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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello everyone,
I am a regular Spaniard who happened to be born in the US. I left the US when I was 2 months old, never been there since then and my parents are not US citizens, but I have US citizenship, a SSN and US passport, so I guess I must fill taxes as every other american. I have just recently learned these crazy tax obligations for US citizens living abroad, and I am a little bit worried about it.

I believe my case should be really simple as I am just 26 years old, and I have worked just for 4 or 5 years, everything in Spain, no US income at all. I also don't have a lot of money, so I guess that is in my favor. I am collecting all the information of the last years (3 years for incomes, and 6 years for bank accounts) in order to follow the Streamlined procedure.

I don't have any problem filling the FBAR forms, as it is a quite straightforward form. However, filling the 1040 forms is very confusing to me.

- My income for 2012 is approximately $22000. I have filled the 2555-EZ "Foreign Earned Income Exclusion" first, in order to exclude my foreign incomes, but I don't know what to do next. Is the 1040 form the right one? There are other variants (1040X, 1040NR) and it is confusing to me. Assuming it is the 1040, I don't know what to do next. Is there any example of a filled 1040 form?

- I have a really small income from savings accounts, approximately $20 in interests. Although it is a very small quantity, I guess I should report it. Of course, these incomes are taxed by Spain (approx. 20% of taxes). How I do report these incomes and the Spanish taxes on them? As far as I know, this income is not covered by the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.

- I guess I also have to do the same procedure for previous years (2011, 2010 and 2009). Should I use the 1040 form for those years?

- I want to use the "Married filling separately" status, as I am married to a Spanish woman, who has no relation at all to the US. I don't want to involve her in this madness. I read in some places that it is Ok to do this, but I want to be sure.

That's it. I haven't any other income, and as you can see, it is a very modest income. But I just want to be free of problems and I guess now is the right time to do it. I expect to owe nothing, as my incomes are low and taxed here in Spain.

Thank you very much in advance :)

Regards from the sunny Spain!

PS: Please excuse my English, it is not my mother tongue :p
 

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Frankly, I wouldn't bother doing the back filings if I were you. File the 2012 forms and just continue doing so going forward. At the age of 26, it's entirely likely that you may not have even had to file in prior years.

OK, you've done the 2555-EZ, now, on the line that tells you to transfer the number to a certain line on the 1040, do that. You can only file a 1040 (what used to be called "long form") if you're excluding your earned income via the 2555.

For examples of the forms filled out, download Publication 54 from the IRS website. www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p54.pdf‎ Toward the back of the publication there are some sample forms (though most of them are far more complicated than anything you'll need).

You should file as "married, filing separately" - in the spaces that ask for your wife's name and social security number, just fill in NRA (for non-resident alien). You do not need to give her name, nor to apply for an ITIN for her if she has no connection to the US.

As far as the savings account interest, just report it on line 8a of the 1040. Follow down the form to the last line, where you should wind up with just your interest income as your "AGI" (Adjusted Gross Income). Transfer this number over to the top line on the back side (or second page) of the 1040 and then take your personal exemption and the standard deduction and that should give you negative taxable income, which means you owe nothing.

Sign and date the forms and mail them in.
Cheers,
Bev
 

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Another option is to visit TaxAct.com to create a PDF version of your 2012 tax forms, including Form 1040. TaxAct is free (for the basic service, which is all you need) and rather easy to use. Then you can print out the PDF files, sign and date them, and mail them in -- all very simple to do. You can use the 2012 form as a model for filling in the 2009, 2010, and 2011 forms if you'd like to do that.

If you don't owe any U.S. tax for those tax years then it doesn't really matter whether you file since there's no penalty. I think I mostly agree with Bev on that point, but I'd just recommend quickly checking those tax years to make sure you don't owe anything. Most probably you won't owe anything if your situation was similar to what you describe for 2012.

Are you sure you have to fill out the FBARs? That's only required when your non-U.S. financial account balances had a total value of US$10,000 at any time during the year. That's certainly possible with an annual income of US$22,000 but not too common. Your spouse's accounts don't typically count unless you actually control them, such as a joint account with your name also attached to the account.

