Your Guide to Navigating the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures: Catch Up Penalty-Free!

US expat makes power pose after successfully catching up on taxes by partnering with Bright!Tax to complete the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures

Feeling a bit lost in the maze of US expat taxes? Don’t worry; you’re not alone, and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel: the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures.

If you’re a US citizen or permanent resident living overseas, getting a handle on your tax responsibilities is essential. Between the complex US tax code and your host country’s equally intricate tax laws, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

That’s where the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures come in. This program is a lifesaver for expats who have fallen behind on their taxes, often due to confusing paperwork or missed deadlines. It offers a straightforward way to get back on track, penalty-free. 

So, let’s dive in and explore how this option can bring you peace of mind and even (in some cases) some tax savings.

The basics: Who needs to file US taxes (and why)?

The US follows a citizenship-based taxation model, meaning if you’re a US citizen or green card holder, you must file taxes if your worldwide income crosses a certain threshold. These thresholds adjust annually for inflation and depend on your filing status.

The US uses a citizenship-based taxation model. All US citizens and green card holders must file annual tax returns if their worldwide income meets the annual minimum threshold defined by the IRS. These amounts adjust each year with inflation and are aligned with your tax filing status.

Taxpayer Status 2022 Tax Year
(the taxes you file in 2023) 
2023 Tax Year
(the taxes you file in 2024) 
Married, filing separately$12,950$13,850
Married, filing jointly$25,900$27,700
Head of household$19,400$20,800

Source: IRS (2022 standard deduction, 2023 standard deduction

You might think that you’re off the hook if your income is below these amounts. But sometimes, filing can actually be in your financial favor – particularly if you expect a refund from the IRS.

For example, you might want to file if:

  • You’ve had taxes withheld from your paycheck
  • You’ve made estimated tax payments
  • You’re eligible for refundable tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit

What exactly are the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures (SLP)?

Think of the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures as your “get back on track” card. This program is designed to help eligible taxpayers who’ve unintentionally missed some tax filings catch up without the usual penalties.

To take advantage of this program, your failure to file must be “non-willful,” which we’ll explain in more detail later. 

This is one of four ways to address past tax filing omissions. The other options include:

The Evolution of the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures

Before this program, your only option was the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP), which wasn’t very forgiving. But things changed in 2010 with the introduction of FATCA, leading to a spike in unintentional non-compliance cases.

Recognizing the need for a more user-friendly solution, the IRS introduced the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures in 2012. This program is designed to help you become tax-compliant without the headaches.

Two Paths to Tax Compliance: Understanding Your Streamlined Procedure Options

There are two types of Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures. Depending on your residency, you’ll choose between: 

  1. The Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures (designated for US taxpayers residing within the US), and… 
  2. The Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures (intended for taxpayers living abroad). 

Let’s break down what each option entails so you can pick the one that’s right for you:

CriteriaStreamlined Domestic Offshore ProceduresStreamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures 
Residency requirementResidentNon-resident
Nature of tax filing defaultNon-willfulNon-willful
Returns to file– Income tax: Most recent 3 years 
– FBAR: Most recent 6 years
– Income tax: Most recent 3 years 
– FBAR: Most recent 6 years
Penalties5% of foreign account balanceNone
Previous filing of returnsMust have previously filed income tax returnsNo requirement
Type of tax returnAmended (1040X) only1040 or 1040X
Number of default yearsMust not have defaulted in filing returns for each of the previous three yearsN/A

Both options aim to make your journey back to tax compliance as smooth as possible, but they come with different rules and penalties based on your residency.

Who qualifies for the Streamlined Procedures? Your quick checklist

Wondering if the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures are right for you? Here’s a quick rundown of the criteria you’ll need to meet to take advantage of this helpful program.

  1. Your failure to file must be “non-willful,” meaning it was an honest mistake or oversight. The IRS defines non-willful conduct as a result of a mistake, inadvertence, a good-faith misunderstanding of the requirements, or negligence.
  2. You shouldn’t be under any IRS civil examination or criminal investigation. If you are, this program isn’t an option for you.
  3. If you’ve had any penalty assessments for delinquent or amended returns in the past, they must be paid in full.
  4. You’ll need a valid Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN), which is usually your Social Security Number (SSN). If you don’t qualify for an SSN but do qualify for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN), you can still be considered for the program.
  5. If you’re not a US citizen or permanent resident, you must not have met the “substantial presence test” for any of the last three years.

