- 1 Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures (SFOP)
- 2 Golding & Golding Streamlined Foreign Offshore Lawyers – Board Certified Tax Law Specialist Team
- 3 How To Qualify for Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures
- 4 Step 1: Are You Willful or Non-Willful?
- 5 Updated Lower Thresholds of Willfulness
- 6 Could the IRS consider you Willfully Blind?
- 7 Did your Non-Compliance meet the Standard for Reckless Disregard?
- 8 Step 2: Are You a Foreign Resident?
- 9 Step 3: Preparing Your Streamlined Application
- 10 What Forms Must be Reported?
- 11 Streamlined Foreign Offshore Instructions
- 12 Hiring Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures Attorney
- 13 How to Find Experienced & Reputable Streamlined Disclosure Counsel
- 14 Need a Second Opinion about Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures?
Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures (2019) – How Do I Qualify?
Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures: In order to provide some better context about the IRS Streamlined Disclosure Program for Foreign Residents, it is important to understand what the term Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures (SFOP) means. SFOP is also referred to as:
- Streamlined Foreign Offshore
- Streamlined Foreign Procedures
- Offshore Streamlined Filing
- Streamlined Expat
- IRS Amnesty for Expats
- Streamlined Foreign Disclosure
Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures (SFOP)
Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures or (SFOP) are 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! It allows individuals to come into IRS Tax and Reporting Compliance, without having to pay any penalties.
Golding & Golding Streamlined Foreign Offshore Lawyers – Board Certified Tax Law Specialist Team
Golding & Golding represents clients worldwide in over 70-countries exclusively in Streamlined, Offshore and IRS Voluntary Disclosure matters. We have successfully completed more than 1000 streamlined and voluntary disclosure submissions.
Our Team Lead is a Board Certified Tax Law Specialist (Less than 1% of Attorneys nationwide) and Enrolled Agent, with a Master’s of Tax Law (LL.M.)
Mr. Golding leads his team in each and every case we accept for submission.
- Learn more about the Board Certified Tax Law Specialist credential
- Learn the benefits of hiring a Dually Licensed Attorney/Tax Professional
- Learn More about Golding & Golding’s Case Accomplishments
- Learn More about Golding & Golding Testimonials from prior clients
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 400 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.
How To Qualify for Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures
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.
Step 1: Are You Willful or Non-Willful?
There is no bright-line test to determine willfulness.
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.
Factors to Consider when Analyzing “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 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?
Filed Timely Tax Returns
It is important to note that you cannot file original tax returns with the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures — only amended returns.
Updated Lower Thresholds of Willfulness
Willfulness is more than just “intentionally” committing an act.
There can be “lower” forms of willfulness, which do not require willful or intent — these additional willful standard are referred to as:
If you have any concern of willful vs. non-willful, It is crucial that you consult with an experienced Streamlined and Offshore Disclosure Lawyer before making any submission.
Could the IRS consider you Willfully Blind?
Willful Blindness is a form of “deliberate ignorance.” It is the concept that a person could readily obtain information, which if they did, would inform them that their actions could be criminal. Instead of seeking out the information, they “intentionally” avoid learning the information (aka burying their head in the sand).
What does Willful Blindness Mean?
It means you are “willfully” staying ignorant to a fact that would inform you that your actions are illegal.
Is Willful Blindness a Crime?
Yes. It is a substitute for willfulness. In other words, while you may have not intended to cause a crime, the fact that had you made yourself uninformed to the fact that your actions were illegal — takes you over the willfulness threshold.
What is the Mens Rea of Willful Blindness?
The idea of Mens Rea of Willful Blindness is the idea that the knowledge of the crime is presumed, due to the intentional lack of knowledge on the part of the participant.
What is Deliberate Ignorance?
Deliberate ignorance is essentially a synonym for willful blindness.
Willful Blindness Law School 101 Definition
Outside of the world of FBAR Penalties, the willful blindness standard is nothing new.
Here’s a typical example you learn in your first-year criminal law and procedures class:
David and his friends are hanging out in a seedy part of Tijuana. A Gentlemen approaches them and tells David and his two buddies that he will pay them each $1 million if they drive a car across the border.
None of the individuals ask the man why he is paying them that much to drive a vehicle for a few hours. Clearly, they should have some questions, but the money is just too good.
Therefore, David and his friends avoid asking any questions, believing if they do not ask, then they cannot know what is in the car – and that will absolve them from liability.
When they get pulled over and the police discover 50 pounds of cocaine in the car, the fact that they “didn’t know about the drugs” would not matter — since they were “willfully blind.”
Did your Non-Compliance meet the Standard for Reckless Disregard?
Reckless disregard is a lower standard of willful. It does not require intent, but rather behavior which shows the U.S. person could have known and/or could have filed the FBAR.
How do the Courts Define Reckless Disregard?
Reckless Disregard In offshore disclosure, essentially means: “I Could have known better.”
The court in Bohanecs summarizes reckless disregard as:
“Although Defendants assert that “willfulness” encompasses only intentional violations of known legal duties, and not reckless disregard of statutory duties, no court has adopted that principle in a civil tax matter.
