IRS (IRM) Voluntary Disclosure vs. Streamlined Offshore Disclosure (2018)
Now the OVDP has ended, the two main options for individuals seeking to get into compliance with unreported income, accounts, assets and/or investments is through traditional IRS (IRM) Voluntary Disclosure or the IRS Streamlined Filing Procedures (aka Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures and Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures).
Before making a decision about which program to submit to, it is important that an applicant has a firm understanding of the differences between the programs, along with the pros and cons each type of submission to the IRS.
IRS (IRM) Voluntary Disclosure vs. Streamlined
Let’s start with the IRS (IRM) Voluntary Disclosure Program:
IRS Voluntary Disclosure (IRM)
The traditional IRS Voluntary Disclosure Program has been on the books for many years. It can be found in the IRM (Internal Revenue Manual)
Once OVDP was introduced, individuals and businesses with foreign income (along with possible U.S. unreported income) typically preferred OVDP to the IRM Voluntary Disclosure.
Why? Because the procedures were more transparent, the penalty structure more secure, and it had a near guarantee of avoiding a criminal investigation or audit.
So while for some people the penalty amount for OVDP was severe, when the penalty amount was offset against the potential penalties for tax fraud and tax evasion (along with willful FBAR penalties and a possible jail sentence) – the penalties were not so bad.
IRS (IRM) Voluntary Disclosure Practice
Let’s focus on how the non-OVDP IRS Voluntary Disclosure Practice (program) works:
What Must Be Included in the Letter?
Instead of providing exact instructions, the IRS provides guidelines and examples. Here, the Guidelines for voluntary disclosure provide that the IRS requires that a taxpayer include the following in their disclosure:
Willingness to Cooperate
A taxpayer shows a willingness to cooperate (and does in fact cooperate) with the IRS in determining his/her correct tax liability.
The taxpayer makes good faith arrangements with the IRS to pay in full, the tax, interest, and any penalties determined by the IRS to be applicable.
The Submission Must be Timely
In order for an IRM Voluntary Disclosure submission to be timely, it must be:
Not Under Personal IRS Examination
The IRS has initiated a civil examination or criminal investigation of the taxpayer, or has notified the taxpayer that it intends to commence such an examination or investigation.
Hopefully, Nobody Snitched on You
The IRS has received information from a third party (e.g., informant, other governmental agency, or the media) alerting the IRS to the specific taxpayer’s noncompliance.
No Directly Related IRS Examination
The IRS has initiated a civil examination or criminal investigation which is directly related to the specific liability of the taxpayer.
No Criminal Action Initiated
The IRS has acquired information directly related to the specific liability of the taxpayer from a criminal enforcement action (e.g., search warrant, grand jury subpoena).
What Type of Letter is Submitted?
Unlike the pre-clearance letter in the traditional OVDP, there is no set introductory letter that is submitted for the IRM program. Rather, the Internal Revenue Manual provides examples of what a proper disclosure may consistent of.
Here are examples examples provided by the IRS:
Example 1 (Attorney Letter and Amended Returns)
A letter from an attorney which encloses amended returns from a client which are complete and accurate (reporting legal source income omitted from the original returns), which offers to pay the tax, interest, and any penalties determined by the IRS to be applicable in full and which meets the timeliness standard set forth above.
Example 2 (Barter Exchange)
A disclosure made by a taxpayer of omitted income facilitated through a barter exchange after the IRS has announced that it has begun a civil compliance project targeting barter exchanges but before it has commenced an examination or investigation of the taxpayer or notified the taxpayer of its intention to do so. In addition, the taxpayer files complete and accurate amended returns and makes arrangements with the IRS to pay in full, the tax, interest, and any penalties determined by the IRS to be applicable.