If you want to deduct the 20% tax you paid on your bank interest then you would use the Foreign Tax Credit (FTC). But I wouldn't worry about that if that's your only other income because you're not going to owe U.S. tax on $20 of bank interest, even Married Filing Separately.

HOWEVER, I think you're a prime candidate for doing better than zero with the U.S. government. Now I'm going to start to get "fancy," but it's definitely something to think about....

If you have money to save for retirement, or you expect to have money to save for retirement in 2013 and future years, you may want to consider skipping the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) and instead using the Foreign Tax Credit. You can make that decision now since you haven't chosen either the FEIE or the FTC. Spain generally has a higher tax rate than the U.S. it appears, so the FTC should fully shield your income from U.S. tax.

The primary reasons you may wish to consider using the FTC instead of the FEIE are:

1. If you have a U.S. citizen child, you should be able to qualify for the Additional Child Tax Credit. You may also qualify for the Making Work Pay Tax Credit which was available in prior tax years (2009 and 2010). These are refundable tax credits, meaning you could actually collect money from the U.S. government! (Who said being a U.S. citizen was a bad thing? ;) Sometimes it's very, very good.) The MWPTC, for example, was worth up to US$400 per year, so you might be able to get US$800 from the U.S. government if you file 2009 and 2010 tax returns and use the FTC instead of the FEIE. (You could get more if you have a U.S. citizen child.)

2. In 2013 and in the future, if you have money to save for retirement, you should strongly consider opening a Roth IRA account in the U.S. This too requires that you have earned income not subject to the FEIE, but the FTC is OK. So, why is a Roth IRA useful if you can save? Well, as long as you follow the Roth IRA rules and keep all the money in your account until retirement, all the gains on that money will be free of U.S. tax. And according to the new memorandum of understanding between the U.S. and Spain that was just signed in January, 2013, Roth IRA gains should be free of Spanish taxes as well. There are low-cost Roth IRA fund managers such as Vanguard with low-cost funds. "Low cost" here means probably the lowest cost in the world, because U.S. financial markets tend to be very efficient and very attractive to U.S. citizens.

I did say I was getting fancy here, but these are definitely steps to consider in your situation. To summarize, with just a little bit of care in how you file you could probably get paid US$800 from the U.S. government if you file your taxes starting from tax year 2009. Don't take the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (Form 2555) but instead take the Foreign Tax Credit. Then, if you have some money you can save for retirement, you've got a way to save with zero tax on the gains as long as you follow the rules.

To get the MWPTC you would file Schedule M with your tax forms for 2009 and 2010. If you had earned income (from work) of at least US$6,451 per year it looks like you would qualify for the full US$400 each year (US$800 total). For the record you could double that payment (to US$1600) if your spouse earns at least the same amount of money but not a huge amount and if you choose Married Filing Jointly. However, MFJ is a whole other set of considerations, and she may decide she doesn't want to share her information with the U.S. government, even if she gets paid US$800 to do it. That's a tough decision, though: US$800 is a lot of money if you're making US$22,000 per year, so that's why I mention it just in case she decides to grab it.

Anyway, you have lots of options here. To net it out again, I think you can do better than zero at least for tax years 2009 and 2010. Please make sure you file very soon since the 2009 refundable tax credits will no longer be available unless your tax forms arrive at the IRS on or before June 15, 2013. June 15, 2013, marks three years since your 2009 tax forms were due (since you were a U.S. expatriate living outside the U.S.), and that's the absolute maximum amount of time allowed for claiming a refund. (In this case the "refund" would be your MWPTC payment.) Be sure to follow the correct procedure for indicating that you are a U.S. expatriate living outside the U.S. and that you are subject to the later June 15th deadline, because that will be important in calculating the three year time limit. Specifically, you must attach a letter to your tax form. Normally this wouldn't be important since you're filing so late, but in this case it's very important for tax year 2009 to get that MWPTC payment.

OK, I'll stop there. Good luck!
 

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A couple notes of caution here on all those nifty ideas BBCWatcher has just proposed:

First of all, for a non-resident "accidental" American to begin filing primarily to claim refundable tax credits, I think you will definitely draw some level of attention to your returns. This may not matter now, but a few years down the line, it could come back to haunt you. Just saying.

