On June 18, 2014, the IRS announced major changes in the 2012 offshore account compliance programs, providing new options to help taxpayers residing in the United States and overseas. The changes are anticipated to provide thousands of people a new avenue to come back into compliance with their tax obligations and would largely waive these penalties if taxpayers come forward and show that they didn’t hide the money on purpose.
Separate from United States income tax returns, many U.S. persons are required to file with the U.S. Treasury a return commonly known as an “FBAR” (or Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts; known as FinCEN Form 114), listing all non-US bank and financial accounts. These forms are required if on any day of any calendar year an individual has ownership of or signature authority over non-US bank and financial accounts with an aggregate (total) balance greater than the equivalent of $10,000.
The penalties for FBAR noncompliance are stiffer than the civil tax penalties ordinarily imposed for delinquent taxes.
Failing to file an FBAR can carry a civil penalty of $10,000 for each non-willful violation. But if your violation is found to be willful, the penalty is the greater of $100,000 or 50% of the amount in the account for each violation—and each year you didn’t file is a separate violation. By the way the IRS can go back as far as 6 years to charge you with violations.
Criminal penalties for FBAR violations are even more frightening, including a fine of $250,000 and 5 years of imprisonment. If the FBAR violation occurs while violating another law (such as tax law, which it often will) the penalties are increased to $500,000 in fines and/or 10 years of imprisonment.
The streamlined filing compliance procedures are available to taxpayers certifying that their failure to report foreign financial assets and pay all tax due in respect of those assets did not result from willful conduct on their part. The streamlined procedures are designed to provide to taxpayers in such situations (1) a streamlined procedure for filing amended or delinquent returns and (2) terms for resolving their tax and penalty obligations.
Taxpayers will be required to certify that the failure to report all income, pay all tax, and submit all required information returns, including FBAR’s (FinCEN Form 114, previously Form TD F 90-22.1), was due to non-willful conduct.
What Constitutes Non-Willful Conduct?
The key to qualification in this new procedure is to prove that your past actions or inactions can be considered to be non-willful conduct. Non-willful conduct is conduct that is due to negligence, inadvertence or mistake, or conduct that’s the result of a good-faith misunderstanding of the requirements of the law. The application of this standard will vary based on each person’s facts and circumstances so it is something that has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
If the IRS has initiated a civil examination of a taxpayer’s returns for any taxable year, regardless of whether the examination relates to undisclosed foreign financial assets, the taxpayer will not be eligible to use the streamlined procedures. Similarly, a taxpayer under criminal investigation by IRS Criminal Investigation is also ineligible to use the streamlined procedures.
Taxpayers eligible to use the streamlined procedures who have previously filed delinquent or amended returns in an attempt to address U.S. tax and information reporting obligations with respect to foreign financial assets (so-called “quiet disclosures” made outside of the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”) or its predecessor programs) may still use the streamlined procedures.
The Streamlined Procedures are classified between U.S. Taxpayers Residing Outside the United States and U.S. Taxpayers Residing in the United States.
Both versions require that taxpayers:
a. Certify that the failure to report the income from a foreign financial asset and pay tax as required by U.S. law, and failure to file an FBAR (FinCEN Form 114, previously Form TD F 90-22.1) with respect to a foreign financial account, resulted from non-willful conduct. Non-willful conduct is conduct that is due to negligence, inadvertence, or mistake or conduct that is the result of a good faith misunderstanding of the requirements of the law.
b. File 3 years of back tax returns reflecting unreported foreign source income;
c. File 6 years of back FBAR’s reporting the foreign financial accounts; and
d. Calculate interest each year on unpaid tax.
In return for entering the streamlined offshore voluntary disclosure program, the IRS has agreed:
a. Possible waiver of charges of criminal tax evasion which would have resulted in jail time or a felony on your record;
b. Possible waiver of other fraud and filing penalties including IRC Sec. 6663 fraud penalties (75% of the unpaid tax) and failure to file a TD F 90-22.1, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Report, (FBAR) (the greater of $100,000 or 50% of the foreign account balance); and
c. Possible waiver of the 20% accuracy-related penalty under Code Sec. 6662 or a 25% delinquency penalty under Code Sec. 6651.
For U.S. Taxpayers Residing Outside the United States who apply to the streamlined program, the IRS is waiving the OVDP penalty.
For U.S. Taxpayers Residing in the United States who apply to the streamlined program, the IRS is imposing a 5% OVDP penalty (applied against the value of the undisclosed foreign income producing accounts/assets).
Raj is an engineer working and living in California. He was born in India and came to California after completing his education in India. While he was a child his parents set up a bank account in India which he did not even know about until just recently. That account has been earning interest all of these years and now has a balance of $100,000.00.
What liabilities does Raj face under the Internal Revenue Code?
1. Back taxes, interest and 20% accuracy related penalty for the unreported interest income going back at least three years.
2. FBAR penalties of $10,000 per account per year (going back 6 years results in a $60,000 penalty).
When I total that all up, what started out as an account with $100,000.00 would leave Raj with about $30,000 – that’s a 70% reduction in value!
How would Raj fare by hiring tax counsel experienced in OVDP and going forward with one of the programs established by IRS?
1. Back taxes and interest for the unreported interest income for the last three years.
2. No 20% accuracy related penalty.
3. No FBAR Penalties
4. A one-time 5% OVDP penalty (applied against the value of the account)
So when I total that all up, what started out as an account with $100,000.00 now would leave Raj with about $93,000.00 – a 7% reduction in value. That’s a lot better than a 70% reduction in value! And there are things that we can do as tax counsel to make that reduction even smaller and perhaps get full abatement of penalties.
What Should You Do?
We encourage taxpayers who are concerned about their undisclosed offshore accounts to come in voluntarily before learning that the U.S. is investigating the bank or banks where they hold accounts. By then, it will be too late to avoid the new higher penalties under the OVDP of 50% percent – nearly double the regular maximum rate of 27.5%.
Don’t let another deadline slip by. If you have never reported your foreign investments on your U.S. Tax Returns or even if you have already quietly disclosed or you are in the 2012 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (“OVDI”), you should seriously consider participating in the IRS’s 2014 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”). Once the IRS contacts you, you cannot get into this program and would be subject to the maximum penalties (civil and criminal) under the tax law. Taxpayers who hire an experienced tax attorney in Offshore Account Voluntary Disclosures should result in avoiding any pitfalls and gaining the maximum benefits conferred by this program.
Protect yourself from excessive fines and possible jail time. Let’s meet on TaxConnections to qualify you for OVDP.
Original Post By: Jeffrey Kahn