Last week, hundreds of millions of people around the world revisited the familiar story of the birth of Jesus. As the story goes, it came during a census of the Roman provinces of Judea and Syria that brought a couple named Joseph and Mary to a town called Bethlehem.
Amid the rich imagery of the well-known story, it is easy to overlook that this census was conducted for tax purposes. But that is what it was: a tax census. As with many tax laws, it created plenty of complications - in this case, a pregnant woman forced to travel long distances on a donkey on the eve of giving birth.
In this two-part post, we will discuss some of the ways in which a tax law of our own time, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), is affecting tax compliance as the Twelve Days of Christmas give way to a new tax filing season.
Since its passage by the U.S. Congress in 2010, FATCA has been - to paraphrase the poet W.B. Yeats - a rough tax-collection beast slouching toward Bethlehem and everywhere else around the world. Critics called the new law an imperialistic power play by the U.S., seeking to force foreign governments and banks to report on offshore earnings of U.S. taxpayers.
The complex regulatory scheme to make this happen has taken several years to construct. But as Forbes reported last week, the U.S. Treasury has now negotiated intergovernmental agreements to implement FATCA with more than 100 foreign countries. Not long before Christmas, even the Vatican joined the growing ranks of sovereign states that have worked out an IGA with the U.S.
The burden of complying with FATCA for taxpayers is so significant that many expatriate Americans have renounced their passports rather than comply. We wrote about this issue in our September 6 post in 2013. In part two of this post, we will discuss how FATCA also places burdens on foreign financial institutions (FFIs).
Source: IRS.gov, "Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA)"