Foreign Accounts – Willfulness, Schedule B & Turbo Tax | FBAR Lawyers
With programs such as TurboTax only a click away, it has become a lot easier and cost-effective for individuals to prepare their tax returns using home software. For the most part, by using TurboTax a person can save hundreds if not thousands of dollars on preparing tax returns.
The problem is that by preparing the tax return yourself and using TurboTax you may have complicated matters when it involves foreign disclosure.
Depending on how much you keep up with changes in international tax and the IRS, you may be aware that the Internal Revenue Service has made international tax law a key enforcement priority.
For most individuals, that will include ensuring that they properly filed a Schedule B, FBAR (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts) and possibly a FATCA Form 8938 (Statement of Specified Foreign Assets) under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act — which also includes insurance policies, ownership in a foreign business, and foreign bank accounts in general.
While the Schedule B is a relatively simple form, it is also a very easy way for individuals to get themselves in trouble if they do not file it properly
The Schedule B form is a schedule that is filed along with your tax return under certain circumstances. There are a list of various different circumstances that can be found on the IRS website, but the most common two scenarios is when a person has U.S. Interest or Dividend that in total exceeds $1500 and/or when a person has ownership, joint ownership, or signature authority over a foreign account.
Example – Under $1,500 Threshold
David has various bank accounts and stock/securities in the United States that generates a total of $1,100 a year. In this circumstance, unless other factors apply, David would not have to file a Schedule B, because he does not have foreign accounts and his total annual interest and dividends falls below the threshold.
Instead, David would aggregate the total interest and include the information on line 8, and the total dividend amount and include it on line 9.
Example – Exceeding the $1,500 Threshold
Using the same facts about, if David had $2,000 worth of interest income and $700 with the dividend income, David’s aggregate passive income for interest and dividends would be more than $1,500. As such, David would be required to identify each institution that he received an interest payment or dividend from and the amount he received. David would presumably have this information, because each financial institution is required to issue their customers a 1099 to reflect any interest income or dividend income.
Example – Foreign Accounts
Notwithstanding the $1,500 threshold requirement, if a person has a foreign account (even if they have no interest or dividend income in the U.S. or abroad) they are also required to file a form Schedule B.
As provided by the IRS in its instructions: Use this schedule if any of the following applies…“You had a financial interest in, or signature authority over, a financial account in a foreign country or you received a distribution from, or were a grantor of, or transferor to, a foreign trust. Part III of the schedule has questions about foreign accounts and trusts.”
As you can see, for this portion of the form, it does not require $1,500 requirement in order to meet the qualifications to file the form. Rather, it is just asking whether you had a financial interest in, or signature authority over…
What is a Foreign Account?
This is another confusing part. Let’s say Michelle is originally from Hong Kong and still maintains bank accounts in Hong Kong. When she begins completing her tax return, a question pops up regarding foreign accounts. Now, while Michelle is a permanent resident of the United States — she is still a citizen of Hong Kong. Thus, in Michelle’s mind – understandably so – she does not have foreign accounts. Rather, she has an account in the United States and a few accounts in her home country (aka “who is it foreign to?”)
Tip: The question is really asking whether you have any accounts outside of the United States. If you have an account outside of the United States, you should answer yes on this question, notwithstanding the fact that the foreign account is actually in your country of citizenship; for tax purposes, it is outside the United States.
Tax Software Program – Schedule B Default Position
It is very important to keep in mind that with many software programs, the default position is that you did not have any signature authority or ownership of a foreign account.
With the introduction of FATCA, and renewed enforcement in FBAR compliance, the IRS is taking a much tougher stance against the non-reporting of offshore/foreign/overseas accounts. While back in the day it was easier to rely upon the fact that your tax software’s default position was “No” to foreign accounts, that argument is not as strong as it was three years ago.
Depending on whether you have ownership of foreign accounts, you may also have to file an FBAR or FATCA Form 8938.
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 an April 15th, 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 on any day throughout the year. 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.
You are required to report the maximum balance throughout the year. If you do not have the maximum balance available, you can mark the box that notes the Max balance is unavailable — or alternatively you can use the best value have and then note that on the FBAR.
Threshold Requirements for Filing an IRS form 8938?
Whether or not the taxpayer has to file a FATCA Form 8938 will depend on the amount of money they have overseas, country of residence and marital status.
