It’s February and there’s that sinking feeling in my stomach. Not the winter blues, instead the gargantuan beast from hell, the preparation of the annual tax returns. You can’t forget about it, or pretend it’s not happening, stick fingers in your ears and hope it will pass you by.
This is serious stuff, and like many people here in the Netherlands, we have to file returns with both the Dutch Tax authorities – the Belastingdienst – and the United States Department of Revenue – the IRS. They provide the hoops, we jump through them.
If we’re lucky and all goes well, the paperwork is completed and we pay any due balances to whoever demands it (who’s going to argue?). Worse case scenario we face a revenue audit by either country and go to purgatory. There is no get out of jail free card.
Before I go further I must stress the Captain and I are of the school that is upright, honest and likes to sleep at night. Life is stressful enough without trying to pull a fast one over a bunch of accountants. Our affairs are simple and straight forward, we are ordinary folk.
Unfortunately, as far as every revenue service in the world is concerned we are all secretly running mafia-like laundering operations worldwide, with off-shore accounts in tropical locations. Please. We’re not going to take on the revenue services, we’re too exhausted from dealing with the insurance company over our stolen car.
Generally speaking the Dutch have a wonderful system of taxing foreigners; you are only taxed on what you earn in this country, which seems really fair to me. The USA, on the other hand, wants details of everything anywhere in the world, whether you reside in the states or not.
The American hoops seem a lot bigger and more intense or perhaps it’s just me. Filing, late filing, extensions, a gazillion forms, late payment penalties, interest penalties, these are all things that sink me into a gloom of despond. The aim every year is to get ahead of the game so we deal with as few of these hoops as possible. We have a life.
We experienced how these hoops can take over your life our first year here and it’s a dark place neither of us want to revisit.
Arriving in the Netherlands we met with representatives from a company of international accountants. Delights. They would guide us through the ruthless waters of international tax, advising us on the best way to navigate between the Dutch and USA systems with as little stress as possible. We would pay them an exorbitant fee, but would be free from stress and the ravages of worry.
It was an interesting first meeting. Obviously our tax affairs were so simple the grey men didn’t feel the need for discussion.
The Delightful accountants took months to prepare our return, weeks to respond to an email and if you phoned no-one had a clue who you were. The information on the Dutch return is required to complete the USA return. We were months behind our schedule.
Finally Delights got back to us; the return was ready. There was no review, no recommendations. Their job was done. There had been no consultation with their own Delightful US tax expert, something we naively expected to be part of the process. Jacques, their US tax consultant, was operating out of Belgium and it was very difficult for him to be reached down there. Allegedly
Interestingly enough I had no problem getting hold of him. His advice was sound and professional. I can’t repeat what he said due to libel laws, but we took his advice and engaged a competent accountancy company.
The Captain nor I want a repeat of that dreadful time; the spectre of that first year haunts us still, despite having wonderful tax specialists now. The issues from incorrect information submitted on our return by Delights were finally resolved with the Dutch authorities two years later.
The feeling we’re wandering around inside a cloud – the one without a silver lining – descends on us at the beginning of every fiscal year. This year we were under starters orders early. With Harry heading off to pastures new in September, (the USA or Canada) it is imperative we get everything filed on time so Harry can submitt college related paperwork with actual figures, rather than estimates.
We know from old that dealing with US institutions from an overseas address is another minefield, the only point of reference for them is a currently filed tax return, hence our concern.
All was going well. Our accountants on standby, ready to start but no sign of end of year statements from our bank. This particular bank is an old Dutch institution, they’re still in shock we were allowed to bank with them. Let’s call them Van Randstadt, they have no online banking in English, not the case with our hip and ‘friendly to foreigners’ regular bank, the one rescued by the Royal Bank of Scotland.
I called Van Randstadt at a loss as to why we had heard nothing from them. The excitement was tangible.
‘Mevrouw, it is because this year we are not sending statements, we are producing a booklet! For each of our clients! With all your information in! It will all be in one place, so much better!’ You could feel the smugness and glee oozing down the line.
I explained my dilemma to the banker who was non-plussed. I needed some figures now, not in March (two months behind their usual time).
‘But Mevrouw you will have to wait, we can not access the computers in Den Bosch from here in Den Haag.’ A mere sixty miles across the country.
‘It is because of the booklets. Once the information has been sent over to Den Bosch we cannot access it until the booklets have been mailed…we are expecting them to be mailed sometime in the next three weeks. Perhaps.’
‘Well, okay, but can’t you pull the balances from our accounts and give them to me verbally? Please? That’ll work until we have the hard copies.’ Waves of disbelief and shock exploded from the earpiece,
“I can not do that mevrouw, the information will only be 98% accurate!’ he spluttered in horror and headed off for a lie down.
Several phone calls later, in the hope of tracking down our personal banker (it seems he has left, as much of a surprise to his colleagues as to us) proved fruitless. Emails requesting the information were deflected and the only replies we had were ‘It is not possible…you must wait for the booklet.’
In the end, angry and embittered (extreme I know, but this past year we have been drowning in a sea of disinterest and indifference), there was no alternative but to navigate the complex site map of Van Randstadt’s online banking website.
It took five minutes.
Whilst this is good news on the one hand, I cannot see why this information couldn’t have been forthcoming earlier. Good customer service? Not in my world.
Finally today, a month behind schedule, with a huge sigh of relief and a lightness of spirit, our documentation has winged it’s way from hard drive via email to our tax wizards.
Fingers crossed…another year over…