Forty-thousand French citizens could find themselves without a bank account at the end of the year because French banks are unable to meet the US tax information reporting law known as FACTA (1), according to Laurent Mignon, the head of the French Banking Federation, FFB. In all there could be more than 300 thousand people across Europe who will have no place to park their money and collect their salaries in 2020.
Accidental Americans are people who have US citizenship because they happen to have been born in the US but a large number have never worked nor lived in the country and have no intention of doing so. Many don’t speak English and didn’t even realize they are Americans until their French banks asked them for their TIN, Taxpayer Identification Number, which is issued by the Social Security Administration or the IRS.
The US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (1) obliges banks around the world to report the assets of their American clients or face stiff penalties. To avoid very serious fines and continue doing business in the US, the banks have no other option than to throw out their domestic clients who never obtained a TIN.
The United States in 2017 granted European banks a two-year moratorium to gather the information. The period of grace ends December 31. (Update: This has since been extended to Jan. 1, 2021) Certain online banks like BOURSORAMA.COM will not be closing accounts because they refuse to allow Accidental Americans to open one with them in the first place due to FACTA.
Accidental Americans Try to Fight Back
L’Association des Américains Accidentels, the AAA, a French group of Accidental Americans, is spearheading the fight to get European leaders to stand up to the United States. Fabien Lehagre, the chairman and founder of AAA, faced a major setback in July (2019) when France’s top administrative court ruled that FACTA does not violate the privacy rights of dual citizens. Lehagre says they are taking the fight to the European Court of Justice.
“All accidental Americans born before 1986— the vast majority of us — do not have a Taxpayer Identification Number,” said AAA leader, Fabien Lehagre, in an interview with the French weekly Capital. (2)
The United States is one of the few countries in the world that tax you, not on where you work or live, but on your nationality. Every American abroad must declare his earnings, assets and bank accounts worth more than $10,000 with the IRS yearly. FACTA was passed under the Obama administration in 2010 to fight tax evasion by forcing banks doing business in the US to give the Treasury Department the banking data of their US clients abroad.
One Accidental American to get caught in the IRS net is Britain’s new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who was born in New York City in 1964 while his father, Stanley, was a student at Columbia. (3) More than 50 years later Boris Johnson renounced his US citizenship when the IRS demanded years of his tax returns and past due taxes. Americans working abroad are taxed on revenue beyond roughly 110 thousand dollars a year.
Escaping Is Not So Easy
Renouncing one’s US citizenship is a solution but it is not as easy as it sounds. The IRS may block the process until you have declared a number of years taxes and they are sure you owe no back taxes or penalties under US law. Groups have been set up around Europe to help Americans, accidental or otherwise, understand their obligations to the IRS. (4)
Lehagre says he hopes the French Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire, will join his Dutch counterpart in writing the American Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, to try to find a solution before hundreds of thousands of EU citizens find themselves without a bank account.
Of course, one solution I don’t suppose the US will consider is renouncing FACTA and joining the rest of the civilized world’s tax criteria: pay your taxes where you live and work!
- What is FACTA: https://americansoverseas.org/en/knowledge-centre/explanation-of-the-us-tax-system/what-is-fatca/
- Interview with AAA Chairman Fabien Lehagre: https://bit.ly/2LIcH2J
- Sonja Purnell, Just Boris: A Tale of Blond Ambition – A Biography of Boris Johnson, London, 2012
- Americans Overseas is a group started in Holland to help US citizens, accidental or otherwise understand and cope with the IRS: https://americansoverseas.org/en/
- The FaceBook page of the Association des Américains Accidentels can be found here: https://bit.ly/2McHIv4