Why You Should Not Let Your Guard Down In An IRS Audit Under The National Research Program

Certain tax returns that are selected for audit by the IRS each year are selected as part of the National Research Program (“NRP”).  The goal of this program is to design and implement a successful strategy to collect data that will be used to measure payment, filing and reporting compliance and to deliver the data to the IRS Business Operation Divisions to meet a wide range of needs including support for the development of strategic plans and improvements in workload identification. The IRS will also use the NRP to analyze taxpayer compliance and to assess the effectiveness of compliance programs and treatments in use by the IRS.  Data for analysis will include amounts reported by taxpayers on their tax returns and the corrected amounts that were determined by examiners.

While the information gathered from these audits gets fed into IRS’ Big Data Analytics, taxpayers should keep in mind that these are still real audits that will likely result in changes the taxpayer’s account that once assessed by IRS will result in additional liability by the taxpayer for which the IRS will pursue collection.  Since these audits will follow the same audit guidelines for any individual income tax return, it is important to note the general procedures that will apply.

Types of IRS Examinations

  1. Campus Examinations are the simplest form of an examination. They are correspondence exams addressing simple problems like substantiation that can be resolved easily by correspondence and/or telephone. An examination under NRP would not be conducted in this fashion as not enough information would be collected in this type of audit.
  2. Area Office Examinations may be conducted for slightly more complicated issues such as small business returns and more complex non-business returns. Area Office Examinations may be conducted by correspondence, office interview or even by a field examination, depending on type and complexity of the return. In all cases, the taxpayer is asked to provide supporting documentation of questionable items. Business returns will always examined an office or field interview rather than a correspondence examination. It is in this type of an environment that an audit under the NRP would occur.
  3. Field Examinations are the most complex civil examination. The examining agent will be a revenue agent, as opposed to an officer auditor. He or she will be better trained and will have more experience. A Field Examination consists of examination of a taxpayer’s books and records at the taxpayer’s place of business or where the books, records or source documents are maintained. The agent will review the taxpayer’s entire return and all documentation related to that return. The agent may be assisted by a technical specialist such as a “technical advisor” if the return presents a special issue such as valuation. Unlike, office auditors, revenue agents spend considerable time preparing for the examination. Prior to the examination, the revenue agent will review any prior examination reports from the same taxpayer. This may lead to scrutiny of recurring issues or inclusion of other years’ returns in the examination. Of course, the revenue agent will also look at the return for unusual or questionable items.  . It is in this type of an environment that an audit under the NRP would occur.

What Should You Do?

An audit under the NRP is no different than any other type of IRS audit.  A poorly conducted audit can result in large additional tax adjustments and penalties and interest up to as much as 100% of the adjustment. Most local tax preparers are not equipped to represent you in an audit before the IRS. Using a tax attorney to help with an audit can significantly increase your chances of getting a better outcome. Many times individuals don’t realize that audits can go both ways, you may actually end up being owed money after an audit. A tax attorney can analyze your situation and find the best approach to take in order to get the best outcome. The IRS actually prefers working with professional tax representatives because it makes their job easier and helps the process move along more efficiently, which can actually result in a more favorable decision. Also, because your representative would deal directly with the agent, usually the audit can be completed without the need for the taxpayer to appear before the agent.

Why Contacting Your Congressman Will Usually Never Help You Resolve Your Tax Problems

Although being a constituent of your elected Congressman gives you reason to voice your concerns about agenda under your Congressman’s consideration, don’t think that just because you have personal tax problems that your Congressman will come to the rescue or be able to cut any bureaucratic tape.

It is true that every elected official has employees who do what is known as constituent service, helping people with thorny problems that may involve a federal agency. Most often, the problems they hear involve Social Security benefits, federal disability filings, veterans’ benefits and mortgage issues. Immigration requests involving small-business employees and newly married couples are common, too.  But when it comes to the Internal Revenue Service, your Congressman’s office will typically hand off you compliant or problem to the Office Of The Taxpayer Advocate for further processing and stay out of the loop.

