IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program – Foreign Account Reporting
OVDP (Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program)
The IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (aka OVDP) is a program designed to bring applicants with undisclosed Foreign Income, Accounts, Investments, Assets, etc. safely into compliance. The following is a summary of the elements (aka requirements) for individuals, estates, and businesses that would like to apply for the traditional OVDP program.
Offshore does not mean you should be conjuring up visions of resting easy in the Bahamas, or stashing millions in the Caymans. Essentially, from an international IRS tax perspective it simply means you have money overseas. Whether the money is in a foreign account, overseas, or abroad — it is being held “offshore.”
Therefore, in order to qualify for OVDP you must have unreported assets, income or investments abroad. If you do have offshore assets, income or investments, then you can report them with OVDP — and you can include domestic undisclosed money as well.
Offshore vs. Domestic
But, it is important to keep in mind that you do not get the same protection for your domestic undisclosed money that you receive for your offshore undisclosed money. Moreover, if you do not have any undisclosed offshore money, and all of your unreported money is domestic (located in the United States), you can submit to the IRS Domestic Voluntary Disclosure Program, but not OVDP.
Unfortunately, the IRS Domestic Voluntary Disclosure Program does not provide the same protections and reduced penalty structure as the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.
Voluntary means you are entering the program on your own volition.
Usually, it means that you are not under audit or under examination with the IRS. That is because if you are already under IRS audit or examination and then submit to the program, you are not technically doing so voluntarily. Rather, you are entering the program in response to being audited or examined.
The reason the IRS does not allow you to enter OVDP once you are under audit is because you have a proactive responsibility during an audit or examination to bring these issues to the forefront and explain them to the auditor — even if the auditor did not ask about offshore accounts. This is also true, even if the audit has literally nothing to do with offshore money.
When you are under audit or examination you can be subject to excessively high fines and penalties which are somewhat mitigated through traditional OVDP. The IRS will not let you out of those penalties that easily…
By disclosure, the IRS is referring to full disclosure. In other words, you can’t get a little bit pregnant. If you want to voluntarily disclose offshore money, then you have to do a full disclosure and report all of the information you have regarding all of your offshore money abroad.
It does not matter if the money was held in an account within a branch or institution that went out of business. It also does not matter that your money is being held in an anonymous account that you firmly and wholeheartedly believe can never be discovered.
Rather, from the IRS’ perspective, when it is time to disclose you must perform a full disclosure and report all of the information — no matter how low the chances that the IRS could ever discover the information, account information, investments or income otherwise.
OVDP is an approved IRS program. There are specific time requirements and reporting disclosures that must be done according to OVDP milestones. If you fail to meet these milestones timely, the IRS can remove you from the program, which now means the IRS has at least a skeleton of your offshore finances, and can now enforce incredibly high fines and penalties against you.
Worse yet, you no longer have the protection of OVDP.
How Does an OVDP Case Work?
OVDP Phase 1
The person submits a preclearance letter. It typically takes the IRS 30 to 35 days to respond to the letter, wherein you will learn whether you get accepted or rejected into OVDP. Despite what some inexperienced attorneys will tell you online, not everyone gets accepted. And if an attorney has told you that everyone always gets accepted, than they have not been practicing this area of law long enough.
OVDP Phase 2
The applicant has 45 days to submit the initial disclosure to the IRS. It is a relatively detailed breakdown of the different accounts, transfers, opening and closing of the accounts, and related information. It is not as detailed as preparing and submitting IRS forms and schedules such as general FATCA Reporting, FBAR, 3520, 5471, 8621, 8865, 8938 — but it is still relatively comprehensive, and more detailed than it had been in years past, especially pre-FATCA.
OVDP Phase 3
Presuming that the applicant is accepted, the applicant then has 90 days to submit the full disclosure, including all necessary FBARs, schedules, penalty competitions legal arguments for mitigation of penalties, etc. Depending on the specific facts and circumstances of your case (numerous PFICs, Foreign Mutual Funds, ETFs, etc.), it may take longer for you to compile the information or prepare the necessary documents.
