Thursday, 25 April 2013

Tea and taxes - a UK expat navigating US taxes (part 2)

A few days ago I discussed the shopping minefield that is US sales tax, and just how bewildering it is for this awkward British expat to try to navigate when taxes on goods seem to change town to town (and in some cases, really do).

But that's not what tax day is really about. Tax day, April 15th is the day when US residents must file their taxes with the IRS.

For a previously salaried Brit, this is a whole new bureaucratic territory.

In the UK, if you are an employee, that is if you are not self-employed, then taxes are deducted and reported to the taxman (HMRC) by your employer through a system known as Pay As You Earn (PAYE). There's often no need to even have any communication with HMRC. Starting a new job you give your employer an earning/tax form (P45/P46) and at the end of the financial year your employer sends you a form that summarizes your earnings and deductions (P60). That's by and large, it.

Sometimes you need to call them to correct your tax deduction, especially if you're under a certain age or you're a full-time student. And occasionally you might find out that you have been on the wrong tax code for several years and then the taxman will send you a check out of the blue. This happened to me several years ago and I was shocked. At first I thought it was a scam (nobody sends me checks for no reason), but it actually helped pay for a good portion of our wedding.

In the USA, starting a new job requires you fill out a form (W4) requesting how much tax to deduct from your paycheck. At the end of the financial year, your employer sends you a summary of your earnings and tax (a W2). Sounds familiar, yes?

But then you have to fill out a whole bunch of forms for the IRS and send them off by April 15th.

As a detail-oriented Brit who managed to navigate the USCIS immigration form jungle, I felt pretty confident about filling out these tax forms. My husband, however, disagreed. Perhaps it was my constant chatter about "So I've got my W-whatever, what do I do now? Why do I need to do this if I'm a salaried employee? What is FICA? Here are all my pay-slips, do we send these too? Why not - I put them in date order!"

So we cheated and went to an accountant. And that was fun. He knew what he was doing. And apparently I'm getting another check from the taxman.

Around about this time Americans start talking about what they'll be using their tax rebate to buy. It's like a check out of the blue, but every year. It's the reverse of what happens at the register in the store. Instead of getting some weird total above the sticker price, you get an undetermined sum back from the checkout. Americans - why is this?

Next year I'm going to have a different kind of fun at tax time because now I'm a self-employed consultant/contractor. This time I'm keeping all my receipts in date order to send to Mr IRS next April, so he can see just how much I spend on Twizzlers (joking…I prefer Jelly Bellies).

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