FBAR and Title 31
Who is a “resident”? What is a “resident”? This sounds like such a basic question. It is not so simple for tax purposes; nor for other provisions of the law.
There is the colloquial meaning of resident. For instance, if Mr. Smith says, “I have been a resident of Montana on my ranch for 30 years”; to what does he refer? What if Mr. Smith has a house in California (which he has owned for 15 years) and another ranch in Alberta, Canada that he has owned for 45 years. Is he also a “resident” of Canada and California?
What if he is not a U.S. citizen but holds a particular type of visa, such as lawful permanent residency (an immigrant visa)? What if he has a non-immigrant visa, such as an E-2 visa? What if he only spends 4 months a year on his ranch in Montana, of where is he a “resident”?
Is he a “resident” in some or all of these scenarios? Why is this important in the context of “U.S. expatriation taxation”?
There are three sources of federal law where it becomes very important, which will be discussed in later posts:
- Title 31 – which is the “bank secrecy” law that creates the “FBARs” – see a prior post, Nuances of FBAR – Foreign Bank Account Report Filings – for USCs and LPRs living outside the U.S.
- Title 26 – federal tax law that has a myriad of definitions regarding “residents”; see, Oops…Did I “Expatriate” and Never Know It: Lawful Permanent Residents Beware! International Tax Journal, CCH Wolters Kluwer, Jan.-Feb. 2014, Vol. 40 Issue 1, p9.
- Title 8 – federal immigration law; see, Part II: Who is a “long-term” lawful permanent resident (“LPR”) and why does it matter?
In addition, various states, such as California, Texas and Washington D.C. (actually not a state; but all places I happen to be licensed to practice law) have their own definitions of who are “residents” for income tax and other purposes.
Subsequent posts will discuss the importance of understanding who is a “resident” and the implications under these various laws.
Laymen regularly have an idea of where they are “resident” – but that idea is often very different from definitions of “resident” under federal Titles 31, 26 and 8 and state laws (e.g., Texas, D.C., Florida, California, New York, etc.).
Will U.S. Tax Law Regarding “Covered Expatriates” get Modified with Recent Government Push in International?
It is rare to have the President of the United States hold press conferences specifically dealing with international tax policy and tax enforcement. Nevertheless, this is what happened last week when President Obama announced his administration’s recent efforts in the field of international tax, anti-corruption and financial transparency.
His remarks can be watched here: President Obama’s Efforts on Financial Transparency and Anti-Corruption: What You Need to Know
Also, the White House is putting forward a series of initiatives in this area:
To date, none of the specific initiatives address current “tax expatriation law” under IRC Sections 877, 877A, et. seq.
IRS Creates “International Practice Units” for their IRS Revenue Agents in International Tax Matters
The U.S. international tax law has become increasingly complex. I am confident when I say that very few individuals in the world (including IRS revenue agents) understand the complexities of Title 26 and Title 31 as they apply to international matters such as gifts of foreign property, gifts involving U.S. intangible property, gifts to or inheritances from foreign estates with U.S citizens (USCs) or Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) beneficiaries, foreign partnerships with USCs, transfers of property to foreign trusts by USCs or LPRs residing outside the U.S., transfers of property to foreign corporations, etc.
Most USCs and LPRs who live in the U.S. certainly know and understand the basics of IRS Form 1040.
However, the type and scope of international transactions contemplated by the law can be significant and are rarely understood in any depth, even by many tax professionals. I have seen cases during my career of sophisticated individuals ranging from Nobel prize winners to U.S. Ambassadors, who had not a clue about the application of U.S. federal tax law to their lives. See, the Nov. 2, 2015 post, Why Most U.S. Citizens Residing Overseas Haven’t a Clue about the Labyrinth of U.S. Taxation and Bank and Financial Reporting of Worldwide Income and Assets
The lack of knowledge of these complex laws within the IRS, and the LB&I (Large Business and International group) which specializes in international matters has led to IRS “International Practice Units”. These are designed to allow IRS revenue agents who are not necessarily specialists in the international tax area to review transactions and be prepared to assess taxes and penalties against USCs and LPRs in the international context. The preamble says in part ” . . . Practice Units provide IRS staff with explanations of general international tax concepts as well as information about a specific type of transaction. . . ”
There are currently 63 different IRS “International Practice Units” all with dates from the last 12 months. Several of them focus heavily on information return filings which carry stiff penalties, even if no U.S. income taxes are owing. For instance see, Monetary Penalties for Failure to Timely File a Substantially Complete Form 5471 –Category 4 & 5 Filers.
