Can Cross-Border Tax Professionals Prepare U.S. Tax Filing Return For Impoverished Canadian Brad Smith For Only $300?

Recently, Mr. Brian Mahany on a TaxConnections Worldwide Tax Blog discussed costs of filing U.S. tax returns for duals living abroad and took issue with some statements on tax preparation fees made by Allison Christians in a CBC article.
Here is the CBC “Myth,” according to Mr. Mahany, followed by the Mahany “Fact”:

CBC “MYTH”: The annual cost of filing U.S. taxes can be “astronomical,” tax expert Allison Christians notes. Accounting firms estimate the cost of filing personal U.S. taxes can be anywhere from $500 to several thousand dollars.”
Mahany “FACT”: “I suppose if I were Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, the cost to prepare my tax return might be in the thousands. There are many very qualified CPA firms and expat tax services that prepare returns for dual nationals, including FBAR filings, for about $300. [We don’t prepare returns but can certainly send you to folks who do.]”

http://taxconnections.com/taxblog/cbc-distorts-fatca-facts/#.Uu6BlD1dWE4
I was also intrigued with Mr. Mahany’s statement that the U.S. has special rules on “trusts” such as RESP, RRSPs, and TFSAs, implying that these should be easy to deal with.
Several commenters took issue with Mahany, with one saying:

“Please, show me a competent accountant that will do a US tax return for $300 when RESPs. TFSAs, and Canadian mutual funds (outside of a RRSP) are involved. There is no such animal.”

I decided to pursue this question and asked Mr. Brad Smith, who might or might not be a composite character, to follow up with Mahany on this inexpensive $300 tax service. Brad is a 27 year old single Canadian resident and Canadian citizen living in Toronto who just discovered that he is a U.S citizen. Mr. Smith insists on entering into IRS tax compliance in order to pay, as he says, his “fair share”. He is unwilling to file returns on his own and refuses to renounce his new-found U.S. citizenship.
I selected Brad as he has a very simple tax situation: very low self-employment income ($19,000 annual), a single share of a Canadian mutual company (value $100), and $200 in a Canadian tax free savings account (TFSA).
—Brad corresponds with Mr. Mahany:
On the Tax blog, Brad asked Brian Mahany:

“Hi Brain [sic],
I just found out that I am a US person. You say that you can find a qualified CPA firm that will prepare my tax return for only $300 (including FBARS). This sounds pretty good to me.
What is the name of this CPA firm?
Thank you for your help. I will sleep a lot better tonight knowing that I can become IRS compliant at low cost.”

Mr. Mahany then sent Brad a private email disclosing the names of two tax professional companies that will be called below “Yellow Jacket” and “Boll Weevil.”
Brad then responded in a comment on the blog with lots of thanks, but Mr. Mahany removed from the response the personal details of Brad’s income and savings (TFSA, mutual fund) mentioned above. Brad’s response of thanks to Mr. Mahany:

‘Wow! Many thanks for getting back to me so quickly with the names of two companies, I will call both CPA companies on Monday and get quotes for preparing my tax return. You mentioned that the price depends on the situation, but my tax situation is simple [PERSONAL DETAILS DELETED BY TAX BLOG ADMINISTRATOR].
I will let everyone know on this post what I am quoted by the two companies. I really thought that the cost would be so much higher and thank you for helping me out.
I don’t ever want to be accused of being a tax cheat. I left the U.S. when I was two years old and have never returned but I am happy to pay my fair share.”

See:
https://taxconnections.com/taxblog/cbc-distorts-fatca-facts/#comment-976
—Brad discovers the true filing costs of IRS compliance:
Mr. Smith phoned both tax companies and obtained quotes over the phone. Yellow Jacket also has some costs listed on-line. You can imagine Brad’s disappointment when he discovered that costs for yearly U.S. citizenship compliance, given Brad’s very simple financial situation, were much higher than Mahany’s $300 estimate.
The costs from the two companies were similar and are shown below:
Yearly compliance cost                Yellow Jacket                      Boll Weevil
Basic cost IRS 1040                     $357                                     app. $400
TFSA (2 trust forms)                     $357                                     app. $400
Mutual fund (PFIC form)               $149                                     app. $250
FBAR                                             $67                                       app. $100
TOTAL                                         $930/year                             app. $1150/year
Mr. Smith also insisted on entering into one of the IRS “disclosure” programs. Both firms suggested that a “Quiet” IRS disclosure approach might be the way to go, but the cost was the same for “Quiet” and “Streamline” disclosures.

