- 1 Unreported Offshore Accounts
- 2 Offshore Bank Accounts
- 3 Foreign Investment Accounts
- 4 Foreign Stock Certificates
- 5 Foreign Pension Plans
- 6 Foreign Mutual Funds
- 7 What are Your Offshore Disclosure Options?
- 8 Current Year vs Prior Year Non-Compliance
- 9 Avoid False Offshore Disclosure Submissions (Willful vs Non-Willful)
- 10 Golding & Golding: About Our International Tax Law Firm
Unreported Offshore Accounts
Updated from 2019 original article:
U.S. persons with unreported foreign accounts have several IRS offshore international reporting requirements. The IRS requires certain U.S. bank account holders to comply with annual offshore reporting requirements for foreign bank accounts, assets & investments. The overseas account information is reported annually on various international reporting forms, such as FBAR (FinCEN Form 114) and FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act). The Internal Revenue Service has significantly increased the enforcement of offshore reporting. The failure to timely and accurately report foreign bank accounts may result in fines and penalties, but the IRS has developed various offshore voluntary disclosure (amnesty) Programs to reduce and/or eliminate penalties. Our team has successfully represented thousands of taxpayers in willful and non-willful offshore disclosures. Let’s review the basics of account reporting, followed by the different options available for disclosure so you can access your offshore accounts:
Offshore Bank Accounts
Bob is a US person who has foreign bank accounts in several foreign countries, with the total value of the foreign bank accounts at around $300,000. Several of the accounts have less than $10,000 and are dormant and/or inactive. In this type of situation, since the total value of foreign accounts exceeds $10,000 for the year, all the accounts are reportable on the FBAR — even if they are below $10,000 and even if they are dormant.
Foreign Investment Accounts
Linda is a permanent resident who previously lived in a foreign country and still maintains many of her overseas accounts. The accounts are not bank accounts but rather investment accounts similar to a Vanguard or E*TRADE account in the United States. The assets are not taxable in the foreign country, and the accounts are comprised primarily of stock and mutual funds. In this type of situation, Linda must report the foreign investment accounts on her annual FBAR. Since the stock and mutual funds are in accounts, she does not typically have to parse out each stock/fund but instead, she can gross up the value of the accounts for FBAR purposes. She may have a separate requirement for reporting the individual foreign funds as well.
Foreign Stock Certificates
Louise has ownership of various foreign stock certificates. The stock certificates are not located in foreign accounts. Instead, she inherited them several years ago and in total, she has ownership of nine different stocks worth $2 million. Louise does not have to report the foreign stock certificates on the FBAR, because she owns the stock certificates individually and they are not located in a foreign account. Louise would still have to report the certificates for FATCA on Form 8938.
Foreign Pension Plans
Tina is a US citizen who worked in various countries in her lifetime. She has retirement plans in the United Kingdom (SIPP), Singapore (CPF), and Australia (Superannuation). Since the foreign pension plans are considered accounts, they are included in the annual FBAR. This is distinct from the rule that if a person has an IRA or 401(k) in the United States that holds foreign accounts in it, those foreign accounts are generally not parsed out and reported on the FBAR. But, foreign pension plans are generally included on the annual FBAR. The US Tax treatment of these accounts will vary.
Foreign Mutual Funds
Gene is an astute investor. When the market was down, he acquired various foreign ETFs and foreign mutual funds in different countries and those funds have increased in value significantly. Gene holds the funds in a single investment account. For FBAR purposes, Gene will report the account with the total different funds. But, since the total value of the funds exceeds $25,000 (Gene is still single), he will most likely have to parse out the different funds on individual form 8621s when filing his tax returns. Remember, the FBAR is a separate form from your tax return. And, since some of these funds issued large dividends for the first time this year (and he was not properly advised to make an MTM or QEF election in prior years), he may have a very complicated tax return in the coming year.
What are Your Offshore Disclosure Options?