Another interesting IRS International Practice Unit is titled – Basic Offshore Structures Used to Conceal U.S. Person’s Beneficial Ownership of Foreign Financial Accounts and Other Assets.
These IRS materials give a good perspective from where the IRS views the world; including the introduction to this particular IRS International Practice Unit where it states: “This Practice Unit focuses on a U.S. Person’s proactive steps to “conceal” their ownership of foreign financial accounts, entities and other assets for the purposes of tax avoidance or evasion, even though, there may be some situations where there are legitimate personal or business purposes for establishing such arrangements. This unit falls under the outbound face of the matrix and thus, will focus on U.S Persons living in the United States . . . Most U.S. taxpayers using an offshore entity or structure of entities to hold foreign accounts are simply hiding the accounts from the Internal Revenue Service and other creditors . . .” [emphasis added]
This is a breathtaking statement from the IRS internal training manuals that “Most U.S. taxpayers using an offshore entity or structure of entities to hold foreign accounts are simply hiding the accounts from the Internal Revenue Service and other creditors . . .”?
The vast majority of the USCs or LPRs who I see who renounce or abandon their citizenship or LPR status, are living outside the United States and in most cases have spent almost all (if not all) of their lives outside the U.S.
Does the IRS mean that a family living in Switzerland that have dual national family members are “. . . .simply hiding the accounts from the Internal Revenue Service . . . ” if they are using, for instance, a Liechtenstein Stiftung to hold their family assets as part of an estate plan recommended to them by their Swiss legal and tax advisers?
Does the statement that this IRS International Practice Unit focuses on ” . . . U.S Persons living in the United States . . . ” give USCs and LPRs residing outside the U.S. relief from the IRS perspective of USCs simply hiding assets from the Internal Revenue Service? Will IRS revenue agents be sophisticated enough to distinguish between these two different groups; U.S. resident versus non-resident USCs and LPRs? Will the law be applied differently with respect to these resident versus non-resident U.S. taxpayers?
What role will these IRS “International Practice Units” play in forming perceptions and molding ideas of IRS revenue agents who have had little to no life experience in international affairs, multi-national families, global finance and international business operations?
More observations to come from specific IRS “International Practice Units.
Foreign Government Criticizes U.S. Government for NOT Providing FATCA IGA Information on Their Taxpayers with U.S. Accounts
This news is ironic. The U.S. government has chastised various banks and governments around the world since 2009 for not providing financial information on U.S citizens (USCs) and other U.S. taxpayers regarding their foreign bank and financial accounts. See, How Congressional Hearings (Particularly In the Senate) Drive IRS and Justice Department Behavior, posted Sept 8, 2014.
Now, it is foreign governments’ turn, to criticize the U.S. Treasury and IRS for not keeping up with its promises to provide U.S. financial and bank information on taxpayers of their countries pursuant to all of the FATCA Intergovernmental Government Agreements (IGAs) that were pushed so hard by U.S. Treasury. See, FATCA IGA with Hong Kong Signed: U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents Residing in or Around Hong Kong Need to Know, posted on Nov. 17, 2014.
The Commissioner of the Mexican IRS (SAT – Servicio de Administración Tributaria (SAT)), Mr. Aristóteles Núñez Sánchez just announced that the U.S. government is not holding up its side of the bargain under the U.S.-Mexico IGA. See, the Dec. 12, 2015 article en the national Mexican newspaper, El Universal, EU incumple entrega de informacion: SAT: Mexico ha hecho su parte, asegura Aristóteles Núñez
The article, which is in Spanish, explains that Mexico has complied with its obligations under the IGA by providing detailed information about U.S. taxpayers with accounts in Mexican financial institutions to the U.S. government. However, the U.S. government has not complied with its side of the bargain. The news report says no specific details were provided by Mr. Núñez about what type of information was provided.
Denial of U.S. Passports: President Obama and Congress Pass Law that will Require Department of State to Deny a U.S. Passport for a “Seriously Delinquent Taxpayer”
Entry in and out of the U.S. has just gotten more problematic under a new law for those U.S. citizens who the IRS asserts owes taxes. A new statutory concept has been added to the tax law called “seriously delinquent tax debt”; which is defined by new IRC Section 7345 as a tax that has been assessed, is greater than US$50,000, and where a notice of lien has been filed or levy made.