[Note, IRS helpfully advises: “Those taxpayers making “quiet” disclosures should be aware of the risk of being examined and potentially criminally prosecuted for all applicable years.”]

The costs for the disclosure were:
Yellow Jacket: basic return three years ($915), FBAR 6 years ($402), TFSA ($357 X 3 = $1071), Mutual Fund ($149 x 3 = $447) for a total of $2835 U.S.
Boll Weevil: basic return three years ($1200), FBAR 6 years ($600), TFSA ($1200), Mutual Fund ($750) for a total of $3750 U.S.
The costs of five years IRS compliance to exit the IRS system as an expatriate will be higher but this is not relevant for Brad.
—What are Brad’s options given the cost of IRS tax filings?
This is not a random sampling of tax firms but it does prove that using the companies Mr. Mahany has selected, and a Canadian-U.S dual who all must admit has a simple (impoverished) tax situation, US tax returns for people like Brad cannot be done cheaply.
What is striking is the high penalty (confiscation of savings) that must be paid by Brad for owning the tiniest of two harmless Canadian (i.e. “foreign”) retirement vehicles for which, in Brad’s case, the cost of compliance is actually more than the value of the TFSA and mutual fund FOR EVERY YEAR OF COMPLIANCE.

[But could any of us ever be comfortable in suggesting to Brad that he should give away his small retirement savings just because IRS deems it to be toxic—or in helping Brad become IRS compliant?]

Brad wants to be IRS compliant, but with his meager income knows that he will never be able to afford these costs, yet he refuses to part with his toxic Canadian mutual fund and TFSA because these were given to him by his family to help him in his retirement.
Brad is also unwilling to take a stab at filling out the IRS forms himself because he does not want to make a mistake. Even if Mr. Smith wanted to renounce U.S. citizenship (he tells me that he will never renounce) and exit the IRS system legally, he would never be able to afford the costs of five years IRS compliance.
Given Brad’s financial situation, IRS compliance costs, and his wishes, what are Mr. Smith’s options?

21 thoughts on “Can Cross-Border Tax Professionals Prepare U.S. Tax Filing Return For Impoverished Canadian Brad Smith For Only $300?

  1. What an excellent post! This was certainly needed to refute the statement by Brian Mahany at the “TaxConnections Blog, titled ‘CBC Distorts FATCA Facts’ “:
    quoting Mr. Mahany:
    CBC: “The annual cost of filing U.S. taxes can be “astronomical,” tax expert Allison Christians notes. Accounting firms estimate the cost of filing personal U.S. taxes can be anywhere from $500 to several thousand dollars.”
    FACT: I suppose if I were Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, the cost to prepare my tax return might be in the thousands. There are many very qualified CPA firms and expat tax services that prepare returns for dual nationals, including FBAR filings, for about $300. [We don’t prepare returns but can certainly send you to folks who do.]
    Obviously, Mr. Mahany didn’t do his homework before putting those words in his article! If he can prove otherwise and has is a reputable firm and knowledgeable CPA who can do international US tax returns without incurring PENALTIES for the person engaging his or her services, someone for $300 (a year?) to solve his “US tax compliance problems”, Mr. Many can do another blog post to prove for us this is possible.
    Some people may not relate to “Brad”. In reality, there will be a lot of Brad’s out there; his is not an uncommon life situation at all.
    Hopefully, most of the other “Brad’s” won’t be as headstrong as this Brad who wants to comply at any cost. Others should be able to see clearly that the only way they can have a normal life (now that FATCA comes across other-country borders where they live) is to either move back to the “homeland” or to expatriate — get rid of that extraneous US citizenship as the US taxes on citizenship, not residence. Anything like a normal unfettered tax life won’t be possible, unless a person is quite wealthy or the “off-shore company” he works for takes care of his US tax return and FBAR compliance. Were the US change to residence-based taxation, as the rest of the world (except the US and Eritrea), Brad and others like him would not have this expensive, life-changing problem.
    Thanks so much for researching to show the REAL COST US tax compliance will be for Brad Smith!
    I am going to cross-post your important message at IsaacBrockSociety.ca.