On the Roth IRA, one factor to consider is that you will be at the mercy of both market performance and exchange rate fluctuation over the period of time that your money is invested. Just talk to anyone who had either a Roth or a standard IRA at the time of the banking crisis a few years ago. Most folks saw their investment drop by half - and if they were counting on it for retirement at that time, they really took a financial beating. Those of us who we in that situation are only just now getting our account balances back up to where they were before the fall. It also used to be the case that you could NOT open a Roth IRA if you file married filing separately - but that may have changed by now.

On the matter of filing separately vs. jointly, just remember that to file jointly with your NRA spouse, she must have a US ITIN (taxpayer i.d. number). It's a bit late this year to apply for and get an ITIN if you hope to file by the June 15th deadline. (That's the deadline for your return to arrive at the IRS, not the postmark date for mailing the return.)

Also, if you decide to go the Foreign tax credit route, remember that you will have to continue to use that for at least 3 years going forward, because you are deemed to have "renounced" your right to take the FEIE (i.e. the form 2555 exclusion of earned income). That's explained in Publication 54, which you should probably take a look at before you make any decisions.
Cheers,
Bev
 

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The original poster is 26 and won't be able to withdraw Roth IRA savings until age 59 1/2 for his retirement. He's got a minimum of 33 years to see his savings grow. He can choose whichever funds he wishes, including funds which are highly correlated with euro-dollar movements (such as a low cost European stock index fund) and/or extremely safe (but also low yielding) government bond funds. (I would not recommend the latter in a tax advantaged account with a 33+ year time horizon.) He's the *perfect* candidate for a Roth IRA if he has money to save for retirement. It's really hard to beat *international* tax free treatment of gains -- assuming savings for retirement, of course.

However, I agree with the point about married filing separately being an obstacle to contributing to a Roth IRA. That is true. There's a solution to that problem: the so-called "backdoor Roth IRA." That is, it's possible to make a nondeductible Traditional IRA contribution (to a money market fund for example) then immediately roll that over (100%) into a Roth IRA. You only need earned income and there are no income limits, but you can't contribute from income that has been shielded by the FEIE.

We're getting pretty fancy here, but the Roth part can wait even if the original poster decides to do it. (Collecting the $800 is more urgent.) The deadline to complete a backdoor Roth for 2013 is not until April 15, 2014, so there's plenty of time to decide whether to do it.
 

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I'm not going to debate you on the wisdom of any sort of IRA, Roth or not. However, I will say that as a long-time holder of a traditional IRA fund back in the US, it can be a royal PITA to try to ride herd on your investments at distance.

The argument I get from all the folks online is that, "oh, with the Internet, it's easy" - but unless you really have the interest and the commitment to follow your investments back in the US (and they have to be back in the US - you can't use foreign investments in an IRA), you might as well take your money and head to Vegas. And I say that as a trained accountant who can actually read a balance sheet and understand all the financial gobbledygook that passes for financial reporting. For someone without the business or financial training, the Vegas analogy is even more appropriate.

Over in the France section, we've had some sometimes heated discussions about people who appear to be trying to "cash in" on some of the French benefits without having paid into the system. I think it's fair to assume that US taxpayers might feel some justified resentment towards non-resident taxpayers taking advantage of these sorts of loopholes in the system when they have never paid US taxes and are unlikely to start doing so in the future. It's up to the individual whether or not they feel compelled to work the system in that manner, or if they mainly just want to meet their responsibilities as a citizen.
Cheers,
Bev
 

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I think in this case we can safely regard it as karmic payback for all the crap the US puts its non-resident citizens through.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
First of all, thank you for your prompt and instructive response. I still have some small questions:

Frankly, I wouldn't bother doing the back filings if I were you. File the 2012 forms and just continue doing so going forward. At the age of 26, it's entirely likely that you may not have even had to file in prior years.
But I don't understand...I thought, or at last that was my impression, that independently if I owe anything, I did have to file my taxes every year, as my gross income from worlwide sources is more than $3800 (in the case of MFS). I have been working for 4 or 5 years, and I have always made more than that (not a lot more, as you can see :D).

As far as the savings account interest, just report it on line 8a of the 1040. Follow down the form to the last line, where you should wind up with just your interest income as your "AGI" (Adjusted Gross Income). Transfer this number over to the top line on the back side (or second page) of the 1040 and then take your personal exemption and the standard deduction and that should give you negative taxable income, which means you owe nothing.

