Live Webinar Featuring Asher Rubinstein: FBAR, US Reporting and IRS Compliance for Offshore Assets

Asher Rubinstein will be a featured speaker in an upcoming Strafford live webinar, “FBAR and U.S. Tax Reporting and Compliance Requirements for Foreign Assets” scheduled for Tuesday, June 20, 2017 at 1pm EST.  We have a limited number of complimentary registrations for clients and friends of the firm.

The IRS has made modifications over the past several years to the programs that allow for late reporting of previously undisclosed offshore assets.  At the same time, the IRS continually reaffirms its commitment to cracking down on U.S. taxpayers failing to disclose foreign assets. Taxpayers and their advisers must act quickly to take advantage of the benefits of a pre-emptive disclosure, before the IRS learns of the foreign asset from a foreign financial institution, a foreign banker, FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) report, tax treaty with a foreign government or alternative means of discovery.

The two most significant programs aiding taxpayers with unreported foreign assets are the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) and the Streamlined Procedures for domestic (SDOP) and foreign (SFOP) residents.  Taxpayers may benefit from substantially reduced or no penalties for failure to report offshore accounts and assets.  However, taxpayers and their advisors must be aware of the risks in each of the programs.  The penalties imposed upon taxpayers who willfully fail to disclose offshore assets are extremely punitive.

Taxpayers and their advisers must evaluate whether a disclosure program will help a taxpayer avoid increased IRS penalties, and whether the taxpayer is eligible to enter one of the programs.  Eligibility is very fact-specific.  If eligible, counsel must guide the taxpayer in meeting the very specific information requirements of the disclosure program.  The OVDP, SDOP and SFOP may end at any time without notice, at which point the taxpayer may face the full measure of penalties (including criminal consequences).

The Webinar panel will provide taxpayers, legal counsel and tax advisers with the tools necessary to navigate the new rules regarding the FBAR and offshore voluntary disclosure programs.

We will review these and other key issues:

After our presentations, we will engage in a live question and answer session with participants so we can answer your questions about these important issues directly.

For more information about this Webinar, please visit the Webinar program description.

Contact us with any questions about this Webinar or other offshore reporting and IRS compliance issues.

 

Offshore Tax Reporting Requirements and the 2016 FBAR due April 18, 2017

Annual tax season is upon us, and we remind readers of important tax reporting requirements that must be met with respect to foreign assets.

  1. “Check the Box” on IRS Form 1040, Schedule B

If you had signature authority or a financial interest (e.g., ownership) in a foreign financial account (including a bank account, securities account, brokerage account, etc.) at any time during 2016, you must “check the box” on your IRS Form 1040, Schedule B, Part III, Line 7.  If your foreign account(s) were valued at more than $10,000 in the aggregate, you must also “check the box” on line 7 regarding the FBAR form, FinCEN 114 (see item 5, below).  This requirement is applicable to taxpayers who had beneficial ownership of, or signature authority or other authority over, such financial accounts in a foreign country.  Even if you closed the accounts during 2016, you must still “check the box” if you maintained the accounts during any part of 2016.  If you received a distribution from, or were the grantor of, or a transferor to, a foreign trust or foreign foundation, you must “check the box” on Line 8 and also file IRS Form 3520.

  1. Report Foreign Income

In addition to “checking the box” on IRS Form 1040, Schedule B, U.S. taxpayers must report all income (including interest, capital gains, dividends and pension distributions) realized during 2016, on IRS Form 1040.  If you held investments in foreign mutual funds or hedge funds, you may be required to file additional tax forms applicable to “PFICs” (Passive Foreign Investment Companies) for tax year 2016 (e.g., IRS Form 8621).  If you received rental income from foreign real estate or realized gains from the sale of foreign real estate, you must declare it.  You may be eligible to deduct real estate expenses and real estate taxes paid to a foreign tax authority.  In many cases, if foreign income was taxed in a foreign country, you may be able to get a credit for foreign taxes paid.  Even so, all foreign income should still be declared.

  1. IRS Form 8938

IRS Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets, first introduced in 2012, is yet another IRS form to report foreign bank, brokerage accounts and other foreign financial assets (including interests in offshore trusts and corporations, bonds, foreign mutual funds, foreign annuity and insurance policies).  IRS Form 8938 is due with your annual tax return (April 18, 2017, unless you obtain an extension).

