201601.06
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IRS 8938 Audit Representation – International Tax Lawyers

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

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

International tax compliance is complex. One of the newest additions to the IRS International Form list  is form 8938, which was introduced back in 2011.

The 8938 form is the Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets form and it impacts tax return filings for US taxpayers whether they live in the United States or overseas if they meet the threshold filing requirements.

IRS Form 8938

IRS form 8938 is similar to the FBAR (Report of Foreign Bank And Financial Accounts) that has to be filed each year by any US taxpayer who has an annual aggregate total of foreign funds that exceeds $10,000 at any point during any given year.

While the FBAR is filed directly online with the Department of Treasury, the 8938 form is different. The 8938 form is filed along with a person’s tax return to the IRS. Unlike the FBAR, the reporting requirements for the 8938 are different – and while the penalties are not as extreme as they are for the FBAR – they are still very comprehensive. When 8938 penalties are coupled with additional FBAR penalties, the resulting fines may end up eating your entire foreign account monies.

IRS Form 8938 – Filing Requirements

Whether or not you are required to file an 8938 depend on your marital status, your filing status and where you reside.

U.S. Based Taxpayers – Filing Requirements

As provided by the IRS: If you do not live outside the United States, you satisfy the reporting threshold discussed next that applies to you and no exception applies, file Form 8938 with your income tax return. Unmarried taxpayers.

If you are not married, you satisfy the reporting threshold only if the total value of your specified foreign financial assets is more than $50,000 on the last day of the tax year or more than $75,000 at any time during the tax year. Married taxpayers filing a joint income tax return.

If you are married and you and your spouse file a joint income tax return, you satisfy the reporting threshold only if the total value of your specified foreign financial assets is more than $100,000 on the last day of the tax year or more than $150,000 at any time during the tax year.

Married taxpayers filing separate income tax returns. If you are married and file a separate income tax return from your spouse, you satisfy the reporting threshold

Foreign Based Taxpayers – Filing Requirements

As provided by the IRS:

If your tax home is in a foreign country, you meet one of the presence abroad tests described next, and no exception applies, file Form 8938 with your income tax return if you satisfy the reporting threshold discussed next that applies to you. Unmarried taxpayers.

If you are not married, you satisfy the reporting threshold only if the total value of your specified foreign financial assets is more than $200,000 on the last day of the tax year or more than $300,000 at any time during the tax year.

Married taxpayers filing a joint income tax return. If you are married and you and your spouse file a joint income tax return, you satisfy the reporting threshold only if the total value of your specified foreign financial assets is more than $400,000 on the last day of the tax year or more than $600,000 at any time during the tax year.

Married taxpayers filing separate income tax returns. If you are married and file a separate income tax return from your spouse, you satisfy the reporting threshold only if the total value of your specified foreign financial assets is more than $200,000 on the last day of the tax year or more than $300,000 at any time during the tax year. Presence abroad.

*You satisfy the presence abroad test if you are one of the following. A U.S. citizen who has been a bona fide resident of a foreign country or countries for an uninterrupted period that includes an entire tax year. A U.S. citizen or resident who is present in a foreign country or countries at least 330 full days during any period of 12 consecutive months that ends in the tax year being reported.

IRS Audit – 8938

If you do not file a timely 8938 form and are audited you may find yourself subject to extreme high penalties as follows:

Failure ­To ­File Penalty: If you are required to file Form 8938 but do not file a complete and correct Form 8938 by the due date (including extensions), you may be subject to a penalty of $10,000.

Continuing Failure To File. If you do not file a correct and complete Form 8938 within 90 days after the IRS mails you a notice of the failure to file, you may be subject to an additional penalty of $10,000 for each 30-day period (or part of a period) during which you continue to fail to file Form 8938 after the 90-day period has expired. The maximum additional penalty for a continuing failure to File Form 8938 is $50,000

**Due to the complex nature of filing an 8938 form, if you are out of compliance you should consider speaking with an experienced international tax lawyer before making any affirmative representation to the IRS.

OVDP vs. Streamlined

In addition, if you are out of IRS tax compliance you may consider entering either the (OVDP) Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program or one of the IRS Streamlined Programs to get into tax compliance and avoid much steeper penalties. The following is a summary of OVDP vs. the IRS Streamlined Program(s):

We receive this question often, and in order to assist you understand the distinction between the two different IRS foreign account disclosure programs, we are providing the following summary for your reference:

If you or your business has unreported or undisclosed foreign accounts, offshore assets, or foreign income then you may be considering whether you should enter the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) or the modified streamlined program.

Both programs provide peace of mind to the taxpayer – but it will depend on the facts and circumstances of each taxpayer’s situation, to determine which program(s) they qualify for.  It is important to note that the failure to properly submit to the correct program can have serious consequences to the taxpayer.

                                    

Why Comply with IRS Foreign Disclosure Laws?

Because if you fail to do so, the IRS has the authority to penalize you upwards of 100% of the value of your offshore assets and accounts as well as prosecute you for criminal tax fraud and tax evasion if it is found that you acted willfully in failing to report your assets and foreign income.

The reason why international tax law compliance has taken center stage is because under the new FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) laws, foreign countries are actively reporting the bank and financial accounts of US citizens and US legal permanent residents. If a foreign country is interested in working with the United States, the foreign country will enter into an “ Intergovernmental Agreement” (IGA). These agreements are reciprocity agreements, which means not only will the foreign country report the information to the IRS, but the IRS will also reciprocate by providing the same information to foreign country tax authorities.

                                       

Why Enter either OVDP or the Modified Streamlined Program?

Individuals and businesses who are looking for a way to avoid the very steep penalties may seek to voluntary disclose, pay a penalty (unless abated), and avoid criminal prosecution.

