By law, banks report all cash transactions that exceed $10,000 — and any transaction of any amount that alerts their suspicions. Money transfer businesses, which often solely send money between countries, sometimes have reporting thresholds as low as $1,000.
The Bank Secrecy Act allows the IRS and Department of Justice to investigate large transfers of money to identify illegal activity more easily. There are also numbering systems that are used to process money transfers that make it easy for the government to track funds — even if they’ve been sent to an overseas account.
What kind of IRS forms will I need?
Depending on how much you’re sending and why, the IRS may require you to fill out any number of tax forms:
Annual Return to Report Transactions with Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts File if you received a gift of more than $100,000 from a person in another country or if you received a gift of more than $15,797 from a foreign corporation or partnership.
Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets File if the total value of all your foreign accounts and combined assets was worth $50,000 or more on the last day of the year or $75,000 or more at any point in the last year. ($100,000/$150,000 for married couples filing joint returns.)
Those who fail to report can expect fines of up to 5% of the asset value involved or $10,000 a year for up to six years. For those who wait until an investigation is launched, the penalty increases to up to 50% or $100,000 — whichever is greater. That amount can be applied to every year you failed to report for up to six years. You could also face criminal charges and up to 10 years in prison.
To ensure you’re in compliance with all laws, work with a reputable transfer company and go over your tax forms with a professional if you’ve sent or received more than $10,000 in the past year.
The gift tax requires you to pay taxes on any large monetary gifts over a certain threshold. You can gift up to $11.180 million in your lifetime without owing this tax, but you’ll have to file a form if you’ve gifted more than $15,000 in the past year. If you’re married, both you and your spouse can give $15,000.
Still, you can legally avoid filing for the gift tax in a number of ways. One is to reduce the amount of money sent to any one person. For instance, if you’re sending money to support a family, divide your total gift among the various members of the family to stay below the $15,000 individual limit. This is helpful when divvying up something like an inheritance, where the money will in fact be shared among family members.
Given the complexities of tax laws, it’s wise to seek the help of someone who knows the laws to ensure you’re in compliance.
What counts as a gift?
If you give someone money and don’t expect any goods or services in return, it’s a gift. Tuition, medical expenses, gifts to political organizations and gifts to a spouse are exempt.
If you’re helping your children with tuition or medical expenses, pay the school, hospital or insurance companies directly. The IRS will notice — and expect to be notified — of any checks or transfers you send directly to your dependents.
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Do I need to tell the IRS about foreign bank accounts?
Yes. If you’re considering setting up an overseas account, you’ll need to report it to the IRS. Even if the account is to hold money temporarily before a bigger transaction or to share access with a child or family member as a joint account. Besides traditional income tax statements, US citizens with bank accounts offshore must file a Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR) by mid-April of each year that an overseas account holds $10,000 or more. Whether the money is there for a day or a year, it must be reported.
If you’re receiving foreign income, sending large gifts or operating an overseas business, you’ll likely have to pay taxes on your transfers. Recoup some of that money by choosing a transfer provider that offers competitive exchange rates.
Frequently asked questions
Yes, but you’ll have to fill out a form for that, too — specifically FinCEN form 105.
Yes. While the amount of taxes you owe won’t change, you can save money by choosing a transfer provider with competitive exchange rates.
Possibly. It depends on how much your pension is worth. However, if your pension is also being taxed in another country, you may be eligible for a tax credit to offset the cost.
Kelly Waggoner is the US editor-in-chief at Finder. She's worked with publishers, magazines and nonprofits throughout New York City, including ghostwriting a how-to on copyediting for the Dummies series. Between projects, she toys with words, flips through style guides and fantasizes about the serial comma's world domination.
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