Example 3 (Tax Scheme, IRS Compliance Project)
A disclosure made by a taxpayer of omitted income facilitated through a widely promoted scheme that is the subject of an IRS civil compliance project. Although the IRS already obtained information which might lead to an examination of the taxpayer, it not yet commenced any such examination or investigation or notified the taxpayer of its intent to do so. In addition, the taxpayer files complete and accurate returns and makes arrangements with the IRS to pay in full, the tax, interest, and any penalties determined by the IRS to be applicable.
Example 4 (Unfiled Returns, IRS Notice)
A disclosure made by an individual who has not filed tax returns after the individual has received a notice stating that the IRS has no record of receiving a return for a particular year and inquiring into whether the taxpayer filed a return for that year. The individual files complete and accurate returns and makes arrangements with the IRS to pay, in full, the tax, interest, and any penalties determined by the IRS to be applicable. This is a voluntary disclosure because the IRS has not yet commenced an examination or investigation of the taxpayer or notified the taxpayer of its intent to do so and because all of the elements set forth in (3), above have been met.
What are Disqualifying Factors?
The IRS has listed various factors that will disqualify a person from successfully making an IRS Voluntary Disclosure. These factors include:
If a taxpayer expresses an interest in making a voluntary disclosure, he/she must be asked the following questions to determine if potential disqualifying factors exist:
- Are you currently the subject of a criminal investigation or civil examination? (If yes, specify)
- Has the IRS notified you that it intends to commence an examination or investigation? (If yes, specify)
- Are you under investigation by any law enforcement agency? (If yes, specify)
- Is the source of any of your income from illegal activity?
- Do you have any reason to believe that the IRS has obtained information concerning your tax liability? (If yes, specify.)
*If the taxpayer responds yes to any of the above questions, the facts and circumstances of each investigation must be clarified to determine if it is a disqualifying factor.
How Does the IRS Evaluate the Disclosure?
As with most issues that have a criminal aspect to it, it is typically the IRS Special Agents who will evaluate the submission.
As provided by the IRS:
– Special agents will evaluate disclosures to determine if the information provided is truthful and complete, and shall make a recommendation to the SAC, as to whether or not the taxpayer has met all voluntary disclosure practice criteria.
– The evaluation should be completed as expeditiously as possible, ideally within 10 working days or less from the date the complete voluntary disclosure communication from the taxpayer has been received. The SAC should be apprised if an evaluation cannot be completed within 30 days.
As part of the evaluation process special agents will query the following databases:
- The Criminal Investigation Management Information System (CIMIS)
- Integrated Data Retrieval System (IDRS)
- The Currency and Banking Retrieval System (CBRS) Database
- The National Crime Information Center Database (NCIC)
– The special agent needs to query all applicable databases during the evaluation process of the voluntary disclosure matter including a national query for criminal investigations within the CIMIS database as noted above.
– If the indices checks (or any other evaluative steps) disclose potentially disqualifying information the taxpayer should be contacted and offered an opportunity to provide an explanation.
– If a satisfactory explanation cannot be provided, this may constitute a disqualifying factor.
– If the indices checks disclose no disqualifying information, the voluntary disclosure will be referred to the SAC, with a recommendation that the matter be forwarded to SB/SE or LB&I Offshore Identification Unit.
What if You Don’t Make the Cut?
Like with any audition or tryout, not everyone makes the team, gets the part…or is accepted into IRS Voluntary Disclosure.
As provided by the IRS:
– If the SAC determines that a disclosure does not meet all IRS voluntary disclosure criteria, a letter will be sent to the taxpayer informing them of the reason(s) he/she is ineligible to participate in the IRS’s voluntary disclosure practice. It is not necessary to cite specific reasons for the rejection if it would compromise an ongoing investigative matter.
– Criminal Investigation will evaluate the criminal potential of all negative evaluations. Therefore, the assigned special agent should initiate a PI number within CIMIS. This PI number is a separate number from the voluntary disclosure number. If the matter is not acceptable for investigation, it will be forwarded to PSP for whatever action they deem appropriate.
Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures – The Basics
The Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures are more common than the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures, simply because the IRS put up many roadblocks to meeting the Foreign Resident requirement for SFOP.
Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures
The Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures are designed for non-foreign residents. In other words, in order to apply to this program, you must be a US resident and not considered a foreign resident. Moreover, the applicant must meet two main requirements.
- Filed Timely Original Tax Returns
In order to be non-willful, the individual must show that they…weren’t willful – yes, that’s pretty much the extent of the definition provided by the IRS. In other words, the IRS likes to try to place the burden on you, the individual, to prove that you are non-willful.
In fact, the IRS has gone to great lengths to keep the specific analysis it uses to determine that somebody was willful under lock and key — going so far as fighting it in court. In our experience, we have found that typically, common sense rules dictate.
For example, if you literally had no idea that foreign accounts needed to be reported, and your actions, behavior, and history shows that you did not access the foreign accounts, withdraw any money from them, etc., then chances are you will able to show you were non-willful.
The further you sail away from those shores, the murkier the water becomes, and with it is an increased risk that the IRS may dispute your claim that you are non-willful.
The following are common questions to consider regarding willful vs. non-willful
- What is your U.S. status?
- How long have you been in the United States for?
- How many years have you filed U.S. tax returns?
- What types of investments do you have overseas?
- Do you utilize a financial planner?
- Do you have a CPA or EA?
- Is your CPA or EA experienced in international tax?
- Did the CPA or EA send you questions in writing asking about Foreign Accounts or Income?
- Did you respond truthful to the CPA or EA?
- Did you complete a schedule B?
- Are you tax compliant in the country in which the accounts are maintained?
- Did you have unreported income as well?
These are just some of the many questions you should consider prior to determining whether you were non-willful.
What if I was Willful?
*If you were willful, then you should never submit to OVDP. Unfortunately, there has been an influx of inexperienced attorneys who will prey upon you, and convince you to go streamlined instead of OVDP. They will make it seem that if you only have a small amount of income, or were only noncompliant for a few years, that you can still go streamlined.
This is both improper and unethical, and if you come across an attorney trying to sell you on this false bill of goods, you should contact his or her local state bar association. Click Here for a Case Study Example of what happens when the IRS catches you.
Filed Original Returns Timely
In order to qualify for the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures, you must show that you filed your original returns timely. There is some wiggle room regarding the terminology “timely,” and if you filed your returns, but they were filed late — you should consider having a tax attorney contact the streamlined program directly to assess whether you may qualify despite having filed late original returns.
Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures Summary
The Streamlined Program requires the applicant to amend and pay outstanding tax liability for the last three (3) years to include unreported foreign income and unreported foreign accounts that were not previously reported on a U.S Tax Return. It also requires the applicant to file six (6) years of FBARs (FinCEN 114) and pay a (relatively) small penalty which equals 5% of the highest year end value for any given year, unless you qualify as a foreign resident for 330-days, in which you can receive a penalty waiver!
- Amend the last 3 years of Tax Returns
- File required forms such as 3520, 3520-A, 5471, 8621, 8865, 8938, etc.
- File 6 Years of FBAR (FinCEN 114) – Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts
- Take a “snapshot” of the aggregate offshore unreported balances on 12/31
- Pick the highest year’s 12/31 annual aggregate value
- Multiply the value by 5%
- Pay the outstanding Tax, Interest on Taxes due, along with the 5% percent penalty
Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures (SFOP)
In order to qualify for Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures, you must meet two major requirements:
- Qualify as Non-Willful;
- Meet the 330-Day Foreign Residence Test/Non U.S. Person; and
- You do not have to have filed all prior year tax returns.
How to Qualify as a Foreign Resident?
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 (3) tax years or do not meet the Substantial Presence Test in one of the last three (3) tax years) you may obtain a waiver of all FBAR and FATCA penalties.
IRC 911 (Physical Presence Test vs. Bona-Fide Resident Test)
The Streamlined Foreign “330-day rule,” is a hard and fast rule.