Taxpayer Advocate Service

Congress created the Taxpayer Advocate Service in 1996 so for at least one thing that Congressman would not need to deal with their constituents’ tax problems directly.  You do not need to go through your Congressman to get to the Taxpayer Advocate Service but there are some important things and limitations you should be aware if you choose to contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service directly.Each state has at least one Local Taxpayer Advocate who is independent of the local IRS office and reports directly to the National Taxpayer Advocate. In California the offices at located in Fresno, Laguna Nigel, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego and San Jose.

Twice a year the National Taxpayer Advocate will independently submit reports to Congress.The first report, due by June 30, contains the objectives of the Taxpayer Advocate for the coming fiscal year (starting October 1). The second one, due by December 31, reports on activities of the Taxpayer Advocate during the fiscal year, including his or her initiatives to improve taxpayer services and IRS responsiveness, and a summary of at least 20 of the Most Serious Problems facing taxpayers.The National Taxpayer Advocate delivers these reports to the Senate Committee on Finance and the House Committee on Ways and Means with no prior review or comment from the Commissioner, the IRS Oversight Board, the Secretary of the Treasury, any other Treasury officer or employee, or the Office of Management and Budget.

Here are three things every taxpayer should know about the Taxpayer Advocate Service:

  1. Although the Taxpayer Advocate Service is an independent organization within the IRS, it is no substitute for independent legal and tax representation.
  2. While the Taxpayer Advocate Service attempts to help taxpayers whose problems are causing financial difficulty, this office has no power on its own to remedy your problems and must still deal with the appropriate department of the IRS.
  3. The Taxpayer Advocate Service will not get involved where you have not tried to resolve your tax problem through normal IRS channels.

You should also keep in mind that every taxpayer when interacting with the IRS enjoys the following rights referred to as the “Taxpayer Bill Of Rights”:

    • The Right to Be Informed.
    • The Right to Quality Service.
    • The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax.
    • The Right to Challenge the IRS’s Position and Be Heard.
    • The Right to Appeal an IRS Decision in an Independent Forum.
    • The Right to Finality.
    • The Right to Privacy.
    • The Right to Confidentiality.
    • The Right to Retain Representation.
    • The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System.

    What Should You Do?

    Now don’t get me wrong.  The Office Of The Taxpayer Advocate can be helpful in introducing change and improvements to how the IRS operates and they report directly to Congress with their suggestions.  But when you need independent and aggressive representation where all options are considered and you need an approach that “thinks outside the box”, your interests would likely be best served by exercising your right to retain the representation of your own tax counsel.

    Where’s My Refund? Filed your tax return and still have not received your refund check from the IRS?

    Getting Ready For The 2017 Tax Filing Season

    IRS Giving Taxpayers To April 18, 2017 To File 2016 Individual Income Tax Returns.

    The Internal Revenue Service announced that it can start accepting 2016 income tax returns onMonday, January 23, 2017.  Returns filed before that date (by paper or electronically) will be held in suspense by the IRS. Since the IRS will begin processing tax returns on January 23rd there is no advantage to filing tax returns on paper in early January instead of waiting for the IRS to begin accepting e-filed returns.  Nevertheless, it makes sense to start organizing your information early and so when the IRS filing systems open on January 23rd, you are ready to submit your tax return right away.

    The IRS expects that more than 153 million individual tax returns will be filed in 2017 and that at least 80% of the tax returns will be prepared electronically using tax return preparation software.

    April 18thFiling Deadline

    The filing deadline to submit 2016 tax returns is Tuesday, April 18, 2017, rather than the traditional April 15thdate.  The reason why is that in 2017, April 15 falls on a Saturday, and this would usually move the filing deadline to the following Monday – April 17. However, Emancipation Day – a legal holiday in the District of Columbia – will be observed on that Monday, which pushes the nation’s filing deadline to Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Under the tax law, legal holidays in the District of Columbia affect the filing deadline across the nation. Be careful though with regards to the filing deadlines for 2016 State Individual Income Tax Returns as not all States may follow Federal law when it comes to the filing deadline and for those who do not, the filing deadline would be Monday, April 17, 2017.

