IRS Announces Program For U.S. Expats To Come Into Compliance With Their U.S. Tax And Filing Obligations
On September 6, 2019 the IRS announced procedures for certain persons who have relinquished, or intend to relinquish, their United States citizenship and who wish to come into compliance with their U.S. income tax and reporting obligations and avoid being taxed as a “covered expatriate” under Code Sec. 877A.
The Relief Procedures for Certain Former Citizens apply only to individuals who have not filed U.S. tax returns as U.S. citizens or residents, owe a limited amount of back taxes to the United States and have net assets of less than $2 million. Only taxpayers whose past compliance failures were non-willful can take advantage of these new procedures. For those expat-individuals who missed the opportunity to come forward in the IRS’ Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”), this is a huge opportunity. Many in this group may have lived outside the United States most of their lives and may have not been aware that they had U.S. tax obligations.
U.S. Taxation Of Worldwide Income
The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” are citizens of the United States. With very limited exceptions for individuals born in the United States with diplomatic agent level immunity, all persons born in the United States acquire U.S. citizenship at birth. A person born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent or parents acquires U.S. citizenship at birth if the parent or parents meet conditions specified in the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act (Section 301 and following sections).
Some U.S. citizens, born in the United States to foreign parents or born outside the United States to U.S. citizen parents, may be unaware of their status as U.S. citizens or the consequences of such status. By law, U.S. citizens, regardless of whether they live in the United States or abroad, are required to report and pay to the IRS all applicable taxes on their worldwide income, including on their income from foreign financial assets.
With the passage of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”) on March 18, 2010, foreign financial institutions are generally required to determine whether their customers are U.S. citizens and, if so, report certain information about the customer’s account. Depending on when the account is opened, the customer may be identified by the financial institution as a U.S. citizen based on certain indicia, such as a place of birth in the United States. A customer who is identified as a U.S. citizen based on U.S. indicia must provide to the financial institution either his or her Social Security Number (“SSN”), or if the customer is no longer a U.S. citizen, documentation to rebut the determination, such as proof of loss of U.S. citizenship. A customer opening a new account with a foreign financial institution is generally required to provide a self-certification upon account opening, which includes the customer’s name, address, and SSN.
New Relief Procedures For Expats
Eligible individuals wishing to use these relief procedures are required to file outstanding U.S. tax returns, including all required schedules and information returns, for the five years preceding and their year of expatriation. Provided that the taxpayer’s tax liability does not exceed a total of $25,000 for the six years in question, the taxpayer is relieved from paying U.S. taxes and they will not be assessed penalties and interest.
The IRS is offering these procedures without a specific termination date. The IRS will announce a closing date prior to ending the procedures. Individuals who relinquished their U.S. citizenship any time after March 18, 2010, are eligible so long as they satisfy the other criteria of the procedures.
These procedures are only available to individuals. Estates, trusts, corporations, partnerships and other entities may not use these procedures.
These procedures may only be used by taxpayers whose failure to file required tax returns (including income tax returns, applicable gift tax returns, information returns (including Form 8938, Statement of Foreign Financial Assets), and Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FinCEN Form 114, formerly Form TD F 90-22.1)) and pay taxes and penalties for the years at issue was due to non-willful conduct. Non-willful conduct is conduct that is due to negligence, inadvertence, or mistake or conduct that is the result of a good faith misunderstanding of the requirements of the law.
U.S. Penalties for Non-Compliance.
Federal tax law requires U.S. taxpayers to pay taxes on all income earned worldwide. U.S. taxpayers must also report foreign financial accounts if the total value of the accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year. Willful failure to report a foreign account can result in a fine of up to 50% of the amount in the account at the time of the violation and may even result in the IRS filing criminal charges.
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 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.
What Should You Do?
For those expat-individuals who missed the opportunity to come forward in the IRS’ Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”), this is a huge opportunity. Relinquishing U.S. citizenship and the tax consequences that follow are serious matters that involve irrevocable decisions. Taxpayers who relinquish citizenship without complying with their U.S. tax obligations are subject to the significant tax consequences of the U.S. expatriation tax regime. Let the tax attorneys of the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), San Francisco Bay Area (including San Jose and Walnut Creek) and elsewhere in California help ensure that you are in compliance with federal tax laws. Also, if you are involved in cannabis, check out how our cannabis tax attorneys can help you.