Income From Abroad is Taxable – IRS Penalty Reduction Options

Reporting Foreign Income to the IRS – What You Should Know

Report Foreign Income to the IRS 

One of the most confusing aspects of International Tax Law is determining what income should be reported on a 1040 U.S. Tax Return.

Despite all the misinformation you will find online, it is relatively simple — the United States is a Citizen-Based Taxation country — which means that it taxes U.S. persons on their worldwide income.

Let’s break that down:

Worldwide Income

The United States taxes anyone who qualifies for having to file a form 1040 (as opposed to 1040NR) on their worldwide income. It does not matter if the person resides in the United States and earns income abroad, or if the person resides abroad and earned income from countries that are not the United States. You still have to report all of the income on your U.S. Tax Return when you qualify as a U.S. person.

It should be noted that you may receive a Foreign Tax Credit for taxes paid in a Foreign Country, as well as you may qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion if you meet either the Bona-Fide Resident or Physical Presence Test.

U.S. Person

A U.S. person is all-encompassing for International Tax/Worldwide income related purposes. Do not be fooled by the term Citizen-Based Taxation – it is more broad than that. A U.S. person includes either a U.S. Citizen, Legal Permanent Resident, or Foreign National other non-US person that needs the Substantial Presence Test.

The Substantial Presence Test is an unnecessarily difficult math equation that breaks down the time required to be spent in the United States over a three-year period to make a person qualify as being subject to U.S. Tax on their Worldwide Income.

How to Report Foreign Income 1040

A basic summary about how income is included on your US tax return.

Schedule A

If you paid for property tax or foreign mortgage interest, then you can oftentimes take the same deduction that you would take in the United States on Schedule A.

Schedule B

If it is foreign interest or foreign dividends, then you include it on Schedule B. in addition, if you have Ownership or Signature Authority over Foreign Accounts you also have to answer question seven on schedule B – even if you do not have any foreign interest or dividends. You also have to acknowledge whether or not you are required to file an FBAR

Schedule C

If you have a foreign business that qualifies as a sole proprietorship (or disregarding the entity), then it would be included on Schedule C, along with other documents that would need to be filed.

Schedule D

If it is capital gain many goes on Schedule D, unless it is capital gains distributed from a fund and that it may go on Schedule B.

Schedule E, Page 1

If you have for the rental income from property, it would be included on page 1 of schedule E.

Schedule E, Page 2

If you are a member of a foreign partnership or other company, then your tax return becomes unnecessarily complicated and not only that you have to include the information on schedule E, page 2 — but you may also have to report it on a variety of different forms such as a form 5471, 8621 or 8865.

**Whether or not you may be able to disregard the entity is a much more complicated discussion beyond the scope of this basic article.

Foreign Tax Credit — Paying Foreign Taxes – (Form 1116)

The IRS recognizes taxes paid in a foreign country (some of the time) and therefore will allow you to use a foreign tax credit to offset taxes you already paid in a foreign country, and report it on an IRS Form 1116.

If you paid less tax in the foreign country then you would have paid in the US on the same income, then you pay the difference on your U.S. tax return. If you paid the same amount, then no taxes are due, and if you overpaid, then you are entitled to a foreign tax credit to be used against foreign income (not domestic) earned at a future date.

**The reason why the United States will not let you apply additional left-over foreign tax credits to U.S. income, because that would mean that the United States is losing out on tax revenue that would have been paid to the IRS had it not been paid to the foreign country, and the IRS does not like that.

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion – (Form 2555)

For individuals who reside overseas and earn income from overseas, they may be able to avoid paying U.S. tax on a portion of that income. It is limited to earn income such as wages or self-employment, but it does also include housing in certain situations. The exclusion is reported on IRS Form 2555.

There are two tests in which a person can qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion, and the tests are relatively simple to apply – if not difficult to meet. The two different tests are the Physical Presence Test (330-day) and the Bona-Fide Resident Test (which is a much more complicated test and more subjective than mere physical presence).

