IRS FBAR Voluntary Disclosure Program Updates
For years the IRS has been pursuing – the disclosure of information regarding undeclared interests of U.S. taxpayers (or those who ought to be U.S. taxpayers) in foreign financial accounts.
On June 26, 2012 the IRS released IR-2012-64/65 and updated Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) providing updated guidance regarding the currently pending offshore voluntary disclosure program (the initial terms of the 2012 OVDP were set forth in IR-2012-5 released on January 9, 2012). The OVDP follows on the success of the 2009 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (the 2009 OVDP) and the 2011 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (the 2011 OVDI), which were announced many years after the 2003 Offshore Voluntary Compliance Initiative (OVCI) and the 2003 Offshore Credit Card Program (OCCP). Such initiatives typically offer reduced penalties in exchange for taxpayers voluntarily coming into compliance before the IRS is aware of their prior tax indiscretions. In part, the success of such initiatives often depends on the perception that they will be followed by strong government tax enforcement efforts.
Under the Bank Secrecy Act, U.S. residents or a person in and doing business in the United States must file a report with the government if they have a financial account in a foreign country with a value exceeding $10,000 at any time during the calendar year. Taxpayers comply with this law by noting the account on their income tax return and by filing Form 90-22.1, the FBAR. Willfully failing to file an FBAR can be subject to both criminal sanctions (i.e., imprisonment) and civil penalties equivalent to the greater of $100,000 or 50% of the balance in an unreported foreign account— for each year since 2004 for which an FBAR wasn’t filed.
Generally, taxpayers who have undisclosed offshore accounts or assets and meet the requirements of IRM 220.127.116.11 are eligible to apply for IRS Criminal Investigation’s Voluntary Disclosure Practice and the 2012 OVDP penalty regime. The OVDP is available to taxpayers who have both offshore and domestic issues to disclose. The Voluntary Disclosure Practice requires an accurate, and complete voluntary disclosure. Consequently, if there are undisclosed income tax liabilities from domestic sources in addition to those related to offshore accounts and assets, they must also be disclosed in the OVDP. The 2012 OVDP is patterned after the 2011 OVDI but increases the maximum “FBAR-related” penalty from 25% to 27.5% of the highest account value at any time during the most recent eight tax years. The terms of the OVDP, are subject to change at any time.
For calendar year taxpayers the voluntary disclosure period is the most recent eight tax years for which the due date has already passed. The eight-year period does not include current years for which there has not yet been non-compliance. Thus, for taxpayers who submit a voluntary disclosure prior to April 15, 2012 (or other 2011 due date under extension), the disclosure must include each of the years 2003 through 2010 in which they have undisclosed foreign accounts and/or undisclosed foreign entities. Fiscal year taxpayers must include fiscal years ending in calendar years 2003 through 2010. For taxpayers who disclose after the due date (or extended due date) for 2011, the disclosure must include 2004 through 2011. For disclosures made in successive years, any additional years for which the due date has passed must be included, but a corresponding number of years at the beginning of the period will be excluded, so that each disclosure includes an eight-year period.
For taxpayers who establish that they began filing timely, original, compliant returns that fully reported previously undisclosed offshore accounts or assets before making the voluntary disclosure, the voluntary disclosure period will begin with the eighth year preceding the most recent year for which the return filing due date has not yet passed, but will not include the compliant years.
Taxpayers under IRS criminal investigation are not eligible to participate in the OVDP. Also, if the IRS has initiated a civil examination, regardless of whether it relates to undisclosed foreign accounts or undisclosed foreign entities, the taxpayer will not be eligible to participate in the 2012 OVDP.
In 2003, following significant publicity regarding the use of foreign accounts and credit card arrangements by U.S taxpayers, the IRS offered significant penalty relief for taxpayers participating in the OVCI which coincided with strong tax enforcement efforts under the OCCP. Eligible OVCI taxpayers were required to file amended or delinquent returns for three tax years (1999-2001) but could choose to bring tax years 1996-1998 into the OVCI (and would not be examined for any earlier years). Approximately 1,321 taxpayers from 48 countries participated in the OVCI identifying approximately 400 offshore promoters. The IRS agreed to not assert any 75% civil fraud penalties and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) agreed to not assert any civil penalties for the failure to timely file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR).
