FATCA and FBAR Example of Non-Compliance – Fines & Penalties

With FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act)firmly in place, and more than 100 countries and thousands of foreign financial institutions reporting US taxpayers to the IRS and U.S. Government, receiving a FATCA Letter and not getting into compliance by filing your FBARs, 8938s, 3520, 3520-A, 5471 or 8621 – as well as an amended tax return(s) – may result in irreparable Financial harm and damage to you and your family.

The following is a case study example of how one individual can get stuck in the FBAR/FATCA matrix:

Golding & Golding - International Business Tax Lawyers

Golding & Golding – U.S. and International Tax Lawyers

Background – David

David is a U.S. Legal Permanent Resident (Green Card Holder or LPR Status) and Chinese Citizen who currently resides in the United States. He has had his Green Card for nearly 20 years and alternates between living in the United States and living abroad.

He has numerous accounts worldwide with upwards of $1-$3 million at any given time. The money is scattered amongst different accounts, including Investment Accounts, Banking Accounts, Mutual Funds, and Insurance Policies.

David Received a FATCA Letter

Although David’s primary residence is in the United States, when he opened up his foreign bank accounts he used an address in Hong Kong as his main address. In addition, since he is a Chinese citizen, David does not disclose that he is a US Resident for Tax Purposes when he opened the accounts. (In other words, he does not complete a W-9).

Recently, David’s wife, Irene (who resides primarily in Hong Kong) informs David that they received a FATCA Letter at their home from the foreign financial institution (Hang Seng Bank). The letter requests that David and his wife (as a Green Card Holder) confirm their US residence status.

David begins researching the issue online, and after visiting various ex-pat forums (and against the advice of the attorneys he spoke to) decides he is going to do nothing, except “sit and wait.”

David and Irene’s Information is Sent to the IRS

Multiple foreign banks have already provided the IRS with David and Irene’s information regarding their foreign accounts. Unfortunately for David and Irene, they had already been selected for audit on an unrelated matter at around the same time that the IRS received the notice from Hong Kong. Specifically, David and Irene were being audited because a 1099 was issued to David from a US bank in the amount of $93.

The $93 stemmed from a small savings account that David forgot he had, since he had not accessed it for many months. As a result, David and Irene did not report the information to the IRS in their original tax return.

David and Irene are Audited

David and Irene are audited by the IRS. They receive a notice from the IRS in the form of a Request for Documents (IDR) requesting various different documents. In addition, they are asked the name of their CPA or other tax preparer.

David and Irene believe they can talk their way out of the issue, and further believe that because they reside overseas they will be fine. After doing more research, David realizes that Hong Kong entered into a IGA (Intergovernmental Agreement) with the United States and that his money overseas is subject to possible levy or seizure.

It Gets Worse…

While in Hong Kong, David and Irene use a licensed CPA who prepared their taxes. The CPA was aware that David and Irene had foreign accounts but did not put that information on the tax return. David and Irene were also aware of this but decided to roll the dice and take their chances. They intentionally checked off “No” for Question 7 on Schedule B.

Since the failure to report was willful, and the CPA herself had gotten into trouble for not reporting foreign accounts for many clients residing in Hong Kong, David and Irene would not have been able to rely on the Streamlined Program or make a claim for “Reasonable Cause” anyway.  Instead, David and Irene are considered willful tax evaders – which would subject them to a 50% penalty on the balance of their accounts.

It Gets even Worse…

David and Irene are being audited for three years initially, so the total value of the penalty they could get hit with is 100% value of the foreign accounts — which is just the FBAR penalties. Since David and Irene have more than $5000 of unreported foreign earnings, the amount of time the IRS has to audit them expands to six years.

That means for six years, the IRS will be able to audit prior tax returns, issue penalties or prior tax returns, charge taxes and interest for prior tax returns, and literally make David and Irene’s life a financial mess. If the IRS discovers the Fraud, there is no Statute of Limitations — and the IRS can go back and audit them as far as they would like.