    Refunds in 2017

    Choosing e-file and direct deposit for refunds remains the fastest way to file an accurate income tax return and receive a refund.The IRS still anticipates issuing at least 90%of tax refunds in less than 21 days, but there are some important factors to keep in mind for taxpayers that could cause delay.Under the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Actwhich takes into effect this 2017 Tax Filing Season, the IRS is required to hold refunds for tax returns which include a claim of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) until February 15, 2017. Also consider that it would still take several days for these refunds to be released and processed through financial institutions, and factoring in weekends and the President’s Day holiday, taxpayers claiming these credits may not have actual access to their refunds until the week of Feb. 27th.

    The status of your tax refund can be checked directly with IRS by using the Where’s My Refund? ‎on IRS.gov and the IRS2Go phone app.

    Renewal Reminder for Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINS) ITINs are used by people who have tax-filing or payment obligations under U.S. law but are not eligible for a Social Security number. Under a recent change in law, any ITIN not used on a tax return at least once in the past three years will expire on January 1, 2017. In addition, any ITIN with middle digits of either 78 or 79 (9NN-78-NNNN or 9NN-79-NNNN) will also expire on that date.

    This means that anyone with an expiring ITIN and a need to file a tax return in the upcoming filing season should file a renewal application in the next few weeks to avoid lengthy refund and processing delays. Failure to renew early could result in refund delays and denial of some tax benefits until the ITIN is renewed.

    An ITIN renewal application filed now will be processed before one submitted at the height of tax season from mid-January to February. Currently, a complete and accurate renewal application can be processed in as little as seven weeks. But this timeframe is expected to expand to as much as 11 weeks during tax season, which runs from mid-January through April.

    Time Limits For Keeping Your Tax Records

    Even though your 2016 income tax return is processed by the IRS and a refund is issued, that does not mean the IRS can later question or audit the tax return,  In fact the Statute Of Limitations allows the IRS three years to go back and audit your tax return.  That is why it’s a good idea to keep copies of your prior-year tax returns and supporting backup documentation for at least three years. And if you do get selected for audit, it would be best for you to exercise your right to hire tax counsel to represent you in the audit to minimize your contact with the IRS and to assure that you are entitled to claim all benefits that you are eligible under the tax law for your situation.

     

    District Court Sets Low Standard For Willfulness In Failing To File FBAR

    Until just recently, not much has come out of the Courts defining that line between nonwillful and willful when it comes to not filing Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Reports (“FBAR”).  But now we have a recent U.S. District Court case out of California which has vast repercussions on anyone who has undisclosed foreign bank accounts regardless of whether they came forward in a Voluntary Disclosure Program or the Streamlined Procedures.

    U.S. v. Bohanec

    Weeks ago a Federal District Court in California in the case of U.S. v. Bohanec, 2016 WL 7167869, 118 AFTR 2d ¶ 2016-5537(DC CA 12/8/2016)determined that the taxpayers’ failure to timely file a Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Report (“FBAR”) was willful.  The tax law provides that U.S. citizens with accounts outside the U.S. must disclose those accounts on an FBAR if the aggregate amount is at least $10,000. 31 U.S.C. 5314. The reason the term “willful” is important is that if the failure is not willful, the penalty is set at $10,000 per violation but if the failure to disclose is considered “willful”, the penalty goes up to the greater of $100,000 or 50% of the highest account value for the year.

    In 2010 the Bohanecs entered into the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program For Undisclosed Foreign Bank Accounts (“OVDP”). The Bohanecs’ submission was submitted under penalty of perjury, representing that the only undisclosed foreign bank accounts were in Switzerland and the source of funds deposited were after-tax earnings from a camera business operated by the taxpayers.  However, the IRS discovered that they did not even disclose all of their foreign accounts – leaving out accounts in Mexico and Austria. The IRS also discovered that the taxpayers’ statements that the funds were all from income duly reported and on which taxes were paid was untruthful.The Bohanecs were ultimately rejected by IRS for the OVDP and their case ultimate went to Federal Court where the only issue before the Court was whether the Bohanecs’ failure to file a 2007 FBAR was willful.