There are the only two approved programs by the Internal Revenue Service that can bring a taxpayer into compliance. Instead of entering the programs, taxpayer may qualify to directly report under the reasonable cause exception, in which the taxpayer directly submits the forms with a statement explaining why they were not properly filed.

*Please note, the IRS is not known to be sympathetic and if the IRS does not believe you and audits you anyway then you are disqualified from entering either the OVDP or streamlined program AND the IRS is have more of your overseas/foreign financial information you would like probably like.

Moreover, if the taxpayer improperly submits the forms to the IRS it can be considered “silent disclosure” or “quiet disclosure,” in which if detected by the IRS, the IRS will penalize you heavily as well as probably initiate criminal proceedings against you. In this scenario, not only with the IRS seek to take all of your money and assets through the implementation of penalties and levies, but chances are you will also be spending the next 2 to 20 years in prison for tax evasion or tax fraud.

                                 

What is the Difference between OVDP and the Streamlined Program?

Before making a decision regarding voluntary disclosure, it is important to understand the difference between the two main programs.

OVDP (Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program Requirements)

OVDP stands for the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, which came into effect in 2009 and was modified again in 2011, 2012 and 2014.

Before the implementation of the modified streamlined program (which is strictly for individuals who were non-willful in their failure to report their overseas assets and income) the penalty structure was generally (and continues to be for willful participants) 27.5% of the highest years annual aggregate total and 50% if any of your money was held in one of the identified “bad banks.”

In other words, if you have foreign accounts that were unreported to the IRS and Department of Treasury, then to determine your penalty structure you would need to total up all of your unreported overseas and accounts for each year, for the last eight years, and then take the highest year’s highest balance and multiply it by 27.5% to arrive at the penalty amount due. (A complete breakdown of OVDP requirements can be found on our OVDP Page, by Clicking Here)

                                       

OVDP is Unfair for Non-Willful Taxpayers

Before the implementation of the modified streamlined program, it was difficult for individuals who were non-willful (no specific definition, but generally without intent to deceive or defraud) to become compliant. Why? Because if you are non-willful, you still had to go through the filing procedures as if you were willful, and then opt out of the penalty structure and open yourself up for audit.

Not such a big deal, except for the fact that you also had to pay 20% penalty on the outstanding taxes that you owed along with a 27.5% penalty on the highest year’s annual aggregate (unless you successfully “opted out” from the penalty structure – which came with a whole other set of headaches). As you can imagine, for individuals who simply inherited some money overseas, had no international dealings, and had no idea that they were required to report foreign passive income (Interest income) in a country that does not tax its own citizens on passive income earnings — providing this information to the IRS was a huge burden.

                                       

What is the Modified Streamlined Program?

In order to avoid “non-willful” applicants from having to go through the entire OVDP process before opting out, the IRS and Department of the Treasury modified a small program in existence, called the streamlined program, which was very limited. The IRS expanded the program to basically allow anyone who was non-willful to enter the program.

The program reduced the amount of documentation that applicants were required to file to only three years of amended tax returns and six years of FBAR (Foreign Account Reporting Statements). In addition, there was no penalty on the tax amount that was due, no penalty on the value of foreign real estate that was not previously disclosed, and the 27.5% penalty was reduced all the way down to 5%, or completely waived if the foreign residence requirements were met.

Penalty Waiver: there is a small facet of the modified streamlined program called the Modified Foreign Offshore Program.  If a person qualifies for the modified stream of program (which means they acted non willfully) and they can prove they lived overseas in any number of different countries for a total of 330 days out of the tax year in any year within the last three years, then they may qualify to have the penalty waived.

The Streamlined Programs sounds great, right? Well it is, unless you are attempting to wrongfully evade the 27.5% penalty by entering the program when you knew you were willful.

                                       

What if you are caught trying to sneak into the Streamlined Program?

I cannot stress to you enough to not enter the streamlined program if you do not qualify; in other words, suck it up and pay the penalty. Why? Because if you knowingly enter the streamlined program and it is found that you acted willfully in your failure to disclose and report your overseas and foreign assets and income you will most likely be prosecuted by the IRS.

The IRS made this fact known in a recent public relations statement in March 2015. Essentially, from the IRS’ perspective if you wrongfully enter this program in order to avoid paying the full penalty amount what you have done is stolen 27.5% or 50% of the penalty amount due to the IRS – and this does not make the IRS very happy.

Even worse is that not only are you subject to criminal prosecution – but now you’ve already disclosed all the foreign financial information and thus you’re in a pretty difficult position to defend yourself. The IRS has let it be known that they will enforce criminal tax prosecution laws in these types of situations.

                                        

Why is the Modified Streamlined program in Jeopardy?

Just like in everything in life, a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch. The IRS has gotten wind that several individuals who were willful in their failure to report undisclosed foreign tax and bank information are trying to sneak into the modified streamlined program and thus reduce their penalty to 5%. As you can imagine, this upset the IRS who created this modified program for the sole purpose of assisting taxpayers who otherwise would be overburdened and having to enter the OVDP and opt out of the penalty structure.

                                       

There is No Reason to be Scared of the OVDP or the Streamlined Programs

The goal of this article is not to scare you. Rather, it is to warn you to just be cautious if you are entering into these programs. Way too many inexperienced and unscrupulous attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents see these programs as a way to scare individuals.

                                     

If You are going to enter a Foreign Disclosure Program, use an Attorney

While CPAs and enrolled agents (who are not also attorneys) may charge less than an attorney is important to note that you do not have an attorney client privilege with CPAs and enrolled agents. What that means, is that if it turns out you wrongfully entered the streamlined program and the IRS wants to speak with your representative, unless your representative is an attorney, there is no privilege between a CPA and Taxpayer when a Criminal Matter is at issue.