by Rhodri C. Williams
Its been a year and a half since my cri-de-coeur about the double-filing (and occasional double-taxation) burden that the US – alone among all other countries in the world but Eritrea – places on its citizens abroad. At the time I wrote it, the best case scenario was for me to find a discreet way to back report some information no one had ever bothered to tell me to forward report before and then get on with it. Meaning?
Well. Continue the annual Springtime circus of spending 48 hours in a pointless and dispiriting clinch with 1040 supplements seemingly written by pedantic Klingons. Maybe hand it all over to a tax lawyer so that I could spend USD 2,000 per year for the purposes of verifying I owed nothing to the US over and over again in grammatically impeccable Klingon. Keep a weather eye on the incoherent calls for reform of this incoherence until it got to be time for the kids to make a decision. Meaning?
I’ve bent over backwards to be sure that my kids, growing up Sweden, will always have a home in the US. From day one, Dr. Seuss has been right there alongside Pippi Longstocking and transatlantic flights represent perhaps our second biggest household cost after the mortgage. But as the little guys approach the age of independent incomes, the IRS is waiting too, a lifetime of pointless Springtime anxiety clutched in its hot little hands.
So while it always seemed self-evident that I would no sooner give up my US passport than I would the nose on my face, the kids were definitely going to have the benefit of an informed choice in the matter. But that all changed with the FATCA, an astonishingly blithe raft of garbled global overreach. With banks worldwide now annually forced to disclose all information on ‘US persons’ holding accounts with them, my individual decision to stand and let the kids eventually decide on jumping became irrelevant. Meaning?
Meaning that the US decision to unleash FATCA on the world has taken the decision out of my hands. My citizenship and that of my children is literally now in the hands of the Swedish banking system, on whom the US Congress has placed the entire cost of compliance with its dogs breakfast legislation. Should the Swedish banks jointly decide that the cost of hosting US persons is too high, then they will cast us out and we will have no decision to make. We will not jump. We will be pushed.
Is this idle speculation or unconsidered hysteria? No. Axa bank in France just took this decision, derailing the lives of thousands of ‘US persons’ there, some of whom, as pointed out by the indispensible Victoria Ferauge, did not even have reason to know they were US persons. My bank here in Sweden might take a different approach. Or it might not. Other banks might take me in. Or not. If not, good luck to me and the kids. Sweden is a bureaucratic society, and loss of my bank accounts would roll out a chain reaction of inconvenience and potential disaster that I do not care to even consider.
If and when I get the letter, I do not see any other option than to apply for Swedish citizenship and renounce my US citizenship – and presumably that of my children. I can live with a little inconvenience and arbitrariness, if that is the cost of maintaining the link with my ancestral home. But I can’t live in the 21st century without bank accounts.
I don’t know if anyone in the US particularly cares about whether me and my little flock in distant Scandinavia remain part of their community or not. But does that justify allowing foreign banks to take the decision for me?