FATCA, CRS & AEOI – Dangerous Maze of Foreign Account Reporting
FATCA, CRS & AEOI – Dangerous Maze of Foreign Account Reporting
In the early stages of FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) enforcement, if a US person had unreported foreign accounts, and their bank or Foreign Financial Institution wanted to become compliant they would send the client a FATCA Letter.
Now, with the implementation of CRS (Common Reporting Standard) and an active AEOI rule (Automatic Exchange of Information), there are many more for financial institutions that are both reporting under both FATCA and CRS.
And, even though the United States has not entered into CRS, many of these foreign financial institutions are still sending US persons aka US account holders CRS letters, which could impact getting it to compliance both in the United States and worldwide.
FATCA is the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. FATCA is an IRS International Tax Law that is designed to reduce offshore tax evasion and tax fraud. FATCA requires U.S. Taxpayers to disclose unreported foreign bank accounts, foreign financial accounts, and foreign income to the IRS.
Otherwise the Taxpayer may be subject to extremely high fines, penalties, and outstanding tax liabilities.
The Common Reporting Standard is similar in concept to FATCA. The idea behind it is to try to limit or reduce international tax evasion by having foreign financial institutions report information regarding account holders to different countries.
Since CRS is not a US law (and has not yet been ratified by the U.S.) it does not specifically involve reporting the information to the US government. But, with that said — many financial institutions that are getting into compliance with FATCA, are also getting into compliance with CRS.
Similar to FATCA, most foreign financial institutions that are complying with CRS will be requesting much of the same information as the institutions that are complying with FATCA. Oftentimes this will include the date of birth, the place of birth, tax identification numbers in the country of tax residence.
Multiple Jurisdictions, Multiple Reporting Dangers
If a person for example is considered a US account holder and have citizenship or permanent residency in multiple different countries, it can become a very big problem, very quickly.
Why? Because some country tax authorities will be receiving multiple reports from both FATCA and CRS. Moreover, as a dual-citizen or multi-jurisdictional resident – a person may be required complete multiple forms involving both FATCA and CRS.
FATCA and CRS Example
Jim is a US resident who also was dual citizenship in China as well as permanent residency in Hong Kong. Jim believes that the foreign financial institution only believes he is a citizen of China, and only has his Chinese name for reporting purposes. But, Jim forgot that when he opened up his accounts and Hong Kong (while he worked in Hong Kong), he utilized a U.S. address because he did not want the Chinese government to know he had the additional foreign accounts in Hong Kong.
As a result, the foreign financial institution in China may only believe Jim is a Chinese or Hong Kong resident with respect to CRS, but in accordance with FATCA, the institution in Hong Kong may believe Jim is a US resident and reports them accordingly to the IRS.
If Jim was audited in the United States and it becomes clear that he was playing a shell game with his different citizenships/residency in order to avoid US tax, it may lead to significantly high fines and penalties under the willfulness standard – if not reckless disregard.
When it comes to reporting, technology is not on the side of individuals seeking to stay distant and removed from offshore reporting. As provided by the OECD “The Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) portal provides a comprehensive overview of the work the OECD and the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes in the area of the automatic exchange of information, in particular with respect to the Common Reporting Standard.”
The following summary is provided by the OECD:
What is AEOI
The automatic exchange of information2 The information which is exchanged automatically is normally collected in the source country on a routine basis, generally through reporting of the payments by the payer (financial institution, employer, etc). Automatic exchange can also be used to transmit other types of useful information such as changes of residence, the purchase or disposition of immovable property, value added tax refunds, etc.
As a result, the tax authority of a taxpayer’s country of residence can check its tax records to verify that taxpayers have accurately reported their foreign source income. In addition, information concerning the acquisition of significant assets may be used to evaluate the net worth of an individual, to see if the reported income reasonably supports the transaction. is understood to involve the systematic and periodic transmission of “bulk” taxpayer information by the source country to the residence country concerning various categories of income (e.g. dividends, interest, royalties, salaries, pensions, etc.).