Offshore compliance programs vary based on the facts and circumstances of the Taxpayer — and not all Taxpayers will qualify for every program. Let’s review the basics of the different delinquent FBAR late-filing submission procedures:
Delinquent FBAR Submission Procedures (DFSP)
When a Taxpayer does not have to make any substantive changes to their tax return involving unreported income, they may qualify for the Delinquent FBAR Submission Procedures. This program is typically limited to Taxpayers who have no unreported income and are not required to file other delinquent forms in addition to the FBAR. For Taxpayers who qualify for these submission procedures, there is generally no penalty applied for prior-year noncompliance.
Delinquent International Information Return Submission Procedures (DIIRSP)
Up until November of 2020, Taxpayers who had no unreported income (but missed filing international information reporting forms) could sidestep any offshore penalties by filing delinquent forms under DIIRSP. In November of 2020, the IRS rules changed and the IRS does not guarantee that filing delinquent forms will circumvent penalties — although with the right set of facts and circumstances, the Taxpayer may avoid penalties by showing reasonable cause (see further below).
Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures (SDOP)
The Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures are IRS procedures designed for Taxpayers who do not qualify as foreign residents, are non-willful, and filed their original tax returns timely. Under these procedures, a Taxpayer can opt to pay a 5% Title 26 Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty in lieu of all the other delinquent FBAR and FATCA penalties.
Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures (SFOP)
The Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures are probably the best of all the offshore tax programs for Taxpayers who qualify as eligible. This is because if a Taxpayer qualifies as a foreign person and is non-willful, they can avoid all offshore penalties under these procedures. In addition, Taxpayers can file original tax returns.
IRS Voluntary Disclosure Program (VDP) for Delinquent FBAR & FATCA
The IRS Voluntary Disclosure Program (VDP) has been in existence for many years. From 2009 to 2018, there was an offshoot of the VDP program — which was referred to as the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) — and was primarily for Taxpayers with undisclosed foreign income and assets. In 2018, the IRS closed this program — but also expanded the traditional voluntary disclosure program on matters involving foreign and offshore income and asset disclosures.
Under the prior version of OVDP for delinquent FBAR, FATCA, etc. — even non-willful Taxpayers would submit to the program in order to both receive a closing letter and almost always avoid an audit (unless they opted-out). The new version of the VDP program is geared primarily for Taxpayers who are willful or are unable to certify under penalty of perjury that they are non-willful. It is still a great program in which Taxpayers can almost always avoid criminal prosecution — and it rarely if ever would have any impact on a person’s immigration status (unless the Taxpayer was also “criminally” willful and the government pursued that criminality against the Taxpayer, which is extremely rare).
Reasonable Cause for Delinquent FBAR and FATCA
In general, a Taxpayer cannot be subject to penalties for missing the filing of delinquent FBAR and other international information reporting forms if they can show reasonable cause and not willful neglect. This is not a program per se but rather an alternative submission package in which the Taxpayer seeks to avoid or minimize penalties without formally going through the programs listed above — while also avoiding making a quiet disclosure. If you are considering a reasonable cause submission, you should speak with a Board-Certified Tax Lawyer Specialist about your different options.
Current Year vs Prior Year Non-Compliance
Once a taxpayer missed the tax and reporting (such as FBAR and FATCA) requirements for prior years, they will want to be careful before submitting their information to the IRS in the current year. That is because they may risk making a quiet disclosure if they just begin filing forward in the current year and/or mass filing previous year forms without doing so under one of the approved IRS offshore submission procedures. Before filing prior untimely foreign reporting forms, taxpayers should consider speaking with a Board-Certified Tax Law Specialist that specializes exclusively in these types of offshore disclosure matters.
Avoid False Offshore Disclosure Submissions (Willful vs Non-Willful)
In recent years, the IRS has increased the level of scrutiny for certain streamlined procedure submissions. When a person is non-willful, they have an excellent chance of making a successful submission to Streamlined Procedures. If they are willful, they would submit to the IRS Voluntary Disclosure Program instead. But, if a willful Taxpayer submits an intentionally false narrative under the Streamlined Procedures (and gets caught), they may become subject to significant fines and penalties.
Golding & Golding: About Our International Tax Law Firm
Golding & Golding specializes exclusively in international tax, specifically IRS offshore disclosure.
Contact our firm today for assistance.