Reviews 4,000+ verified REVIEWS
Pricing plans
Compare all plans
Tax guide
Pricing plans
Compare all plans
Tax Guide
All articles

Form 3520-A: A guide for the perplexed and the procrastinators

Form 3520-A: A guide for the perplexed and the procrastinators

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or tax advice.

Always consult with a tax professional for your specific circumstances.

Among all the US tax forms, where complexity meets bureaucracy, Form 3520-A stands out not just for its ability to induce headaches in even the most seasoned tax pros but also for its critical importance in the world of international taxation.

This form, officially titled "Annual Information Return of Foreign Trust With a U.S. Owner," serves as a beacon of transparency, guiding the IRS through the murky waters of foreign trusts.

What is Form 3520-A, and why should you care?

Imagine you're the proud owner of a foreign trust. Congratulations!

Now, welcome to the world of Form 3520-A, where failing to report is more expensive than your Netflix subscription.

This form is the IRS's way of keeping tabs on US persons who dabble in foreign trusts, ensuring that Uncle Sam gets a clear picture of what's happening beyond its borders.

Who's on the hook?

  1. Trustees of foreign trusts: The primary filers, responsible for ensuring the form is submitted on time.
  2. US owners of foreign trusts: If the trustee drops the ball, it's up to you to pick it up and run with it, ensuring the form is filed to avoid penalties.

Key differences between Form 3520 and Form 3520-A

In the grand chess game of US tax compliance, Form 3520 and Form 3520-A are two crucial pieces, each moving according to its own rules.

While they both relate to foreign trusts, understanding their differences is key to playing the game right.

Let's break down the main distinctions:

1. Purpose and focus

  • Form 3520: This form is like the Swiss Army knife of reporting foreign interactions – it's used by US persons to report transactions with foreign trusts, receipt of certain large gifts or bequests from foreign entities, and ownership of foreign trusts under the rules of sections 671-679 of the Internal Revenue Code.
  • Form 3520-A: Think of this form as the trust's yearly financial statement to the IRS. It's specifically for reporting the activities and financial status of a foreign trust with a US owner, providing a detailed account of the trust's income, distributions, and beneficiaries.

2. Who files?

  • Form 3520: Filed by US persons (citizens, residents, and entities) engaging in transactions with foreign trusts or receiving large gifts from foreign persons.
  • Form 3520-A: Technically, it's the foreign trust's responsibility to file this form. However, if the trust fails to do so, the onus falls on the US owner to ensure compliance.

3. Filing deadlines

  • Form 3520: The due date aligns with the filer's tax return, typically April 15th, with extensions available. It's like your tax return's international plus-one.
  • Form 3520-A: This form plays by its own rules, with a due date of March 15th for the previous tax year. It's the early bird of the foreign trust reporting world, and don't forget, extensions are possible but must be proactively sought.

4. Penalties for non-compliance

  • Form 3520: The penalties are as diverse as the form's uses, including a base penalty of $10,000 or up to 35% of the gross reportable amount, depending on the violation.
  • Form 3520-A: Here, the penalty starts at $10,000, but can increase if non-compliance continues, emphasizing the high stakes for timely and accurate filing.

The anatomy of Form 3520-A: A section-by-section breakdown

Form 3520-A might not ask for your first-born child, but it certainly wants to know everything about your foreign trust.

Form 3520-A preview



Let's dissect this form section by section, revealing the IRS's insatiable curiosity for details:

Part I: General Information (the opening act)

Here, we lay the groundwork by identifying the foreign trust with all the basics: name, address, and the date it sprang into existence.

It's like setting up a dating profile but for the IRS, where first impressions matter.

NOTE! U.S. Agent Appointment. A pivotal question – has the trust appointed a US agent to handle its affairs with the IRS?

A "Yes" simplifies the process, while a "No" means you're rolling out the red carpet for a slew of trust documents to accompany your form.

It's the IRS's way of saying, "Trust me, I want to know everything."

Part II: Foreign Trust Income Statement (the financial tell-all)

This section is where the trust spills its financial guts, detailing every dime it made and spent.

From interest and dividends to the thrilling world of rents, royalties, and capital gains, it's a comprehensive exposé of the trust's fiscal life.

  • Income and Expenses: Think of it as the trust's financial diary, where every entry – from the mundane to the monumental – gets its moment in the spotlight.
  • Net income calculation: After all is said and done, what's left in the trust's coffers? This line reveals the trust's net worth, akin to the dramatic reveal in a reality show finale.

Part III: Foreign Trust Balance Sheet (the financial health check)

Assets and liabilities take center stage, offering a snapshot of the trust's financial well-being.

It's like a fiscal physical, where every financial muscle and bone is examined.

  • Assets galore: From cash to real estate, this section inventories the trust's possessions, painting a picture of its wealth.
  • Liabilities and Net Worth: Here, we tally what the trust owes versus what it owns, culminating in the grand total of its net worth. It's the moment of truth, financially speaking.

The Statements (getting personal)

Foreign Grantor Trust Owner and Beneficiary Statements: These sections are where the trust's relationships with its US owners and beneficiaries are laid bare.

Each US owner and beneficiary gets a personalized statement detailing their slice of the trust pie.

  • Owner's Statement: Details the US owner's share of the trust's income, deductions, and distributions. It's like a financial love letter from the trust to its owner.
  • Beneficiary's Statement: Chronicles the distributions made to US beneficiaries, ensuring everyone knows who got what. It's the trust's way of keeping everyone in the loop, financially speaking.

Signing off (the grand finale)

The form concludes with a solemn declaration that everything stated within is true and accurate, signed by the trustee or US owner. It's the equivalent of swearing on a stack of tax codes that you've been honest and thorough.

Think of this all as the IRS's version of a reality TV show, where every financial move is scrutinized.

Common pitfalls and how to avoid them

Dealing with Form 3520-A is like walking through a minefield blindfolded.

Here are some tips to keep you safe:

  • Don't miss the deadline: This cannot be overstated. The IRS has a special place in its heart (and its penalty ledger) for late filers.
  • Accuracy is key: Double-check, triple-check, and then check again. Mistakes can be costly.
  • When in doubt, seek help: This is not the time for DIY. A tax professional can save you from the pitfalls of misinterpretation.

Free call with our team
Join 50,000+ happy taxpayers

Schedule my call

Pro tip: the silver lining

Yes, dealing with Form 3520-A can be as enjoyable as a root canal, but there's a silver lining.

Properly filing this form keeps you in the IRS's good graces, ensuring that your international financial activities are transparent and above board.

Plus, you get to avoid those pesky penalties.

Bottom line: Embrace the challenge

Form 3520-A might seem like the IRS's way of testing your will to live, but with the right approach and professional guidance, it's entirely manageable.

Consider it a rite of passage in the world of international finance – a badge of honor that says, "I survived Form 3520-A."

So, take a deep breath, arm yourself with knowledge (and a good CPA), and tackle Form 3520-A head-on. After all, in the game of taxes, knowledge is power, and compliance is the goal.

Taxes are complicated
Get peace of mind with TFX

Get started
Ines Zemelman, EA
Founder of TFX