How does AEOI Work?
The process starts with the provision, by a taxpayer, of information regarding his or her identity to a payer or paying agent and/or with the generation of information by the payer or paying agent (first step). According to domestic rules in the source country, payers and paying agents are required to report to the tax authorities information regarding the identity of the non-resident taxpayer as well as payments made to them (second step).
Once the information has been received by the source country tax authorities the information will be consolidated and bundled according to the country of residence (third step). Next, information is transmitted from the source country to the residence with a sufficient level of encryption. Information may be transmitted electronically or by CD ROMs. If the CD ROMs are sent by mail, it must be done via an international registration system where a mail tracking function is in place (fourth step).
The fifth step in the process is the receipt and decryption of the information by the residence country tax authorities. Next, relevant information will be fed into an automatic or manual matching process. The processing and use of the information varies from country to country depending on the risk assessment parameters, processing and technology systems used. The key aspect is to be able to identify the taxpayer and “match” the information with the domestic records. In this respect many countries have developed sophisticated automatic matching systems, allowing them to run all of the information received through a database to identify matches.
This is often followed up by manual matching of the previously unmatched data. Other countries use only a manual matching system (sixth step). Based on the results of the matching process, the tax authorities may commence compliance action against a taxpayer that may not have complied with reporting obligations, or make a specific request for information from the source country to obtain additional information. In addition to using the specific information received, some countries use the information for more general risk assessment (seventh step).
What is the Legal Basis For AEOI?
The legal basis for the automatic exchange of information is generally (1) the exchange of information provision of a double taxation convention based on Article 26 of the OECD or UN Model Convention, (2) Article 6 of the Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters, or (3) for EU member countries, domestic laws implementing EU directives which provide for automatic exchange.
While the treaty law contains the legal basis for automatic exchange including rules on reciprocity some countries require, and others have a policy to require, a special working agreement or memorandum of understanding (MOU) setting forth the terms and conditions of the proposed automatic exchange. Such an MOU typically sets forth the types of information to be exchanged automatically, details about the procedures of sending and receiving information and the appropriate format to use. The OECD has designed a Model Memorandum of Understanding on Automatic Exchange
County Coverage and Income Types
Automatic exchange is widely used both within and outside the European Union (EU) with many non-EU members having extensive automatic exchange relationships. Among the most frequently exchanged income types are: interest, dividends, royalties, income from dependent services and pensions.
All 38 countries (100%) receive information automatically from treaty partners and 33 (85%) of them send information automatically to treaty partners. Denmark, as the country with the largest number of automatic exchange relationships sends information automatically to 70 countries. The charts below give further details on country coverage.
Getting into IRS Offshore Compliance
Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Tax law is very complex. There are many aspects that go into any particular tax calculation, including the legal status, marital status, business status and residence status of the taxpayer.
When Do I Need to Use Voluntary Disclosure?
Voluntary Disclosure is for individuals, estates, and businesses who are out of compliance with the IRS and the Department of Treasury. What does that mean? It means that if you are required to file a U.S. tax return and you don’t do so timely, then you are out of compliance.
If the IRS discovers that you are out of compliance, you may become subject to extensive fines and penalties – ranging from a warning letter all the way up to tax liens, tax levies, seizures, and criminal investigations. To combat this, you can take the proactive approach and submit to Voluntary Disclosure.
Golding & Golding – Offshore Disclosure
At Golding & Golding, we limit our entire practice to offshore disclosure (IRS Voluntary Disclosure of Foreign and U.S. Assets). The term offshore disclosure is a bit of a misnomer, because the term “offshore” generally connotes visions of hiding money in secret places such as the Cayman Islands, Bahamas, Malta, or any other well-known tax haven jurisdiction – but that is not the case.
