Expat Taxes

7 Critical Tax Mistakes Non-Residents Can Easily Avoid in the U.S. Real Estate Market

Sarah Eddie
7 Critical Tax Mistakes Non-Residents Can Easily Avoid in the U.S. Real Estate Market

Investing in the U.S. real estate market offers lucrative opportunities for non-residents, but it also comes with a complex tax landscape that can be challenging to navigate. The Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA), enacted in 1980, requires foreign sellers of U.S. real property interests to pay taxes on gains they realize from such sales. Understanding FIRPTA and its tax implications is crucial for non-residents to avoid common tax mistakes when buying and selling property in the USA. This blog post highlights these mistakes and provides guidance on how to sidestep them.

1. Not Recognizing the scope of FIRPTA's on foreign investors

A significant mistake is underestimating FIRPTA's reach. It applies not only to the direct sale of real estate but also to transactions involving shares in U.S. real estate holding corporations and certain trusts. Non-residents often overlook this broad application, leading to unexpected tax liabilities and complications in seemingly unrelated transactions.

How to Avoid: Consult with a specialist at S.E. Tax Professionals with experience with FIRPTA and international real estate transactions before making investment decisions. Our planning and advice can help ensure you understand all potential tax implications of your actions.

2. Failing to Plan for Withholding when Selling US Property

FIRPTA requires buyers of U.S. real property interests from foreign sellers to withhold 15% of the amount realized on the sale (the purchase price, in most cases). Non-resident sellers are often caught off guard by this withholding, which can significantly impact the proceeds they receive from the sale.

How to Avoid: Plan for the withholding tax in your financial calculations. Consider applying for a withholding certificate from the IRS, which may reduce or eliminate the withholding if it's determined that the tax on the gain will be less than the standard 15%.

3. Overlooking Potential Deductions and Credits for non-resident aliens

Many non-resident sellers miss out on deductions and credits that could reduce their tax liability under FIRPTA. Expenses related to the sale, improvements made to the property, and depreciation can all lower the taxable gain.

How to Avoid: Keep detailed records of all investments in the property, including improvements and expenses related to the sale. Work with a tax advisor to identify all possible deductions and credits.

4. Misunderstanding State and Local Taxes on the sale of US Real Estate

In addition to FIRPTA, non-residents must navigate state and local tax laws, which vary widely across the U.S. Some States have their own version of FIRPTA, while others may have no additional requirements. Ignorance of these laws can lead to unexpected tax bills or legal issues.

How to Avoid: Consult with a specialist at S.E. Tax Professionals to take advantage of our team's multi-state knowledge when planning. Advice can help ensure you factor in all the taxes you may be subject to and the settlement deadlines.

5. Incorrectly Calculating the Taxable Gain

Calculating the taxable gain on the sale of U.S. real property involves more than just subtracting the purchase price from the sale price. Non-residents often make errors by not accounting for adjustments such as depreciation, closing costs, and improvements.

How to Avoid: Use the services of our qualified tax advisors to accurately calculate your taxable gain, considering all allowable adjustments and deductions.

6. Not Reporting the Sale on a U.S. Tax Return

Non-residents sometimes believe that if the buyer withholds the correct FIRPTA amount, they're not required to file a U.S. tax return. This is a misconception. The seller must file a U.S. tax return to report the sale and pay any additional taxes due or claim a refund if too much was withheld.

How to Avoid: Ensure that you file a U.S. tax return for the year in which the sale occurred, report the transaction, and pay any additional taxes owed or claim a refund for over-withholding. Our international tax team can assist you with your tax return.

7. Ignoring the Opportunity to Apply for a Reduced Withholding Certificate

Non-residents may not realize they can apply for a withholding certificate from the IRS that may reduce the withholding rate if the actual tax on the sale is expected to be less than the standard withholding rate.

How to Avoid: Apply for a withholding certificate as soon as you enter into a contract for sale. This process can take several months, and an ITIN is crucial, so early application is essential. Our CAAs can help you obtain this IITN.

Don't leave yourself exposed to penalties for non-compliance

Navigating the tax implications of buying and selling property in the U.S. as a non-resident can be daunting, but awareness and preparation can mitigate many of the common mistakes associated with FIRPTA. By understanding the act's scope, planning for withholding requirements, taking advantage of deductions and credits, complying with state and local taxes, accurately calculating taxable gains, reporting sales on U.S. tax returns, and considering the application for a reduced withholding certificate, non-residents can successfully manage their tax obligations and maximize their investment returns.

S.E. Tax Professionals specialises in international tax, including property sales for non-US residents. We also offer CAA services, which will assist in obtaining the much-ended ITIN for those who wish to invest and sell US property. Book an appointment now to discuss how to stay on top of your tax filing requirements before and avoid penalties for not filing and paying FIRPTA on time.

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Sarah Eddie

Sarah Eddie

I support Americans, expats and women owned businesses as a mentor and tax accountant. Business mentor and tax accountant specializing in supporting American and Women Owned Businesses grow, reach success and stay compliant in both the UK and USA. My goal is to advise you, hold you accountable and keep you in compliance with your US and UK tax filing obligations.

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