IRS Generates $8 Billion from Voluntary Disclosure. Expect More FATCA Reporting in 2016

IRS Generates $8 Billion from Voluntary Disclosure. Expect More FATCA Reporting in 2016 and Beyond

IRS Generates $8 Billion from Voluntary Disclosure. Expect More FATCA Reporting in 2016 and Beyond

The Internal Revenue Service faces many challenges when it comes to enforcing compliance with U.S. tax laws for individuals with offshore assets and income sources. To strengthen these efforts, the IRS has implemented offshore voluntary disclosure programs (known as OVDP’s) as a way to encourage U.S. taxpayers to come forward to meet their tax obligations related to earning income abroad or having undisclosed offshore assets. The OVDP’s support comprehensive efforts to address tax evasion issues through targeted enforcement, prosecution and implementation of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”). Results of voluntary disclosure programs and FATCA implementation have been encouraging to the extent that the IRS has vowed to expand FATCA and strengthen enforcement strategies. The programs have proven effective in helping taxpayers become current with their tax liabilities, raising IRS collections and discouraging offshore tax evasion for taxpayers with assets and income abroad.
Understanding FATCA

FATCA was introduced in March 2010 as part of a strategy to crack down on U.S. taxpayers who use foreign financial institutions (FFI’s) to conceal their assets to avoid paying U.S. taxes. This piece of legislation effectively gives the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the IRS blanket authority to investigate suspect accounts held by individuals and businesses in offshore institutions. FATCA forces FFI’s to comply with stringent reporting requirements for any accounts that may be held by U.S. taxpayers in countries that have signed inter-governmental agreements(IGA’s) or, to disclose specific account holder information to the DOJ and the IRS. Serious sanctions and penalties may be imposed for non-compliance.

The intent of FATCA was to go after high net worth individuals who were taking advantage of offshore tax havens to shield assets from U.S. tax obligations. However, FATCA provisions include disclosing information on all accounts held in the name of U.S. citizens. This had unintended consequences, including closure of accounts when businesses and individuals failed to meet stringent documentation requirements and denial of new account applications that affected even those who had limited income and assets. Countries that have signed IGA’s include Spain, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Singapore, Switzerland and Japan.

The IRS has indicated that FATCA Offshore compliance and FATCA provisions will top 2016 priorities. These efforts will include facilitating exchange of FATCA information worldwide to root out unreported and under-reported income and untaxed assets. Aside from reporting requirements, FATCA also obligates FFI’s to withhold taxes and to report account activities that may indicate fraud and tax evasion.
Compliance with FATCA Provisions

U.S. citizens who have assets held in FFI’s should use Form 8938 to report those assets as part of their annual tax returns. The reporting thresholds vary depending on certain factors.

• If you live in the U.S. and you are single, you may have to comply with FATCA requirements when your offshore financial assets are valued at $50,000 at year-end or $75,000 anytime during the year.
• If you are U.S.-based, married but filing separately, the same thresholds as outlined above applies.
• If you are married and living in the U.S., the value of your specified foreign assets must be reported starting at a year-end valuation of $100, 000 or if the value met or exceeded the $150,000 level during the tax year.
• If you live abroad, married and filing jointly, the threshold is $400,000 at year-end or $600,000 at any time during the year.
• If you live abroad and you are single, the foreign asset filing threshold is $200,000 at year-end or $300,000 during the year.

Filing Form 8938 does not take the place of other reporting requirements such as the FBAR, the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, and FinCen Form 114. Failure to file Form 8938 and the FBAR may lead to hefty penalties, starting with $10,000 for failure to file. When the IRS sends a notification and you fail to file your Form 8938, another $50,000 is added to your accrued penalties. You could also be liable for an additional 40% penalty based on underpayment of taxes due to non-disclosure of offshore assets. Also, being compliant with these filing requirements now does not cure past non-compliance.
Impact of FATCA Reporting Requirements

Under FATCA provisions, banks, investment houses, brokers, specified insurance companies and some non-financial entities are required to report account information to the IRS and DOJ if the account holders are U.S. citizens. This means that when you set up new accounts with offshore entities, you will be asked to provide information about your citizenship. FATCA reporting requirements apply even when only one spouse is a U.S. citizen or only one spouse lives abroad.

