U.S. Supreme Court To Weigh In On How FBAR Penalties Are Calculated
In recent years the IRS has made the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) penalty enforcement a top priority and this is alarming the taxpayers worldwide. Even in the course of every routine domestic IRS audit, IRS agents are looking for undisclosed foreign bank accounts. This action had led to two inconsistent ways of calculating the penalties for which the U.S. Supreme Court will take up to determine which one should be followed.
The FBAR Penalty
The Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) requires that a Form FinCEN 114 (formerly Form TDF 90-22.1), Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR), be filed if the aggregate balances of such foreign accounts exceed $10,000 at any time during the year. This form is used as part of the IRS’s enforcement initiative against abusive offshore transactions and attempts by U.S. persons to avoid taxes by hiding money offshore.
The penalties for FBAR noncompliance are stiffer than the civil tax penalties ordinarily imposed for delinquent taxes. A taxpayer who non-willfully fails to timely file an FBAR can be assessed a penalty of at least $10,000 per year of non-compliance. The IRS has taken the position that this non-willful penalty is assessed on an account-by-account basis. For example, a person whose failure to file an FBAR form is non-willful and has three accounts totaling $50,000 could potentially be assessed the maximum $10,000 penalty for each account, for a total of $30,000 per year, while a person with one account with a balance of $300,000 would pay only one $10,000 penalty per year.
Split By Federal Courts On How To Calculate The FBAR Penalty
The 9th Circuit applied the FBAR penalty on a per form basis and not on the number of foreign accounts a person controls. Thus, if there was 5 years of delinquent FBAR’s, the FBAR penalty would be $10,000 per year or $50,000 total regardless of how many accounts or how much was in the accounts. United States v. Boyd, 991 F.3d 1077 (9th Cir. 2021).
The 5th Circuit applied the FBAR penalty on the number of foreign accounts a person controls. Thus if there were 5 accounts in each year over 5 years of delinquent FBAR’s, the FBAR penalty would be $250,000. United States v. Bittner, 19 F.4th 734 (5th Cir. 2021) held that the non-willful FBAR penalty applies per account rather than per form. The Fifth Circuit’s ruling in Bittner’s case reversed a lower court’s conclusion on how the non-willful penalty applies, increasing Bittner’s penalties to $2.72 million from $50,000.
Bittner appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court by filing a Writ Of Certiorari and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear this matter. We will keep you informed of new developments.
What You Must Know About IRS FBAR Penalty Negotiations
- The penalties for noncompliance in FBAR enforcement are staggering.
FBAR penalties can be unfair as the penalties are based on the account size and not on how much tax you avoided. This is a stark contrast to other IRS penalties which are based on how much additional tax is owed. Given this difference you will always have a bigger risk and more to lose when dealing with FBAR penalties.
- The two types of FBAR penalties.
The “get off gently FBAR penalty” – If the IRS feels that you made an innocent mistake and “not willfully” ignored to file your FBAR, your “get off gently penalty” will be $10,000 per overseas account per year not reported. To illustrate, if you have five foreign accounts that you failed to report on your FBAR in each of five years, the IRS can penalize you $50,000 per form (as supported by the Bittner and Kaufman cases) or $250,000 if imposed by account regardless of whether you even have that amount sitting in your foreign accounts.
The “disastrous FBAR penalty” – If the IRS can show that you “intentionally” avoided filing your FBAR’s, your minimum “disastrous FBAR penalty” will be 50% of your account value. Additionally, the IRS may also press for criminal charges and if convicted of a willful violation, this can also lead to jail time. The “disastrous FBAR penalty” can also be assessed multiple times thus wiping out your entire savings.
Under both willful and non-willful penalties “the violation flows from the failure to file a timely and accurate FBAR”.
- The taxpayer’s burden of proving “reasonable cause”
You are obligated to pay the penalty the IRS deems necessary. The IRS can assume the “disastrous FBAR penalty” and they are not required to prove willfulness. It will be the taxpayer that bears the heavy burden of proving that the taxpayer’s failure to comply was due to reasonable cause and not from “willful neglect”.
- Your appeal option.
Having exhausted all administrative remedies within the IRS first, you can then appeal the proposed FBAR penalties to a Federal District Court but for that court to have jurisdiction you must pay the assessments in full and then sue the IRS in a district court for refund. Since coming up with the money may be impossible for most taxpayers, consider hiring an experienced tax attorney to make the most of the IRS appeals process and perhaps avoid the need for litigation. Keep in mind that in the appeals process, you do not have to pay any FBAR penalty until the end. Second, you can be successful if IRS remedies itself thus making court filings unnecessary. And third, even if the administrative remedies do not yield you success, your tax attorney can attempt to negotiate with the IRS to lower your FBAR penalties without going for a trial.
- The Voluntary Disclosure Route.
The streamlined filing compliance procedures are available to taxpayers certifying that their failure to report foreign financial assets and pay all tax due in respect of those assets did not result from willful conduct on their part. The streamlined procedures are designed to provide to taxpayers in such situations (1) a streamlined procedure for filing amended or delinquent returns and (2) terms for resolving their tax and penalty obligations.
Taxpayers will be required to certify that the failure to report all income, pay all tax, and submit all required information returns, including FBARs (FinCEN Form 114, previously Form TD F 90-22.1), was due to non-willful conduct.
If the IRS has initiated a civil examination of a taxpayer’s returns for any taxable year, regardless of whether the examination relates to undisclosed foreign financial assets, the taxpayer will not be eligible to use the streamlined procedures. Similarly, a taxpayer under criminal investigation by IRS Criminal Investigation is also ineligible to use the streamlined procedures.
Taxpayers eligible to use the streamlined procedures who have previously filed delinquent or amended returns in an attempt to address U.S. tax and information reporting obligations with respect to foreign financial assets (so-called “quiet disclosures”) may still use the streamlined procedures.
What Should You Do?
If you have never reported your foreign investments on your U.S. Tax Returns, you should seriously consider making a voluntary disclosure to the IRS. 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. The tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), San Diego County (Carlsbad) and elsewhere in California are highly skilled in handling tax matters and can effectively represent at all levels with the IRS and State Tax Agencies including criminal tax investigations and attempted prosecutions, undisclosed foreign bank accounts and other foreign assets, and unreported foreign income. Also if you are involved in cannabis, check out what a cannabis tax attorney can do for you. And if you are involved in crypto currency, check out what a bitcoin tax attorney can do for you.