In fact, any money that is outside of the United States is considered to be offshore; the term offshore is not a bad word. In other words, merely because a person has money offshore (a.k.a. overseas or in a foreign country) does not mean that money is the result of ill-gotten gains or that the money is being “hidden.”
It just means it is not in the United States. Many of our clients have assets and bank accounts in their homeland countries and these are considered offshore assets and offshore bank accounts.
The Devil is in the Details…
If you do have money offshore, then it is very important to ensure that the money has been properly reported to the U.S. government. In addition, it is also very important to ensure that if you are earning any foreign income from that offshore money, that the earnings are being reported on your U.S. tax return.
It does not matter whether your money is in a country that does not tax a particular category of income (for example, many Asian countries do not tax passive income). It also does not matter if you are a dual citizen and/or if that money has already been taxed in the foreign country.
Rather, the default position is that if you are required to file a U.S. tax return and you meet the minimum threshold requirements for filing a U.S. tax return, then you have to include all of your foreign income. If you already paid foreign tax on the income, you may qualify for a Foreign Tax Credit. In addition, if the income is earned income – as opposed to passive income – and you meet either the Bona-Fide Resident Test or Physical-Presence Test, then you may qualify for an exclusion of that income; nevertheless, the money must be included on your tax return.
What if You Never Report the Money?
If you are in the unfortunate position of having foreign money or specified foreign assets that should have been reported to the U.S. government, but which you have not reported — then you are in a bit of a predicament, which you will need to resolve before it is too late.
As we have indicated numerous times on our website, there are very unscrupulous CPAs, Attorneys, Accountants, and Tax Representatives who would like nothing more than to get you to part with all of your money by scaring you into believing you are automatically going to be arrested, jailed, or deported because you have unreported money. While that is most likely not the case (depending on the facts and circumstances of your specific situation), you may be subject to extremely high fines and penalties.
Moreover, if you knowingly or willfully hid your foreign accounts, foreign money, and offshore assets overseas, then you may become subject to even higher fines and penalties…as well as a criminal investigation by the special agents of the IRS and/or DOJ (Department of Justice).
Getting into Compliance
There are five main methods people/businesses use to get into compliance. Four of these methods are perfectly legitimate as long as you meet the requirements for the particular mechanism of disclosure. The fifth alternative, which is called a Quiet Disclosure a.k.a. Silent Disclosure a.k.a. Soft Disclosure, is ill-advised as it is illegal and very well may result in criminal prosecution.
5 IRS Methods for Offshore Compliance
- Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures
- Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures
- Reasonable Cause
- Quiet Disclosure (Illegal)
We are going to provide a brief summary of each program below. We have also included links to the specific programs. If you are interested, we have also prepared very popular “FAQs from the Trenches” for FBAR, OVDP and Streamlined Disclosure reporting. Unlike the technical jargon of the IRS FAQs, our FAQs are based on the hundreds of different types of issues we have handled over the many years that we have been practicing international tax law and offshore disclosure in particular.
After reading this webpage, we hope you develop a basic understanding of each offshore disclosure alternative and how it may benefit you to get into compliance. We do not recommend attempting to disclose the information yourself as you may become subject to an IRS investigation insofar as you will have to answer questions directly to the IRS, which you can avoid with an attorney representative.
If you retain an attorney, then you will get the benefit of the attorney-client privilege which provides confidentiality between you and your representative. With a CPA, there is a relatively small privilege which does provide some comfort, but the privilege is nowhere near as strong as the confidentiality privilege you enjoy with an attorney.
Since you will be dealing with the Internal Revenue Service and they are not known to play nice or fair – it is in your best interest to obtain an experienced Offshore Disclosure Attorney.
OVDP is the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program — a program designed to facilitate taxpayer compliance with IRS, DOT, and DOJ International Tax Reporting and Compliance. It is generally reserved for individuals and businesses who were “Willful” (aka intentional) in their failure to comply with U.S. Government Laws and Regulations.
The Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program is open to any US taxpayer who has offshore and foreign accounts and has not reported the financial information to the Internal Revenue Service (restrictions apply). There are some basic program requirements, with the main one being that the person/business who is applying under this amnesty program is not currently under IRS examination.
The reason is simple: OVDP is a voluntary program and if you are only entering because you are already under IRS examination, then technically, you are not voluntarily entering the program – rather, you are doing so under duress.
Any account that would have to be included on either the FBAR or 8938 form as well as additional income generating assets such as rental properties are accounts that qualify under OVDP. It should be noted that the requirements are different for the modified streamlined program, in which the taxpayer penalties are limited to only assets that are actually listed on either an FBAR or 8938 form; thus the value of a rental property (reduced by any outstanding mortgage) would not be calculated into the penalty amount in a streamlined application, but it would be applicable in an OVDP submission.
An OVDP submission involves the failure of a taxpayer(s) to report foreign and overseas accounts such as: Foreign Bank Accounts, Foreign Financial Accounts, Foreign Retirement Accounts, Foreign Trading Accounts, Foreign Insurance, and Foreign Income, including 8938s, FBAR, Schedule B, 5741, 3520, and more.
What is Included in the Full OVDP Submission?
The full OVDP application includes:
- Eight (8) years of Amended Tax Return filings;
- Eight (8) Years of FBAR (Foreign Bank and Account Reporting Statements);
- Penalty Computation Worksheet; and
- Various OVDP specific documents in support of the application.
Under this program, the Internal Revenue Service wants to know all of the income that was generated under these accounts that were not properly reported previously. The way the taxpayer accomplishes this is by amending tax returns for eight years.
Generally, if the taxpayer has not previously reported his accounts, then there are common forms which were probably excluded from the prior year’s tax returns and include 8938 Forms, Schedule B forms, 3520 Forms, 5471 Forms, 8621 Forms, as well as proof of filing of FBARs (Foreign Bank and Financial Account Reports).
The taxpayer is required to pay the outstanding tax liability for the eight years within the disclosure period – as well as payment of interest along with another 20% penalty on that amount (for nonpayment of tax). To give you an example, let’s pick one tax year during the compliance period. If the taxpayer owed $20,000 in taxes for year 2014, then they would also have to include in the check the amount of $4,000 to cover the 20% penalty, as well as estimated interest (which is generally averaged at about 3% per year). This must be done for each year during the compliance period.
Then there is the “FBAR/8938” Penalty. The Penalty is 27.5% (or 50% if any of the foreign accounts are held at an IRS “Bad Bank”) on the highest year’s “annual aggregate total” of unreported accounts (accounts which were previously reported are not calculated into the penalty amount).
For OVDP, the annual aggregate total is determined by adding the “maximum value” of each unreported account for each year, in each of the last 8 years. To determine what the maximum value is, the taxpayer will add up the highest balances of all of their accounts for each year. In other words, for each tax year within the compliance period, the application will locate the highest balance for each account for each year, and total up the values to determine the maximum value for each year.
Thereafter, the OVDP applicant selects the highest year’s value, and multiplies it by either 27.5%, or possibly 50% if any of the money was being held in what the IRS considers to be one of the “bad banks.” When a person is completing the penalty portion of the application, the two most important things are to breathe and remember that by entering the program, the applicant is seeking to avoid criminal prosecution!
2. Streamlined Domestic Offshore Disclosure
The Streamlined Domestic Offshore Disclosure Program is a highly cost-effective method of quickly getting you into IRS (Internal Revenue Service) or DOT (Department of Treasury) compliance.
What am I supposed to Report?
There are three main reporting aspects: (1) foreign account(s), (2) certain specified assets, and (3) foreign money. While the IRS or DOJ will most likely not be kicking in your door and arresting you on the spot for failing to report, there are significantly high penalties associated with failing to comply.