  2. Because Brad is a Canadian citizen, my personal(not legal advice!) suggestion is that he stay off the IRS radar. There is likely no reason for IRS to know about him.
    Brad’s Canadian citizenship is his best protection. CRA does not and will not collect penalties or taxes for IRS on any Canadian citizen.
    Why would Brad pay $1000 per year to tell a foreign government he doesn’t owe them any money?
    What kind of self-employment does Brad have? Is he a handy man, a musician, a video game developer, a computer geek, an interior designer or a film maker? Perhaps he has dreams of making it big in the USA one day. That could change everything.
    Also, the fees quoted seem low for self-employment income.

  3. Blaze,
    Brad is a part-time musician who has zero savings apart from his little TFSA and mutual fund. The Tax firms told him that a 1040 should be sufficient to file for low “self-employment income” and that he would probably not have to file as a business (I do not understand these issues). The tax firms would charge just the basic 1040 fee. He has no intention of ever going to the U.S. to work because he likes it here in Canada.
    I will speak to Brad later in the week regarding his plans, but I know that he is upset now because he wants to be compliant but cannot afford the $3000 to get into a disclosure program plus at least $1000 a year after that–forever.
    You suggest that he should stay off the IRS radar. I expect that Brad will probably do nothing, because there is nothing that he CAN do.

  4. Well, if Brad stays in Canada, he will be safe from the IRS.
    If Brad wants to be the next Justin Beiber and move to the US for fame and fortune, he will have problems if he doesn’t become compliant before then.
    I continue to be surprised at the fees quoted because I understood self-employment fees are much higher-even if the income is low.

  5. In the meantime, Brian Mahany, and others say and will continue to say:
    quote:
    It means time is running out. Lest anyone think we are needlessly crying wolf, the penalties to US taxpayers associated with failure to file an FBAR are huge and draconian. Under current banking law – not FATCA – the penalties are up to the greater of $100,000 OR 50% of the highest historical account balance. These are not hypothetical maximums; these are penalties routinely imposed by the IRS.
    There are ways to come into compliance and avoid those penalties but many options disappear if the IRS finds you first. What that means is that there are literally months left before the foreign banks will start handing over data about American account holders. The law extends to dual nationals, expats, foreign born Americans and even green card holders. If you are a U.S. citizen or a taxpayer and have an unreported foreign account or financial asset, you could be penalized.
    Each time we pen one of these articles, there is inevitably criticism aimed at the messenger. Unfortunately, the penalties are real, FATCA is real and so is the determination of the IRS and Justice Department to uncover unreported foreign accounts and missing FBARs. (An FBAR is a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts; the form Americans must file each year to declare their offshore accounts.)
    We have found that most taxpayers with unreported FBARs are not criminals looking to evade taxes. They are dual nationals, Americans living abroad, part time residents and those looking for the security of Swiss banks. The IRS, however, has a hard time distinguishing between the good and the bad.
    unquote
    This instills fear in Brad.
    His Canadian government needs to step up to the plate and tell Brad and all of us that we, as so-called ‘US Persons in Canada’ will have the same rights as ALL Canadians no matter where we are from or where our parents are from.
    In fact, we need our Canadian government to to stand up for all of their people in this way: My PARAMOUNT allegiance is to my country, Canada, and I want Canada to demand they have a PREDOMINANT claim on me [and on my adult son (and all others like him who would be otherwise ENTRAPPED into a US citizenship they never laid clam to in any way)]. I want them to say they have a PREDOMINANT claim on Brad too — on all of us so-called US Persons in Canada, with no interference from the US.

  6. $300 is above my budget. $75 is too much. $40 for a signed letter is expensive. 5$ is more than what needs to be spent. 0$ is not worth the filing trouble. Americans living abroad should paid money if they choose to be burdened with such filing nonsense.

