Foreign Bank Account Filings Top 1 Million
What Taxpayers Need to Know About Their Filing Requirements If You Have Foreign Bank Accounts
The IRS recently announced that strong and sustained growth of taxpayers complying with foreign financial account reporting reflects improving awareness and compliance of this important part of offshore tax rules.
By law, many U.S. taxpayers with foreign accounts exceeding certain thresholds must file Form 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, known as the “FBAR.” It is filed electronically with the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).
So here are the statistics – in 2015, FinCEN received a record high 1,163,229 FBARs, up more than 8% from the prior year. In fact, FBAR filings have grown on average by 17% per year during the last five years, according to FinCEN data.
Filings of IRS Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets, are another sign of growing awareness of foreign reporting requirements. Taxpayers filed more than 300,000 Forms 8938 with their tax returns for tax year 2014, roughly the same as the prior year and up from about 200,000 for tax year 2011, the first year of the form. Form 8938 resulted from the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, known as “FATCA.” The filing thresholds are much higher for this form than for the FBAR.
Taxpayers with an interest in, or signature or other authority over, foreign financial accounts whose aggregate value exceeded $10,000 at any time during 2015 must file FBARs. It is due by June 30 and must be filed electronically through the BSA E-Filing System website.
Generally, U.S. citizens, resident aliens and certain non-resident aliens must report specified foreign financial assets on Form 8938 if the aggregate value of those assets exceeds certain thresholds. Reporting thresholds vary based on whether a taxpayer files a joint income tax return or lives abroad. The lowest reporting threshold for Form 8938 is $50,000 but varies by taxpayer.
By law, Americans living abroad, as well as many non-U.S. citizens, must file a U.S. income tax return. In addition, key tax benefits, such as the foreign earned income exclusion, are only available to those who file U.S. returns.
The law requires U.S. citizens and resident aliens to report worldwide income, including income from foreign trusts and foreign bank and securities accounts. In most cases, affected taxpayers need to complete and attach Schedule B to their tax return. Part III of Schedule B asks about the existence of foreign accounts, such as bank and securities accounts, and usually requires U.S. citizens to report the country in which each account is located.
Now consider this – about 60,000 U.S. taxpayers have come forward to disclose their previously undisclosed offshore accounts but just last year alone, 300,000 U.S. taxpayers filed Form 8938 disclosing foreign accounts. That would mean that about 240,000 did not previously report their foreign accounts and that under this recent filing of Form 8938 to IRS, they have put the IRS on direct notice of their non-compliance.
Penalties for non-compliance.
Civil Fraud – If your failure to file is due to fraud, the penalty is 15% for each month or part of a month that your return is late, up to a maximum of 75%.
Criminal Fraud – Any person who willfully attempts in any manner to evade or defeat any tax under the Internal Revenue Code or the payment thereof is, in addition to other penalties provided by law, guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, can be fined not more than $100,000 ($500,000 in the case of a corporation), or imprisoned not more than five years, or both, together with the costs of prosecution (Code Sec. 7201).
The term “willfully” has been interpreted to require a specific intent to violate the law (U.S. v. Pomponio, 429 U.S. 10 (1976)). The term “willfulness” is defined as the voluntary, intentional violation of a known legal duty (Cheek v. U.S., 498 U.S. 192 (1991)).
Additionally, the penalties for FBAR noncompliance are stiffer than the civil tax penalties ordinarily imposed for delinquent taxes. For non-willful violations it is $10,000.00 per account per year going back as far as six years. For willful violations the penalties for noncompliance which the government may impose include a fine of not more than $500,000 and imprisonment of not more than five years, for failure to file a report, supply information, and for filing a false or fraudulent report.
Lastly, failing to file Form 8938 when required could result in a $10,000 penalty, with an additional penalty up to $50,000 for continued failure to file after IRS notification. A 40% penalty on any understatement of tax attributable to non-disclosed assets can also be imposed.
The IRS has special programs for taxpayers to come forward to disclose unreported foreign accounts and unreported foreign income. The main program is called the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP). OVDP offers taxpayers with undisclosed income from offshore accounts an opportunity to get current with their tax returns and information reporting obligations. The program encourages taxpayers to voluntarily disclose foreign accounts now rather than risk detection by the IRS at a later date and face more severe penalties and possible criminal prosecution.
For taxpayers who willfully did not comply with the U.S. tax laws, we recommend going into the 2014 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP). Under this program, you can get immunity from criminal prosecution and the one-time penalty is 27.5% of the highest aggregate value of your foreign income producing asset holdings.
For taxpayers who were non-willful, we recommend going into the Streamlined Procedures of OVDP. Under these procedures the penalty rate is 5% and if you are a foreign person, that penalty can be waived. This is a very popular program and we have had much success qualifying taxpayers and demonstrating to the IRS that their non-compliance was not willful.