Additional criteria apply if you’re filing the foreign version of the procedure, the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures. To qualify, you must:

  • Be a US citizen or permanent resident and not have had a US residence for at least one year out of the most recent three.
  • Be a US citizen or permanent resident and have been outside the US for at least 330 full days during one of the three tax years you’ll be filing for.

Accidental Americans, Listen Up: Resources Just for You

Are you an “Accidental American“? If you’ve found yourself with US citizenship but have never lived or worked in the States, you might be scratching your head about your tax obligations. Don’t worry; the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures have got you covered.

Accidental Americans often discover their US tax obligations late in the game, usually because they were born in the US to foreign parents or acquired citizenship through a US parent. If this sounds like you, here are some resources to help you navigate this unique situation.

Websites and Online Tools

  • IRS Website: The IRS has a dedicated section for Accidental Americans, offering guidelines and FAQs to help you understand your tax obligations.
  • Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures Page: This is your go-to source for all things related to the Streamlined Procedures, including eligibility criteria and filing instructions.
  • Taxpayer Advocate Service: This independent organization within the IRS can help you resolve issues and provide free tax advice.
  • Bright!Tax Blog: Our blog offers a wealth of information tailored for Accidental Americans, from detailed guides to expert advice.

Professional Help

  • Certified Public Accountants (CPAs): A CPA specialized in expat taxes can guide you through the filing process and ensure you’re taking advantage of all available tax benefits.
  • Tax Attorneys: If you’re facing more complex issues, a tax attorney can provide legal advice and representation.

Community Support

  • Expat Forums and Social Media Groups: These platforms offer a wealth of shared experiences and advice from fellow Accidental Americans.
  • Accidental American Associations: Organizations like the Association of Accidental Americans provide advocacy and support.

Remember, being an Accidental American doesn’t mean you have to navigate the US tax system alone. These resources are here to help you every step of the way!

The Perks of Making Peace with the IRS: Why Use Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures

Wondering what’s in it for you when you catch up on your taxes through the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures? Let’s talk benefits: 

  1. Peace of Mind: No more sleepless nights worrying about IRS penalties or audits. This program offers a penalty-free way to become tax-compliant.
  2. Financial Savings: Avoid the hefty fines that usually come with late tax filings. Plus, you may be eligible for benefits like the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion or the Foreign Tax Credit.
  3. Tax Credits and Stimulus Payments: Some expats discover they’re eligible for additional benefits like the Child Tax Credit or, for a limited time, Stimulus Payments.
  4. Simplicity: The Streamlined Procedures are designed to be straightforward, making it easier for you to file your taxes without the headache.
  5. Legal Safety: By becoming compliant, you reduce the risk of legal repercussions, giving you one less thing to worry about.
  6. Future-Proofing: Once you’re caught up, maintaining your tax compliance in the future becomes a breeze.
US expat and gitial nomad in Costa Rica meeting his Bright!Tax CPA online

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Feeling overwhelmed by US expat taxes? Let us guide you through the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures, so you can get back to enjoying your life abroad, stress-free.

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Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures - FAQ

  • What is the difference between willful and non-willful?

    Put simply: Willful non-compliance is intentional. In the eyes of the IRS, willful non-compliance is being fully aware of your tax filing obligations and neglecting them nonetheless.

    Non-willful default is unpremeditated–usually a genuine slip-up or confusion about your requirements.

  • What happens if my streamlined filing is rejected?

    It rarely happens, but if the IRS rejects your streamlined filing, you may be subject to late filing penalties. That said, the expat tax experts at Bright!Tax confirm they have never seen a rejection through filing thousands of Streamlined Procedures for clients over the years. If you think you may be a candidate for streamlined filing, the team encourages you to reach out so you can get back on track, stress-free.

  • What forms are needed to complete the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures?

    • Form 14653, Certification by US Person Residing Outside of the US, to certify that your prior lack of filing was non-willful (Form 4643 under the domestic version of the procedure)

    • Form 1040, US Individual Income Tax Return, for each of the three most recent years. In the case of a non-resident alien, Form 1040NR can be filed.

    • FinCEN Form 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR), for the last six years

    • If applicable,

        • Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Accounts