Sign and date the forms and mail them in.
OK, so in line 38 I have the AGI (the interest income, $20), line 40 is $5950, line 41 is then -$5930, line 42 is 0 (no exemptions), and line 43 is then 0. Everything from that will be 0, right?

It seems that in my case (MFS) the standard deduction is $5950. Does this mean that for the next years, assuming I keep below the FEIE threshold for my earned income, I can deduct until $5950 in interest income? If that is the case, I can sleep peacefully for many years, as I don't foresee changing this situation in a lot of time...

The only thing I forgot to mention in the first post is that I bought an apartment when I got married. Of course, all the money came from a mortgage because I didn't have anything at that time. I guess that this doesn't have any tax implication, but I mention it just in case.

Kind regards,
V.C.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Wow! Quite a long and interesting response :) Thank you for taking your time in replying.

Are you sure you have to fill out the FBARs? That's only required when your non-U.S. financial account balances had a total value of US$10,000 at any time during the year. That's certainly possible with an annual income of US$22,000 but not too common. Your spouse's accounts don't typically count unless you actually control them, such as a joint account with your name also attached to the account.
Unfortunately, I had moved the money between accounts, so technically I surpass the FBAR threshold. I also have joint accounts with my spouse, and most of our money was there. I also had a positive balance of $30.000 three years ago in one account during the stablishment of my mortgage....it lasted just some minutes, but I guess that, technically, I surpassed the threshold for that year. This FBAR thing is really a PITA....

HOWEVER, I think you're a prime candidate for doing better than zero with the U.S. government. Now I'm going to start to get "fancy," but it's definitely something to think about....
I must say that all the procedure you mention here is very interesting and tempting. However, as Bev has mentioned, it may look a little bit suspicious, given my situation.
Besides, it would be an ethical issue for me....claiming money from the US, not having any relation at all with them. But anyway, very very interesting....

Thank you for the response :)

Regards,
V.C.
 

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I don't know why Americans collecting refundable tax credits is "suspicious." Congress and the President knew exactly what they were doing with the Making Work Pay Tax Credit (and the Earned Income Tax Credit). They want to encourage people to work, even if it means a low income job, rather than not work. And the financial crisis meant the U.S. economy was threatened, so they decided to give practically everybody in the working poor and middle class $400 per year for two years. This isn't a loophole or anything sneaky, it's what every American was expected to enjoy if they qualified, and it's also yours if you file for it. There are millions of Americans every year who receive money from the government through the EITC (another refundable tax credit), and you're an American. Take the money. It's yours, seriously. The government wanted you to have this because the whole global economy was crashing. (And have you noticed Spain's unemployment rate?)

Look, if Mitt Romney is paying 9% or less in taxes, I urge you to collect the $800 you're owed while making a whopping $22,000 per year. I pay U.S. taxes, and I'd much rather my dollars go to you than to maintain Romney's ridiculously low effective tax bracket. Take the (bleep) money. ;)

With respect to managing your investments from afar, no, I think you're way off base on that Bev. If the original poster has money he's willing to dedicate to retirement savings, he should exhaust his tax free savings options first. The Roth IRA is that. Now, to make it really simple, he could simply invest that money in the appropriate Vanguard "Target" index fund. At his age the Target 2050 fund is probably the right one. So every year he can save he'd just put money into that fund. And he has absolutely nothing else to do. The fund is extremely low cost, it's an index fund, and the fund will automatically shift from stocks to bonds as it gets closer to the year 2050 based on a passive mathematical formula. It's a "fire and forget" investment, truly. The rest of his savings should be euro-focused (since presumably he'll be living in Europe, and since there's a little bit of currency risk -- not much though since it's a multinational stock-heavy fund right now).

If he can save for retirement it's by far the best thing he can do to save given the Roth's tax free treatment in both countries and the cheap autopilot Vanguard "Target" fund available. Just no question about it.
 

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Adding a couple more thoughts, General Electric is one of the biggest and most profitable corporations in the world, and they pay zero U.S. tax. (Actually GE gets money from the U.S. government.)