The 2009 OVDP brought in at least 14,700 U.S. taxpayers (disclosing accounts in more than 60 countries) through the front door of IRS Criminal Investigation and untold thousands through a process of quietly amending returns and filing delinquent FBARs with the government. For eligible taxpayers who ventured through the front door, the OVDP provided the certainty of no criminal prosecution and civil penalty relief – they were required to pay back-taxes from 2003 to 2008, interest and a 20-25% penalty on the delinquent taxes. The IRS also imposed a 20% “FBAR-related” penalty equal to the highest aggregate value of the financial account between 2003 and 2008. In limited situations, the FBAR-related penalty could be reduced to 5% of the account value or $10,000 per tax year.
The 2011 OVDI, brought in an additional 12,000 eligible taxpayers who filed original and amended tax returns and agreed to make payments (or good faith arrangements to pay) for taxes, interest and accuracy-related penalties. The 2011 OVDI FBAR-related penalty framework required a 25% “FBAR-related” penalty equal to the highest value of the financial account between 2003 and 2010. Only one 25 percent offshore penalty is to be applied with respect to voluntary disclosures relating to the same financial account. The penalty may be allocated among the taxpayers with beneficial ownership making the voluntary disclosures in any way they choose. Potentially applicable penalties are identified in a series of Frequently Asked Questions available at irs.gov. Participants in the 2011 OVDI also had to pay back-taxes and interest for up to eight years as well as paying accuracy-related and/or delinquency penalties. Subject to certain limitations, financial transactions occurring before 2003 were generally irrelevant for those participating in the OVDI.
Under the 2012 OVDP, taxpayers who are foreign residents and who were unaware they were U.S. citizens may qualify for a reduced 5% FBAR-related penalty (FAQ 52). Others qualified for the 5% penalty if they: (a) did not open or cause the account to be opened (unless the bank required that a new account be opened, rather than allowing a change in ownership of an existing account, upon the death of the owner of the account); (b) have exercised minimal, infrequent contact with the account, for example, to request the account balance, or update account-holder information such as a change in address, contact person, or email address; (c) have, except for a withdrawal closing the account and transferring the funds to an account in the United States not withdrawn more than $1,000 from the account in any year covered by the voluntary disclosure; and (d) can establish that all applicable U.S. taxes have been paid on funds deposited to the account (only account earnings have escaped U.S. taxation). For funds deposited before January 1, 1991, if no information is available to establish whether such funds were appropriately taxed, it is presumed that they were.
Taxpayers whose highest aggregate account balance (including the fair market value of assets in undisclosed offshore entities and the fair market value of any foreign assets that were either acquired with improperly untaxed funds or produced improperly untaxed income) in each of the years covered by the 2012 OVDP is less than $75,000 qualified for a 12.5% FBAR-related penalty (FAQ 53). IRS examiners have no authority to negotiate a different FBAR-related penalty.
We have received hundreds of phone calls about these situations. My suggestion is that the way to obtain the best results would be to use a former IRS international manager. He should also be a CPA. In many circumstances we have significantly reduced the taxes by applying for amnesty and then opting out. If this procedure is followed properly you end up dealing with the appeals division of the IRS. In my experience and I think most other tax experts would agree, you can bargain with the appeals officer and if you know what you are doing you usually can substantially reduce your taxes. The down side to this is most tax practioners have little or no experience with this, and will probably not obtain a good result for their client.
As I suggested using a former IRS International tax manager is usually the best way to deal with this situation. If you want even better results make sure he is also a CPA. The ideal situation would be to user a former IRS tax manager with many years experience working for the IRS.
While he was at the IRS, if he worked in the appeals division that would be a plus he should also be a CPA and understand the ramification of all the FBAR, OVDI, and amnesty problems.
If you are caught in this situation you had better get expert help as quickly as possible. This situation can even result in criminal prosecution. If handled properly the fines and penalties can be tremendously reduced.
The information provided herein is not intended as legal, accounting, financial or any other type of advice for any specific individual or other entity. You should contact an appropriate professional for any such advice.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.