File US taxes from abroad without pulling your hair out

photo courtesy of Christine Roy from unsplash.com

photo courtesy of Christine Roy from unsplash.com

I have a confession to make. I am horrible at paperwork and anything official. Sorry, no scandalous or exciting secrets today, but know I can’t be the only one who cringes at anything paper, government, or office-y. Back in the US I could handle the admin side of life, because there wasn’t all that much and I had a great filing system – the kind I’ve not been able to find here. So keeping up with bills, contracts, and taxes wasn’t all that challenging, even for someone like myself who is far more creative than logical.

Then I moved to Germany, and where life got a lot more complicated. 

People here almost worship paperwork. They love it, and you get paperwork for almost everything. You sign a contract for everything here – schools, tutoring for your kids, cell phones, the gym, apartments, jobs, even magazine subscriptions. If you have kids it’s of course even more complicated, because you receive mail and important documents from the schools, the Schulamt (the Department of Education), and a million other places.

So you can imagine how much fun it is for a person like me to keep up with important things like taxes in a place like Germany.

Yes – that much fun. I was of course already not quite on top of all things official her in Deutschland, and then I got into a very nasty and years-long divorce which pushed me completely over the edge and into the complicated abyss of being more behind than you can imagine on nearly everything. Which is a long way of saying that I got several years behind on my US tax filing. Yep, more than a couple

I was so far behind on my American taxes that when Trump took office, I was afraid he’d not let me back into the country. Because Trump likes money and he also means business. I’d built up an entire fantasy in my mind about how I’d be arrested the next time I flew stateside. You know – trapped in one of those small rooms in a hidden corner of JFK and interrogated, hoping they would let me back out again to finish raising my children.

Luckily, the folks at Taxes for Expats reached out and asked me to try their service. They offered me a free year’s worth of filing in exchange for a review of their service. It was right about the time I was planning to spend the rest of my life in jail for late tax filing, so of course I jumped at the opportunity.

If you sign up for Taxes for Expats, you’re assigned a bonafide CPA who will walk you through each step of the tax filing process. That person will answer all your questions, whether silly or not, and response time is great. They advise and help you file back taxes, and take care of all of it. You simply fill out information for the tax year (or years) you are filing, as well as upload any necessary documentation (such as income statements or tax forms from your place of residence), and they take care of the actual filing.

Once they’ve completed your tax return, you are notified via email that the return is ready for review. If there are any changes to be made, you simply tell them of those changes and they will update it promptly. My name was misspelled on my filings, for example, but this was fixed within a day. Once the review is correct and your tax forms are ready to be submitted to the IRS, you sign off on them with a click of the button, and Taxes for Expats then e-files for you.

Friends, it is really that simple. Fear held me back from filing for years (catching up on US taxes was literally on my mental to-do list for at least two years), and I was afraid I’d owe a small fortune in back taxes. But the reality is, I ended up getting a nice sum of cash back – because tax credits I didn’t think applied to me abroad actually do. My life lesson through this episode was two-fold – one – don’t wait to do things because you’re afraid (had I filed sooner rather than worrying, my bank account would be $6000 dollars fuller right now!). Secondly, with complicated parts of life like taxes – especially when you live outside your home country – hire a professional.

If you’re an American living outside the States, I recommend filing via Taxes for Expats. They are quick, professional, and friendly and 100% worth their fee.