The potential implications of an inaccurate or late-filed FBAR are much worse than for an income tax return. The IRS reserves the right to impose a penalty of $10,000 for simply filing the FBAR late. We often find that clients forget to list 3rd pillar accounts and other accounts for which they have signatory authority. If this happens we strongly recommend filing an amended FBAR to correct such omissions.

We commonly discover that our clients own non-U.S. investment funds – such as Swiss “Fonds” and other foreign-issued funds (ETF, SICAV and the like) – in their custodial, 3rd Pillar, or pension holding (Freizügigkeitskonto) account. For U.S tax purposes such funds are called PFICs (Passive Foreign Investment Company) and are taxed at a punitive tax rate while you hold them and when you sell them. Also, we are obliged to complete detailed reporting forms each year for every single PFIC you own. The after-tax cost of these foreign funds always makes them a bad investment. If you hold foreign corporate shares and other securities directly, rather than bundled into a foreign fund, you will avoid PFIC tax and may benefit from preferential U.S. tax rates on dividends and long-term capital gains. Also, be sure to instruct your financial advisor not to purchase PFICs on your behalf.

It comes as a surprise to many Americans living abroad that their children are likely also U.S. citizens, even if those children have never been to the U.S. or acquired a U.S. passport or social security number. The rule is this: if your child was born after November 13, 1986 and you resided in the U.S. for at least 5 years, at least two of which were after the age of 14, then your child automatically acquires U.S. citizenship and is subject to the same tax and FBAR filing requirements as any other American. Most young children won't have enough income to require reporting but depending on their level of assets they may need to file an FBAR. 

Additional contributions to your Swiss 2nd and 3rd Pillar pension accounts may lower your current Swiss tax burden and increase your retirement savings, however you cannot deduct these contributions from your U.S. taxable income. These pension accounts are considered “non-qualified” pension plans by the IRS. The unintended result of additional contributions may be that lower Swiss taxes increase your U.S. taxes because you will have less Swiss tax to claim as a foreign tax credit on the U.S. side. A possible alternative may be to invest in a U.S.-based IRA account. Careful retirement planning should take both your Swiss and U.S. situation into account.

If you are married to a non-American and/or have a child with U.S. citizenship you may be able to choose between several filing statuses and claim them as dependents, optimizing your U.S. tax rate and increasing your deductions.