Passport Revocation, Customs Holds & Loss of Green Card

If David and Irene decide that they are not going to pay the fine and just “hide out” in a foreign country, their ability to travel may be severely impaired. That is because (working in conjunction with foreign countries) the United States could try to place a hold on David and Irene’s passports and/or ability to travel. It could result in David and Irene losing their passport (if it is US-based) and/or be subject to a customs hold at the airport, and forced to answer questions from the US government.

Moreover, the U.S. could also deny the renewal of the Green Card or deny Naturalization, due to Tax Fraud and Evasion.

The IRS Special Agents Also want to Investigate

Since David and Irene had over $3 million of unreported foreign accounts at the time of Audit, nearly $100,000 in annual unreported foreign income, and used a CPA that also was in trouble – David and Irene will also receive a visit from the IRS Special Agents since their failure to report could be considered willful… which can be considered a tax crime

With the global crackdown on International Tax Evasion, it is best to try to get into compliance before you are detected by the IRS, DOT or DOJ – we can help!

*Since FBARs carry the highest penalties (Aside from Tax Fraud) we reproduced our very popular “FBAR FAQs from the Trenches” for your review.



Golding & Golding are highly-respected International Tax Lawyers and FBAR (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Account) Lawyers who have represented numerous individuals and businesses with FBAR compliance in accordance with IRS and DOT regulations.

Many unscrupulous law firms, CPAs and Lawyer/CPAs are providing the public with misinformation about the FBAR form in order to try and scare them into retaining them for FBAR representation.

Unfortunately, many people and businesses are getting into trouble because they relied upon a tax professional who really has no clue about international tax law or FBAR related experience beyond using Adwords and other marketing ploys to peddle their wares – only to get the client in a serious bind with the federal government.

We are providing you with a Free Summary of the common Frequently Asked Questions regarding questions we have received over the years. While the form itself has a set of instructions and frequently asked questions section, our Frequently Asked Question list is more of “FAQs from the trenches,” in which we will answer questions which are not really provided for by the government.

What is an FBAR Statement?

An FBAR statement is a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts form. It is electronically filed annually with the Department of the Treasury online. Before this year (2016) the form had to be filed no later than June 30th of the current tax year in order to report the accounts for the prior tax year (File in 2015 to report the 2014 Maximum Account Balances). The law is changing in 2016 which will be applicable in 2017, and will have a April 15, 2017 due date.

Is it more than $10,000 per account, or in Total?

An FBAR is required to be filed when a person or business (explained below) has an annual aggregate total of foreign accounts that exceeds $10,000. It does not matter if all that money is in one account or if a person had 11 accounts with $1000.00 in each account (you get the picture, right?). Once your overseas foreign accounts exceed $10,000, it is now time to report all of the foreign accounts.

Who or What is a U.S. Taxpayer?

This question can get more and more complex depending on who you speak to and what the context of the question is. To that end, if you are either a US citizen, Legal Permanent Resident, or Foreign National Subject to US tax such as a visa holder (if you meet the Substantial Presence Test), then you should most likely file the annual FBAR form.

*If you are unsure whether you should file the form or not, you should speak with an experienced by lawyer to evaluate your particular situation.

I did Not have to File a Tax Return?

This can also get confusing, but it is important to remember that the FBAR is not filed with your tax return. Rather, while your tax return is filed directly with the Internal Revenue Service (by mail or online), your FBAR is filed online electronically directly with the Department of Treasury. Even if you do not meet the threshold requirements for filing a tax return, it does not mean you do not have to file an FBAR. If your annual foreign account balances exceed $10,000, you should file the FBAR.

The Money in the Foreign Accounts is not Mine?

This is not unusual. It is very common in foreign countries to have children or other individuals with a Power of Attorney over another person’s account – even when the money does not belong to the POA holder. To that end, if a person’s name is on the account then they should still file an FBAR statement. There is a section of the FBAR reserved for individuals who have signatory authority or other type of authority on the account, but the money is not theirs.