  1. Additional Forms for Entities (Foreign Trusts, Foreign Corporations, etc.)

If you had an interest in a foreign entity such as a foreign trust or foreign foundation, and/or during 2016 you received assets from the a foreign entity, then you may also be required to file IRS Forms 3520 and 3520A.  Please contact us for a copy of our memorandum about this issue.  If you had an interest in a foreign corporation, and the foreign corporation is deemed to be a “Controlled Foreign Corporation” (CFC), then IRS Form 5471 is also due.  These forms are usually due with your income tax return (IRS Form 1040, due April 18, 2017).

  1. The FBAR – due April 18, 2017

This year, 2017, is the first year that the deadline for the FBAR, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FinCEN Form 114), is the same as the deadline for submission of income tax returns (1040s), for calendar year 2016.  The FBAR must be filed by taxpayers who had beneficial ownership of, or signature or other authority over, foreign financial accounts, including bank and securities accounts, if the aggregate value of such accounts exceeded $10,000 at any time during 2016.  The FBAR also applies to foreign insurance policies, annuity policies, retirement plans and other financial products.  Recent authority also extends the FBAR to on-line gambling/gaming accounts.  If you participated in the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP), Streamlined procedures or submitted retroactive FBARs, you should ensure ongoing compliance by timely submitting the 2016 FBAR.  If the accounts existed at any point during 2016, then the FBAR must be submitted by April 18, 2017.  Note that the FBAR is now known as FinCEN Form 114, and must be filed electronically.  This year, also for the first time, a taxpayer may obtain an automatic extension to file the FBAR.  The extended due date is the same as one’s extended income tax deadline (October 15, 2017).

  1. Strategic Concerns

If you have not yet filed an application for the OVDP or submitted a Streamlined application, or if your application is pending at the IRS, or you are undecided as to whether or not to make a disclosure, you may want to consider requesting an extension for your 2016 tax returns and FBAR.

You may request an extension for filing your income tax return by filing IRS Form 4868.  Note that this is an extension to file the tax return, not pay tax due.  You still need to pay your tax liability by April 18, 2017, while you have until October 15, 2017 to file your tax return and FBAR.  This means that your voluntary disclosure strategy needs to be formulated prior to reporting to the Government the existence of foreign accounts via the FBAR, Form 8938, etc.

Conclusion

Please ensure that your offshore assets are tax compliant by adhering to the ongoing reporting and tax requirements.  If you have any questions or would like our assistance in formulating a disclosure strategy or in preparing the 2016 FBAR, please feel free to contact us.

 

 

 

 

Currency is Virtual, but Real Time is Ticking for Voluntary Disclosure of Virtual Currency

virtual money  In the latest step by the IRS to address taxation issues in the digital on-line economy, the IRS has filed its first enforcement against convertible virtual currency, targeting tax abuse of “Bitcoin” transactions.  On November 20, 2016, a Federal Court in California authorized the IRS to issue a “John Doe” summons to Coinbase, Inc., a web-based global digital currency wallet and platform.  The IRS has in the past successfully used the John Doe summons to obtain information from financial institutions (e.g., UBS, HSBC and Cayman Islands banks) for a broad class of U.S. clients who are not individually named but who the IRS has reason to believe have utilized the financial institution to improperly evade tax.  The John Doe summons seeks records from 2013 through 2015 for any Coinbase user with a US address, telephone number, e-mail domain, etc., and all records related to disbursement of funds to any user.  In 2014, the IRS issued Notice 2014-21 describing how various income recognition and other US tax principles apply to virtual currency transactions.  In that Notice, the IRS clarified that virtual currencies are “property” subject to income tax, capital gains tax, etc.

Omission of income from virtual currency transactions or failure to file, especially in relation to offshore transactions or use of foreign accounts, could result in criminal charges related to tax evasion, filing a false tax return and failure to file the FBAR (FinCen Form 114).  Additional charges can include conspiracy to defraud the government.  Even innocent or negligent non-compliance can subject a taxpayer to the assessment of tax, interest and severe civil penalties.  Taxpayers have a limited time period remaining to voluntarily disclose virtual currency accounts and transactions, to correct prior non-compliance, avoid criminal prosecution and usually receive more lenient treatment than in a criminal or civil enforcement proceeding or audit.

