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How to Report Foreign Gifts With Form 3520


The IRS has clear guidelines and specific thresholds that dictate when and how U.S. persons (citizens, resident aliens or domestic trusts) must report gifts from foreign entities. With penalties for non-compliance potentially reaching staggering amounts, understanding these rules is not just a matter of financial literacy but of fiscal responsibility. If you receive a gift from a foreign entity, you’ll need to complete Form 3520. Here’s how to do that and what you need to know.

If you need help with your taxes or your entire financial picture, consider talking to a financial advisor.

How Reporting Foreign Gifts Works

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) mandates that U.S. persons disclose certain gifts from abroad to ensure adherence to tax laws. This obligation is a critical compliance measure to prevent tax evasion and maintain transparency in international financial dealings. The threshold for reporting is quite specific: gifts from foreign entities or individuals that surpass $100,000 in aggregate value during a tax year must be reported.

Here are the key points to know about paying taxes on a gift from a foreign entity:

  • Gifts totaling over $100,000 from foreign entities or individuals during the year must be reported.
  • Amounts over $18,567 (for 2023, $19,580 for 2024) received from foreign corporations or partnerships must also be disclosed.
  • Reporting thresholds are adjusted annually for inflation.
  • Non-compliance can result in financial penalties.

For those who might be receiving foreign gifts, it is crucial to report them in a timely and accurate manner, as per IRS guidelines, to avoid such penalties. The specific IRS form used for reporting foreign gifts is Form 3520, “Annual Return to Report Transactions With Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts.” Consultation with tax professionals is highly recommended due to the complexity of tax laws, although it is not the only way to ensure correct reporting.

What Defines a Gift From a Foreign Entity?

A gift from a foreign entity is typically identified as a transfer of property that is voluntarily executed without the expectation of a return or compensation. This can occur between individuals, organizations or states across international borders. Have you ever received a gift from abroad? Here’s what you need to know about potential tax obligations.

Tax laws, such as those enforced by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), have their own criteria for what constitutes a gift. The IRS defines a gift as any transfer where full consideration, quantifiable in monetary terms, is not reciprocated. While diplomatic gifts may avoid tax repercussions due to their ceremonial role, individuals may face tax implications depending on the gift’s value and its nature.

The relationship between the donor and recipient is also a factor, as gifts from family members might be treated differently than those from unrelated parties. Legislative changes, such as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, have further influenced the reporting and treatment of foreign gifts, underscoring the importance of staying informed about regulatory changes to ensure adherence to the law.

How to Complete Form 3520

A couple filing Form 3520 to report a gift from a foreign entity.

Form 3520, officially titled the “Annual Return To Report Transactions With Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts,” has a primary function to disclose information about transactions with foreign trusts. For U.S. persons, which encompass citizens, resident aliens and domestic trusts, engaging with international financial activities, understanding and fulfilling the obligations of Form 3520 is essential. Not only does it maintain legal compliance, but it also acts as a shield against the imposition of severe penalties.

Completing Form 3520 involves meticulous attention to detail across its various sections. Here is what you need to know as you fill it out:

  • Part I calls for disclosures regarding any money or property transfers to foreign trusts.
  • In Part II, if you’re treated as the owner of any part of a foreign trust, information must be furnished accordingly.
  • Part III calls for disclosures regarding money or property transferred to you from foreign trusts.
  • The most challenging section, Part IV, pertains to reporting large gifts or bequests from foreign persons. Lines 54-56 in this section, for example, demand detailed information about the donor and the precise valuation of the gift, which can be intricate to determine.

Before submitting, carefully review your completed Form 3520 to ensure all information is accurate and all required sections are filled. Sign and date the form as a final step. Typically, the form should be filed by the 15th day of the fourth month following the end of the U.S. person’s tax year, which is usually April 15th for individuals. However, taxpayers should be aware of the possibility of filing extensions, which may also apply to Form 3520, to manage their filing obligations effectively.

Form 3520 vs. Form 3520-A

Two critical forms that both facilitate similar things are Form 3520, “Annual Return to Report Transactions With Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts,” and Form 3520-A, “Annual Information Return of Foreign Trust With a U.S. Owner.” These forms are essential for the IRS’s efforts to ensure transparency and compliance with tax obligations arising from international financial interactions.

Form 3520 is a document U.S. taxpayers must complete when specific conditions are met. For example, it is necessary when a taxpayer receives a gift or bequest from a foreign individual that exceeds $100,000 during the tax year. This form also applies when the taxpayer receives distributions from a foreign trust. When the gift or bequest comes from a foreign corporation or partnership, a lower threshold of $18,567 triggers the reporting requirement.

In contrast, Form 3520-A serves a specific and related function. It must be filed by the trustee of a foreign trust with at least one U.S. owner, defined under the “grantor trust” rules in sections 671-679 of the Internal Revenue Code. This form reports detailed information about the trust’s U.S. beneficiaries, its assets, and any income it has distributed during the tax year, functioning as an annual information return for the foreign trust.

To better understand when each form should be used, consider the following scenarios requiring Form 3520:

  • You received a gift or bequest from a foreign person that exceeds the reporting threshold.
  • You are the beneficiary of a foreign trust and have received distributions.
  • You have made a transfer to a foreign trust or have created one.

For Form 3520-A, the filing requirement applies if:

  • You are the trustee of a foreign trust with a U.S. owner.
  • The trust requires annual reporting of its activities and beneficiaries in the U.S.

If you’re feeling uncertain about your filing obligations or the details discussed here, it’s wise to consult with a tax professional. They can provide personalized guidance to ensure that you meet your reporting requirements and avoid potential penalties.

Bottom Line

A couple researching the threshold for reporting a gift from a foreign entity.

Understanding the U.S. tax system requirement for filing Form 3520 and Form 3520-A can help you avoid penalties. The thresholds for reporting vary and are adjusted annually. Whether you’re receiving a gift from a foreign relative or engaging with a foreign trust, the obligation to report such interactions is clear, and the penalties for non-compliance can be severe.

Tips for Tax Planning

  • An financial advisor who specializes in tax planning can help you lower your tax liability. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Depending on your income, you might want to make sure you consider these tax-saving strategies for high-income earners.

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