To clarify, the OVDP’s implemented in 2009, 2011 and 2012 were intended to encourage taxpayers with offshore assets to comply with their tax obligations and become current on tax liabilities accruing to ownership of assets in FFI’s and any income earned abroad. The 2009 OVDP resulted in 18,000 disclosures and a $3.4 billion collection that covered back taxes, penalties and interest payments. In 2011, the OVDP generated 15,000 disclosures and revenue collections of $1.6 billion for 75 percent of the accounts that were finalized in that year. In 2012, a third program generated 12,000 disclosures, bringing total collections for all OVDP opportunities to $8 billion as of October 2015 according to Douglas W. O’Donnell, commissioner for the Large Business and International Division, which is part of the IRS.

A separate report prepared by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration pointed out that the IRS stood to generate about $21.6 million more in penalties alone with more efficient enforcement action on taxpayers who were disqualified or who withdrew from the OVDPs. Taxpayers who participate in voluntary disclosure programs qualify for reduced penalties. When FATCA reports reveal the existence of unacknowledged accounts before the taxpayer applies for OVDP participation, the IRS may deny access to reduced penalties and other benefits of voluntary disclosure.

The Future of FATCA

Since FATCA was implemented in 2010, it has proven effective as an offshore asset tracking strategy and in raising tax compliance for taxpayers with offshore accounts. IRS collection figures demonstrate the value of voluntary reporting as a key component of compliance efforts. As such, the IRS is expected to put more muscle into FATCA and offshore compliance strategies in 2016 and beyond. These efforts may include automatic information exchange for FATCA-related issues, greater cooperation with FFIs, foreign governments and the IRS to pinpoint potential target accounts and improved tax withholding compliance by offshore financial institutions.


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Income Tax Evaders May Still Face Big Fines And Up To Five Years In Jail After Coming Forward

Tax cheats cost the government real money from the lost revenue and the costs associated with enforcement and collection of unpaid tax liabilities. On the Federal and State levels, enforcement of the tax laws is a priority task to ensure that everyone is paying their fair share. Recently, the South Carolina Department Of Revenue (“SCDOR”) charged 30 employees of the Boeing Company with tax evasion over several years going back to 2011. The employees voluntarily turned themselves in to SCDOR investigators but are still faced with the prospect of hefty penalties and a five-year jail sentence for each charge.

The SCDOR Investigation
According to the news release from the SCDOR, the Boeing employees filed W-4 forms claiming exemption from South Carolina’s state income taxes. Apparently, during tax years 2011 to 2014, the workers claimed state tax exemptions although they did not qualify under South Carolina’s individual income tax guidelines. During the years in question, these Boeing workers also failed to file their state tax returns.

It is important to note that the workers received notices from SCDOR encouraging them to comply with the tax laws prior to issuance of arrest warrants. These Boeing employees were given several opportunities to rectify their tax problems but failed to do so. The tax liabilities ranged from $4,000 to about $20,000 based on collective incomes exceeding $4 million. Boeing issued a statement saying that the company was aware of the employees’ tax issues and were proceeding with their own investigation. Aside from their tax troubles, these employees may face disciplinary action from their employer.

Understanding State Income Tax Regulations
The State of South Carolina collects income taxes from residents earning an income in the state. Residents who earn incomes outside South Carolina would pay state taxes to the second state. If that state does not collect income taxes, the taxpayer must pay state taxes to South Carolina as their residential state. Nonresidents who earn income from South Carolina employers must pay taxes to this state. The state does not use a separate withholding exemption certificate from the Federal Form W-4. Exemptions and deductions that are allowed on the federal form are accepted for the state tax returns. In general, employees who received a full refund of taxes withheld in the previous year and who anticipate no tax liabilities in the current year may claim exemption from state taxes.