For Taxpayers residing in the United States:
Single Taxpayers or Married Filing Separate (MFS)
If a taxpayer is single, or files married filing separate then they will have to file IRS form 8938 if they have more than $50,000 in aggregate total in Specified Foreign Assets on the last day of the year. Alternatively, if they have less than $50,000 on the last day of the year but at any time during the year they had $75,000 or more in Specified Foreign Assets, then they are also required to file IRS form 8938.
Married Filing Jointly Taxpayers (MFJ)
When taxpayers file married filing jointly, the threshold requirements are doubled. In other words, when a couple files the US tax return as married filing jointly, they will only have to file IRS form 8938 when you have a combined annual aggregate total of $100,000 on the last day of the year or if it anytime during the year they had $150,000 or more in overseas accounts.
If a person does not meet these threshold requirements then generally they will not have to file IRS form 8938.
*Taxpayers should be sure they understand that even if they are not required to file IRS form 8938, they may still be required to file an FBAR with the Department of the Treasury, since the threshold requirements for overseas accounts and FBARs are significantly less ($10,000).
**Unlike the FBAR, a person only has to file an IRS form 8938 when the money is theirs; with an FBAR, a person has to file the FBAR even if the money is not theirs, but they have signatory authority over the accounts.
***The Threshold Requirements for Taxpayers residing overseas to have to file a FATCA Form 8938 are significantly higher.
Single Taxpayers or Married Filing Separate (MFS) – Foreign Residents
If a taxpayer is single, or files married filing separate then they will have to file IRS form 8938 if they have more than $200,000 in aggregate total in Specified Foreign Assets on the last day of the year. Alternatively, if they have less than $200,000 on the last day of the year but at any time during the year they had $300,000 or more in Specified Foreign Assets, then they are also required to file IRS form 8938.
Married Filing Jointly Taxpayers (MFJ) – Foreign Residents
When taxpayers file married filing jointly, the threshold requirements are doubled. In other words, when a couple files the US tax return as married filing jointly, they will only have to file IRS form 8938 when you have a combined annual aggregate total of $400,000 on the last day of the year or if it anytime during the year they had $600,000 or more in overseas accounts.
If a person does not meet these threshold requirements then generally they will not have to file IRS form 8938.
If you have accounts outside of the United States, and are having a hard time understanding the laws, it is crucial that you speak with an experienced international tax lawyer to assist you.
If you are already out of compliance for prior years, and want to consider getting into compliance before it is too late, you may consider offshore disclosure.
IRS Voluntary Disclosure of Offshore Accounts
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.
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. Unlikes 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 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!
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.
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.
When a Person, Estate, or Business is out-of-tax compliance for failing to report Foreign Income and/or Foreign Assets, the applicant has relatively few options for timely and safely getting into tax and foreign reporting compliance — before fines and penalties are issued.
While the most common options include the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program or the Streamlined Offshore Disclosure Program, there is another alternative. It is called making a Reasonable Cause submission.
Reasonable Cause Process
An individual should never attempt offshore disclosure without the assistance of a qualified attorney. With that said, it is even more important to ensure that if you are even considering a reasonable cause submission, that you do so only with the help of an attorney. That is because only with an attorney do you receive the benefit of the attorney-client privilege.
Unlike the Streamlined Program or OVDP where there are strict procedures to be followed, a reasonable cause submission is different. It should be noted that a person can submit a reasonable cause application for any number of different reasons; it is not limited only to offshore money and reporting foreign accounts. It should also be noted that there are potentially high risks and penalties associated with this Reasonable Cause process, so you have carefully weigh your options.
With a reasonable cause submission, the attorney will carefully evaluate and analyze the facts and circumstances of your case in detail. He or she should sit down with you either in person or via teleconference if you are non-local and assess the pros and cons of the potential submission in order to determine what the benefits and detriments may be to a reasonable cause disclosure. Thereafter the attorney will amend the returns, prepare the necessary forms, and draft a persuasive Reasonable Cause Letter.
At Golding & Golding, we are Tax Attorneys (with Masters of Tax Law) and Enrolled Agents credentialed by the IRS (Highest Credential awarded by the IRS), so we can handle your entire submission (Taxes, Legal, and Audit Defense) in-house, for a flat-fee.
Reasonable Cause Examples
If you were completely non-willful in your failure to disclosure and were unaware that there was any reporting requirement, then the thought of paying any penalty may sound absurd and you may consider Reasonable Cause as an alternative option.
Reasonable Cause is determined on a Case by Case basis in accordance with your specific facts and circumstances.
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