Offshore Living

FATCA: America Hasn’t Ended Yet

Two weeks ago – July 1, to be exact – an obscure law called the “Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act,” or FATCA, came into effect.

The idea behind FATCA is simple: Demand that other countries enforce America’s imperialistic tax laws. And do so by the confiscation of foreign assets, if necessary.

Effective July 1, interest, dividends, rents, and similar payments leaving the US are subject to a 30% withholding tax. The only way that most foreign banks and other international companies can avoid this tax is to act as unpaid IRS informants. Non-US persons investing in the US are affected, too. If their foreign bank isn’t FATCA-compliant, their US income gets whacked 30%.

How’s that for economic imperialism?

Yes, it’s an awful law, for reasons I wrote about here. I foresee FATCA hastening the end of the US dollar as the world’s “reserve currency.”

But FATCA isn’t and won’t be the “end of America,” as some pundits have predicted. Indeed, one promotion for an investment newsletter said that, as a result of FATCA:

  • Our country and our way of life would come to a grinding halt.

  • There would be a near-complete shutdown of the American economy.

  • Life as we have known it for more than 40 years will essentially cease to exist.

  • Both federal and state governments will shut down.

  • Martial law, enforced by military force, would come to America.

That’s a pretty stark set of predictions. Fortunately, none of them has come to pass… and if they do, it won’t be because of FATCA.

What fearmongering newsletter publishers did succeed in doing, though, was to create a sense of crisis. I’ve lost count of the number of fearful clients who believed, as they had been told by a so-called “expert,” that FATCA would be the end of America.

More than a few of these people, despite my warnings, made rash decisions they may now come to regret.

  • One client told me she was going to her local bank to withdraw $100,000 in cash from her account. She got the money (eventually), but not without a delay and a visit from FBI agents investigating some of the alarmist statements she apparently made to bank employees. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s now on some kind of terrorist watchlist.

  • Another client withdrew every dollar he had in US banks and invested the proceeds in a remote property in Costa Rica. It turns out the region that he invested in is infested with “squatters” – opportunists who, given the chance, will occupy property “abandoned” by its owner. It’s very hard to get rid of them. My client is now erecting a fence around the entire property to keep squatters out, at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars.

There’s an important lesson here. When you’ve been in the game as long as I have and you’ve seen all the ways people can get ripped off by shady, illegal, and gray-area schemes and scams, you naturally tend to be very cautious about giving advice.

Actions do have consequences, and acting impulsively out of fear can lead to prosecution, fines, or maybe even imprisonment. It’s a problem that the new generation of so-called offshore gurus mostly or completely ignore.

But I get it: A good sales pitch backed up with a healthy dose of fear gets results. When someone we respect predicts the “end of America,” we want to protect ourselves.

But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. And while the wrong way might sound good at the time, the people who take that path will eventually learn the real meaning of the old saying, “The chickens come home to roost."

The right ways – while admittedly less “sexy” – do exactly what they are supposed to do: protect you… without exposure to additional risks that, ironically, can be worse than the problems they were supposed to fix.

The right way to protect your assets – from FATCA or any other foolish law that Congress enacts – is to carefully analyze your personal situation and then investigate possible alternatives. At every step of the process, you need to conduct rigorous due diligence – hopefully, with the aid of trusted advisors.

This isn’t something that’s as easy to do as washing your face in the morning. And it’s not something you should rush into willy-nilly right after a so-called expert tells you that if you don’t act by July 1 (or whatever date), it will be the end of the world.

That’s the surest way to end up making decisions you’ll likely regret. Perhaps the risk is acceptable for the young and stupid. But at a certain point – when you have something to protect – being “conservative” can mean the difference between keeping what you have and losing it all.

Mark Nestmann

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