US citizen efile US 2017 taxes when you owe nothing

NOT the funnest topic, but a problem that afflicts many of us.

Most of the US citizens I speak to living abroad (that's ordinary people on ordinary incomes) don't file at all. It's not that we're hiding revenue from the US govt: we don't have anything to hide. We don't owe anything to IRS when we work thru all the forms. Just filing the forms is a huge headache; I spent hours on mine this year. Yet we get no benefits from filing (other than maybe avoiding IRS). We already paid tax on earnings, and don't have much savings (much less interest, complicated trusts or tax shelter accounts). You may get caught, though, if the banking system where you live follows US laws about identifying and reporting all bank accounts belonging to US citizens. That 5 euros you left in the post office might be more useful to you under the mattress, instead

In case you're a US citizen on modest income living long term abroad, and trying to figure out HOW to file your 2017 tax return, here's some advice.

Don't efile at all; you can find (google) pdfs of all the forms you probably need,print them out, fill them in (round the numbers up a bit, the official average 2017 exchange rates you are supposed to use are on the IRS website) and mail them off to

Department of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service
Austin, TX 73301-0215

The only "free" efile programme I've found for 2017 that could handle my situation was Online Taxes (OLT). That wasn't actually free because my adjusted gross income came to $200 (far under the minimum $14k needed for the "free" service). So I paid $8 to file which wasn't far off what I'd pay to post the pack of papers airmail, at least. You might ask why I didn't use one of the true FREE services that IRS advertises on it's FREE EFILE! page (for Americans abroad). Below are the places where I got stuck with various software packages that IRS implies US citizens with foreign addresses can use to file their US taxes. Most fail simply because they can't handle foreign earned income (yes really). They can handle a foreign address... but not foreign earned income that is appropriate to declare on form 2555.

Hey, I didn't make this stupid system up.

And at least the IRS rules aren't as petty as British Inland Revenue who insisted I file UK self-assessment tax return because I earnt a whopping $12 interest in my US accounts in 2015. I moved all my paltry $$ to non-interest bearing accounts.


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