Prior posts have addressed current legal requirements surrounding social security numbers for U.S. federal tax compliance purposes. See, USCs without a Social Security Number (and a Passport) “Cannot?” Travel to the U.S., posted on May 17, 2015.
Other posts have focused on the dilemma facing U.S. citizens (USCs) who have no social security number (“SSN”). See an older post (23 July 2014) – Why do I have to get a Social Security Number to file a U.S. income tax return (USCs)?
The Joint Explanatory Statement of the Committee of the Conference provides the key provisions summary of the law as follows:
Why Most U.S. Citizens Residing Overseas Haven’t a Clue about the Labyrinth of U.S. Taxation and Bank and Financial Reporting of Worldwide Income and Assets
This post is written simply because so many U.S. citizens residing overseas are reasonably confused about the complexity of U.S. tax law. The mere requirement to file U.S. income tax returns for those overseas often comes as a great surprise. My non-U.S. born wife is an exception (as she also lives outside the U.S.) simply because I have repeatedly told her for our 20 some years of marriage.
Some in the IRS erroneously think U.S. citizens residing overseas do and should understand U.S. tax law. I posed one simple scenario to a very sophisticated IRS attorney not very long ago who specializes in the FATCA rules.
Her view is (hopefully was) that U.S. citizens throughout the world know or should know the U.S. tax laws because the instructions to IRS Form 1040 are clear.
This thought knocked me off my figurative chair onto the floor! Smack.
My surprise is based upon my own experience working with individuals and families throughout the world, in numerous countries. I have noticed a number of notions, based upon these andectodal experiences as follows:
- A minority of U.S. citizens (unless they lived most of their lives in the U.S. and recently moved overseas as an “expatriate”) have no real basic idea of how the U.S. federal tax laws work; let alone to their assets and income in their country of residence. See USCs and LPRs Living Outside the U.S. – Key Tax and BSA Forms
- There are indeed plenty of immigrant U.S. residents (certainly less than 50% by my own experience – especially when concepts of PFICs and foreign tax credits start being discussed) who even understand the basics of U.S. international tax law.
- If they reside in an English speaking country that has relatively strong family or historical ties to the U.S. (e.g., England, Ireland, Scotland, and Canada, etc.) they are likely to have a better idea of the U.S. federal tax laws, but still the majority don’t know key concepts. See, Nuances of FBAR – Foreign Bank Account Report Filings – for USCs and LPRs living outside the U.S.
- Even those in English speaking countries that have less historical or family ties to the U.S. have a lesser understanding (e.g., New Zealand, Australia, Kenya, South Africa, India, etc.).
- Those who do not speak English know even less about U.S. tax laws and how they apply to them.
- Many individuals who learn of these requirements overseas are sometimes driven to great despair. The message they receive is not a correct one under the law in my view: as they read IRS materials (for instance, see FAQs 5, 6 and and former 51.2 from the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program Frequently Asked Questions and Answers 2014) and come to the conclusion they will soon be going to jail, criminally prosecuted or otherwise be subject to tens of thousands of dollars worth of penalties for their failure to file a range of tax forms.
- Literally, sometimes as a tax lawyer I feel more like a psychologist, when these individuals come to me saying they can’t sleep, they can’t eat, they are seeing a cardiologist for high blood pressure, etc. and even in a most extreme case they thought suicide was a solution. See, How is the offshore voluntary disclosure program really working? Not well for USCs and LPRs living overseas.
- Individuals around the world (even tax professionals) and certainly laypeople, are not commonly reading TaxAnalysts (nor would they subscribe) or other tax professional publications that explain many of the intricacies of U.S. tax laws.
- Learning and understanding U.S. tax laws, including just the basics, requires a great deal of time, aptitude for nuances and details, literacy, patience and a level of aptitude for such matters that simply escape many people around the world (most I would say). see, “PFICs” – What is a PFIC – and their Complications for USCs and LPRs Living Outside the U.S. I can relate to this personally, as I am an international tax professional (indeed I even studied a post graduate law course outside the U.S. in a non-English language), have spent my entire professional career of more than 25 years in the area, and yet only generally have a very superficial understanding of tax laws throughout the countries where I am dealing with clients. I don’t try to understand the details of those laws.
