IRS Voluntary Disclosure
- 1 IRS Voluntary Disclosure?
- 1.1 IRS Voluntary Disclosure is Complex
- 1.2 What Do I Need to Report?
- 1.3 The Devil is in the Details…
- 1.4 What if you Never Report the Money?
- 1.5 Getting into Compliance
- 1.6 OVDP
- 1.7 Streamlined Domestic Offshore Disclosure
- 1.8 Streamlined Foreign Offshore Disclosure
- 1.9 Reasonable Cause Statement
- 1.10 Quiet Disclosure
IRS Voluntary Disclosure?
IRS Voluntary Disclosure is the process of bringing your Foreign Income, Foreign Accounts, Foreign Bank Accounts, and Foreign Assets/Investments into compliance with the U.S. Government.
For the majority of individuals and businesses, it will include filing an annual FBAR (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts) as well as FATCA Form 8938 (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act).
While some law firms may dabble in this area of law and/or practice a broad range area of different tax laws, IRS Voluntary Disclosure is the only area of law we practice at Golding & Golding.
We have represented numerous clients around the world in more than 45 countries with all aspects of IRS Voluntary Disclosure, including:
- Unreported Foreign Bank Accounts
- Unreported Foreign Investment Accounts
- Unreported Foreign Retirement Accounts
- Unreported Foreign Pension
- Unreported Foreign Life Insurance Policies
- Unreported Foreign Trusts
- Unreported Ownership in a Foreign Business or Partnership
- Unreported Ownership in a Foreign PFIC
- Excess Distributions from a PFIC
IRS Voluntary Disclosure is Complex
When it comes to IRS Voluntary Disclosure, it is important to have an experienced attorney who understands the different nuances involved in offshore disclosure. There are many other issues that may be impacted by a voluntary disclosure. Some of more common issues involve:
- Immigration Status
- Penalty Avoidance
- Foreign Tax Credits
- Foreign Earned Income Exclusion
- Criminal Tax Investigations
What Do I Need to Report?
Unfortunately, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) does not provide enough information for individuals with foreign accounts, income, investments, etc. to understand what their annual reporting and tax payment requirements are.
Many individuals we represent never had any idea that they were supposed to report any information to the United States government until they received either a FATCA Letter or IRS notice.
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’ve 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 on reported money. While that is 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 are knowingly or willfully kept your foreign accounts, foreign money, and offshore assets hidden 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 include links to the specific programs. If you are interest, 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 have developed 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 an 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 (reduced by any outstanding mortgage) 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 example: if the taxpayer owed $20,000 in taxes over the last eight years then they would also have to include in check the amount of $4,000 the cover the 20% penalty on the $20,000 in outstanding taxes, as well as estimated interest.
In accordance with OVDP filing requirements, the Applicant will then be required to pay the outstanding tax along with estimated interest, a 20% penalty on the outstanding tax, as well as an “FBAR” 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 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 before it is too late!
What am I supposed to Report?
There are three (3) main aspects to dealing with foreign money. The first aspect is reporting your foreign account(s) the second aspect is reporting certain specified assets, and the third aspect is reporting your 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.
Whether or not you have the file in 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 8938 are the two most common forms, please keep in mind that there are many 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 a 3520.
- If you are the Owner of a foreign trust you will also have to file a 3520-A.
- If you have certain Ownerships of a foreign corporation you have to file a 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 and 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 in Japan and paid 25% tax in Japan, you would receive a $25,000 tax credit against your foreign earnings. Thus, if your US tax liability would be 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 would 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.
*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, 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.
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 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 handle your entire submission (Taxes, Legal, and Audit Defense) in-house, for a flat-fee.
Reasonable Cause – Potential 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. Here are three (3) common examples in which paying any penalty for your undisclosed foreign accounts may seem unfair
Example 1: Michael travels worldwide and has accounts in numerous different countries. He only uses the foreign money when he is in the foreign country at issue, and there is usually a relatively small amounts of money in each account. At one point Michael thought about purchasing a home overseas and left the money in the Foreign account for a significant period of time (including 12/31). Foreign Taxes were fully paid on the money deposited into the account and foreign taxes were paid on the income the account generated. The only issue is that he did not report the account and/or the foreign income on his U.S. Tax Return.
Example 2: Michelle moved to the United States over 15 years ago but has a Foreign pension from a private employer. The pension is worth upwards of $1 million. Michelle has not accessed the account, nor has she contributed (or anyone else contributed) since arriving in the United States. Since the account/earnings are not taxed in the US until distributed, and there have been no distributions, Michelle never reported the account on an FBAR or 8938.
Example 3: David has a foreign account, which he received as an inheritance. He never touched the money, and even though the account earns minimal annual income, there is no tax for passive income in this particular country
Reasonable Cause – Viable Option
As you can see from the aforementioned examples, none of these individuals had any intent whatsoever to perform tax evasion. Moreover, the amount of income earned is relatively minor compared to the outstanding amount in the foreign accounts. In addition, in the case of Michelle, the majority of her money is it a pension account which is not even taxed by the US. Thus, even under the streamlined program she would be paying $50,000 in penalties for an account in which all of the money was earned and reported timely in her foreign country and all foreign taxes were paid on the contributions.
Quiet Disclosure (otherwise known as “Silent Disclosure” or “Soft Disclosure”) of your foreign accounts and foreign income on an FBAR or late/amended tax return is a serious violation of U.S. Tax Law, which can subject you to very high fines, penalties and criminal investigation.
A Quiet Disclosure will only Make Matters Worse
In a quiet disclosure, the person does not enter the program but rather simply amends their tax returns to include the unreported foreign income (schedule B), report the foreign accounts (8938 forms) and file FBAR Statements with the Department of the Treasury.
Here’s the problem: If you were originally non-willful (in that you were unaware of the requirement to file an FBAR) but now you went ahead and willfully failed to pay the penalty, you may have bootstrapped your non-willful submission into full-blown tax fraud and tax evasion.
Why? Because you have now willfully evaded US tax, interest and penalties by knowingly filing an untimely FBAR or Amended Tax Return without payment penalty for money you know you earned in the past but had not paid any US tax on.
Click Here to read our article/case study: “Quiet Disclosure Case Study Example – From Submission to IRS Audit…to Jail“