Laws and legal documents when transferring large sums of money into the US
Failing to file could land you in hot water with the IRS.
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If you're planning to transfer more than $10,000 from overseas, a money transfer service can help you save on fees — but you still need to report the transfer to the US government. Read on to familiarize yourself with the tax implications and what you need to do when transferring large amounts of cash -- and what the penalties could be if you don't.
What's in this guide?
- Do I have to report large transfers into the US?
- Compare providers for your next large transfer to the US
- Documents specific to sending large amounts into the US
- Why is the US government interested in how much I receive?
- What should I expect when receiving money from overseas?
- What other steps should I take to avoid legal or tax problems?
Do I have to report large transfers into the US?
Yes. No matter where you're from, if you're receiving more than $10,000 while in the US, you'll need to abide by US laws put in place to both protect both your money and the interests of the government.
By law, banks report all cash transactions that exceed $10,000 — the international money transfer reporting limit set by the IRS. In addition, a bank may report any transaction of any amount that alerts its suspicions. Money transfer businesses, which often solely send money between countries, sometimes have reporting thresholds as low as $1,000.
US law requires banks and money transfer companies to report:
- Your name and contact information.
- The name and contact information of the person who sent you the money.
- If it's a bank transfer, the financial details of the recipient, including SWIFT code.
- Your banking details, including your bank account number.
- The amount you received.
Compare providers for your next large transfer to the US
Documents specific to sending large amounts into the US
If you are living in the US and received foreign gifts of money or other property, you'll need to report it on Form 3520 — Annual Return to Report Transactions with Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts.
US citizens and residents are required to use Form 3520 for:
- Gifts or bequests valued at more than $100,000 from a nonresident alien individual or foreign estate.
- Gifts of $15,601 or more from foreign corporations or foreign partnerships (including from people related to these corporations or partnerships).
Form 3520 is considered an "information return," rather than a tax return, because foreign gifts generally are not subject to income tax. However, you are subject to stiff penalties for failing to submit Form 3520 when it is required.
Who is responsible for filing Form 3520 — me or the person who sent the money?
As the recipient of the transfer, you are solely responsible for reporting the amount you received during the current tax year with your annual tax filing.
The penalties for failing to file Form 3520 on time are equal to the greater of $10,000 or the following:
- 35% of the gross value of the distributions received from a foreign trust.
- 5% of the gross value of the portion of the amount treated as owned by you.
- A separate 5% penalty if you fail to furnish correct required information.
Why is the US government interested in how much I receive?
Laws are in place to protect you and the government from fraudulent activity. By monitoring transactions in and out of the US, authorities are able to:
- Protect your sensitive information.
- Lower the risk of illegal and fraudulent transfers.
- More clearly identify money laundering schemes.
- Inhibit the ease of sheltering taxes in untraceable offshore accounts.
Since 9/11, the US government has put even more stringent laws in place. For example, the Patriot Act allows the government to track money more carefully due to terrorism.
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What should I expect when receiving money from overseas?
To prevent the US government from delaying or canceling your money transfers into the country, you'll need to provide proof of a government-issued photo ID — a driver's license or passport, for example — and proof of your address.
If you already own an account with the bank or money transfer company, you may not need to provide ID each time you receive money. However, online money transfers may have stricter rules when it comes to proof of ID and could ask for additional documentation or to verify your identity by phone.
What other steps should I take to avoid legal or tax problems?
To avoid the penalties that come with a failure to report large sums of money into the country, it may be worth it to speak to a tax lawyer to make sure that everything is above board and complies with the laws of all countries involved.
Receiving large money transfers while in the United States almost always need to be reported to the IRS, failing to do so could lead to a fine or worse. It may be tempting to think you can slip through the cracks and save money, but the fines far outweigh the benefits. Instead, learn how to save money on your next transfer to help offset the overall cost of the taxes you may owe.
Frequently asked questions
Is dealing with the IRS a hassle when transferring large amounts?
If you follow the law and submit your legal documentation timely and accurately, you shouldn't experience hassles with the IRS. If you choose not to follow the law, you may be on the hook for stiff penalties, including jail time.
Can I avoid IRS penalties if I fail to file?
Penalties can be avoided if you can show the IRS reasonable cause for a failure to file. However, the US does not consider reasonable cause to include information that might be a crime in another country.
If I am inheriting money from outside of the country, do I have to pay taxes on it in the US?
Yes, no matter where the money is coming from, when you receive money that is over $10,000, you need to report that to the government.
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