Overseas Americans are Caught in a Catch 22!
Americans residing overseas are denied access to banking facilities in the United States, solely because of their foreign address. The number of such instances has risen sharply since passage of the Patriot Act. Banks refer to “Know Your Client” rules in this legislation as the reason for refusing clients with overseas addresses, even if they are U.S. citizens. Overseas American citizens are consequently being denied the basic right to maintain normal commercial relationships with their country.
Furthermore, the Qualified Intermediary rules of the IRS for overseas banks with American clients have already discouraged many foreign banks from accepting American clients. For example, as noted in the IHT (02.27.2008), ABN AMRO, announced on February 27, 2008 that “it was closing any portfolio investment accounts held by customers with a U.S. passport within 30 days, citing “strategic reasons.”...The Dutch financial newspaper De Telegraaf reported that the decision to cancel the accounts was the result of high costs to comply with U.S. regulatory laws.” As of January 1, 2010, reinforced QI rules will be so restrictive that very few overseas banks will continue to accept American clients; the reporting requirements are too costly and the legal and compliance teams do not want to assume the risks.
When loyal tax-paying American citizens face prejudice from both domestic banks and foreign banks, they are placed in a Catch 22 situation. Americans with a foreign address become outcasts, a security risk, potential money launderers or tax evaders. At a time of ever-increasing globalization and mobility of population, the damage inflicted by U.S. law on the estimated 5 million overseas American citizens is very serious. Congress must remedy the situation.
Unintended Consequences of U.S. Legislation Leads to Discrimination against Overseas Americans
When overseas Americans organizations inquired about possibilities of redress to the Department of Treasury, the OMBD Customer Assistance Group (vk 751858) replied: “In opening accounts, BSA requires the bank to collect certain minimum information such as name, date of birth, address, and social security number. In establishing/continuing banking relationship, the bank is also able to determine their marketing area. The bank’s marketing area plays a huge factor in the bank ability to collect on accounts that may go delinquent.
This policy was in practice prior to the Patriot Act. Once an account holder leaves a bank’s marketing area, there are no banking regulations that require the bank to maintain the relationship.” This reply ignores the facts and the real issue. Overseas Americans who have had U.S. investment accounts with significant assets and no debts for more than 20 years have been informed, subsequent to passage of the Patriot Act, that their account will be closed within 30 days. Each time it is the foreign address which is cited as the reason for this procedure. Institutions cited in case examples of forced account closure include Ameriprise, Bank of America; Bank of New Hampshire; Citibank; Citizens Bank; Edward Jones, St. Louis; E- Trade; Fidelity Investments; INGDirect; JPMorganChase; Morgan Stanley; National City Bank in Riverview, Michigan; Provident Bank, Maryland; Smith Barney; T. Rowe Price; USAA Federal Saving Bank; Vanguard mutual fund; Wachovia; Washington Mutual; Washington Mutual Investment, Spokane; WellsFargo; Zions Direct.
As one person reported, “Bank of America informed me that they would no longer provide services to my accounts and I had 30 days to transfer my assets to another financial institution or they would cash out the two accounts – just like that!! This is after being a good customer of the bank for twenty-four years.” Another noted, “As executor of my mother’s estate, I was prevented from overseeing my father’s care in a nursing home because their bank would not let me manage the estate account from Germany, where I live.” And another: “I had a brokerage account with E-trade for many years. My request to open a new financial account was refused because of my foreign address. When I heard stories from other Americans overseas that banks were insisting on closing accounts or possibly blocking an account, I decided to transfer my assets from ETrade to a foreign bank.” And yet another: “I am named in the wills of several of my family members who reside in the U.S. I do not want the funds to leave the U.S., but I cannot open an account there.”
Practical Issues linked to denial of bank services in the U.S.
Denied – Possibility to write a check on a U.S. bank to pay U.S. taxes
Without a U.S. bank account, there is no possibility to write a check to pay U.S. bills. Yet payment by check is still the principal means for settlement of bills, including payment of taxes to the IRS.
Denied – U.S. issued credit card required for certain purchases
Without a U.S. bank account, it is not possible to obtain a U.S. issued credit card.
Denied – The ability to transfer funds from overseas to American bank accounts
“I found myself unable to transfer funds to one of my children attending school in America.”
“When an IRA distribution was sent to my US bank, the bank refused the deposit, saying that I must provide a utility bill.”
“A U.S. bank, where I have had 529 College Savings Plans accounts for five years for my two daughters, suddenly in September 2007 refused any further deposits.”
“In spite of the fact that I have had long standing, multiple accounts with my bank, I was blocked from making transfers into an account and some brokerage transactions were also blocked due to my foreign address.”
Denied – Ability to establish a credit rating in the U.S. or to borrow from a U.S. bank
“It is very difficult for non-residents to get a mortgage for an investment/future retirement property because they cannot open an account in the U.S.”
“As a U.S. resident abroad, today I am unable to continue establishing U.S. credit history or even to request my credit report in case I want to request a loan from a U.S. bank.”
Denied – Access to www.AnnualCreditReport.com
For individuals with financial transactions in the U.S., the FTC-approved www.annualcreditreport.com allows one to obtain their free annual credit reports. The 3 major credit reporting companies (transunion, equifax & experian) all link to this site. It is very important for any consumer to review their credit report for errors. If one tries to access this site, the follow message comes up: "TheAnnualCreditReport.com website is only accessible through ISPs (internet Service Providers) located within the United States and its territories." Once again, US citizens resident abroad are denied access to full US financial services.
The organizations sponsoring Overseas Americans Week strongly recommend that Congress, and in particular the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee in the Senate and the Financial Services Committee in the House of Representatives, investigate this issue and introduce legislation to correct the injustice of discrimination by American financial institutions against American citizens on the sole basis of their overseas address.