Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September 30, 2014 - Taxes for Expats

Note: This is my first sponsored post.  All details and opinions are mine alone.

You might not know this, but since we’ve moved to Dar I’ve been running a Facebook group for Expat Parents.  In theory it is a place where people can buy/sell their belongs upon coming or going, search for domestic staff, ask questions about where to go and what to do with their families while they are living in Dar.  I started the group with about 8 people (because I only knew 8 people) and it has grown to over 1,800 people now.  I am pretty strict about what I let people post – no stolen iPhones please! No hotel chains! – and Kristoffer has taken to calling me “the Dictator.”   I was actually “spotted” twice recently, approached by strangers who asked, “Are you Lisa from the Facebook group?!  Thank you so much!”  It is a helpful resource for those of us living here temporarily, even if it is an unpaid time-suck for me.

Which leads me to this story…

Earlier in the year I was approached by a company called Taxes for Expats (TFE) to find out if they could advertise in my Facebook group.  While I did say no (I told you I was strict!), it did lead me to have a longer conversation with the company about their services. Taxes for Expats is a company that provides expert, professional tax preparation services for expats.  In some ways I feel TFE was a Godsend because through messaging with one of their associates I learned that I have been really negligent in my taxes since becoming an expat.  Tax law for expats is extremely complicated and I was incredibly naïve.  I also learned that if Kristoffer ever wants to get his Greencard in the US, my tax negligence could definitely prevent that from happening.  Granted I didn’t owe very much money because I haven’t made very much money since leaving the US, but I did have some self-employment income that I hadn’t reported and should I get caught in the future my penalties might be higher than what I actually owed.  I also have some foreign bank accounts that I never reported, which is required by law.  Oops! Time to get on top of that as well.

With all of that in mind, I decided to hire TFE.  They have a few options for expats who have been negligent to get back in the good graces of the US Government.  For me, this was a “streamlined” package where they filed the last 3 years of taxes for me along with my foreign account reporting, and I was able to pay the small amount that I owed without penalty.  Now I am no longer delinquent, and TFE has all of my information to help me in the future.  Especially because I was never trying to deceive the government, I feel so much better now that I’m not delinquent anymore.

Once I signed up online, I was matched with a tax professional who asked for some information about me.  This required uploading some documents to my account on their website (past tax returns, for example) and some emailing back and forth before my guy identified just what I needed.  In the end he recommended a plan that was actually LESS than what I was expecting I would have to do.  I felt good that he wasn’t just trying to get me to buy their most expensive services.  He was knowledgeable, friendly over email, and extremely efficient in responding to all of my questions.  I knew what he was doing or what I was supposed to be doing at all times. 

All documents that I uploaded or that they prepared are available to me in my online account anytime.  Once he had everything from me, it took him about 10 days to prepare 3 years of tax returns and 6 years of foreign bank account disclosure.  I had time to review all documents, ask questions, and make changes before it was all finally finished.  In the end I could electronically sign for some things, but had to print and mail other documents directly to the federal government.  I didn’t have to pay TFE until I had agreed that all documents were final, and I was able to do so online.  The little I owed to the government was sent directly to the IRS.

One of the things I liked most about the company was that I was emailed by the President/Founder a number of items to check in with me and see how things were going, if I was happy with my accountant, etc.  She has been running the company for over 20 years with many happy customers; I think she is a real pro (at prepping taxes but also at customer service).

I have not looked into how the costs of TFE’s services compare to the costs of other tax preparation companies, but because I was so stressed about this and had no idea as to how I would even begin to fix the problem on my own, I was happy to hire them.   They have extensive reviews online, which you can find here, but know that I did no comparative research.

They also have a program where you can earn credit on referrals (so if you do business with them you could use me as your reference – go to this website - and I get $75 towards future tax preparation once you file your taxes.  Thanks in advance!) and I am earning credit for this blog as well.

TFE made the process of getting my taxes reorganized and updated extremely easy and the experience was MUCH less stressful than if I had attempted to do it on my own.  I’m always impressed by niche services that target a very specific need in the market and, in this case, I am relieved that I could benefit from such a service.  I highly recommend using this company if you’re in the same situation.

LMW

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