Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

 

Why does the US government give money to people who don't pay taxes?

 

The tax laws give each taxpayer a credit of $1000 a year for tax years since 2003. Since US laws are fair and equitable, even taxpayers who don't owe taxes are eligible to receive this credit for each child (if their income and the tax laws justify this).  

 

 

What is the "American Opportunity Credit" for educational expenses?

 

Anyone who files joint return for tax years starting 2013 (Congress generally extends most tax laws in October or November each year), where the taxpayer (or spouse if a joint return) or a US child paid university tuition (or had other recognized educational expenses), and earned less than about $150,000 (for joint returns) will generally receive a refund of 40% of expenses paid (for the first $2000 each year) and an additional 10% of the next $2000, totaling up to $1000. The "regular" universities in Israel, such as Hebrew University, Bar Ilan, and Haifa are recognized.

Starting with 2016 tax year, the application for this benefits must include a copy of (IRS) form 1098T (which must be issued by the institution).

Some American Universities have agreements with additional institutions which may enable a student to receive educational benefits. Scholarships may also be available, and it is necessary to submit a form called a FAFSA to the institution in order to be eligible for such scholarships.

There is a new requirement All taxpayers must have a Taxpayer Identification Number (SSN or ITIN) issued before the due date of the return.

 

When is a child eligible for (Additional) Child Tax Credit?

 

Your child is a qualifying child for purposes of the (Additional) Child Tax Credit if your child meets the age, residency, dependency and relationship tests.

Age:  The child must be under age 17 on December 31 of the tax year.

Residency:  The child must be a citizen or resident of the United States.

Dependency:  You must claim the child as a dependent on your tax return. 

Relationship:   The child can be your son, daughter, stepson, or stepdaughter, adopted child, grandchild, or eligible foster child.

Your brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister (or the child or grandchild of your brother, sister, stepbrother, or stepsister) may also be a qualifying child if you care for the child as if that child were your own.  (courtesy of the Nebraska website). The current rules limit the child tax credit to children who live with the taxpayer except in cases of divorce, separation, or death.

Id Number: (new rule) The child must have a US id number (such as Social Security Number or ITIN) issued before the due date of the tax return(generally 15/6 for taxpayers living outside the US unless extension was filed).

Starting from 2015, this credit is not refundable (i.e. cannot cause a cash benefit) if the taxpayer files form 2555 or 2555EZ.

Why should I file a US tax return?

 

According to American Law, all US citizens are required to file an annual tax return, if they earn more than a certain minimal amount of money. The US cannot easily force someone who lives abroad to file (unless they have money in the USA), but they can make filing worthwhile (and profitable) for many US citizens living in countries with high income tax rates (such as Israel).

 

If you and your spouse together earn more than $3,000, (or you have three eligible children and one of you is self-employed and pays social security taxes,) you are apparently eligible for additional child tax credit.

 

In fact, many people have registered their children as US citizens in order to be able to include their children on their tax returns. Note that even children who were registered as US citizens by a "Report of US citizen born abroad" need to have Social Security numbers in order to be eligible to receive child tax credit.

 

Example: If you and your spouse earned combined salaries of 168,000 shekels in 2015 and you have four eligible children, you should receive about $4,000 additional child tax credit after your return is processed.

 

Who are we? Should I use a US based accountant?

 

We have been preparing US tax returns in Israel for the past 35 years and have many clients who live in the US, in Israel, or who live in both countries. Since most of the work is based on information available on computer via email/FAX/mail, we have clients who work or live in other parts of the world.

 

The tax laws are complicated to the extent that we have found many clients whose US-based accountants were unaware of many legal intricacies and filed returns which caused our clients to pay large sums (which we were able to recover).

 

We do not generally charge for examining old returns when we prepare returns for current years; in fact we file returns only when the client benefits from filing (or is required to file).

 

We can also help you with information about Israeli tax ramifications of your US income.

 

Are you available in the US?

 

The Maleks were in the US in April 2014. Avi can be contacted at +972-2997-5616, or by email avimalek@yahoo.com . Before future trips to the US, we expect to post travel dates on this site.

 

Can I fix an old return which I filed without requesting the Child Tax Credit?

A return can be filed up to three years after its due date (so, a 2012 return could only be filed until April(or June) 15, 2016)*. If a return was filed on time or with a valid extension, it can generally be amended until three years have passed from the actual filing date (or due date, whichever is later). Filing an amended return is often more complicated than filing an original return, but we can generally obtain the refunds when necessary. *Should I amend my 2011 return?

