U.S. Entrepreneurs with Foreign Income or Accounts – International Tax
- 1 U.S. Entrepreneurs & International Tax
- 2 Worldwide Income
- 3 Important Foreign Account & Asset Definitions
- 4 Foreign Accounts
- 5 Foreign Assets
- 6 Tax Treaties
- 7 Totalization Agreements
- 8 Already Out of Compliance?
- 9 Getting into Compliance
- 10 1. OVDP
- 11 2. Streamlined Domestic Offshore Disclosure
- 12 3. Streamlined Foreign Offshore Disclosure
If you are a US entrepreneur with foreign accounts or foreign income located in a foreign country, it is important that you stay in IRS tax compliance from the start.
U.S. Entrepreneurs & International Tax
If you remain in tax compliance, then you can spend less time worrying about IRS offshore-related issues and more time focusing on building and expanding your business.
To that end, with the globalization of the US economy, even though you may not believe at the current moment that you will have foreign income or foreign accounts, but you never know where your life will take you — especially when you’re an entrepreneur.
Therefore, here are a few basic tips to keep in mind when expanding overseas:
If you are a US person, which typically means you are a US citizen, legal permanent resident, or foreign national who meets the substantial presence test, then you have to pay tax to the IRS on your worldwide income. It does not matter if the money was earned overseas, it does not matter if the company did not issue you a 1099 and it does not matter if the income is tax-free abroad.
It is a very straightforward, bright line test: if you earned income anywhere in the world and you are considered a US person, then you have to report the income on your tax return.
Important Foreign Account & Asset Definitions
Outside of the United States. No same-country exception for reporting.
Account includes much more than just “Bank Accounts.” See below for an expanded summary.
Means the filing of the FBAR form, online on the FinCEN website.
Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Account Form.
TD stands for Treasury Department and is another way to identify the form.
FinCEN Form 114
FinCEN is a financial crimes enforcement network. FinCEN created the form initially back in the 1970s, but now the IRS enforces penalties.
The Bank Secrecy Act
If you begin to operate in foreign countries, sometimes it’s optimal to open local bank accounts that have local currency available to you. Therefore, when opening a foreign bank account, the most important thing to keep in mind is the US FBAR reporting requirement.
We have written countless articles on this issue and by going to our international tax library and just searching “FBAR,” you probably come across more articles than you ever could imagine any firm could author. The most important fact to keep in mind is the following: if on any day of the year, you have more than $10,000 in annual aggregate total in your foreign accounts combined, then you have to report the FBAR.
The biggest mistake we see are individuals believing that they do not have to file the form because they have less than $10,000 in each account — this is incorrect. It is an annual aggregate total of more than $10,000.
It is important to keep note of the exchange rates used in each country each year (and Department of Treasury publishes their own exchange rates which are very similar but not always identical).
In addition to foreign accounts, if you decide to invest in foreign assets, you may also have a reporting requirement. A few important facts to keep in mind is that oftentimes a foreign account will also be reportable as a foreign asset. Moreover, certain foreign assets have to be reported (stocks or securities) and other foreign assets do not need to be reported (foreign real estate, unless its owned by an entity).
The threshold requirements for having to report specified foreign assets (Form 8938) are based on whether you are filing as an individual or jointly, and whether you’re filing as a United States citizen or as a foreign resident
The United States has entered into numerous tax treaties with upwards of 60 different countries. While many of the tax treaties have common verbiage, oftentimes they are different. Therefore, it is important to keep track of the different treaties for each country you are engaging business with.
Finally, the fifth important fact to keep in mind is that depending on where your residence turns out to be and whether you’re paying Social Security tax in a foreign country, you may qualify to exempt the Social Security on your US tax return under a totalization agreement.
The United States does not have totalization agreements with each country so is important to understand whether the country you are doing business with has this agreement (for example, while the United States and Australia have a totalization agreement, the United States and New Zealand do not).
This could have a major tax impact for these businesses, especially for dual citizens or a foreign citizen of one of these countries who is a green card holder in the United States.
Already Out of Compliance?
If you have already been operating abroad but are out of compliance, it is better to get into compliance sooner as opposed to later. Just like it is easy to put the fire out when it is smaller versus when it turns into a blazing inferno.
One of the best ways to get into compliance is with one of the approved IRS offshore voluntary disclosure programs:
Getting into Compliance
We want to provide you 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.
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 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 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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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.)