In fact, the US government has the right to penalize you upwards of $10,000 per unreported account, per year for a six-year period if you are non-willful. If you are determined to be willful, the penalties can reach 100% value of the foreign accounts, including many other fines and penalties… not the least being a criminal investigation.
Reporting Specified Foreign Assets – FATCA Form 8938
Not all foreign assets must be reported. With that said, a majority of assets do have to be reported on a form 8938. For example, if you have ownership of a foreign business interest or investment such as a limited liability share of a foreign corporation, it may not need to be reported on the FBAR but may need to be disclosed on an 8938.
The reason why you may get caught in the middle of whether it must be filed or not is due largely to the reporting thresholds of the 8938. For example, while the threshold requirements for the FBAR is when the foreign accounts exceed $10,000 in annual aggregate total – and is not impacted by marital status and country of residence – the same is not true of the 8938.
The threshold requirements for filing the 8938 will depend on whether you are married filing jointly or married filing separate/single, or whether you are considered a US resident or foreign resident.
Other Forms – Foreign Business
While the FBAR and Form 8938 are the two most common forms, please keep in mind that there are many other forms that may need to be filed based on your specific facts and circumstances. For example:
- If you are the Beneficiary of a foreign trust or receive a foreign gift, you may have to file Form 3520.
- If you are the Owner of a foreign trust, you will also have to file Form 3520-A.
- If you have certain Ownerships of a foreign corporation, you have to file Form 5471.
- And (regrettably) if you fall into the unfortunate category of owning foreign mutual funds or any other Passive Foreign Investment Companies then you will have to file Form 8621 and possibly be subject to significant tax liabilities in accordance with excess distributions.
Reporting Foreign Income
If you are considered a US tax resident (which normally means you are a US citizen, Legal Permanent Resident/Green-Card Holder or Foreign National subject to US tax under the substantial presence test), then you will be taxed on your worldwide Income.
It does not matter if you earned the money in a foreign country or if it is the type of income that is not taxed in the country of origin such as interest income in Asian countries. The fact of the matter is you are required to report this information on your US tax return and pay any differential in tax that might be due.
In other words, if you earn $100,000 USD in Japan and paid 25% tax ($25,000) in Japan, you would receive a $25,000 tax credit against your foreign earnings. Thus, if your US tax liability is less than $25,000, then you will receive a carryover to use in future years against foreign income (you do not get a refund and it cannot be used against US income). If you have to pay the exact same in the United States as you did in Japan, it would equal itself out. If you would owe more money in the United States than you paid in Japan on the earnings (a.k.a. you are in a higher tax bracket), then you have to pay the difference to the U.S. Government.
3. Streamlined Foreign Offshore Disclosure
What do you do if you reside outside of the United States and recently learned that you’re out of US tax compliance, have no idea what FATCA or FBAR means, and are under the misimpression that you are going to be arrested and hauled off to jail due to irresponsible blogging by inexperienced attorneys and accountants?
If you live overseas and qualify as a foreign resident (reside outside of the United States for at least 330 days in any one of the last three tax years or do not meet the Substantial Presence Test), you may be in for a pleasant surprise.
Even though you may be completely out of US tax and reporting compliance, you may qualify for a penalty waiver and ALL of your disclosure penalties would be waived. Thus, all you will have to do besides reporting and disclosing the information is pay any outstanding tax liability and interest, if any is due. (Your foreign tax credit may offset any US taxes and you may end up with zero penalty and zero tax liability.)
*Under the Streamlined Foreign, you also have to amend or file 3 years of tax returns (and 8938s if applicable) as well as 6 years of FBAR statements just as in the Streamlined Domestic program.
4. Reasonable Cause
Reasonable Cause is different than the above referenced programs. Reasonable Cause is not a “program.” Rather, it is an alternative to traditional Offshore Voluntary Disclosure, which should be considered on a case by case basis, taking the specific facts and circumstances into consideration.
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