Enforcement of state taxes varies depending on the prevailing tax code although the state Department of Revenue is charged with enforcement. The process and penalties may vary, so it is important to consult a tax professional when you are faced with any State as well as Federal tax liabilities.

What Constitutes Tax Fraud?
Tax fraud is the deliberate intent to avoid paying taxes through whatever means despite the taxpayer being fully aware that taxes are lawfully due.Tax fraud may trigger penalties under the definitions of Title 26 in the Internal Revenue Code.
Specifically, Title 26 U.S.C. Section 7201 states that tax evasion is a felony that carries a penalty of imprisonment for at most five years or a $250,000 fine for each charge for every individual or a combination of fine and imprisonment along with reimbursement of court costs.

Tax evasion is an example of tax fraud. Tax evasion refers to all deliberate acts where taxpayers misrepresent their taxable income on their tax returns. This would include actions such as inflating expenses for larger deductions, strategically under-reporting taxable income or failing to file tax returns in a mistaken attempt to avoid paying taxes.

The Truth about Dealing with the IRS and State Tax Agencies
There could be any number of reasons why individuals choose to forego filing their tax returns. In the case of the Boeing employees, it is difficult to say what, if anything, made them believe that they could get away with non-filing and non-payment of state taxes for an extended period. It is safe to say that their end-game was not prison, but it appears to be heading in that direction. Looking at the amount of tax liabilities that each individual owed the SCDOR, it would have been much more sensible to comply with state tax laws. The tax dues were miniscule compared to the criminal penalties should they be prosecuted for tax evasion.

The existing tax code is based on the premise that taxpayers are willing and able to honor their tax obligations as upstanding citizens. As such, the IRS and the State revenue offices have programs in place to encourage taxpayers to voluntarily come forward to resolve their non-compliant status instead of waiting for tax agency notices or letters. Voluntary disclosure by taxpayers may count in their favor when the revenue investigator decides if the case merits criminal prosecution. The IRS also allows payment plans and in some cases, reduction of tax liabilities for low-income taxpayers.

Redemption for Non-filers
Tax laws may be rigid, but the IRS and State Tax Agencies do not exist to go after taxpayers who make simple and unintentional mistakes on their tax returns. However, blatant fraud that includes non-compliance with tax filing regulations over several years and ignoring tax agency notices will trigger an investigation and prosecution if for fraud charges. The tax agencies do not need to prove how much you actually owe in taxes to charge you with tax fraud and possibly secure a felony conviction.

If for any reason you failed to file tax returns or you need to amend any of your returns from the last six years, it is best to consult a tax professional to make sure that you are making the right steps. When you work with a tax attorney or a tax expert, you may not have to deal directly with the IRS or State Tax Agency. Your tax representative takes charge of requesting tax transcripts from previous years if you don’t have them anymore. If you owe taxes and are unable to make full payment at the time your returns are filed, your tax representative can negotiate a viable payment plan.

Don’t wait for the IRS or State Tax Agency to contact you if you have not been filing your tax returns or need to amend information submitted in previous returns. For your peace of mind, consult a tax professional who can guide you through the process to ensure a positive outcome and avoid prosecution.

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

Where’s My Refund?

So you filed your income tax return which showed an overpayment and you requested a refund. Most people knowing that they have money coming back to them have probably figured how they are going to spend that money.

The IRS issues more than 9 out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days. However, it’s possible your tax return may require additional review and take longer. The IRS has a tool on its website called Where’s My Refund? This link has the most up to date information available about your refund. The tool is updated no more than once a day so you don’t need to check more often.

You can use Where’s My Refund? to start checking on the status of your return within 24 hours after the IRS has received your e-filed return or 4 weeks after you mail a paper return. Where’s My Refund? has a tracker that displays progress through 3 stages: (1) Return Received, (2) Refund Approved and (3) Refund Sent. You will get personalized refund information based on the processing of your tax return. The tool will provide an actual refund date as soon as the IRS processes your tax return and approves your refund.