- Many people are angry and frustrated (justifiably so, in my view, in many cases) after learning they are subject to these rules. See comment above about being a psychologist. Plus, USCs and LPRs residing outside the U.S. – and IRS Form 8938. In addition, see, Taxpayer Advocate Report on Burdens of Benign Taxpayers who Make Mistakes
Back to the intelligent IRS tax attorney. My question to her was: “Why would you, as a U.S. born individual not be reviewing the tax laws, tax forms and tax instructions of the country where your parents were born prior to immigrating to the U.S.?” I asked: “Are you not reviewing those laws in the original language of your parents (not English, but the other language of your parent’s country) to understand what tax forms and returns you should be filing?”
The IRS attorney’s response was: “What: of course, I am not reviewing such tax forms or filing information or tax laws, as I would have no tax obligations in that foreign country where I have no income, no assets or no bank or financial accounts!”
My follow-up question was a simple one: “Don’t you realize that U.S. federal tax law (Title 26) and financial bank reporting laws (Title 31) do just that!”
“Hmm she paused: how can that be?” I don’t recall if she said this out loud, or just said it with her puzzled expression.
The answer of course is that through citizenship (including derivative citizenship through a U.S. parent even though the child never spent a single day of residence in the U.S., let alone received any income or assets); that same individual in the mirror position as that IRS attorney is subject to a host of U.S. federal tax and financial reporting laws. See, Sir Winston Churchill – Famous People. Did he become a U.S. citizen at birth via “derivative citizenship”? Did he file U.S. income tax returns?
Here is the big disconnect. It’s not just among the ill-informed or those lesser educated on the fine points of law. I had the pleasure this week along with my wife to host two educated, worldly and engaging individuals who have been married some 20 years together. They are well read and highly educated. Both are lawyers by training, one practices law that often pushes him fairly deeply into the tax law and his wife is a wonderful and experienced judge in the California state courts.
I asked them (as I like to ask people around the world) if they had ever heard or understood that the U.S. federal tax law imposes taxation and very detailed reporting on the worldwide income and assets of U.S. citizens who reside outside the U.S. I discussed Cook v. Tait and the U.S. Civil War a bit. See both Supreme Court’s Decision in Cook vs. Tait and Notification Requirement of Section 7701(a)(50) and The U.S. Civil War is the Origin of U.S. Citizenship Based Taxation on Worldwide Income for Persons Living Outside the U.S. ***Does it still make sense?
All of it was a great surprise to them! They were in utter shock and both are residents in the U.S., highly educated in the law and are like the vast majority of the world, including U.S. citizens who reside outside the U.S.
This is the common response for many U.S. citizens residing overseas.
IRS Attorney – Dan Price, Provides Specific Recommendations for U.S. Citizen Taxpayers Overseas at USD – Procopio International Tax Institute
Tax Analyst’s reported some of the key comments made by IRS Attorney Dan Price at the 11th Annual University of San Diego School of Law – Procopio International Tax Institute. The course panel he discussed was – Course 10: Current Practical Problems for Taxpayers in OVDP and Streamlined.
The article written by Ms. Amanda Athanasiou provided good coverage of comments from IRS Office of Chief Counsel Attorney Dan Price about the streamlined procedure. See, the complete article that was published October 27, 2015, Confusion Over Offshore Accounts Prompts IRS Response, Worldwide Tax Daily and Tax Notes Today: News Stories.
The common fact pattern is that many U.S. citizens around the world have simply not filed U.S. federal income tax returns. Many of them were unaware of the requirements and/or they thought in good faith they were not required to file since their income levels were below the “foreign earned income” exclusion amounts. See a prior post, March 24, 2014, The Foreign Earned Income Exclusion is Only Available If a U.S. Income Tax Return is Filed.
The streamlined procedure for U.S. citizens residing overseas does not require that they have previously filed U.S. income tax returns. See, U.S. Taxpayers Residing Outside the United States: The following streamlined procedures are referred to as the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures. Eligibility for the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures
Incidentally, with a record number of citizenship renunciations reported just a few days ago (more than 1,400 in the latest quarter – Quarterly Publication of Individuals, Who Have Chosen To Expatriate, as Required by Section 6039G, Oct. 27, 2015) this is particularly important to U.S. citizens living all around the world.
One particularly salient quote regarding the streamlined procedure from Mr. Price was, “The IRS is going to presume the taxpayer was non-willful unless facts indicate otherwise.”
One of the important questions that U.S. citizens overseas face is whether their particular facts indicate they would be better off by simply filing initial or amended tax returns. There are also so-called “qualified amended returns” which will be discussed in another post.
