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Taxation of Income From Abroad – U.S Taxes on Foreign Income

Taxation of Income From Abroad  – U.S Taxes on Foreign Income (Golding & Golding)

Taxation of Income From Abroad – U.S Taxes on Foreign Income (Golding & Golding)

Taxation of Income From Abroad – U.S Taxes on Foreign Income

When it comes to the taxation of foreign income by the U.S. government, unfortunately the IRS standard practices are wildly divergent from almost every other country on the planet. The definition of U.S. Person is very broad, and extends to more than just U.S. Citizens.

Resident-Based Taxation

Typically, in most other countries, taxation is molded after the concept of Resident-Based Taxation (RBT).

In other words, if you are a resident of a foreign country then you pay tax in that foreign country on income you earned within that country. Typically (exceptions do apply) you do not pay taxes in the foreign country on income you earned outside of the country… Makes sense, right?

Citizen Based Taxation

Unlike almost every other country in the world, the United States utilizes a CBT model, otherwise known as Citizen-Based Taxation. Unfortunately, CBT is way more encompassing than the name implies. CBT goes far beyond taxing just U.S. Citizens; it also includes Legal Permanent Residents (Green-Card Holders) and even non-permanent residents who meet the Substantial Presence Test.

Under a Citizen-Based Taxation model, the United States taxes you on your worldwide income. It does not matter whether you reside in the United States or outside of the United States, and it does not matter if your income was earned from a U.S. source or foreign source – all of the income is reported on your US tax return.

With that said, there are a few key issues to keep in mind – so don’t give up hope just yet!

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

If you meet the requirements of being a Foreign Resident under either the Physical Presence Test (PPT) or Bona-Fide Residence Test (BFR), then in accordance with the foreign earned income exclusion, you may be able to exclude up to $101,700 from your taxable income – along with additional money for housing allowance. The exclusion is claimed on IRS Form 2555.

Two things to keep in mind: First, the IRS is cracking down on people trying to claim this exclusion. Second, you have to claim the exclusion. In other words, just because you make less than $101,700 USD does not mean you are exempted from filing taxes. Stated another way, even if you earn less than $101,700 you cannot just not file the return (sorry for the double negative). Rather, you have to file the return and claim the exclusion. Otherwise, how will the IRS know what you earned?

In addition, due to increased enforcement through Foreign Bank Levies and Passport Revocation, compliance is a must.

Foreign Tax Credit

Depending on how much you have paid in foreign tax, and the type of tax — you may be able to claim a credit for the income you earned abroad against any taxes you owe on your US taxes, for the same income. The form you file is form 1116 (individuals). It is typically not a dollar-for-dollar deduction, because it is offset by your US tax status to avoid the artificial reduction of your non-foreign U.S. taxes — especially in situations in which foreign country may have an extremely high tax rate, such as Australia or Europe.

If you are a higher income earner, you may be able to apply both the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and Foreign Tax Credit to the same category of income (but you cannot double dip).

Unlike the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, which must be for earned income, the Foreign Tax Credit can be used for either Earned Income or Passive Income such as: Royalties, Dividends, Interest, or Capital Gains.

U.S. Income Tax Treaty Position

Depending on whether the United States has entered into a income tax treaty with a particular foreign country, may impact your U.S. tax liability. In fact, you may be able to avoid immediate taxation of certain retirement benefits (common with the UK) and/or you may be able to claim a qualified dividend (at a reduced tax rate), in situations in which at least there is a tax treaty with the foreign country (other restrictions apply)

Offshore Compliance and IRS Amnesty

When a person is out of compliance with US tax related issues, it typically also includes matters involving reporting foreign accounts, investments, and/or assets on various international informational returns, such as:

  • Form 3520
  • Form 5471
  • Form 8621
  • Form 8865
  • FBAR
  • FATCA Form 8938

At Golding & Golding we focus our entire tax law practice on IRS offshore voluntary disclosure. We have helped thousands of individuals safely get into compliance, and we can assist you as well.

How to Avoid Non-Compliance with Offshore Tax & Reporting?