I do not want to Report my Foreign Parents’ Name on the FBAR

We understand the importance of privacy. Generally, there are ways around reporting the information the FBAR where you disclose certain information but not all the requested information (while still being FBAR compliant). 

The Money is from an Inheritance

It is important to remember that the FBAR is a reporting form. In other words, the Department of Treasury wants to know whether you have the money overseas in case there is no other way for the DOT to track it. In addition, under FATCA, many countries and foreign financial institutions have agreed to report accounts to the U.S.

Thus, even if the money was inherited, you are required to report the account information on the FBAR. If you fail to do so and get stuck in the IRS/DOT crosshairs as a result of the foreign financial institution reporting the account in accordance with FATCA, it will be much harder to explain the situation at that time versus simply filing the FBAR timely or entering into OVDP or the Streamlined Program.

**That does not mean you should file a late FBAR (please see below)

My Accounts are in the name of a Foreign Corporation 

This is where the FBAR starts to get more complicated. The most important thing to remember is the concept of the FBAR is to promote financial transparency. Therefore, if no matter how you structure the business in the end the money is yours, then you should file the FBAR.

This can be distinguished from a company in which you are merely an employee and have signatory authority, which would require a comprehensive analysis of the business and your rights to the business and money before determining whether you should file.

My Accounts are in the name of a Foreign Holding Corporation

It does not matter that the accounts are in a Foreign Holding Corporation – this is not sufficient to avoid filing the FBAR statement. Otherwise, a US taxpayer could simply open a BVI Holding Corp and put the holding Corp. as the owner of the account and thus not to have the file the FBAR – even though all of the account money belongs to the US taxpayer – which is directly contradictory to the purpose of the FBAR.

If you are the “true owner” of the money, then filing the FBAR is required.

My Accounts are in the name of a Foreign PFIC Corporation

The same thing goes for a Passive Foreign Investment Company. Depending on which country you are in and how the country titles the foreign company, these companies come in all shapes and sizes. Back in the 80s, they were used primarily to avoid detection by the United States government of foreign account and asset information. There is no exception to filing an FBAR simply because you transferred your money into the PFIC. 

My Accounts are in the name of a Foreign Trust

As you can imagine, foreign trusts are not immune from having to file an FBAR statement either – in addition to possibly a 3520 and 3520A. Whether the purpose of the foreign trust was “harmless,” and/or you thought you could avoid US detection or possibly to form the foreign credit shelter trust or foreign asset protection, a foreign trust does will not negate your requirement to file an FBAR; if the accounts are in a foreign trust, in which you are the owner of the foreign trust then you have to report the account on the FBAR.

What Types of Accounts must be Reported on an FBAR?

Essentially, any account that is maintained at a foreign financial institution must be reported on the FBAR – but this does not mean every income generating asset has to be included. Here’s an example: if you have a Foreign Bank Account at a Foreign Financial Institution it has to be reported on the FBAR. Conversely, if you have a foreign rental property that is earning foreign rental income, while the foreign rental income must be reported on your tax return, the value of the home need not be reported on the FBAR.

Do I have to report my Life Insurance Policy?

This is another complex area of the FBAR. Essentially, if the life insurance policy (or life assurance policy as it is called in many countries) has a surrender value for sale value insofar as you could sell the policy on the open market – it should most likely be reported on the FBAR.

In situations like this where there is a reporting requirement, it is better to err on the side of caution.

Reporting on the FBAR vs. Paying Tax on the Money

This is a question we receive often and so we distinction must be made. Just because you are reporting a foreign account on an FBAR does not mean there is a taxable event taking place. For example, the money may have been inherited, received as a gift and/or earned with income tax already having been paid on the earnings.

Thus, the key issue to remember with an FBAR is that the FBAR is a reporting requirement for you to update the Department of Treasury with your foreign accounts that you maintain overseas; it has nothing to do with whether there is a taxable event taking place.