Thus, the Streamlined Foreign “330-day rule” should be distinguished from Internal Revenue Code section 911 which is used by taxpayers trying to claim the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion by showing they qualify for either the physical presence test (330 days) or the bona fide residence test. Thus, even though a person could qualify as a bona fide resident under IRC 911 for the foreign earned income exclusion, it does not mean that they qualify for the streamlined foreign program.
As provided by the IRS: The discussion of the non-residency requirement for eligibility for the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures refers to IRC § 911 and its regulations. Does that mean that anyone who is non-resident under IRC § 911 and its regulations is non-resident for purposes of the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures?
*The reference to IRC § 911 and its regulations is only to the parts of those authorities that define “abode,” which are found in IRC § 911(d)(3) and Treas. Reg. § 1.911-2(b). Non-residency for purposes of the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures is defined in those procedures, and not in IRC § 911 and its regulations.
Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures Summary
- Amend the last 3 years of Tax Returns, or file original returns
- File required forms such as 3520, 3520-A, 5471, 8621, 8865, 8938, etc.
- File 6 Years of FBAR (FinCEN 114) – Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts
- Pay the outstanding Tax, Interest on Taxes due, and the penalty is waived
The voluntary disclosure material provided by the IRS indicates that the attorney should make the submission. There is no attorney-client privilege with a CPA, which means the information you discuss with your CPA may not be confidential or protected by privilege.
That also means the IRS maybe able to question a CPA about the contents of the submission. This is why you will not want to utilize a CPA to make this submission but rather an attorney to ensure you have the attorney-client privilege.
- Unfiled Tax Returns
- Unreported Income Penalties
- International Tax Investigations (FATCA and more)
- FBAR Investigations
- International Tax Evasion
- Structuring Investigations
- Eggshell and Reverse Eggshell Audits
- Divorce and Offshore Accounts
- Foreign Mutual Funds
- Foreign Life Insurance
- Fixing Quiet Disclosure
- Foreign Real Estate Income
- Foreign Real Estate Sales
- Foreign Earned Income Exclusion
- Subpart F Income
- Foreign Inheritance
- Foreign Pension
- Form 3520
- Form 5471
- Form 8621
- Form 8865
- Form 8938 (FATCA)
All different types of people submit to IRS Voluntary Disclosure. We represent Attorneys, CPAs, Doctors, Investors, Engineers, Business Owners, Entrepreneurs, Professors, Athletes, Actors, Entry-Level staff, Students, and more.
Our Managing Partner, Sean M. Golding, JD, LLM, EA is the only Attorney nationwide who has earned the Certified Tax Law Specialist credential and specializes in IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure and closely related matters.
In addition to earning the Certified Tax Law Certification, Sean also holds an LL.M. (Master’s in Tax Law) from the University of Denver and is also an Enrolled Agent (the highest credential awarded by the IRS.)
United States citizens, residents and certain other persons must annually report their direct or indirect financial interest in, or signature authority (or other authority that is comparable to signature authority) over, a financial account that is maintained with a financial institution located in a foreign country if, for any calendar year, the aggregate value of all foreign financial accounts exceeded $10,000 at any time during the year. The civil penalty for willfully failing to file an FBAR can be as high as the greater of $100,000 or 50 percent of the total balance of the foreign financial account per violation. See 31 U.S.C. § 5321(a)(5). Non-willful violations that the IRS determines were not due to reasonable cause are subject to a $10,000 penalty per violation.
Beginning with the 2011 tax year, a penalty for failing to file Form 8938 reporting the taxpayer’s interest in certain foreign financial assets, including financial accounts, certain foreign securities, and interests in foreign entities, as required by IRC § 6038D. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns is $10,000, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency, up to a maximum of $50,000 per return.