  7. Meanwhile at Brock, http://isaacbrocksociety.ca/2014/02/02/allison-christians-was-right-mr-mahany-the-annual-cost-of-filing-u-s-taxes-can-be-astronomical-accounting-firms-estimate-the-cost-of-filing-personal-u-s-taxes-can-be-anywhere-f/
    IMPORTANT UPDATE, February 3, 2014:
    WhiteKat, a close friend of Brad’s, is helping him contact Brain. Here is WhiteKat’s comment on behalf of Brad (Brad’s comment seemed to be blocked at TaxConnections.com for some reason) — and my reply: http://taxconnections.com/taxblog/cbc-distorts-fatca-facts/#comment-1027
    WhiteKat
    February 3, 2014 at 9:27 am
    Mr. Mahany, Brad Smith asked me to post this because he seems to be blocked from your site. Can you help him please!:
    “Brian, I called the two tax firms you recommended, but both quoted me three-four times your estimated $300 filing cost. I have practically no income and just a bit of savings. I’m getting seriously scared. I want to pay my fair share and even though I live in Canada I fear that IRS will arrest me and put me in jail.
    These companies tell me that it will cost me a LOT of money to file past returns even though I owe no tax! Something is really wrong here. No way I’m a tax crook. I have hardly any money which is not my fault. What can I do? Brain, PLEASE HELP!”
    Reply
    calgary411
    February 3, 2014 at 9:39 am
    Although many will not relate to Brad’s situation, there will, in fact, be countless so affected.
    As McGill law professor, Allison Christians, points out in blog post “Citizenship-Based Taxation and Taxpayer Rights Don’t Mix”:
    “It is another to say to other countries–and much less individuals in other countries–if people who live in your country have US status AS WE DEFINE IT, you are harboring potential criminals and you must help us find them and enforce our claim over them even if your government also claims them and even if our claim conflicts with your government’s own law.” … which is more “entitled USA” hogwash and US collateral damage to Brad and so many others, in the process destroying individuals and families.

  8. Where does Brad live? If he is close to London, Ontario, he is invited to attend our information session on Saturday.
    If not, there are sessions being planned for Waterloo, Vancouver and Montreal.

  9. WhiteKat
    February 3, 2014 at 9:27 am
    Mr. Mahany, Brad Smith asked me to post this because he seems to be blocked from your site. Can you help him please!
    Changed by the TaxConnections.com Administrator to:
    “Mr. Mahany, The gentlemen you spoke with earlier asked me to post this. Can you help him please!:

  10. Belatedly added a comment on the article,
    Chiming in a bit late, but… I am one of the ‘very, very few people who didn’t know’. At the time I became a Canadian citizen (1976), Canadian law prohibited dual citizenship and the U.S. law, as I understood, simply didn’t recognize it. Therefore, I thought I was giving up US citizenship decades ago and it certainly never occurred to me that the US would ever consider me a citizen.
    My spouse is one of the affected that you didn’t mention. Simply by being married to me, my spouse is affected. If I were to file FBARs, it would have to include private financial information on a Canadian citizen since we have joint accounts. He’s not agreeable to sending his private financial information to a foreign government.

  11. I mentioned in another blog how many Expats could have unintentionally amassed several holdings in local mutual funds and thus be liable to significant accounting fees if having to file several years of 8621s, especially if someone held a portfolio of ten or fifteen funds, etc. Fees can start at $250-$500 PER PFIC so one getting back into compliance via Streamlined with ten mutual fund holdings might have to pay $7500-$15,000 just to properly complete three or four years of those forms!!! And to make matters worse, they could wind up owing significant PFIC taxation on phantom gains, just as I did.
    I believe that, contrary to popular assumptions, that many Expats could thus wind up owing double taxation of several thousand on top of the accounting fees, especially if they’ve held mutual funds for many years and/or multiple holdings. Ditto for people like Bubblebustin, who wound up owing significant capital gains taxes on the sale of their primary residence. All this is part of why I believe the US will use FATCA to squeeze double taxation out of US Persons settled abroad….