I do not know my Maximum Account Value?

When you are reporting on the FBAR, you are supposed to provide the maximum value of the account balance for the year. Depending on which country you are in, and whether the account provides you statements (or if it is a passbook account) that information may not be available. When that information is not available you may either click the box that reads maximum account balance unknown or you may also consider using the balance that you have available, and explaining why you cannot obtain the maximum value in the box provided on the first page of the FBAR.

Can If I file a Late FBAR Statement?

This is a very complex issue. Technically, you are not allowed to file a late FBAR statement. Some people have done so in accordance with submitting a Quiet Disclosure, which can result in extremely high fines and penalties.

The Internal Revenue Service a Department of treasury are taking foreign account compliance very seriously and it is a major priority for the IRS. If you have not filed your FBAR statements, you have three main alternatives: Reasonable Cause Statement, Streamlined Disclosure, or OVDP (these are briefly discussed below)

Late FBAR Filings and a Reasonable Cause Statement

If you have not filed your FBAR timely, the first option is to submit the FBAR late accompanied by a Reasonable Cause Statement. The failure to file an FBAR can have extremely high penalties. Therefore, if you opt for the reasonable cause statement as opposed to one of the approved programs discussed below, then you are essentially submitting the account information and asking for forgiveness from the IRS for any penalty.

Two things to keep in mind his first, the IRS is not very sympathetic, and second, if the IRS disagrees with your reasoning you have now disclosed all of your account information to the IRS with no protection from penalties or criminal investigation.

Late FBAR Filings and the Streamlined Program

Under the streamlined program, a person will amend their tax returns for three years as well as file six years of unreported past FBAR statements (assuming that they are a US taxpayer for six years; if they have only been a US taxpayer for four years they would only file four years of past FBAR statement). This program is reserved for taxpayers who were non-willful (in other words, they were unaware of the requirement to file FBAR and report their foreign income).

For more information about the Streamlined Program please Click Here for a summary provided by Golding & Golding.

Late FBAR Filings and OVDP

OVDP is the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program. It is a program designed for individuals, businesses and trusts that knowingly intentionally failed to report their foreign account information and foreign income earnings. The program requires the applicant to fil eight years of past FBAR statements along with eight years of original and/or amended tax returns.

For more information about OVDP please click here for a summary provided by Golding & Golding.

Is the FBAR the same as an 8938 form?

No. While the forms are similar, they do have key differences. The 8938 (Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets) is filed with your tax return and has different threshold requirements (much higher than the $10,000+ for an FBAR), which will be dependent on whether the taxpayers are filing married filing jointly, married filing separate, single — as well as whether they reside in the United States or overseas.

Golding & Golding, A PLC

We have successfully represented clients in more than 1,000 streamlined and voluntary disclosure submissions nationwide and in over 70-different countries.

We are the “go-to” firm for other Attorneys, CPAs, Enrolled Agents, Accountants, and Financial Professionals across the globe.

International Tax Lawyers - Golding & Golding, A PLC

International Tax Lawyers - Golding & Golding, A PLC

Golding & Golding: Our international tax lawyers practice exclusively in the area of IRS Offshore & Voluntary Disclosure. We represent clients in 70+ different countries. Managing Partner Sean M. Golding is a Board-Certified Tax Law Specialist Attorney (a designation earned by < 1% of attorneys nationwide.). He leads a full-service offshore disclosure & tax law firm. Sean and his team have represented thousands of clients nationwide & worldwide in all aspects of IRS offshore & voluntary disclosure and compliance during his 20-year career as an Attorney.

Sean holds a Master's in Tax Law from one of the top Tax LL.M. programs in the country at the University of Denver. He has also earned the prestigious IRS Enrolled Agent credential. Mr. Golding's articles have been referenced in such publications as the Washington Post, Forbes, Nolo, and various Law Journals nationwide.
International Tax Lawyers - Golding & Golding, A PLC

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