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Money Matters…Or Does It Really?

Gare du Nord - Paris, FranceGare du Nord – Paris

THALYS rail service, France

One-hour-twenty-two-minutes is all it takes to get from Paris Gare du Nord to Bruxelles-Midi on the Thalys train. It’s amazing. At the border of France and Belgium, the architecture changes to somewhat austere red brick and so does the weather change — strangely as if the demarkation line somehow knows to keep the cold and fog on the northern and Belgian side.

I went to Brussels for just one day to meet with Brian Dunhill of Cross Border Planning (formerly Dunhill Financial) and Carl Mir, of Mir Enterprises US, LLC, who manage both my financial life and U.S. tax returns. With the October 15th deadline approaching to submit my 2015 U.S. tax return, it was time well spent to be face to face, files and computers in front of us, reviewing the figures to ensure their accuracy.

Before boarding the return train to Paris, I also met with Erin Clor and Christine Sullivan of Fragomen Worldwide … with whom we partner to assist our clients (and you readers) with immigration issues. Both Americans living in Brussels, they fully understand the challenges an Expat faces in obtaining the proper residency visas. If you can afford to hire professional help, then by all means, don’t go through the process alone! The truth is, you can’t afford not to. Maneuvering the system to have the right to live in France can be very tricky, so don’t make the mistake of not having professional advice.

Brian was the first of the group I met a few years ago, introduced to me by the folks at Moneycorp Exchange Services. He was looking to expand his Paris client base and I was looking for financial advice. It was a match made in heaven. With a wave of his magic wand, Brian aligned my financial assets in a way that has protected them and at the same time increased their values. Jokingly, I blame him for the sale of my precious rental properties in Paris last summer, but the truth is that his advice stabilized my life and now I can rest easy for a more secure future. Because Brian is half American/half British, having grown up in Brussels and studied in the U.S., he understands what it’s like to have a foot on each continent and how to manage that from a financial point of view.

Brian brought Carl Mir into his office this past year to manage the tax returns for his American clients. Carl was another godsend. For me with both business and personal interests on the two sides of the big pond, fitting the pieces of the proverbial puzzle to complete the picture is no simple task. Carl is a creative thinker within the boundaries of the tax rules, which I like — and has made a real difference to my tax obligations. (Of course, my tax deductions don’t compare to Donald Trump’s, but every penny helps when you’re paying tax on both sides.)

It’s tricky being an American living in France from a financial and tax perspective. There is a tax treaty between the two countries to alleviate the problem of paying taxes on the same earnings in both countries, but it doesn’t always work so well. A couple of years ago I got caught in what felt like the abyss of regulations, each country vying for the same taxes. It would be simpler if it were just a tug of war, with each country on the ends of the rope, one pulling harder than the other to win the load, but it’s not that simple. If there was that central rope, then the two countries could just battle it out and make the decisions for you as to what you should pay to whom and for what reasons. Unfortunately, you’re on your own to report your income to each, independently, but reporting your claims to both and then praying like hell that each side agrees with your assessment. (What really happens is that you’re split down the middle with your guts hanging out, or so it feels that way.)

Cost of living IndexCost of living Index

One thing I learned in the process is that the money doesn’t really matter. If you’re living a lifestyle you DON’T want, then having more money by paying less taxes won’t make you any happier. Ultimately, since you can’t take it with you, and unless you have heirs who need it more than you, you might as well have the lifestyle you want and enjoy your time on earth the way you want. Another thing to consider is that while the taxes overall are higher in France, there are other costs that can increase your cost of living (such as expensive health insurance and healthcare costs, transportation costs and higher education tuitions) and therefore the bottom line can be virtually the same.

It’s why I have stayed in France in spite of advice I received to live in the U.S. more than half the year to be tax resident in the U.S. (the 183 day tax rule) — just to save a few bucks on taxes. The trade-off just wasn’t good enough. As long as there is the security to grow old and live at the standard to which you have become accustomed, then who needs more?

Anything more is simply greedy.

Definition of Greed by Wikipedia.org:

    An inordinate or insatiable longing, especially for wealth, status, and power.
    As secular psychological concept, greed is an inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than one needs. The degree of inordinance is related to the inability to control the reformulation of “wants” once desired “needs” are eliminated. Erich Fromm described greed as “a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.” It is typically used to criticize those who seek excessive material wealth, although it may apply to the need to feel more excessively moral, social, or otherwise better than someone else.
    The purpose for greed, and any actions associated with it, is possibly to deprive others of potential means (perhaps, of basic survival and comfort) or future opportunities accordingly, or to obstruct them therefrom, thus insidious and tyrannical or otherwise having negative connotation. Alternately, the purpose could be defense or counteraction from such     dangerous, potential negotiation in matters of questionable agreeability. A consequence of greedy activity may be inability to sustain any of the costs or burdens associated with that which has been or is being accumulated, leading to a backfire or destruction, whether of self or more generally. So, the level of “inordinance” of greed pertains to the amount of vanity,     malice or burden associated with it.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - Paris, France

Adrian Leeds
Adrian Leeds Group

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North American Expat Financial Forum - Nice, France

P.S. Thanks to our sponsors, Moneycorp Exchange Experts and Caye International Bank, as well as with the support of Cross Border Planning, we are able to offer you attendance of the North American Expat Financial Forum in Nice on October 17th absolutely FREE! The first 35 registrants to sign in by sending an email to [email protected]?subject=Attend_Financial_Forum will be welcomed at no charge and receive all the benefits — drinks, snacks and special closing cocktail included plus a free copy of the American Financial Guide. Visit North American Expat Financial Forum for more information and be sure to register NOW!

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