If the person meets the test, then even though the income is reported, it is also excluded from taxation – but with a twist. Let’s say David earns $150,000 overseas and therefore can exclude the first hundred thousand dollars of tax.

David will only pay tax on the $50,000 that is remaining, but she will pay the tax as if he earned $150,000 (higher tax bracket) – which is a relatively recent change in the text. It used to be David would be treated as if you only earns $50,000

Additional Foreign or Offshore Reporting

At Golding & Golding, we limit our entire law practice to IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure of undisclosed or unreported foreign income, assets, accounts, investments, real estate, and the like.

The following are a few examples:

Reporting Foreign Accounts (FBAR)

There is a lot of information online regarding the FBAR (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Account Form) due to the extremely high penalties involved with this form. We have written countless articles, which you can find in our International Tax Library, by clicking here

If you are a U.S. Person, it does not matter whether or not you have to file a US tax return to determine if you have to file an FBAR. The threshold question is whether you have an annual aggregate total of foreign/offshore bank accounts, financial accounts, retirement accounts, etc. that when combined, exceed $10,000. If so, you are required to file the FBAR Form and report all of the accounts.

It does not matter if the money is all in one account, or in 15 different accounts. It also does not matter if the majority of the money is in one account, with minimal amounts of money in the remaining accounts – rather, once you meet the threshold requirements, you have to report all the accounts.

Penalty: 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.

Golding & Golding Resources: FBAR FAQFBAR Penalties

FATCA Form (8938)

FATCA is the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. For individuals, it requires reporting of financial accounts and certain specified foreign assets (ownership in businesses, life insurance, etc.). There are different threshold requirements, depending on whether a person is Married Filing Jointly (MFJ) or Married Filing Separate (MFS)/Single, and whether a person resides in the United States or outside of the United States.

Penalty: 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.

Golding & Golding ResourcesForm 8938 FAQForm 8938 Penalties

Foreign Gift Form (3520)

If you receive a gift or inheritance from a foreign person that exceeds $100,000 either in a single transaction, or a series of transactions over a year, you are required to report the gift on this form. You have the file this form, even if you are not required to file a tax return (although it is normally filed at the same time as your tax return).

Penalty: 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.

Golding & Golding ResourcesForm 3520 Penalties

Foreign Corporation or Foreign Partnership (5471 or 8865)

The rules are somewhat different for these two forms, but essentially the same (with the 5471 being much more commonplace for U.S. investors). If you own at least 10% ownership in either type of business, you required to report the information on either a form 5471 or 8865. Both of these forms require comprehensive disclosure requirements, involving balance statements, liabilities, assets, etc. Moreover, the forms need to be filed annually, even if a person does not have to otherwise file a tax return

Penalty: 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.

Golding & Golding ResourcesForm 5471 Penalties

Passive Foreign Investment Company (PFIC)

One of the most vilified type of financial assets/investments (from the U.S. Government’s perspective) is the infamous PFIC. A PFIC is a Passive Foreign Investment Company. The reason the United States penalized this type of investment is because it cannot oversee the growth of the investment and income it generates. In other words, if a U.S. person invests overseas in a Foreign Mutual Fund or Foreign Holding Company — the assets grows and generates income outside of IRS and U.S. Government income rules and regulations.

As a result, the IRS requires annual disclosure of anyone with even a fractional interest in a PFIC (unless you meet very strict exclusionary rules)

Penalty: The Penalties for not filing an 8621 run concurrent with the 8938 penalties (see above).

Golding & Golding Resources: Form 8621 Penalties; PFIC Form 8621 Excess Distribution Calculation; PFIC MTM Election

Foreign Trust (3520-A)

A Foreign Trust is another type of Foreign Investment that is frowned upon by the IRS. From the IRS’ perspective, the only purpose behind a Foreign Trust is to illegally avoid US reporting and income tax requirements by moving money offshore. While there are many people who may operate illegally in this fashion, there are various legitimate reasons why you would be a trustee or beneficiary of a Foreign Trust (Your cool grandma really loves you and placed $5 million in trust for you overseas). Form 3520-A is a relatively complex form, which must be filed annually by anybody that owns a foreign trust.