In order to stay in compliance, it is important to continue filing U.S. Tax returns, and reporting any foreign accounts, assets, investments, and income on the requisite International Informational Reporting Forms.

FBAR (FinCEN 114)

The FBAR is used to report “Foreign Financial Accounts.” This includes investments funds, and certain foreign life insurance policies.

The threshold requirements are relatively simple. On any day of the year, if you aggregated (totaled) the maximum balances of all of your foreign accounts, does the total amount exceed $10,000 (USD)?

If it does, then you most likely have to file the form. The most important thing to remember is you do not need to have more than $10,000 in each account; rather, it is an annual aggregate total of the maximum balances of all the accounts.

Form 8938

This form is used to report “Specified Foreign Financial Assets.”

There are four main thresholds for individuals is as follows:.

  • Single or Filing Separate (in the U.S.): $50,000/$75,000
  • Married with a Joint Returns (In the U.S): $100,000/$150,000
  • Single or Filing Separate (Outside the U.S.): $200,000/$300,000
  • Married with a Joint Returns (Outside the U.S.): $400,000/$600,000

Form 3520

Form 3520 is filed when a person receives a Gift, Inheritance or Trust Distribution from a foreign person, business or trust. There are three (3) main different thresholds:

  • Gift from a Foreign Person: More than $100,000.
  • Gift from a Foreign Business: More than $16,076.
  • Foreign Trust: Various threshold requirements involving foreign Trusts

Form 5471

Form 5471 is filed in any year that you have ownership interest in a foreign corporation, and meet one of the threshold requirements for filling (Categories 1-5). These are general thresholds:

  • Category 1: U.S. shareholders of specified foreign corporations (SFCs) subject to the provisions of section 965.
  • Category 2: Officer or Director of a foreign corporation, with a U.S. Shareholder of at least 10% ownership.
  • Category 3: A person acquires stock (or additional stock) that bumps them up to 10% Shareholder.
  • Category 4: Control of a foreign corporation for at least 30 days during the accounting period.
  • Category 5: 10% ownership of a Controlled Foreign Corporation (CFC).

Form 8621

Form 8621 requires a complex analysis, beyond the scope of this article. It is required by any person with a PFIC (Passive Foreign Investment Company).

The analysis gets infinitely more complicated if a person has excess distributions. The failure to file the return may result in the statute of limitations remaining open indefinitely.

*There are some exceptions, exclusions, and limitations to filing.

Out of IRS Offshore Compliance?

The rules have changed, but you still have options.

Depending on the facts and circumstances of your situation, your options may include the streamlined program, reasonable cause, or the delinquency procedures – which may result in significantly reduced fines and penalties (and may even receive a penalty waiver).

IRS Offshore Reporting & Tax Amnesty Programs

There are 5 main versions of the program. Here are the 5 Main Options:

(New) Updated Traditional IRS Voluntary Disclosure Program

When OVDP (Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program) ended back in September 2018, the Internal Revenue Service was unclear as to whether a New “Offshore” Voluntary Disclosure Program would be introduced. Instead of a “new program,” the traditional voluntary disclosure program was expanded.

You can use the disclosure program to submit FBARs for your Foreign Bank Accounts, FATCA, PFIC, along with your Domestic Income

Resource: Summary of the Traditional IRS Voluntary Disclosure Program

Resource: Golding & Golding’s 8-Step Guide to See if you Qualify

SFCP – IRS Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures

IRS Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures are a stand-alone “streamlined” version of the traditional OVDP. The “stand-alone” streamlined filing procedures were created in 2014 by the Internal Revenue Service.

The purpose of the procedures are to assist taxpayers who were noncompliant with offshore reporting requirements – but were also non-willful.

If the Taxpayer can certify under penalty of perjury of being non-willful, the IRS reduces the penalty structure, and even waives the penalty for applicants who qualify as foreign residents.

Resource: Golding & Golding’s IRS Summary of IRS Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures

SDOP – IRS Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures

SDOP is the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures, and it is the program designed for for U.S. persons residing in the United States (or do not meet the technical “Foreign Resident Test”) 

Resource: Golding & Golding’s IRS Summary of IRS Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures

SFOP – IRS Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures

SFOP is the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures. These are the Procedures for U.S. persons residing outside the United States is referred to as the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures.