Neither the federal tax law nor the Treasury Regulations provide that a taxpayer has an affirmative statutory duty to file an amended income tax return, as long the original return reflects a good faith effort to comply with the law at the time the tax return was originally filed. The Treasury Regulations, which are drafted by the IRS, instruct that a taxpayer “should,” within the period of limitation, amend to correct prior errors in a tax return, but not that a taxpayer “must” amend. See Treas. Reg. § 1.451-1(a).
When a taxpayer fails to file a tax return by the due date, the taxpayer may be subject to failure to file and failure to pay penalties and interest charges. See IRC Section 6561; IRC Section 6601. The real problem can be that if a taxpayer fails to file a return voluntarily, the IRS may file a substitute return for the taxpayer instead, including on the basis of information received by third parties. See IRC Section 6020. This substitute return may not give the taxpayer credit for deductions and exemptions they are entitled to. Substitute returns prepared by the IRS are valid for calculating a taxpayer’s income tax deficiencies and penalties for failure to file and failure to pay. See Holloway v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2012-137; see also Brewer v. U.S., 764 F. Supp. 309 (S.D.N.Y. 1991).
However, at the end of the day, those U.S. citizens residing overseas who were/are not aware of the U.S. federal tax law filing requirements have not committed a “mortal sin” in the vernacular of the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, in these circumstances, they have probably only exposed themselves to penalties (late payment, late filing, etc.) which are based upon the amount of tax owing. Of course, the IRS does sometimes use the stick of international information reporting penalties over the head of taxpayers. See, excellent summary by the American Citizens Abroad, Delinquent FBAR and Tax Filing Penalties
The question is: “Streamlined (to be) or not Streamlined, i.e., just file returns (not to be)”?
U.S. District Court Flatly Denies Claims of Injury under FATCA and Title 31-FBAR Reporting Requirements: Upholds FATCA, IGAs and the FBAR Requirements to Encourage Tax Compliance and “Combat Tax Evasion”
There has been a case floating around since a complaint was filed this summer by Senator Rand Paul (current Presidential candidate) and various other current and former U.S. citizens including a Mr. Kisch who is resident in Toronto, Canada and a Mr. Crawford who lives in Albania; along with other individuals. Crawford v. United States Dep’t of the Treasury, 2015 U.S. Dist. The complaint asked for declaratory and injunctive relief.
The District Court granted neither and dismissed the case in favor of the government in a bold fashion upholding FATCA and FBAR/Title 31 reporting and information requirements. Importantly, the Court concluded by saying ” . . . The FATCA statute, the IGAs, and the FBAR requirements encourage compliance with tax laws, combat tax evasion, and deter the use of foreign accounts to engage in criminal activity. A preliminary injunction would harm these efforts and intrude upon the province of Congress and the President to determine how best to achieve these policy goals.”
See a prior post regarding how FATCA affects United States citizens (USCs) and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) residing outside the U.S.; as was the case of many of the complainants in the case, Part 1- Unintended Consequences of FATCA – for USCs and LPRs Living Outside the U.S., posted August 13, 2014.
Also, the tax publication/resource, Tax Analysts summarized the original complaint (which can be read in its entirety here) as follows:
The FATCA suit makes the following claims:
- the IGAs are unconstitutional sole executive agreements because they exceed the scope of the president’s independent constitutional powers, and because they override FATCA;
- the heightened reporting requirements for foreign financial accounts deny U.S. citizens living abroad the equal protection of the laws;
- the FATCA FFI penalty, passthrough penalty, and willfulness penalty are all unconstitutional under the excessive fines clause;
- FATCA’s information reporting requirements are unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment; and
- the IGAs’ information reporting requirements are also unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment.
See, complete Tax Note’s article of July 15, 2015: Sen. Paul Files Lawsuit Challenging FATCA, by William R. Davis and Andrew Velarde.
Not unsurprisingly, the District Court ruled in favor of the government and dismissed the majority of the claims by a finding that the parties lacked standing to bring the suit and that ” . . . The FATCA statute, the IGAs, and the FBAR requirements encourage compliance with tax laws . . .”
Some highlights of the Court’s opinion [with my emphasis added] are set out below:
* * *
A. FATCA Statute and Regulations
Congress passed the Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) in 2010 to improve compliance with tax laws by U.S. taxpayers holding foreign accounts. FATCA accomplishes this through two forms of reporting: (1) by foreign financial institutions (FFIs) about financial accounts held by U.S. taxpayers or foreign entities in which U.S. taxpayers hold a substantial ownership interest, 26 U.S.C. § 1471; and, (2) by U.S. taxpayers about their interests in certain foreign financial accounts and offshore assets. 26 U.S.C. § 6038D.