    The Bohanecs asserted that “willfulness” encompasses only intentional violations of known legal duties, and not reckless disregard of statutory duties. The only cases the Bohanecs cited to support their argument that “willful” means that a defendant must have knowledge and specific intent Ratzlaf v. United States, (S Ct 1994) 510 U.S. 135 (structuring) and United States v. Eisenstein, (CA 11 1984) 731 F.2d 1540 (felonious failure to file currency transaction reports).  But the Court distinguished these criminal cases in that the Bohanecs case was a civil matter.

    Court’s Holding.

    The courtnoted that 31 USC 5321(a)(5) does not define willfulness but rejected the Bohanecs’ argument, concluded that the term “willful” included “reckless” for purposes of FBAR.The court said that, 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 Ins. Co. of America v. Burr, (S Ct 2007) 551 U.S. 47) “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) Several other courts, citing Safeco, have held that “willfulness” under 31 USC 5321 includes reckless disregard of a statutory duty. See Williams, (CA 4 2012) 110 AFTR 2d 2012-5298 and Bussell, (DC CA 2015) 117 AFTR 2d 2016-439.

    The court then went on to consider the issue of standard of proof. It said that the Supreme Court has held that a heightened clear and convincing burden of proof applies in civil matters “where particularly important individual interests or rights are at stake.” (Herman & MacLean v. Huddleston, (S Ct 1983) 459 U.S. 375) Such interests include parental rights, involuntary commitment, and deportation. The lower, more generally applicable preponderance of the evidence standard applies, however, where “even severe civil sanctions that do not implicate such interests” are contemplated. (Herman) The court here said that the monetary sanctions at issue here did not rise to the level of “particularly important individual interests or rights.” Accordingly, the court said, the preponderance of the evidence standard applied.

    Following what I consider to be a strict liability approach, the Court concluded that IRS proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the Bohanecs were at least recklessly indifferent to a statutory duty, for the following reasons:

    1. The Bohanecs were reasonably sophisticated businesspeople as an exclusive Leica camera dealer with customers around the world.
    2. The Bohanecs were at least reckless, if not willfully blind, in their conduct with respect to their Swiss UBS account and their reporting obligations regarding the account. The Bohanecs never provided UBS with their home address, and never told anyone other than their children of the existence of the UBS account, including the tax preparers the Bohanecs hired to help them file tax returns. The Bohanecs never asked a lawyer, accountant, or banker about requirements regarding the UBS account and never used a bookkeeper or kept any books once the UBS account was opened.
    3. The Bohanecs’ representations that they were unaware of or did not understand their obligations were not credible. The Bohanecs directed customers to deposit payment into the Swiss account and made several transfers and withdrawals from the Swiss account to other foreign accounts.
    4. The Bohanecs’ credibility was further undermined by their conduct with respect to their application to participate in the OVDP when they made several misrepresentations under penalty of perjury.

    What Should You Do?

    Should the taxpayers appeal this case, who knows how the 9th Circuit will rule.  It will also take years before the Appeals Court disposes of such an appeal but for now we have much clearer guidance of the “strict liability approach” the Court seems to follow.  Taxpayers who have entered into the Streamlined Program whose case is weak on showing nonwilfullness have a huge risk of being picked by IRS and losing the favorable status offered by the Streamlined Procedures where the IRS feels that the non-willful standard is not met.  Such taxpayers will not then be able to enter into OVDP and can face the same battle as the Bohanec’s.  Likewise, anyone who has not come forward in voluntary disclosure and the issue of nonwilfullness is questionable would still have the opportunity to come forward under OVDP.  Keep in mind that any submission must be complete or else like the Bohanecs, the IRS will reject the settlement and look to assess the full penalties provided by law.You should talk with your counsel and be proactive with the IRS for any original submission or amendment so that you have the lowest risk possible to secure or keep the benefits you sought in Voluntary Disclosure.

    IRS 2017 Tax Deductions

    IRS Announces 2017 Inflation Adjusted Tax Benefits

    It is hard to believe that we are just two months away from the year of 2016 and as always towards the end of each calendar year the IRS announces next year’s annual inflation adjustments. You can check for more than 50 tax provisions, including the tax rate schedules, and other tax changes for tax year 2017 in Revenue Procedure 2016-55. The tax year 2017 adjustments generally are used on tax returns filed in 2018.