Resource: Golding & Golding’s IRS Summary of IRS Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures

DIRP – Delinquency Procedures for Offshore & Foreign Accounts and Assets

If you do not have any unreported income resulting in having to amend your tax returns — and all you have is unreported foreign assets, accounts or investments with no unreported income, you may be in luck. In these instances, in which you do not otherwise need to file for traditional offshore disclosure or the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures — you may qualify for the Delinquency Procedures and avoid any penalties.

Resource: Golding & Golding’s IRS Summary of Delinquent International Informational Return Submission Procedures

RC – Reasonable Cause for Offshore & Foreign Accounts and Assets

Reasonable Cause may be an option for some taxpayers. Specifically, 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.

Resource: Golding & Golding’s Summary of IRS Reasonable Cause for Offshore & Foreign Accounts & Assets

Fixing Lesser Experienced Law Firm mistakes.

IRS Voluntary 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. 

Resource: 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).

IRS Offshore “Potential” Penalty List

The following is a list of potential IRS penalties for unreported and undisclosed foreign accounts and assets:

Failure to File

If you do not file by the deadline, you might face a failure-to-file penalty. If you do not pay by the due date, you could face a failure-to-pay penalty. The failure-to-file penalty is generally more than the failure-to-pay penalty.

The penalty for filing late is usually 5 percent of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month that a return is late. This penalty will not exceed 25 percent of your unpaid taxes. If you file your return more than 60 days after the due date or extended due date, the minimum penalty is the smaller of $135 or 100 percent of the unpaid tax.

Failure to Pay

f you do not pay your taxes by the due date, you will generally have to pay a failure-to-pay penalty of ½ of 1 percent of your unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month after the due date that the taxes are not paid. This penalty can be as much as 25 percent of your unpaid taxes. If both the failure-to-file penalty and the failure-to-pay penalty apply in any month, the 5 percent failure-to-file penalty is reduced by the failure-to-pay penalty.

However, if you file your return more than 60 days after the due date or extended due date, the minimum penalty is the smaller of $135 or 100 percent of the unpaid tax. You will not have to pay a failure-to-file or failure-to-pay penalty if you can show that you failed to file or pay on time because of reasonable cause and not because of willful neglect.

Civil Tax Fraud

If any part of any underpayment of tax required to be shown on a return is due to fraud, there shall be added to the tax an amount equal to 75 percent of the portion of the underpayment which is attributable to fraud.

A Penalty for failing to file FBARs

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.

A Penalty for failing to file Form 8938

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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.

How to Find Experienced & Reputable Offshore Voluntary 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.

Why is This Important? Because 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.

International Offshore Disclosure Lawyer Fees – How Much are They?

As in life, you get what you pay for.

To get the best representation possible, you need an experienced Board Certified Tax Law Specialist, with advanced degrees and advanced certifications.

If you want to hire a newer private-practice attorney that just opened shop a few years ago, hoping to save a little money on fees,  where they sold you on some “over-hyped” Kovel Letter – you’re putting yourself at risk.

Those cases usually end up on our doorstep down the line after the attorney made significant mistakes on the submission (sometimes costing the client significant amounts of time and fees that could have been avoided)

Golding & Golding – Board Certified in Tax Law

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.

We are the “go-to” firm for other Attorneys, CPAs, Enrolled Agents, Accountants and Financial Professionals worldwide.

International Tax Lawyers - Golding & Golding, A PLC

International Tax Lawyers - Golding & Golding, A PLC

Golding & Golding: Our International Tax Lawyers practice exclusively in the area of IRS Offshore & Voluntary Disclosure. We represent clients in 70 different countries. Managing Partner, Sean M. Golding, JD, LL.M., EA and his team have represented thousands of clients in all aspects of IRS offshore disclosure and compliance during his 20-year career as an Attorney. Mr. Golding's articles have been referenced in such publications as the Washington Post, Forbes, Nolo and various Law Journals nationwide.

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.)
International Tax Lawyers - Golding & Golding, A PLC