Non-Willful FBAR Penalties (2019-2020 Update)
Non-Willful FBAR Penalty: Understanding how the IRS issues a non-willful FBAR penalty(s) can be complex. In recent years, the IRS has taken an aggressive position towards foreign accounts compliance. When a U.S. person has not properly reported their offshore accounts, assets, investments or income, they may be subject to FBAR Penalties. The main determining factor is whether the taxpayer is found to be non-willful vs. willful. In order to reduce penalties, the Internal Revenue Service has developed FBAR Amnesty. The FBAR amnesty programs are collectively referred to as Voluntary Disclosure, and the main programs, include:
- Voluntary Disclosure Program (VDP)
- Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures
- Delinquent International Information Returns Procedures
Non-Willful FBAR Penalty
The IRS non-willful FBAR penalty can be severe. In one recent case, the court went so far as to confirm that a non-willful FBAR Penalty in which the IRS issued penalties on 13 out of 14 accounts (in a single year) was not unreasonable — noting that the matter may be appealed, and the facts were a bit “case specific.”
Not all FBAR Penalties are the same. Sometimes, the IRS penalties for unfiled or late FBARs are bad, and sometimes, well…they’re not so bad. You may even receive a Warning Letter in Lieu of Penalty. It jut depends on the different facts and circumstances of your situation
FBAR Penalties can be Civil or Criminal. They can then be broken down further, but the threshold question, is whether the IRS will get you for Civil (money) or Criminal (money, and worse).
IRS Non-Willful Definition
The difference between willful and non-willful has not fully been vetted and defined by the IRS.
It is a ‘Totality of the Circumstances‘ test based on whether or not your specific facts and circumstances reflect that you knew, or should have known that you were required to disclose and report your foreign accounts and offshore income — and made the decision not to disclose.
Generally, if a person was unaware that there was a foreign account/foreign income/foreign asset reporting requirement, the client begins in the “non-willful” category, but more analysis is needed.
How to Evaluate if you were 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 your 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?
Civil Penalties Non-Willful (and Willful)
Civil FBAR Penalties are limited to monetary penalties. A civil FBAR Penalty is a penalty that is focused on monetary fines or warning letters (waivers) — without any risk of criminal investigation or prosecution.
|U.S. Code citation||Civil Monetary Penalty Description||Current Maximum|
|31 U.S.C. 5321(a)(5)(B)(i)||Foreign Financial Agency Transaction – Non-Willful Violation of Transaction||$12,921|
|31 U.S.C. 5321(a)(5)(C)||Foreign Financial Agency Transaction – Willful Violation of Transaction||Greater of $129,210, or 50% of the amount per 31 U.S.C.5321(a)(5)(D)|
|31 U.S.C. 5321(a)(6)(A)||Negligent Violation by Financial Institution or Non-Financial Trade or Business||$1,118|
|31 U.S.C. 5321(a)(6)(B)||Pattern of Negligent Activity by Financial Institution or Non-Financial Trade or Business||$86,976|
Penalties for Civil FBAR can be Broken down into two (2) categories:
- Willful FBAR Penalties
- Non-Willful FBAR Penalties
Non-Willful FBAR Penalties
These FBAR Penalties are typically the least severe penalties. An FBAR non-willful penalty is a “lower-level” penalty for not filing the FBAR. The non-willful penalties can be high, BUT, typically they are not as high as willful penalties.
Willful FBAR Penalties and (Reduced) Willfulness
The Willful FBAR Penalty is typically more severe. An FBAR Willful Penalty is penalty for acting willful, willfully blind, or with reckless disregard in not filing the FBAR. We have provided detailed explanations and analyses in our free International Tax Law library about these different terms, and what they mean.
Criminal FBAR Penalties may include monetary penalties and incarceration. This is when the IRS refers the matter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) or other 3 letter government faction for criminal investigation and possible prosecution. These are not very common, but unfortunately they are on the rise.
|U.S. Code citation||Criminal Violation & Description||Criminal Penalty|
|31 C.F.R. §103.59(b)||Willful – Failure to File FBAR or retain records of account||Up to $250,000 or 5 years or both|
|31 C.F.R. §103.59(c)||Willful – Failure to File FBAR or retain records of account while violating certain other laws||Up to $500,000 or 10 years or both|
|31 C.F.R. §103.59(c)||Knowingly and Willfully Filing False FBAR||$10,000 or 5 years or both|
|Civil and Criminal Penalties may be imposed together. 31 U.S.C. § 5321(d).||See Statutes||See Statutes|
A few important considerations:
- Most courts have held that the maximum annual FBAR willful penalty is not limited to $100,000.
- If the court believes you acted with Reckless Disregard, they can still penalize you full Willful FBAR Penalties.
- If the court believes you acted with Willful Blindness, they can still penalize you full Willful FBAR Penalties.
- Even in a non-willful setting, the court can issue $10,000 per account, per year penalty
Golding & Golding: Board Certified Tax Law Specialist
We specialize exclusively in international tax, and specifically IRS offshore disclosure.
We have successfully represented clients in more than 1,000 streamlined and voluntary offshore disclosure submissions nationwide and in over 70-different countries. We have represented thousands of individuals and businesses with international tax problems.
We are the “go-to” firm for other Attorneys, CPAs, Enrolled Agents, Accountants, and Financial Professionals across the globe.
- Learn more about the Board-Certified Tax Lawyer Specialist credential
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We are the “go-to” firm for other Attorneys, CPAs, Enrolled Agents, Accountants and Financial Professionals worldwide.
Less than 1% of Tax Attorneys Nationwide Are Certified Specialists
Sean M. Golding is one of less than 350 Attorneys (out of more than 200,000 practicing California Attorneys) to earn the Certified Tax Law Specialist credential. The credential is awarded to less than 1% of Attorneys.
Recent Golding & Golding Case Highlights
- We represented a client in an 8-figure disclosure that spanned 7 countries.
- We represented a high-net-worth client to facilitate a complex expatriation with offshore disclosure.
- We represented an overseas family with bringing multiple businesses & personal investments into U.S. tax and offshore compliance.
- We took over a case from a small firm that unsuccessfully submitted multiple clients to IRS Offshore Disclosure.
- We successfully completed several recent disclosures for clients with assets ranging from $50,000 – $7,000,000+.
How to Hire Experienced FBAR Penalty Mitigation Counsel
Generally, experienced attorneys in this field will have the following credentials/experience:
- Board Certified Tax Law Specialist credential
- Master’s of Tax Law (LL.M.)
- Dually Licensed as an EA (Enrolled Agent) or CPA
- 20-years experience as a practicing attorney
- Extensive litigation, high-stakes audit and trial experience
Interested in Learning More about Golding & Golding?
No matter where in the world you reside, our international tax team can get you IRS offshore compliant.
Golding & Golding specializes in FBAR and FATCA. Contact our firm today for assistance with getting compliant.
Sean holds a Master's in Tax Law from one of the top Tax LL.M. programs in the country at the University of Denver. He has also earned the prestigious IRS Enrolled Agent credential. Mr. Golding's articles have been referenced in such publications as the Washington Post, Forbes, Nolo, and various Law Journals nationwide.