The easiest US expat tax return I ever filed

The dreaded US tax season … I used to do our taxes myself, using TurboTax, IRS regulations for expats, and any other legit info I could find. And I spent hours on it.

US expat tax return ChinaBut this year I made a change. I let experts do our taxes. I looked at a couple of the expat tax firms and their services, read reviews from users – basically I did my homework.

This is when I came across a smaller tax firm called “Online Taxman”, an online CPA firm specializing in taxes for US expats and foreign nationals working or investing in the US. They had great reviews.

The Online Taxman offered secured document transfers and all electronic communication, which seems standard in that industry. They also had a flat fee for federal tax returns, like some of the other providers. But what they offered for that flat fee seemed beyond just filling out the forms and filing the return. So I decided to give them a try.

I had the opportunity to meet the managing partner Vincenzo and one of the CPAs, Conrad, for lunch. We had a great discussion, and I felt they really understood my tax situation. I liked them and their approach. (For me taxes are something personal. After all, you share a lot of personal info with your CPA, so being comfortable with the person, even though everything can be done online, was important to me.)

How my online tax return worked

1. Prep work

After an initial (free) consultation with Conrad and Vincenzo I received an email with the invitation to collaborate on Box.com, a secure online file sharing platform, where all documents are uploaded securely.

I also received a welcome email with links to:

  • an onboarding document,
  • an initial tax preparation questionnaire, and
  • a notification to click when done uploading my documents, so they knew when to get started.

While their website may look a bit outdated in some areas, their onboarding document for new clients is excellent. It explains step-by-step what you need to do, complete with flowcharts and screenshots.

After accepting the Box.com collaboration, the next step is to fill out the tax questionnaire. This questionnaire covers your personal info that is needed for the tax return and also any income and expenses that are not reported on the typical tax forms like W-2 and 1099.

2. Running the numbers

After I uploaded all our info, the Online Taxman did his magic. My CPA checked in with me to clarify something and ask for missing pieces of info. They were thorough and ran two different scenarios on how we could file our taxes. One approach yielded in a lower tax payment but required more paperwork. They described everything and helped us make a decision.

Just as I had uploaded all my tax documents earlier, the Online Taxman also uploaded all the documents to the Box.com account, including a document comparing the scenarios, draft tax returns for my review, and the final tax return. I could review everything right there and download to my computer what I needed.

3. Signing, filing and paying

Signing my US expat tax return was easy. I received an email with a link for e-signing the documents. All I had to do was click on the link, select my e-signature and click “sign”. Your e-signature can be selected from your name written in a couple different fonts, or you can upload your scanned signature.

After everyone signed, I received another email with a link to the final signed tax return, which I downloaded for my own records.

Paying for the service was equally easy. Again, you receive an email with a link to a secure payment platform, where you enter your credit card information and receive an instant payment confirmation.

The verdict for filing my US expat taxes with the Online Taxman

Communication with the Online Taxman was straightforward, efficient and responsive. I had the chance to meet with my CPA in person to review a draft. Usually this meeting would have happened via Skype, because the CPAs and tax clients are usually not in the same location.

All official correspondence was via email. Documents were shared via the secure Box.com account.

We filed our tax returns just in time for the expat tax filing deadline last month. As this was the busy season for US expat taxes, I followed up with the tax guys a few times to check on the status. But that could just be my control freak nature. They worked long hours to ensure that all returns were filed before the deadline.

I was very happy with the overall process – as happy as you can be if you owe taxes. I think I know quite a bit about individual income taxes and have done our tax returns myself in the past. I found the Online Taxman very knowledgeable, responsive, and thorough. As I said, they ran two different scenarios for us rather than just going the quick and easy route. They also gave me valuable tips for the next tax year. I would definitely recommend the Online Taxman to other US expats.

For full disclosure, Vincenzo gave me a greatly reduced fee in exchange for me sharing my experience with the Online Taxman on the Beijing Expat Guide. Independent of that, I was very happy with the work and I will use his firm for my US expat taxes again next year, even if I have to pay the full fee (which at $500 for a federal return is still very affordable).

Some tips

  • I would suggest starting the process early, as they get very busy as the tax deadlines near.
  • Also keep in mind the time difference. The Online Taxman has accountants all over the world but the main offices are in New York City and in Medellin, Colombia.
    For China, this time difference means that you may lose half a day or more in communication because it’s night in China during most of the working day for your taxes.
  • Another thing to be aware of is that you need VPN to open the links for signing and downloading your tax returns in China. VPN is needed for many non-Chinese website, so this is not a tax-specific issue but I wanted to mention it here.

Are you dreading the tax season? The deadline for US expat tax returns was June 15th. If you haven’t filed yet, or want to get ahead of taxes for next year, check out the Online Taxman.

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