Annual Return to Report Transactions With Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts. Taxpayers must also report various transactions involving foreign trusts, including creation of a foreign trust by a United States person, transfers of property from a United States person to a foreign trust and receipt of distributions from foreign trusts under IRC § 6048. This return also reports the receipt of gifts from foreign entities under IRC § 6039F. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns, or for filing an incomplete return, is the greater of $10,000 or 35 percent of the gross reportable amount, except for returns reporting gifts, where the penalty is five percent of the gift per month, up to a maximum penalty of 25 percent of the gift.
Information Return of Foreign Trust With a U.S. Owner. Taxpayers must also report ownership interests in foreign trusts, by United States persons with various interests in and powers over those trusts under IRC § 6048(b). The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns or for filing an incomplete return, is the greater of $10,000 or 5 percent of the gross value of trust assets determined to be owned by the United States person.
Information Return of U.S. Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations. Certain United States persons who are officers, directors or shareholders in certain foreign corporations (including International Business Corporations) are required to report information under IRC §§ 6035, 6038 and 6046. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns is $10,000, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency, up to a maximum of $50,000 per return.
Information Return of a 25% Foreign-Owned U.S. Corporation or a Foreign Corporation Engaged in a U.S. Trade or Business. Taxpayers may be required to report transactions between a 25 percent foreign-owned domestic corporation or a foreign corporation engaged in a trade or business in the United States and a related party as required by IRC §§ 6038A and 6038C. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns, or to keep certain records regarding reportable transactions, is $10,000, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency.
Return by a U.S. Transferor of Property to a Foreign Corporation. Taxpayers are required to report transfers of property to foreign corporations and other information under IRC § 6038B. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns is ten percent of the value of the property transferred, up to a maximum of $100,000 per return, with no limit if the failure to report the transfer was intentional.
Return of U.S. Persons With Respect to Certain Foreign Partnerships. United States persons with certain interests in foreign partnerships use this form to report interests in and transactions of the foreign partnerships, transfers of property to the foreign partnerships, and acquisitions, dispositions and changes in foreign partnership interests under IRC §§ 6038, 6038B, and 6046A. Penalties include $10,000 for failure to file each return, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency, up to a maximum of $50,000 per return, and ten percent of the value of any transferred property that is not reported, subject to a $100,000 limit.
Where an underpayment of tax, or a failure to file a tax return, is due to fraud, the taxpayer is liable for penalties that, although calculated differently, essentially amount to 75 percent of the unpaid tax.
Generally, taxpayers are required to file income tax returns. If a taxpayer fails to do so, a penalty of 5 percent of the balance due, plus an additional 5 percent for each month or fraction thereof during which the failure continues may be imposed. The penalty shall not exceed 25 percent.
If a taxpayer fails to pay the amount of tax shown on the return, he or she may be liable for a penalty of .5 percent of the amount of tax shown on the return, plus an additional .5 percent for each additional month or fraction thereof that the amount remains unpaid, not exceeding 25 percent.
Filing a false return (IRC § 7206(1)) and failure to file an income tax return (IRC § 7203). Willfully failing to file an FBAR and willfully filing a false FBAR are both violations that are subject to criminal penalties under 31 U.S.C. § 5322. Additional possible criminal charges include conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims (18 U.S.C. § 286) and conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the United States (18 U.S.C. § 371).
Filing a false return subjects a person to a prison term of up to three years and a fine of up to $250,000. A person who fails to file a tax return is subject to a prison term of up to one year and a fine of up to $100,000. Failing to file an FBAR subjects a person to a prison term of up to ten years and criminal penalties of up to $500,000. A person convicted of conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims is subject to a prison term of up to not more than 10 years or a fine of up to $250,000. A person convicted of conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the United States is subject to a prison term of not more than five years and a fine of up to $250,000.
Everyone makes mistakes. If at some point that you should have been reporting your foreign income, accounts, assets or investments the prudent and least costly (but most effective) method for getting compliance is through one of the approved IRS offshore voluntary disclosure program.