 

If I have not filed for years, what will the IRS do when they see my return?

(Will I get into trouble?)

?       Failure to file a return or filing late can be costly. If taxes are owed, a delay in filing may result in penalty and interest charges that could increase a tax bill by 25 percent, or more.

?       There is generally no penalty for failure to file if a refund is due.

See the entire article at the IRS website. [pointer no longer valid]

Analysis: If you do not owe taxes, the IRS will generally not penalize you for not filing. If you were NOT self-employed outside the United States, a quick examination of your old income records (in Israel forms 106) should establish that you did not owe taxes for 2010 and earlier years. The IRS knows that almost everyone residing in Israel who earns more than a minimal salary pays more income tax than people residing in the US, so they will not profit by asking you to file old returns.

 

The IRS policy is not to prosecute those who voluntarily file. See the IRS Filing Late Returns FAQ. [pointer no longer valid]

 

If you will be required to file old tax returns, we can help you. Forms for prior years are available at the IRS website .

 

What about Foreign Bank Account Reports which I never filed? (There were news reports of an amnesty and a crackdown!)

All US citizens and green card holders are required to report their financial accounts if the total value of their financial accounts outside the US is over $10,000, and are required to report on special forms in the tax returns any interest in corporations and control of corporations or partnerships. Spouses of citizens who file tax returns are required starting 2011 to file forms 8338, which are "super-FBARS", if the foreign assets exceed $400,000 and the couple file joint returns. A lower filing threshold applies for separate filers. Spouses are required to file company return forms if they control foreign corporations. The IRS has stated that penalties will be assessed for willfully not reporting "overseas" financial accounts and assets. As far as we have been able to determine, until this date, anyone who did not owe taxes and mistakenly missed reporting was not fined. The terms of the 2012 Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDI 2012) are available of the IRS website. Various news reports about an amnesty with an associated fine were useful only for those who owed Uncle Sam large amounts of money on unreported accounts. If, in the past, had you properly reported all foreign accounts, you would not have owed taxes to the US, you should file FBAR (TD) reports for past years. See  analysis at IRS website [pointer no longer valid] item 9 of 2009 amnesty, which states that those who did not dodge taxes will not be fined. We will gladly advise clients about the reporting requirements on the phone. There is no guarantee that taxpayers will not be fined for not filing required FBAR's or other information returns.

 

What if I worked in the US and filed tax returns in the past?

 

If you paid social security for at least 40 "quarters", you are eligible to receive Social Security benefits at retirement. It is a good idea to file US tax returns, since the Social Security Administration may refuse to pay benefits to those who did not file tax returns. See the SSA website for a benefits calculator. Note that benefits may be reduced if you are eligible for a pension based on income for which social security was not paid.

 

What if I am self-employed (atzma?i)?

 

You are required to pay Social Security taxes to the US. If you support at least 3 children under age 17, you are eligible to receive child tax credit of half of the social security owed, even if your income is lower than the 3,000 additional child tax credit threshold. After paying social security taxes for at least five years, you (and/or your family) will generally be eligible to receive a US pension in case of inability to work. After paying for 10 years (40 "quarters"), you can apply for a pension at retirement. A spouse (even a non-American spouse) of one who is eligible for Social Security benefits may receive half of the pension.

 

Social Security payments are tax free for all residents of Israel (due to a tax treaty between the US and Israel).

 

What if I learn in Kollel?

If you are a clergyman (an ordained Rabbi is defined as a clergyman), your Kollel earnings may be considered as self-employment income, which would make you eligible to pay social security on these earnings (see answer to the previous question). Note that scholarships (although they are usually taxable income) are generally not considered earned income, and that income received for studies does not count for child tax benefits.

 

If my spouse is not a US citizen, should I report their income?

 

A non-citizen spouse is not required to report their income to the US, but may choose to do so. When we prepare a return for you, we will determine if reporting your spouse?s income is beneficial. Once the income is reported for any tax year, it must be reported each year. It is possible to stop reporting this income, but, any non-citizen spouse of a US citizen who reports income and then ceases to do so, will be penalized by never being allowed to report income in the future.

In order to report the income of your non-citizen spouse, you must obtain a Social Security number for them, or, if they are ineligible for a Social Security number, a TIN (Taxpayer Identification Number). We can help file a TIN application when you file your first US tax return.

 

If you have additional questions, you are welcome to send them via email with your name and phone number (no attachments please, only text) .

 

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