    IRS Issues Fall 2016 Report Card On OVDP Milestones And FACTA Implementation

    IRS Issues Fall 2016 Report Card On OVDP Milestones And FACTA Implementation

    IRS Issues Fall 2016 Report Card On OVDP Milestones And FACTA Implementation

    Offshore Compliance Programs For Taxpayers With Undisclosed Foreign Bank Accounts Generate $10 Billion andMore Than 100,000 U.S. Taxpayers Come Back into Compliance In Reporting Foreign Accounts;IRS Urges People to Take Advantage of Voluntary Disclosure Programs

    The IRS announced on October 21, 2016 that 55,800 taxpayers have come into the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) to resolve their tax obligations, paying more than $9.9 billion in taxes, interest and penalties since 2009. In addition, another 48,000 taxpayers have made use of separate streamlined procedures to correct prior non-willful omissions and meet their federal tax obligations, paying approximately $450 million in taxes, interest and penalties.

    What that means is that the IRS has collected a combined $10 billion with 100,000 taxpayers coming back into compliance.  Furthermore, as the IRS continues to receive more information on foreign accounts, it will be more difficult for U.S. taxpayers to avoid detection and to maintain that they were non-willful in not complying with the U.S. tax laws.

    Under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and the network of inter-governmental agreements (IGAs) between the U.S. and other countries, automatic third-party account reporting has entered its second year. Also, more information also continues to come to the IRS as a result of the Department of Justice’s Swiss Bank Program. As part of a series on non-prosecution agreements, the participating banks continue to provide information on potential non-compliance by U.S. taxpayers.

    OVDP offers taxpayers with undisclosed income from foreign financial accounts and assets an opportunity to get current with their tax returns and information reporting obligations. The program encourages taxpayers to voluntarily disclose foreign financial accounts and assets now rather than risk detection by the IRS at a later date and face more severe penalties and possible criminal prosecution.

    The IRS also developed the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures to accommodate taxpayers with non-willful compliance issues. Submissions have been made by taxpayers residing in the U.S. and from those residing in countries around the globe. The streamlined procedures have resulted in the submission of more than 96,000 delinquent and amended income tax returns from the 48,000 taxpayers using these procedures. A separate process exists for those taxpayers who have paid their income taxes but omitted certain other information returns, such as the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR).

    What Should You Do?

    We encourage taxpayers who are concerned about their undisclosed offshore accounts to come in voluntarily before learning that the U.S. is investigating the bank or banks where they hold accounts. By then, it will be too late to avoid the new higher penalties under the OVDP of 50% percent – nearly double the regular maximum rate of 27.5% and 10 times more than the 5% rate offered in the expanded streamlined procedures.

    Don’t let another deadline slip by. If you have never reported your foreign investments on your U.S. Tax Returns or even if you have already quietly disclosed or you are in the 2012 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (“OVDI”), you should seriously consider participating in the IRS’s 2014 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”). Once the IRS contacts you, you cannot get into this program and would be subject to the maximum penalties (civil and criminal) under the tax law. Taxpayers who hire an experienced tax attorney in Offshore Account Voluntary Disclosures should result in avoiding any pitfalls and gaining the maximum benefits conferred by this program.

    Protect yourself from excessive fines and possible jail time. Let the tax attorneys of the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and elsewhere in California qualify you for OVDP.

    Description: Let the tax attorneys of the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. resolve your IRS tax problems, get you in compliance with your FBAR filing obligations, and minimize the chance of any criminal investigation or imposition of civil penalties.

    Olympic Medals Taxable

    Go For The Gold And Pay Your Victory Tax – Olympic Medals Taxable

    Go For The Gold And Pay Your Victory Tax – Olympic Medals Taxable

    While millions of Americans were glued to their televisions to watch American athletes compete in this year’s Summer Olympics, the Internal Revenue Service was getting ready to make sure that all our Olympic winners pay taxes on their victories.

    The Internal Revenue Code mandates that if you win a prize in a lucky number drawing, television or radio quiz program, beauty contest, or other event, you must include it in your income. For example, if you win a $100 prize in a marathon, you must report this income on your Form 1040. Now if you refuse to accept a prize, then you do not include its value in your income. All prizes and awards in goods or services that you accept must be included in your income at their fair market value.