While it might seem nuts to acquiesce to the IRS before they have found you, audited or examined you, and issues you penalties. You may instead also consider submitting an IRS Quiet Disclosure in hopes that you can fly below the radar without getting caught.
These are two horrible ideas, here’s why:
First, a quiet disclosure may lead you in jail or prison. For a comprehensive case study on how IRS required disclosure of offshore money can go wrong, please refer to our prior blog page.
Second, if the IRS audits or examines you before you enter the program, you may be subject to incredibly high fines and penalties, which are detailed below:
The reason why is so important is because the IRS has taken to issuing gargantuan penalties against individuals whose issues seem relatively minor (Read: is the world going to explode because Marty didn’t report his foreign account?)
When it comes to penalties, the IRS has extreme leeway. On the one hand, if a person can show reasonable cause then often times penalties will be waived. On the other hand, the IRS has the right to issue penalties which can reach 100% value of the foreign account in a multiyear audit scenario (noting, that up until recently the IRS issued 300% penalties for unreported FBARs, when a person was found to be willful and penalized at 50% within the 6-year SOL).
The following is a summary of penalties as published by the IRS:
A penalty for failing to file FBARs. 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.
A penalty for failing to file Form 3520, 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.
A penalty for failing to file Form 3520-A, 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.
A penalty for failing to file Form 5471, 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.
A penalty for failing to file Form 5472, 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.
A penalty for failing to file Form 926, 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.
A penalty for failing to file Form 8865, 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.
Underpayment & Fraud Penalties
Fraud penalties imposed under IRC §§ 6651(f) or 6663. 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.
A penalty for failing to file a tax return imposed under IRC § 6651(a)(1). 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.
A penalty for failing to pay the amount of tax shown on the return under IRC § 6651(a)(2). 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.
An accuracy-related penalty on underpayments imposed under IRC § 6662. Depending upon which component of the accuracy-related penalty is applicable, a taxpayer may be liable for a 20 percent or 40 percent penalty.
Even Criminal Charges are Possible…
Possible criminal charges related to tax matters include tax evasion (IRC § 7201), 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).
A person convicted of tax evasion is subject to a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000. 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.
Experienced OVDP Attorney
An experienced OVDP Attorney is your best solution for IRS representation in either OVDP, or any of the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Programs. OVDP Attorneys are the only Tax Professionals who can protect your confidentiality with the Attorney-Client Privilege, especially if you are criminally investigated and get you into Offshore Tax Compliance.
CPAs and Enrolled Agents cannot provide you the Attorney-Client Privilege, unless they are also an attorney.
Who Does an OVDP Attorney Help?
OVDP is essentially a U.S. Government Amnesty Program to assist individuals, businesses, or estates that have unreported or undisclosed offshore assets, foreign income or other investments abroad with getting into IRS compliance.
As experienced international tax Attorneys who focus exclusively on IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure, we have extensive experience in representing clients worldwide with the OVDP program.
Who Do We Represent?
While each fact pattern and set of circumstances are different and unique, there are many types of individuals who fall into different categories of individuals who we represent for OVDP.
Some of the more common examples include:
- Individuals who knowingly did not report their foreign accounts;
- Individuals who did not tell their CPA about their foreign accounts;
- Individuals or businesses that stash income overseas;
- Individuals who did not file a requisite FBAR or 8938; or
- Individuals or Foreign Businesses that are otherwise out of compliance
Golding & Golding – Experienced OVDP Attorneys
There is a lot of mis-information and fear mongering online regarding offshore disclosure. There are also several inexperienced attorneys who do not have any real experience with offshore disclosure, and simply regurgitate information they find on the IRS website, claim it as their own — and try to sell clients with artificially reduced fees when they have no real experience.
We know this because many OVDP clients come to us after having a horrible experience with one of these other Attorneys.