Since the FATCA law was passed in 2010, US expats are obliged to declare their foreign earnings and assets, along with their foreign bank accounts. So how should you set about choosing your expat tax preparer? Firstly, go with a specialist. Expat taxes can be convoluted sometimes, especially if there are several years' worth to catch up with for example, and including FATCA and FBAR, compliance can be troublesome. There are a number of online firms that deal solely with expat taxes though, and it makes sense to go with an expert rather than a group with limited experience in this area.
Next, contact them, briefly summarizing your situation and requirements, to find out how they respond and what they would charge you. By comparing their responses you'll be in a position to make your decision, based on the following factors:
One - How did they answer?
Did they reply promptly and helpfully? Also, their answer should be positive rather than offish or overly impersonal in tone, and they should have addressed the detail. For specialist expat tax preparers, no one's situation is particularly problematic. The tone of their reply may well set the tone for your experience should you choose to go with them.
Two - How big are they?
This will give you an indication of how experienced they are. You should ideally aim for a medium sized firm, large enough to be experienced and have a global presence, but not so large that they lack a personal touch and have high overheads and thus high costs. You should be able to get a good indication from their website, what comes up when you Google them, and from their social media presence.
Three - How open and transparent are they?
Preparing Expat tax returns is not a dark and secretive art. It is your personal situation, and you'll share your personal info with them, so they should be similarly open and transparent in return. Feel free to ask them about the process and about their business, and expect clear, honest answers.
Four - Recommendations.
If possible, look at their testimonials and reviews of their existing and previous clients.
Five - Do they use tax specializing CPAs, or EAs (Enrolled Agents)?
EAs complete an 18 week course to gain their certification, while CPA certification takes several years! Ask who will actually prepare your return to check that they use experienced, tax specializing CPAs.
Six - cost.
While the cheapest isn't necessarily the best of course, neither does a high cost signify a better service. Expat tax preparation companies should be able to give you a clear estimate of the cost in advance, once you have provided the details of your situation. Cost should be a factor but not the sole factor; arguably the others outlined above should carry more weight.
Whichever company you settle on, you should expect them to provide a predictable and smooth experience that takes the weight off your shoulders without costing you the earth.
Bright Tax takes the stress out of US expat tax returns. If you have any questions or would like some advice, get in touch here and we'll be happy to help.