    The impact to a U.S. athlete who wins in the Olympics is that their prize is no different than you winning the lottery.  America’s Olympic medalists must pay state and federal taxes on the prize money they get for winning. The U.S. Olympic Committee awards $25,000 for gold medals, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze.

    But besides picking up the prize money as income, Olympians also have to pay tax on the value of the medals themselves.  It’s not enough for the IRS to tax a U.S. athlete on the prize money but also to tax the metal.  Gold and silver medals are made mostly of silver, while bronze medals are composed of mostly copper. Rio’s medals are among the largest and heaviest ever and contain about 500 grams of either silver or copper.  The value of a gold medal is about $564; silver is worth about $305. Bronze is worth a negligible amount so it’s not taxed.  Any athlete who accepts his or her Olympic medal and does not have to forfeit it will have to report its value as income and pay taxes on it. It does not matter that the competition took place in Brazil and not the United States.

    Winning Olympic athletes from most other countries don’t have to worry about their medals being taxed. This unfairness has resulted in considerable debate during each session of Congress when a Summer or Winter Olympics is held but any legislation to change the tax law has never made it out of Congress. Leading up the 2016 Summer Olympics there is proposed federal legislation that would make “the value of any medal or prize money” awarded during the Olympics or Paralympics exempt from income taxes. The bill was passed by the Senate in July 2016 but like its predecessors, will lose momentum as the Summer 2016 Olympics fades into the past.

    You would think most Americans would be in favor of the legislation but there appears to be some backlash.  For example, should an Olympian who comes home with four medals conceivably make $100,000 tax free while millions of hard working Americans struggle to support their families on far less income yet have to pay taxes?  Then of course one should recognize that the U.S. is the only major country that doesn’t provide government funding to its Olympians. Now a handful of lucky athletes land lucrative endorsement deals. But most of them rely on small stipends from the USOC, support from local businesses or supplemental income from a day job.

    Despite which side of the argument you may stand, you need to remember that even income earned outside the U.S. may be taxable. Every year, thousands of U.S. taxpayers learn that lesson the hard way. If you live, compete or work outside the United States, you must still file tax returns here. In addition, if you win a prize or award, you must claim the value of that prize or award on your tax return as income.

    I am not so convinced that an income exclusion for Olympians and Paralympians would change anything. Cutting taxes isn’t going to fix the fact that these athletes don’t get paid enough. And then how do you distinguish this from other individuals who win prestigious awards. Such is the case with Nobel prize winners who receive more prize money — around $1 million. Shouldn’t an award for such an accomplishment also be tax free? This is something maybe to write to your Congressman about.

     

    mutual funds and offshore investing

    Beware the Potential Tax Pitfalls of Investing in Offshore Mutual Funds or Owning Foreign Insurance Policies

    Beware the Potential Tax Pitfalls of Investing in Offshore Mutual Funds or Owning Foreign Insurance Policies

    If you have never reported your foreign investments on your U.S. Tax Returns, the IRS has established the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) which allows taxpayers to come forward to avoid criminal prosecution and not have to bear the full amount of penalties normally imposed by IRS.  When entering into OVDP, a taxpayer must file amended income tax returns reporting worldwide income and file all required informational tax forms.  Many taxpayers who attempt to do this on their own and who have Foreign Mutual Funds or Foreign Insurance Policies are finding that their OVDP submissions are being rejected or examined because of some arcane tax laws and tax procedures associated with these investments that most laypeople are not aware.

    Do You Have Foreign Mutual Funds?

    U.S. taxpayers ought to be aware of the potential tax heartaches associated with investing in mutual funds held by foreign banks or foreign brokerage firms. When making such investments through U.S. firms, any appreciation or depreciation of value of the funds is not recognized as gain or loss until the fund is sold or liquidated.  This is not the case with the same type of investments in foreign firms.  Each year the U.S. investor must pick up as income or record a loss in the appreciation or depreciation of value of the funds even though there was no sale or liquidation of the funds.  Essentially, such an investor loses the advantage of deferring gains which is enjoyed by those investors dealing with U.S. firms.

