And a lot of ‘em paid a large “exit tax” on their way out the door.

Now I’m a long, long way from being a financial “heavy hitter” and certainly don’t have the counsel of high-priced folks to advise how to handle weighty money matters. But, it seems to me, there must be some other way of resolving international tax matters with Uncle Sam besides telling him to “go to Hell” and skipping the country of your birth. I mean, if Mitt Romney can still live in four states with all the foreign deposits we know he has, there must be ways of dealing with our tax laws besides quitting.

And it’s not just the wealthy all upset about things these days. The W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University did some extensive research which showed a lot of us are damned mad and damned angry about certain things. Their “customer rage” investigation found 68% of American households mad about the way they’re being treated in the marketplace. It found instances of yelling and cursing customer “service” representatives at an all-time high. Yelling alone up 36%! Swearing, too.

Among those actually complaining about something, 56% felt they got absolutely no help. And what category of service enraged customers the most, you ask? Cable and satellite TV providers. Unhappy folks doing the calling said it wasn’t government issues that got them all upset. It was problems stemming from private companies.

Now, I’ve got to admit, if I got really, REALLY mad about something, I wouldn’t leave the country over it. Of course, if I had Romney’s money, I wouldn’t be doing the calling, either. So, maybe money DOES buy happiness.

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