Look, being an American is not being a member of a suicide club. Sometimes Americans help each other out, and sometimes they do that through the tax code. In 2008 Americans, through their elected representatives, decided they needed to get cash into the hands of American workers with modest incomes, and the way they did that was through the tax system and the MWPTC. At approximately the same time when I was living in Japan the government of Japan sent me free money. These were stimulus measures to save the economies from collapsing, and they at least softened the blow and made the crash less severe. The government wanted this cash to be accepted and spent. There's nothing unethical, amoral, or otherwise unseemly about this -- it's a club benefit offered to all Americans with modest earned incomes.

I suggest getting past the guilt because I can't imagine why you should feel that way. You were born in the U.S. so you're a member of the American club for life and at 100%. That club membership comes with certain responsibilities (such as a lifetime of tax-related filings) but also certain privileges (like $800 cash when the economy is crashing and needs saving, and when you're not wealthy). Why on earth would any member of any club only take the burdens without taking the benefits they're entitled?

Take the money, and congratulations. Then go spend it on something America exports, donate it to an American charity, or save it in a Roth IRA.
 

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But I don't understand...I thought, or at last that was my impression, that independently if I owe anything, I did have to file my taxes every year, as my gross income from worlwide sources is more than $3800 (in the case of MFS). I have been working for 4 or 5 years, and I have always made more than that (not a lot more, as you can see :D).
If you want to be scrupulously honest, then go ahead and file your back returns for any of the years where your total income exceeded the threshold. In your situation, I really doubt the IRS is going to check one way or another. (Their mythical powers really don't extend outside the US much.) Given that you owe nothing for any of those years, they probably won't even check the math on your returns.

OK, so in line 38 I have the AGI (the interest income, $20), line 40 is $5950, line 41 is then -$5930, line 42 is 0 (no exemptions), and line 43 is then 0. Everything from that will be 0, right?

It seems that in my case (MFS) the standard deduction is $5950. Does this mean that for the next years, assuming I keep below the FEIE threshold for my earned income, I can deduct until $5950 in interest income? If that is the case, I can sleep peacefully for many years, as I don't foresee changing this situation in a lot of time...
Yup. Ain't it great!?

The only thing I forgot to mention in the first post is that I bought an apartment when I got married. Of course, all the money came from a mortgage because I didn't have anything at that time. I guess that this doesn't have any tax implication, but I mention it just in case.
The only tax implications of a mortgage would be the ability to deduct your mortgage interest IF you were itemizing your deductions. But given that the standard deduction more than eliminates your tax obligation, why bother?

The US tax system is complicated enough when you get into the ranks of the rich and well-to-do. For those of us of more modest means (and non-resident in the US) probably best to use the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid).
Cheers,
Bev
 

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BBCWatcher, you're welcome to take the stance that you should scrounge for every penny you have coming back to you. My take is that things like the EITC are mere oversights on the part of Congress. Most Congressional Reps have no idea that they have constituents resident outside the US, and on most legislation they never bother to think about the impact on overseas taxpayers, positive or negative.

The stimulus payments only seemed to work (in my case anyhow) for one year, not two. And I was headed for the US shortly after the check arrived, so yes, I spent my $300 (and the $300 my Dad received) back in the US of A like they wanted. I tried to help a friend here collect her $300, but because of an error made by her son on her tax filing for the relevant year, she was turned down (and apparently they wouldn't allow you to qualify based on an amended return). However, in both my case and hers, we had paid US income taxes for several years when we lived in the US - and I will pay more US taxes in the future when I take my retirement benefits from the US.

The other factor here is the principle I learned in business school - namely that you never make business or personal finance decisions based solely on the tax side of things. If the OP needs to start saving for retirement, he should look into all the various plans and options available to him, regardless of the tax implications, and then factor in the tax side of things along with all the other factors to consider. Given the extra effort involved in some of these tax deals, it may ultimately not be the best option, all relevant matters considered. And for many of us, dispatching with our US tax filing obligation in the simplest and quickest manner is well worth the possible "sacrifice" of a couple hundred $ we might qualify for.
Cheers,
Bev
 

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None of these recommendations are small ones for an individual earning $22,000 per year. I agree, a savings plan should be high quality. The fact is the U.S. offers better regulated, higher quality, lower cost retirement savings options than Spain -- which is an economic basket case right now, let's be honest. The tax free treatment across both countries is a big bonus on top of that reality.