Where willfulness is an element of civil liability, the Supreme Court generally understands the term as covering “not only knowing violations of a standard, but reckless ones as well.” Safeco, 551 U.S. at 57.
– Recklessness” is an objective standard that looks to whether conduct entails “an unjustifiably high risk of harm that is either known or so obvious that it should be known.” Safeco, 551 U.S. at 68 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
– Several other courts, citing Safeco, have held that “willfulness” under 31 U.S.C. § 5321 includes reckless disregard of a statutory duty. See United States v Williams, 489 Fed.Appx. 655, 658 (4th Cir. 2012); United States v. Bussell, No. CV15-02034 SJO(VBKx), 2015 WL 9957826 at *5 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 8, 2015); see also United States v. McBride, 908 F.Supp. 2d 1186, 1204, 1209 (D. Utah 2012).”
If I was Only Willful for a Few Years, Can I Go Streamlined?
The IRS is clear: If you were willful at all, then you cannot qualify for the IRS Streamlined Program. There are no exceptions for people who were only willful for a year or two, and no exceptions for people who only failed to report “small” amounts of income.
Unfortunately, some unethical attorneys will still push you into streamlined
On multiple occasions, we have had clients come to us after retaining one of these less-experienced firms, who are now terrified because they realized that they paid an inexperienced Offshore Disclosure Attorney a “small fee” to go streamlined, when they admitted to the Attorney they were willful.
Once you submit to the Streamlined Program, you can not thereafter submit to traditional voluntary disclosure.
Click Here for a Case Study Example of what can occur when you go Streamlined when you were willful.
Step 2: Are You 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 in any 12-month period) 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.
Step 3: Preparing Your Streamlined Application
If you are Non-Willful and qualify as a Foreign Resident, then you should qualify for the Streamlined Offshore Procedures.
The process for getting into compliance is as follows:
Streamlined Foreign Basic Submission Requirements
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.
To Summarize the Streamlined Foreign Program:
- Prepar Original Returns (or Amend Returns) for the last 3 years of Tax Returns
- Prepare erequired forms such as 3520, 3520-A, 5471, 8621, 8938, 8865, etc.
- Complete Form 14653
- File 6 Years of FBAR (FinCEN 114) – Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts
- All Penalties are waived.
What Forms Must be Reported?
The following is a list of common forms which many people were never aware they had to report, but which the failure to report may lead to extensive fines and penalties:
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
Streamlined Foreign Offshore Instructions
Even though you are non-willful, and you may be tempted to make a direct submission to the IRS, we advise against it. You must sign the Form 14654 under penalty of perjury. We have been referred several “rejected” Streamlined Submissions, because the certification was prepared incorrectly, and the issue of non-willfulness became an issue.
Still, we understand some of you wan to take a crack at it yourselves, and we understand.
Hiring Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures Attorney
People Can be Whomever They Want to be Online
And that is the problem.
In recent years, we have had many clients come to us after being horribly represented by inexperienced tax counsel. While we are sure it is a problem in many fields, it seems to run rampant in IRS offshore voluntary disclosure.
These Attorneys ‘manipulate’ their past legal experiences, such as working for the IRS — to make themselves sound more experienced than they are. You later find that they never worked as an attorney for the IRS, or even in the offshore disclosure department.
The IRS has nearly 100,000 employees, and just being one of them does not make an attorney qualified to be an effective and experienced offshore voluntary disclosure tax attorney specialist.
IRS Offshore Disclosure is complex enough for experienced practitioners who focus exclusively in the area of law, never mind relative newcomers who are trying to handle more than just offshore voluntary disclosure as part of their everyday tax practice.
We know, because those cases usually end up on our door-step. Examples of recent cases we had to takeover from less experienced Attorneys can be found by Clicking Here (Case 1) and Clicking Here (Case 2).
How to Find Experienced & Reputable Streamlined Disclosure Counsel
Nearly all the experienced Attorneys in this field will have 5 Main Attributes:
- Board Certified Tax Law Specialist
- Master’s of Tax Law (aka LL.M.)
- Dually Licensed as an Enrolled Agent or CPA
- Around 20-Years of Private Practice experience
- Extensive Litigation, Trial and related high-stakes experience.
Understanding How Tax Prep & Legal Fees Work in Offshore Disclosure
Offshore Disclosure — Flat-Fee, Full-Service
All Non-Willful cases should be Flat-Fee, Full-Service for both Tax and Legal.
*If you were willful in not submitting the FBAR, the submission and analysis is much different depending on whether the IRS has contacted you yet, if you are under investigation, etc. — and you should speak with experienced counsel.
Need a Second Opinion about Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures?
Lately, with rumblings of the Streamlined Disclosure Program, aka Streamlined Voluntary Disclosure aka Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures coming to an end, some younger and inexperienced attorneys are in disarray — and handing out terrible advice to make a quick buck — and putting clients at risk.
If you are unsure about advice you received about the Streamlined Disclosure program, let Golding & Golding offer you a second opinion, with a reduced-fee initial consultation.
Contact Us Today; Let us Help You.
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, and has also earned the prestigious Enrolled Agent credential. Mr. Golding is also a Board Certified Tax Law Specialist Attorney (A designation earned by Less than 1% of Attorneys nationwide.)
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