Once the IRS obtains information on Coinbase’s users, the IRS will follow with civil tax audits, FBAR audits and criminal investigations.  Other virtual currency platforms, such as Localbitcoins, Kraken and ItBit may receive similar summonses for transactions with Bitcoins and its more recent competitor Ethereum.  The IRS offers opportunities to come into compliance before the IRS obtains information about unreported assets (virtual or actual) and income, including the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) and Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures for taxpayers to disclose digital currency transactions, income and accounts.  A voluntary disclosure also provides the opportunity to calculate, with a reasonable degree of certainty, the total cost of resolving open tax issues.  Time is of the essence to voluntarily report such information before the IRS obtains information pursuant to John Doe summonses, FATCA (the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act), TIE (Tax Information Exchange) Agreements, etc.  Anyone who has income as a result of transactions through Coinbase, Inc. or any other virtual or digital platforms, or unreported virtual or digital currency assets, should contact Rubinstein & Rubinstein, LLP immediately for a consultation.

Do You Still Have an Undisclosed Foreign Account?

If you are the owner of a foreign account or other foreign financial asset that has not been properly reported to the IRS, what are your options now?

Option One: come forward now.  The IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP), still remains open.  Criminal prosecution is usually avoided if you come forward before you are caught.  In addition, the penalties are much higher outside the OVDP in the event you are caught by the IRS.  You may be caught because of FATCA, an investigation, an audit, an information request to a foreign bank, a subpoena upon a foreign bank, or another person’s disclosure of account info.  Thus, if you have not entered the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, you may still come forward; you will pay penalties, but the penalties will still be significantly lower than if you don’t come forward and the IRS catches you.  In that case, jail time for criminal tax fraud is also a frightening possibility.  In some cases, depending on the background facts, the penalties for an undisclosed foreign account may be as little as 5 percent or even zero, provided that the IRS doesn’t already know about your offshore assets.

Option Two: convert your account to a tax-compliant structure.  We have long counseled the use of tax-compliant strategies to minimize U.S. taxation.  We also advise clients on the legitimization of non-compliant offshore assets.  We counsel clients regarding the proper steps to transform a non-compliant offshore account into one that complies with current U.S. laws.  Although we cannot erase a non-compliant past, we can counsel on full compliance going forward.  Such steps may significantly reduce the risk of detection and prosecution.

Option Three: do nothing and hope that the IRS does not discover your foreign account.  You would be relying on past promises of banking secrecy as a means of future protection.  However, as the events of recent years have proven, foreign banking secrecy no longer exists.  Moreover, FATCA is now in effect, whereby virtually all foreign banks report bank data to the IRS.  In light of this new world order, sooner or later the IRS will likely find your foreign account and then it will be too late.  Even if you somehow remain “under the radar”, any attempts to access the foreign funds could raise “red flags” and thus your foreign assets are essentially inaccessible.  Clearly, we do not recommend this “ostrich” strategy.

We do recognize that making a formal voluntary disclosure would include paying a penalty, and we recognize that this penalty, although much less than civil and criminal tax fraud penalties, may still be quite onerous.  The question thus becomes: are alternatives available to come into IRS compliance, and, at the same time, to also avoid the OVDP penalty?

We do not believe that everybody with foreign assets should automatically rush to enter the OVDP and pay the high penalties.  The OVDP, with its “one size fits all” penalty, is not always the best, or only, course of action in all offshore cases.  In addition, if your background facts meet certain requirements, the “Streamlined” voluntary disclosure procedures may be appropriate, and would offer significantly lower penalties.

Every client has different facts.  We must address the particular facts of the client’s foreign assets, the past non-compliance, the client’s reported income, the amount of unreported foreign income and the tax loss to the IRS.  Not everyone with foreign assets should avoid the OVDP, but not everyone with foreign assets should enter the OVDP.  We can examine the facts, assess the risks, and discuss alternative strategies that may reduce or even entirely eliminate IRS penalties.

Contact us to discuss your options regarding foreign accounts.

 

 

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