If the original poster intends to save for retirement it's frankly financial malpractice not to take this tax free deal first.

I'm also mystified why anyone would argue that the original poster should feel guilty or otherwise uncomfortable for collecting what every American with modest earned income is entitled to collect, by law. Convicted felons, child rapists, and husbands who batter their wives are entitled to the MWPTC and other refundable tax credits, and they collect them. Surely the original poster, an American citizen of presumably good character, is entitled to his citizen benefit too.
 

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Hi everyone! I'm new here. I have a similar situation.
I had moved to Greece, from Chicago, in 2000 and I was unaware that I still had to file US taxes this entire time. My husband filed for a US immigrant Visa and the US Embassy needs proof that I have filed for US fed taxes for the last 3 years. I have never filed myself using software,(since I am not tax savvy), but filing it right away and getting a receipt of filing is necessary and pretty much, the only thing holding us back.

I don't have any income from the USA, but in Greece I have rental income (around $9500 ) from property that I inherited back in 2009. I most definitely do not have over 10000$ (ha ha that's funny!) in the bank and neither does my husband. He makes approx $15,000. I am a US citizen and my husband is a Greek National. Hopefully we will be moving back to the US during late summer. I have an SSN number and so do our two young children as well. My husband does not, and has no ties to the US as of right now besides the filing of the immigrant visa.
Do I choose the foreign earned tax credit or should I take the foreign earned tax exemption? I have never filed taxes myself.

Also, When they say 3 years of tax filing do they mean 2012,2011,2010? should I file for 2009 as well?

Can anyone please help? I need to file a.s.a.p to continue with the US embassy

Thanks in advance!
 

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If you don't have any earned income (i.e. salary income from a job) then you really don't need to use the FEIE, since it only applies to "earned income." File married filing separately (quickest way - to file for you husband, you'd need to get an ITIN and that's kind of wasted effort because he'll be getting a regular social security number after he gets to the US anyhow).

For the rental income, there are probably some expenses you can deduct from it, which will bring down the effective amount (depreciation at a minimum, plus any taxes you pay on the property and any other expenses involved in producing the rent). Then you apply the personal exemption and the standard deduction and you should be down to $0 taxable income and taxes due.

You only file the TD F90-22.1 if you have signature authority over a total of $10,000 or more in financial accounts outside the US. If you have any joint accounts with your husband, you will have to include those in making the determination.

Gotta run, but that should get you started. Ask away as more questions come up.
Cheers,
Bev
 

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Bev,
Thanks so much for your quick reply! Which forms should I be using besides the 1040?
If I'm using something like TaxAct, will these forms automatically be submitted or do I need to know which ones on my own.
I read somewhere that I need the 2555 and the 1116. If I'm not filing for the FEIE, then do I still need to use these forms?

Thanks for helping!!!
 

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If you aren't claiming the FEIE, you won't need the 2555, and if you aren't taking the tax credit, then you won't need the 1116. Plan on using the 1040 and a Schedule B (sometimes referred to as 1040-B).

TaxAct will allow you to prepare and print your forms for filing, however if you don't have an ITIN for your NRA spouse, the IRS system will reject your attempt to e-file. (That's what happened to me, anyhow.) Print off the forms from TaxAct (print 2 copies - one to file, one to keep) and just mail them in. For the 2012 forms, they should arrive at the IRS by June 15th. If you are filing FBARS you have to mail those in separately (to the address on the first page of the form).
Cheers,
Bev
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Hello,
Thanks to all of you (in particular Bev), I have been able to fill all my previous returns and FBARs. All of them are pretty simple, as my income is modest. I have just filled 1040s, 2555EZs and FBARs. I decided to follow the Streamlined procedure so the IRS is informed of everything; I have nothing to hide, and that way I can sleep peacefully.

However, I have some final questions before sending the whole thing:

1) Should the 2012 return be included together with the rest (that is, following the Streamlined procedure)? Or should I file it separately, following the regular procedure? My guess is that I should do it together with the rest.
2) Should I include some kind of letter or statement explaining my situation?

Best regards,
V.C.
 
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