“Please provide tax records for the 3 most recent tax years.”
My stomach curled. I’d been living in Korea for 4 years and had never filed any US tax returns. I poisoned myself with the idea that it would be easier (and better) if I filed all my missing returns once I returned home.
If you read my previous article Q&A: Essential Tips for Filing Your US Taxes you might be already familiar with Seung Kang. But you might not be aware of what exactly he does or how I came to meet him. If you read on, you might just discover how he can help you too.
How Not Filing Taxes Came to Haunt Me… While Still in Korea.
I had just gotten married in Korea, and my wife and I wanted to start the US visa application process as soon as possible. Among an outstanding list of documents we needed to obtain, providing the last 3 years of tax transcripts was also required in order to prove that I had been keeping up with my taxes (aka being a good US citizen) as well as prove that I could financially support my wife and I.
I contacted my family’s personal tax accountant back in the US and was quoted a jaw-dropping $650 dollars for back-filing 3 years of taxes. On top of that, I would have to provide translations of all the Korean documents I needed in order for the agency to be able to get started.
Being a big proponent of the DIY mind-set, I for a quick moment made up my mind that I would file my returns on my own. After struggling for a few days to figure out how to go about it, what situation I was even in, and the discovery of the new FBAR regulations, I gave up. As every American knows, doing a federal process wrong can lead to a host of new problems as well as a long and drawn out process.
Eventually I stumbled upon a Facebook group called US Expat Taxes in Korea, and saw that it was run by a Korean-American tax accountant that ran a tax practice in New York. On top of that, he specialized mainly in helping English teachers in particular (the bulk of English-speaking expats in Korea) do their taxes.
I emailed him and explained my situation and got a quote from him. For the same 3 years that I was originally quoted $650 for, he said he would do for $300 (almost 40% of the original quote).
My Experience Using a Tax Professional from Abroad
Seung Kang was extremely nice and professional. He sent me a short survey that asked general questions about my financial situation. After seeing my answers, he explained that I actually only needed to back-file 2 of the 3 years I had missed and could still late-file the most recent year’s return.
After that, he wrote in Korean the documents that I needed from my employers. I printed out the email and then visited my previous schools to get the documents.
Once I got the papers from the schools, I scanned and emailed the newly obtained information to Seung and that was it. About a week later, he emailed me asking for a shipping address where he could send the tax papers I needed to sign. Two weeks later I received a semi-hefty manilla envelope with 2 sets for each year’s transcripts: a set for me to sign and a set for me to keep for my own records. On top of that he also shipped them for free.
I signed the forms, and then sent them by priority mail to the IRS mailing address that he specified. The whole process was relatively easy and painless. The only challenge was getting the time off work to go get the documents from my previous schools, but after that it was easy.
Why DIY Isn’t Always Better
We live in a time where there is great emphasis placed on doing things yourself. But when you’re not confident about something, it’s best to seek professional advice and pay for it when needed; especially when the outcome can greatly affect your life.
The biggest benefit to using this service was that I didn’t have to translate or interpret any Korean documents. I just scanned what Seung asked for and emailed them to him, and had the tax transcripts for my missed years in my hands a few weeks later. He wrote the names of the exact documents I needed in Korean for me to show to my employers so that we minimized the chance of miscommunication and the possibility of having to come back a second time.
If you think that filing your taxes once you get back to the US will be easier, you’re wrong. Very wrong. If you don’t get the essential documents needed from your Korean employers before leaving, you’ll have a difficult time getting them in the US. And if you breached the FBAR threshold, then that’s a whole other mess to worry about.
It’s Never Too Late… Until it’s Too Late.
It’s never too late to file your taxes. Even if you’ve missed years of returns, it’s still good to back-file them as soon as you can. Leaving this section of your life “blank” can lead to a host of problems in the future. By missing years of tax returns, you’ll essentially have a giant question mark (and probably red-flag) in your financial records with the IRS. This isn’t a matter of getting some extra cash back at the end of the year, it’s a matter of updating the US government about you and your financial situation.
So if you’re in my same situation, I would definitely recommend using Seung to either do your current returns or to do all your previous missed years’ returns. For a couple hundred bucks, you can save yourself a huge headache and a lot of hours worrying if you did it right.
I’m not being paid by Seung Kang or anyone to write this. I became tired of telling this story over and over to my friends so I thought I’d instead fix that (and satisfy my ego) by getting to say: “Hey check out my article.”
Seung offers free tax consulting and advice for expats, so even if you’re not sure whether you want to use his paid service, you can still chat with him to get professional advice.
You can learn more about Seung at www.seungkangcpa.com or email him at email@example.com. If you prefer the social media route, you can visit the Facebook group he moderates US Expat Taxes in Korea.
Tell him you’re ready to get a hold of your tax situation.