FBAR penalty procedures under Title 31 are similar to federal tax penalty procedures under Title 26. Under both Title 31 and Title 26, the IRS must make a timely assessment of the penalty prior to initiating collection action. However, the two procedures diverge somewhat with respect to collection remedies available to the government. This article discusses FBAR penalty collection procedures and provides some insights on issues that tax professionals should consider when representing taxpayers who have FBAR penalty assessments.
FBAR Collection Procedures
Prior to beginning a discussion of the FBAR collection procedures, it is important to remember that the IRS has six (6) years to make a timely FBAR assessment. This six-year period begins on the date in which the FBAR should have been filed and runs regardless of whether an FBAR has been filed at all.
Because FBAR penalties are located in Title 31, provisions therein govern collection. Under Title 31, the government may collect FBAR penalty assessments through various means including: (i) administrative (or tax refund) offset (collectively, “administrative offset”); (ii) wage garnishment; and/or (iii) litigation.[i]
Here is the audio recording of the November 2, 2022 Bittner FBAR hearing …
On November 2, 2022 the Supreme Court Of The United States heard the Bittner case. The issue was whether in the context of a non-willful FBAR penalty:
1) The government is restricted to imposing one penalty based on the failure to file one FBAR; or
2) The government is authorized to impose one non-willful penalty for each of the accounts that should have been reported on the single FBAR form.
For example, let’s imagine that a US citizen has ten accounts that are “foreign” and he fails to file an FBAR form. Is the penalty based on the failure to file the form itself (one form means one $10,000 penalty)? Or may the government impose a penalty based on the failure to disclose each of the accounts on the FBAR form (10 times $10,000 = $100,000)?
On March 8, 2022, the Southern District of New York issued its Opinion in the case of United States v. Schik, No. 20-cv-0221 (MKV), 2022 U.S. Dist. Lexis 41148 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 8, 2022). In that case, the United States brought a lawsuit against a Holocaust survivor for willful failure to file an FBAR for one year: 2007. Incredibly, the United States sought to assess the maximum willful FBAR penalty against Mr. Schik—i.e., 50% of the foreign account balance—which would have resulted in close to a $9 million FBAR penalty. As seems more and more common, the United States moved for summary judgment on the willfulness determination. This article discusses the Schik case.
While there has been no official change to the current FBAR penalty rules we laid out in 2015, it should be noted there was a recent court case which has reached an unfavorable result for FBAR Penaltiestaxpayers with regard to potential FBAR non-willful penalties.
In an April 2019 California District Court case (U.S. vs Boyd), the court ruled that while the penalty rules for non-willful failure to comply with FBAR reporting requirements are ambiguous, it agreed with the IRS that it is more appropriate to impose the penalty ($10,000 max for the years dealt with in the Boyd case) on unreported accounts, on an account by account basis rather than per a calendar year penalty. So, rather than a maximum $10,000 penalty for all unreported accounts in a given year, in Boyd, the taxpayer was assessed a $10,000 per account penalty per year of non-compliance.
Despite the taxpayer’s persistent challenges, the Supreme Court has refused to review a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision affirming a lower court’s decision in favor of the IRS, which assessed a giant $1.2 million penalty for failing to disclose financial interests in an overseas account.
The April 30th decision, which is now final, is noteworthy for two reasons. First, it shows the magnitude of penalty that can be reached, even with respect to an individual and a single foreign account and tax year (in this case, the relevant tax year was 2006). Second, it shows the type of taxpayer arguments that courts will likely reject when reviewing an FBAR penalty case.
A new U.S. District court case has added to the recent upswing in cases tackling the issue of defining “willful” for purposes of applying the more severe penalties for failure to file the FBAR.
In U.S. v. Garrity, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 56888 (D. Conn. 2018), a United States District Court of Connecticut judge ordered that in moving to the next phase of trial, the IRS must prove the elements of its FBAR penalty claim only by a preponderance of the evidence, and the IRS can satisfy its burden to prove willfulness by evidencing reckless conduct by the taxpayer. Read More
As with many numbers in the U.S. tax code (for example, the foreign earned income exclusion maximum amount), FBAR penalties increase periodically due to inflation.
Recently, the IRS announced that FBAR penalties for noncompliance would be increased for penalties assessed after January 15, 2017. A brief summary of the FBAR requirement and the new penalty amounts are the subjects of this blog.
The FBAR Requirement – A Quick Background Read More
In a rather swift and harsh judgment, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s decision in favor of the IRS, which assessed an approximately $1.2 million penalty against a taxpayer for failing to disclose her financial interests in an overseas account.
The decision, U.S. v. Bussell, is noteworthy for two reasons. First, it shows the magnitude of penalty that can be reached, even with respect to an individual and a single foreign account and tax year (in this case, the relevant tax year was 2006). Second, it shows the type of taxpayer arguments that courts will likely reject when reviewing an FBAR penalty case. Read More