Helpful Quick Bits: To File Jointly or Not?

Ah, the joys of a new international marriage and figuring out what to do about our taxes. It’s complicated! Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • As a nonresident alien, Stuart does not have to report any income to the IRS. That’s good.
  • Because Stuart and I were married this year, I’ll have to file “married filing separately”, and that means higher taxes. In fact, I’ll lose what would have been a very nice refund. That’s bad.
  • However, we have the option to elect to have Stuart treated as a resident alien for tax purposes and file jointly. That’s good.
  • But if we do that, Stuart will be taxed on his worldwide income until such time as we rescind “the choice” as it is called. And that choice can only be made once in a lifetime. Now might now be the time. That’s bad.
  • That’s because, right now, we’ve decided to settle in France, meaning there’s really no reason to drag Stuart into the US tax system. That’s good.
  • But apparently, I’ll still need to file US Income Tax as well as the infamous FBAR on all bank accounts, even those I share with Stuart. That sucks.
  • And once I establish myself and my microentreprise in France, I’ll have to file taxes in France and the US. That really sucks.
  • Fortunately, there are things like tax treaties, foreign earned income credit, and foreign tax credit. That’s good.
  • And thank God there are financial planners and accountants who specialize in the confusing, complicated web of expat taxation. That’s even better!

(Well…I am TRYING to end on a positive note.)

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A Hard Choice? Selling My Home

One of the big decisions that comes with relocating is whether or not to sell my house. In 2007, right before the plummet of the US housing market, I purchased my first home. Now, several years later, it has lost 16% of its value. It is a common story many people share these days and one complicated by my sudden international marriage. So much for the American Dream!

The fact that I even have a home is somewhat of a miracle to me, one I worked hard for. You see, my home was purchased through Habitat for Humanity. In addition to income qualifications, it took me 200+ volunteer hours of building houses and working in their retail store. I did all this despite 8 weeks of mononucleosis, my father’s death, and then shingles. It was quite a year. Though I’ve often wanted to pull my hair out, homeownership has been an incredible journey of personal growth and inner strength.

I am so grateful to have a mortgage without interest. That’s the Habitat deal. However, if I am ever to leave this house, I have to pay back both the 1st mortgage and the 2nd mortgage… the interest I haven’t been paying. If I were to sell now, the good news is that I might just about break even.

This is yet another big decision in a long list of decisions I now have to make as the new spouse of a nonresident alien.

“So don’t sell. He can move here,” you might say. There’s much more to that decision, such as tax implications and culture shock, which I addressed in another post.

“Then rent it out while you are in Europe,” you might be thinking. “Create an income.”

If only that were an option! You see, under the Habitat agreement, I am bound to live in the house two weeks out of every month or risk default. Renting it out is not allowed. While I understand the importance of having such provisions, it all rather sucks now that my life has taken a totally unexpected twist. I’ve fallen in love with my book designer!

The first hurdle we had to face was me being able to travel to Europe for six weeks in the first place. Fortunately, I suspected I’d be traveling earlier in the year due to the recent publication of my book, so I had already spoken to Habitat about the possibility of traveling. They graciously agreed to make allowances for me to be away longer than two weeks providing I met certain criteria, but I suspect it isn’t an exception they would repeat.

So now we must decide whether keeping the house and all it provides is a good enough reason for Stuart to uproot his entire life to apply for a CR1 Immigration Visa or whether to sell and lose not only my home of 6 years but the nest egg it was supposed to hatch for me.

Certainly the standard of living we’d enjoy here in the US in an interest-free mortgage home would be much better than what we’d have overseas. And in a couple of years, we might even have enough equity in it to actually make a profit if we wanted to sell.

But do I want to be so attached to a house here when my life might actually be waiting for me over there? Do I want to make a decision based solely or mostly on economics? Do I want to subject Stuart to US taxation? Or do I want to dream big and dare to fly? Cautious and smart or carefree and wild? Will I come to regret my decision? I guess that in itself is a choice. So whatever we decide to do, I’m deciding now to be at peace with my choice…today, tomorrow, and forever.

My life has taught me that there are no mistakes. Regret only occurs when we believe our own stories, when we are hooked by the thought that we should have done “it” differently. We fail to embrace the reality of what is and move further from truth as a result. I just need to keep remembering this.

And as for this “decision”, I can spend all the time in the world weighing the pros and cons and get worked up into a mental frenzy, but there is something far more intelligent and peaceful poised to deliver the right choice at the right time if I just get quiet and create space for it. So while I allow my mind to do its protective thinking thing here, grateful for it, now…I think it’s time to enjoy some fresh air and sunlight!