Our Spotlight series highlights the careers and lives of tax professionals across the globe.
This week’s spotlight is on Enrolled Agent Kristen Howze. Howze is a U.S. citizen who lives and works in Europe. After spending eight years in the Netherlands, she’s now based in Switzerland. Her home sounds busy: She’s married with a teenage daughter, a husky mix dog, a cat, and lots of fish.
What’s your official title and what does it mean? My title is Tax Manager, International Tax Services. Since we opened a branch office in Lausanne, Switzerland, it means more than it did before previously. I take care of my clients’ tax preparation and planning, the Lausanne office management, marketing, and local outreach to bring in new business, as well as write blogs on common issues and questions that I see.
Free time: book, audiobook, or podcast? All of them. I listen to audiobooks and podcasts while walking the dog or doing household chores, and in particular, I really enjoy podcasts on behavioral economics. I prefer books in the evenings and on weekends.
Tax is a huge subject. What’s your area of special interest? U.S. tax for U.S. persons living outside the U.S.—like me. I assist people who have fallen out of compliance or who were unaware of the U.S.'s unique brand of citizenship-based taxation, which is different from most other countries.
I also specialize in assisting foreign nationals inbound to the U.S. and U.S. persons that decide to expatriate. Every time I hear a U.S. person with a non-U.S. person spouse applying for a Green Card, I want to shout, “Wait! Talk to me first so we can make sure you don’t unnecessarily complicate your U.S. tax situation.” Navigating one tax system is difficult, but navigating multiple country’s tax laws certainly adds another layer of complexity. My goal is to identify mismatches in tax treatment and help my clients optimize their tax positions for both the U.S. and their country of residence.
What’s the last movie or show that you watched and loved (DVD, Netflix, or in the theater)? When I think about what I’ve watched recently, “My Octopus Teacher” really stands out from the rest.
What college did you attend, and what did you study? I attended Penn State and Arizona State universities, where I earned my Bachelor of Science degree. My favorite area of study was statistics, and I took as many statistics courses as they offered.
Go to pick-me-up: Coffee or tea? Mainly coffee, with cream and sugar, from the French Press, please.
What’s the best tax or financial advice that anyone ever gave you? When I was in my early 20s, my mentor impressed on me the importance of saving for retirement. I didn’t take it to heart at that time, but in retrospect, increasing my retirement savings earlier would have had a big impact.
More recently, the advantages of not always taking a treaty position, just because it is available. For example, if you live in a foreign country where the employee and employer pension contributions can be excluded and/or deducted from gross compensation, like 401(k) treatment in the U.S., you may be able to build a basis in the foreign pension, benefiting you down the road.
If you weren’t working in the tax profession, what would your dream job be? I’d love to be a mountain guide and lead multi-day hiking and/or skiing expeditions. If I wasn’t going to stray too far out of my current lane, I’d use my tax and ex-pat skillset in a proactive way: Cross-border financial planning is appealing because you can really have a positive impact. Global mobility and global relocation assistance are also interesting to me.
If you had the opportunity to make one change in the tax world—an extra credit, a disallowed deduction, whatever—what would it be? I would support large-scale tax reform for Americans living abroad. They are often subject to very onerous, complex, and confusing filing and reporting requirements. American Citizens Abroad has been advocating for residence-based taxation and same-country exceptions for international information reporting—like the FBAR.
Favorite food, snack, or candy during tax season or other busy time? Popcorn with butter, and in my opinion, France makes the best butter.
What tax news or move made the most impact on your practice or clients this past year? The Economic Impact Payments and Recovery Rebate Credit. Both presented significant hurdles for those living outside the U.S. EIPs were lost in international mail, and for those who did receive them, they had a difficult time getting them cashed. U.S. persons have a really difficult time using the IRS tools, for example, signing up for online account access.
If you received a big tax refund check right now, what would you do with it? Save half, use the other half for travel and scuba diving.
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