FBAR vs Form 8938: A Side-by-Side Comparison

When it comes to reporting foreign financial accounts as a US taxpayer abroad, there are two main forms to consider: FBAR and Form 8938. While they share many similarities, there are key differences between these two forms that can make a big difference in your reporting obligations and potential penalties for non-compliance.

In this blog post, we’ll provide a side-by-side comparison of FBAR and Form 8938 to help you understand the similarities and differences between the two forms, and make an informed decision about which one to use for reporting your foreign accounts. Let’s dive in!

What is the difference between Form 8938 and FBAR?

Form 8938 Vs. FBAR
Who must file? Specified individuals (US citizens, resident aliens, and certain non-resident aliens) and domestic entities that have an interest in specified foreign financial assets and meet the reporting threshold. US persons (US citizens, resident aliens, trusts, and estates) that have an interest in foreign financial accounts and meet the reporting threshold.

Does it include US territories? No, it doesn’t include US territories(Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, The United States Virgin Islands, and The Northern Mariana Islands) Yes, resident aliens of US territories and US territory entities are subject to FBAR reporting.

What’s the reporting threshold?
Reporting thresholds vary by residency and filing status (Refer to the section above that covers FATCA reporting requirements). The aggregate value of all foreign financial accounts exceeds $10,000.

What is reported?
The maximum value of specified foreign financial assets, which include financial accounts with foreign financial institutions and certain other foreign non-account investment assets. The maximum value of financial accounts maintained by a financial institution physically located in a foreign country.

How are maximum account or asset values determined and reported?
Fair market value in US dollars in accord with the Form 8938 instructions for each account and asset reported; convert to US dollars using the end of the taxable year exchange rate and report in US dollars. Use periodic account statements to determine the maximum value in the currency of the account; convert to US dollars using the end of the calendar year exchange rate and report in US dollars.
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Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets

Filing Requirements

If you are a “specified person,” Form 8938 is required to be filed with your tax return to report your interest in “specified foreign financial accounts” if the total value of all of your specified foreign financial assets exceeds a threshold. Okay, if you’re really interested, here are the Instructions.

Specified foreign financial assets include cash amounts in foreign accounts, foreign securities, financial interests in foreign entities and retirement accounts. This form requires details about each individual foreign asset, beyond just the total account balance that is included in Treasury Form 114 (FBAR). This does not include foreign rental property or foreign financial assets (currency or securities) that are held in a US financial institution. Here is a Comparison Chart of FBAR and 8938 requirements.

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Form 8938 - Olivier Wagner

In the USA, there have been so many intricacies involved with respect to your income tax return filing and compliance with the federal tax laws. Recently, there have been a number of administrative requirements for disclosing local and foreign financial assets. One such requirement is filing of FATCA-form 8938 for disclosing foreign-held assets, interests, partnerships, bank accounts, mutual funds or stockholdings, etc. It is very similar to the FBAR but the FBAR gets recorded with the US treasury and form 8938 goes to the IRS.

Who are the persons that come under the radar of FATCA compliance?

The law states that you need to file form 8938 if you are either a specified person or a specified domestic entity and you have rights or interests in a specified foreign financial asset. Now, every citizen of the USA who is earning more than $10,000 per annum or hold a specific amount of foreign financial assets come under the definition of specified persons for the purpose of FBAR reporting or filing form 8938.

What is FBAR?

FBAR is the report of foreign bank and financial accounts. It is separate from your tax return and is not filed with your tax return. It is filed directly with the Treasury. It has to be electronically filed. There is also no tax based on the FBAR, instead, it is simply an informational reporting form, through which you are essentially just conveying information to the Treasury.
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Venar Ayar On FBAR

A failure to file FBARs and Form 8938 can result in numerous civil tax penalties. Criminal penalties are also a possibility, which could result in jail time.

FBAR Civil Penalties

The FBAR civil penalties have two tiers, depending on whether your conduct was willful or non-willful:

  • Willful penalties can result in a penalty of $100,000 or 50% of the aggregate foreign account balance
  • Non-willful penalties can result in a penalty of up to $10,000 per violation

These penalties can be assessed for each account and for each year a FBAR should have been filed, but wasn’t.  So a taxpayer with 5 foreign accounts and 5 years of unfiled FBARs could have 25 FBAR violations.  In practice, examiners may recommend only one penalty per year and may even  recommend a single penalty for multiple years of violations.

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John Richardson

Previously, we have look at the tax treaty tiebreaker and how it relates to taxation of Subpart F and PFIC income as well as eligibility for streamlined offshore procedures. This is another in a series of posts on the tax treaty tiebreaker (which is a standard provision in most U.S. tax treaties).

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Manasa Nadig

There is a lot of attention these days on big companies (Apple, Google, General Electric, Facebook and others) stashing their earnings overseas in what are considered tax havens to avoid paying U.S. taxes on their corporate income. Some international tax reform proposals have been suggested as to how to get the corporation to either bring this stash back into the U.S. by way of a “repatriation holiday” or “deemed repatriation” or ending the system of tax deferrals. Read More

John Ricahrdson

The context: Form 8938 was created by the IRS to meet the reporting requirements mandated by Internal Revenue Code S. 6038D. S. 6038D was mandated by S. 511 of the HIRE Act.

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Ephraim Moss

Over the past several, years, the U.S. government has signed intergovernmental agreements (IGAs) with dozens of partner countries (83 altogether at latest count), which are designed to promote the implementation of the FATCA law requiring financial institutions (mainly banks and investment houses) outside the U.S. to report information on financial accounts held by their U.S. customers to the IRS.

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Taxpayers With Foreign Assets May Have FBAR And FATCA Filing Requirements In June

WASHINGTON—The Internal Revenue Service today reminded all taxpayers with an FBAR filing requirement to report their foreign assets by the June 30 deadline. FBAR filings have risen dramatically in recent years as FATCA phases in and other international compliance efforts have raised awareness among taxpayers with offshore assets.

The IRS encourages taxpayers with foreign assets, even relatively small amounts, to check if they have a filing requirement. Separately, certain taxpayers living abroad may also have to file the FATCA-related Form 8938 with their tax returns by the June 15 Read More