    To understand how this operates – under the Internal Revenue Code, there is a concept called Passive Foreign Investment Company or “PFIC”.  A foreign corporation is classified as a PFIC if it meets one of the following tests:

    1. Income Test– 75% or more of the corporation’s gross income is passive income (interest, dividends, capital gains, etc.)
    2. Asset Test– 50% or more of the corporation’s total assets are passive assets; passive assets are investments that produce interest, dividends or capital gains.

    The IRS has extended the characterization of a PFIC to include most foreign-based mutual funds, hedge funds and other pooled investment vehicles.

    A. U.S. taxpayer with these investments is required to fill out Form 8621, Information Return by a Shareholder of a Passive Foreign Investment Company or Qualifying Electing Fund, and include it with his Form 1040 along with the appropriate PFIC income and tax computations.  The IRS offers various complicated methods of reporting PFIC income.  Under one such method, “Mark-to-Market”, the IRS requires the reporting of the value of a mutual fund from year to year and taxes any appreciation in the mutual fund values from year to year.  The tax rate that applies is 20%. This is in addition to the normal taxation of dividends and capital gains that domestic mutual funds are taxed on.

    Reporting the appreciation of a mutual fund from year to year may end up being no small task as oftentimes a typical stock portfolio will contain twenty to thirty funds which may involve lots of trade activity over the course of many years.  The taxpayer needs to keep accurate and comprehensive records of all information on the mutual fund(s) including share basis, yearly balances, and any sales or purchases from year to year. With such level of activity to record each year, no wonder how laypeople and even tax preparers cannot get these computations right leading to higher penalties and perhaps jeopardizing a taxpayer’s Voluntary Disclosure Submission.

    Do You Have A Foreign Insurance Policy?

    There is an excise tax under Internal Revenue Code Sec. 4371 imposed on insurance policies issued by foreign insurers. Any person who makes, signs, issues, or sells any of the documents and instruments subject to the tax, or for whose use or benefit they are made, signed, issued, or sold, is liable for the tax.

    The following tax rates apply to each dollar (or fraction thereof) of the premium paid.

    1. Casualty insurance and indemnity, fidelity, and surety bonds: 4 cents. For example, on a premium payment of $10.10, the tax is 44 cents.
    2. Life, sickness, and accident insurance, and annuity contracts: 1 cent. For example, on a premium payment of $10.10, the tax is 11 cents.
    3. Reinsurance policies covering any of the taxable contracts described in items (1) and (2): 1 cent.

    However, the tax doesn’t apply to casualty insurance premiums paid to foreign insurers for coverage of export goods in transit to foreign destinations.  Premium means the agreed price or consideration for assuming and carrying the risk or obligation. It includes any additional charge or assessment payable under the contract, whether in one sum or installments. If premiums are refunded, claim the tax paid on those premiums as an overpayment against tax due on other premiums paid or file a claim for refund.

    The liability for this tax attaches when the premium payment is transferred to the foreign insurer or reinsurer (including transfers to any bank, trust fund, or similar recipient designated by the foreign insurer or reinsurer) or to any nonresident agent, solicitor, or broker. A person can pay the tax before the liability attaches if the person keeps records consistent with that practice.

    The person who pays the premium to the foreign insurer (or to any nonresident person such as a foreign broker) must pay the tax and file the return (Form 720, Quarterly Federal Excise Tax Return). The Form 720 covers the last calendar quarter and is due no later than the last day of the month succeeding the reporting quarter.  For example, a Form 720 covering the quarter ended September 30, 2016 is due October 31, 2016.  If you are required to file this Form, you will also need to secure a Taxpayer Identification Number (not your social security number) as these excise taxes are tracked separately by IRS just like employment taxes.

    The fact that a tax treaty with the foreign county exempts the taxation of these insurance policies does not waive the requirement for you to file the Form 720.  Attach any disclosure statement to the first quarter Form 720 you would need to file. You may be able to use Form 8833, Treaty-Based Return Position Disclosure Under Section 6114 or 7701(b), as a disclosure statement.

    Conclusion.

    If you are a U.S, taxpayer with foreign mutual funds or foreign insurance policies, make sure your tax filings are compliant and complete by enlisting the assistance of counsel experienced in the reporting of these investments.