  12. Will there be an information sharing session in Calgary or a way to contact someone to obtain information on a reliable CPA that does not charge extortionate fees? After speaking to an acquaintance in the USA I find CPAs in Canada are charging 10 times the price charged in the USA for similar work. I don’t know any US citizens or persons to obtain information. I have completed the amnesty program and have been depressed every since. I feel as if I was forced to repurchase a US citizenship by doing the amnesty program (I was told this was my only option), the citizenship I lost when I became a Canadian citizen decades ago. I am retired and now need to conserve my remaining retirement savings (because of the cost of amnesty). All my retirement savings were earned in Canada and with taxes fully paid in Canada. I find it stressful enough as a senior to prepare for Canadian tax returns, but to prepare for tax returns for a country I haven’t lived in for over 45 years and to which I never visit, for a country who took my citizenship from me decades ago only so I can live a life without looking over my shoulder for fear the US will take these savings is not fair. All the phone numbers I have tried to use from the IRS site only work from inside the USA. We, who do not live in the USA, have no support from the USA to allow us to be properly informed. It is impossible to make sure the information I have is correct. I have never been a tax cheat and get upset when I find we are called tax cheats in the newspapers even though we pay our taxes.Why do I have to pay taxes for a citizenship I have already lost? I need information for a better quality of life. I want my Canadian life back.

  13. Will there be an information sharing session in Calgary or a way to contact someone to obtain information on a reliable CPA that does not charge extortionate fees? After speaking to an acquaintance in the USA I find CPAs in Canada are charging 10 times the price charged in the USA for similar work. I don’t know any US citizens or persons in Canada to obtain information. I have completed the amnesty program and have been depressed every since. I feel as if I was forced to repurchase a US citizenship by doing the amnesty program ( the only option I was informed I had), the citizenship I lost when I became a Canadian citizen decades ago. I now need to conserve my remaining retirement savings, all earned in Canada and with taxes fully paid in Canada. I need information for a better quality of life. I want my Canadian life back. Why do we have to pay taxes when we lost our citizenships years ago?

  14. @depressed,
    There is not an information session of this series here YET.
    What do you mean by ‘I feel as if I was forced to repurchase a US citizenship by doing the amnesty program (I was told this was my only option), the citizenship I lost when I became a Canadian citizen decades ago.’? That you went into OVDP or OVDI?
    I am in Calgary, also a retiree. I have renounced my US citizenship. As a start, if you want to get together for a coffee or have a phone conversation, please leave a comment at http://isaacbrocksociety.ca/2014/01/14/solving-the-problems-of-u-s-citizenship-information-sessions/. Don’t leave any identifying information in your comment — just use the same pseudonym, “depressed”. I am there, as here, “calgary411” and I will be able to contact you from the comment you leave there.
    I would also encourage you to read here: http://citizenshipsolutions.ca/

  15. I just returned from the London Information session. It was informative, helpful but also scary to some people.
    There were about 45 people there. All seemed to be of nearing retirement or in early retirement. John said that is the common demographic at most sessions.
    I will post the answers to some of the questions people here asked me to ask.
    I will also do a synopsis of the session, but that will need to wait a few days. I’m going to chill out tonight and try to do the same tomorrow. I also have a few other FATCA projects on the go for next week, but I will do the synopsis as soon as I am able
    FYI In addition to the ones already announced, John is planning to do sessions in North Bay and Halifax. No dates have been set yet. I will alert him to the fact someone in Calgary has also asked about one there.

  16. I used these guys: bspcpa (dot com) in Buffalo, all handled remotely and it worked fine. It was USD$2000 for the streamlined compliance and going forward it will be USD$475 annually. Included basic income, TFSA, RSP, FBAR, tax return. It’s not as low as Brad’s desired $300, but far better than the annual sum calculated in the above post.

  17. Going to a C.A./CPA firm you will never get $300 for self employment, the 8621 form for the pfic, and the 3520/3520A for the TFSA. Despite being a very simple situation, the forms are time consuming and most CPAs have overhead and staff and they cannot run a business unless they charge a higher fee. If you are looking for something cheaper you will have to look for a sole proprietor who has very little overhead. Also if you are looking for a cheaper route you need to consider not working with a CPA as their rates are high, and for good reason as they are very qualified. However for simpler situations a CPA could be overkill. I recommend trying to find a qualified sole proprietor in your area who can file US returns. Anyone authorized to file US returns needs to have a PTIN number issued by the IRS and the IRS has a PTIN directory where you can search for someone local in your area. Find those people and call around for quotes. I know someone who does basic returns, even does the streamlined forms, for a very reasonable fee, so if you look around you can find them! Good luck!

  18. Any advice on someone in Montreal who can prepare a US return?
    Trying to avoid having this done in the states for $500USD.
    Thanks!

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