Calling the IRS will not speed up your refund. The IRS phone and walk-in representatives can only research the status of your refund if it has been 21 days or more since you filed electronically, more than 6 weeks since you mailed your paper return, or Where’s My Refund?directs you to contact the IRS. If the IRS needs more information to process your tax return, the IRS will contact you by mail.

Ordering a transcript will not help you determine when you will get your refund. This is among the common myths and misconceptions that are often repeated in social media. The codes listed on tax transcripts do not provide any early insight into when a refund will be issued. The best way to check on your refund is by visiting Where’s My Refund?While transcripts include a lot of detailed information regarding actions taken on your account, the codes do not mean the same thing for everyone and they do not necessarily reflect how any of these actions do or do not impact the amount or timing of your refund. IRS transcripts are best and most often used to validate past income and tax filing status for mortgage, student and small business loan applications and to help with tax preparation.

If you owe past-due federal tax, state income tax, state unemployment compensation debts, child support, spousal support, or certain federal nontax debts, such as student loans, all or part of your refund may be used (offset) to pay the past-due amount. Offsets for federal taxes are made by the IRS. All other offsets are made by the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Fiscal Services (BFS). For federal tax offsets, you will receive a notice from the IRS. For all other offsets, you will receive a notice from BFS. To find out if you may have an offset or if you have any questions about it, contact the agency to which you owe the debt.

Another reason your refund amount may be different is if the IRS made changes to your tax return that changed your refund amount. In this case you will get a notice in the mail from the IRS explaining the changes.

If you filed a joint return and you are not responsible for your spouse’s debt, you are entitled to request a portion of the refund back from the IRS. You may file a claim for this amount by filing Form 8379 (PDF), Injured Spouse Allocation. The IRS can process your Form 8379 before an offset occurs. If you file Form 8379 with your original return, it may take 11 weeks to process an electronically-filed return or 14 weeks if you filed a paper return. If you file the Form 8379 by itself after a joint return has been processed, then processing will take about 8 weeks.

When filing Form 8379 by itself, you must show both spouses’ social security numbers in the same order as they appeared on your joint income tax return. You, the injured spouse, must sign the form. Follow the instructions on Form 8379 carefully and be sure to attach the required Forms W-2 and 1099 showing federal income tax withholding to avoid delays. Do not attach the previously filed joint tax return to the Form 8379 when filing it by itself. Send Form 8379 to the Service Center where you filed your original return and allow at least 8 weeks for the IRS to process your request. The IRS will compute the injured spouse’s share of the joint refund. If you lived in a community property state during the tax year, the IRS will divide the joint refund based upon state community property law. Not all debts are subject to a tax refund offset. So to determine whether an offset will occur on a debt owed you should check with a tax professional.

Be careful not to count on getting your refund by a certain date to make major purchases or pay other financial obligations. Many different factors can affect the timing of your refund after the IRS receives it for processing. Even though the IRS issues most refunds in less than 21 days, it’s possible your tax return may require additional review and take longer. Also, if you are anticipating a refund, take into consideration the time it takes for your financial institution to post the refund to your account, or for mail delivery.

You should choose to have a direct deposit of your refund. Eight in 10 taxpayers get their refunds faster by using e-file and direct deposit. The IRS claims it is the safest, fastest way to receive your refund and is also easy to use. Just select it as your refund method through your tax software and type in the account number and routing number. Or, tell your tax preparer you want direct deposit. You can even use direct deposit if you are one of the few people still filing by paper. Be sure to double check your entry to avoid errors.

Your refund should only be deposited directly into accounts that are in your own name; your spouse’s name or both if it’s a joint account. No more than three electronic refunds can be deposited into a single financial account or pre-paid debit card. Taxpayers who exceed the limit will receive an IRS notice and a paper refund. Whether you file electronically or on paper, direct deposit gives you access to your refund faster than a paper check.