Penalty: 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.

Golding & Golding ResourcesForm 3520-A Foreign Trust Penalties 

Foreign Real Estate Income

Even if you are earning rental income from property that is located outside of the United States, you still must report the income on your U.S. taxes (even it is exempt from tax in the foreign country). Remember, United States taxes individuals on their worldwide income. Therefore, the income you are earning from your rental property(s) must also be included on your US tax return.

A few nice benefits of reporting the income is that the United States allows depreciation of the structure – which many foreign countries do not allow. Moreover, you can take the same types of deductions and expenses that you otherwise take the property was located in the United States.

PenaltyVaries, depending on the Nature and Extent of the non-disclosure.

Golding & Golding ResourcesForeign Real Estate Income FAQ

IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure

Depending on the type of foreign account, etc. that you may have, there are variety of different forms you may have to file, and the failure to file these forms may result significantly high fines and penalties. In order to avoid these penalties and bring individuals back into compliance (or into compliance for the first time) the IRS has developed certain programs, which are summarized below:

Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Tax law is very complex. There are many aspects that go into any particular tax calculation, including the legal status, marital status, business status and residence status of the taxpayer.

When Do I Need to Use Voluntary Disclosure?

Voluntary Disclosure is for individuals, estates, and businesses who are out of compliance with the IRS and the Department of Treasury. What does that mean? It means that if you are required to file a U.S. tax return and you don’t do so timely, then you are out of compliance.

If the IRS discovers that you are out of compliance, you may become subject to extensive fines and penalties – ranging from a warning letter all the way up to tax liens, tax levies, seizures, and criminal investigations. To combat this, you can take the proactive approach and submit to Voluntary Disclosure.

Golding & Golding – Offshore Disclosure

At Golding & Golding, we limit our entire practice to offshore disclosure (IRS Voluntary Disclosure of Foreign and U.S. Assets). The term offshore disclosure is a bit of a misnomer, because the term “offshore” generally connotes visions of hiding money in secret places such as the Cayman Islands, Bahamas, Malta, or any other well-known tax haven jurisdiction – but that is not the case.

In fact, any money that is outside of the United States is considered to be offshore; the term offshore is not a bad word. In other words, merely because a person has money offshore (a.k.a. overseas or in a foreign country) does not mean that money is the result of ill-gotten gains or that the money is being “hidden.” It just means it is not in the United States. Many of our clients have assets and bank accounts in their homeland countries and these are considered offshore assets and offshore bank accounts.

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 have 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 unreported money. While that is most likely 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 knowingly or willfully hid your foreign accounts, foreign money, and offshore assets 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 included links to the specific programs. If you are interested, we have also prepared very popular “FAQs from the Trenches” for FBAR, OVDP and Streamlined Disclosure reporting. Unlike 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 develop 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.

1. OVDP 

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 the 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).

OVDP Penalties

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 nonpayment of tax). To give you an example, let’s pick one tax year during the compliance period. If the taxpayer owed $20,000 in taxes for year 2014, then they would also have to include in the check the amount of $4,000 to cover the 20% penalty, as well as estimated interest (which is generally averaged at about 3% per year). This must be done for each year during the compliance period.

Then there is the “FBAR/8938” 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 of 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!

                         

2. Streamlined Domestic Offshore Disclosure

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.

What am I supposed to Report?

There are three main reporting aspects: (1) foreign account(s), (2) certain specified assets, and (3) 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.

The threshold requirements for filing the 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 Form 8938 are the two most common forms, please keep in mind that there are 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 Form 3520.
  • If you are the Owner of a foreign trust, you will also have to file Form 3520-A.
  • If you have certain Ownerships of a foreign corporation, you have to file Form 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 Form 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 USD in Japan and paid 25% tax ($25,000) in Japan, you would receive a $25,000 tax credit against your foreign earnings. Thus, if your US tax liability is 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 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.

                           

3. Streamlined Foreign Offshore Disclosure

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. (Your foreign tax credit may offset any US taxes and you may end up with zero penalty and zero tax liability.)

*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.

                      

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