President Obama signed FATCA into law on March 18, 2010. Senator Carl Levin, a co-sponsor of the FATCA legislation, declared that “offshore tax abuses [targeted by FATCA] cost the federal treasury an estimated $100 billion in lost tax revenues annually” 156 Cong. Rec. 5 S1745-01 (2010). FATCA became law as the IRS began its Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP), which since 2009 has allowed U.S. taxpayers with undisclosed overseas assets to disclose them and pay reduced penalties. By 2014, the OVDP collected $6.5 billion through voluntary disclosures from 45,000 participants. “IRS Makes Changes to Offshore Programs; Revisions Ease Burden and Help More Taxpayers Come into Compliance,” http://www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/IRS-Makes-Changes-to-Offshore-Programs;-Revisions-Ease-Burden-and-Help-More-Taxpayers-Come-into-Compliance (last visited Sept. 15, 2015). The success of the voluntary program has likely been enhanced by the existence of FATCA.
C. Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Account
The third body of law at issue in this case pertains to the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Account (FBAR) requirements. U.S. persons who hold a financial account in a foreign country that exceeds $10,000 in aggregate value must file an FBAR with the Treasury Department reporting the account. See 31 U.S.C. § 5314; 31 C.F.R. § 1010.350; 31 C.F.R. § 1010.306(c). The current FBAR form is FinCEN Form 114. The form has been due by June 30 of each year regarding accounts held during the previous calendar year. § 1010.306(c). Beginning with the 2016 tax year, the due date of the form will be April 15. Pub. L. No. 114-41, § 2006(b)(11). A person who fails to file a required FBAR may be assessed a civil monetary penalty. 31 U.S.C. § 5321(a)(5)(A). The amount of the penalty is capped at $10,000 unless the failure was willful. See 5321(a)(5)(B)(i), (C). A willful failure to file increases the maximum penalty to $100,000 or half the value in the account at the time of the violation, whichever is greater. § 5321(a)(5)(C). In either case, whether to impose the penalty and the amount of the penalty are committed to the Secretary’s discretion. See § 5321(a)(5)(A) (“The Secretary of the Treasury may impose a civil money penalty[.]”) & § 5321(a)(5)(B) (“[T]he amount of any civil penalty . . . shall not exceed” the statutory ceiling). Plaintiffs seek to enjoin enforcement of the willful FBAR penalty under § 5321(a)(5). Prayer for Relief, part Q. They also ask for an injunction against “the FBAR account-balance reporting requirement” of FinCen Form 114. Prayer for Relief, part W.
The Government asserts that the information in the FBAR assists law enforcement and the IRS in identifying unreported taxable income of U.S. taxpayers that is held in foreign accounts as well as investigating money laundering and terrorism.
* * *
Mark Crawford decries his bank’s policy against taking U.S. citizens as clients and claims the denial of his application for a brokerage account may have “impacted Mark financially,” ¶ 21, any such harm is not fairly traceable to an action by Defendants, which are not responsible for decisions that foreign banks make about whom to accept as clients. Crawford cannot establish standing indirectly when third parties are the causes of his alleged injuries. See Shearson, 725 F.3d at 592. Moreover, his discomfort with complying with the disclosures required by FATCA, see ¶23, does not establish the concrete, particularized harm that confers standing to sue. See, e.g., Lujan, 504 U.S. at 561 (requiring “concrete and particularized” and “actual or imminent” injury). Even if Crawford fears “unconstitutionally excessive fines imposed by 31 U.S.C. § 5321 if he willfully fails to file an FBAR,” ¶ 24, there is no allegation that he failed to file any FBAR that may have been required, much less that the Government has assessed an “excessive” FBAR penalty against him. Any harm that may come his way from imagined future events is speculative and cannot form the foundation for his lawsuit.
* * *
None of the allegations states that Kuettel is presently being harmed by FATCA or the Swiss IGA, and neither FATCA nor the IGA apply to him as a non-U.S. citizen. See ¶¶ 51-58. His assertion of past harm because he was “mostly unsuccessful” in refinancing his mortgage due to FATCA does not convey standing. If that was a harm, it was due to actions of third-party foreign banks not those of Defendants. Regardless, having now renounced his American citizenship and obtained refinancing on terms he found acceptable, any past harm is not redressable here. See Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena, 515 U.S. 200, 210-11 (1995) (“[T]he fact of past injury . . . does nothing to establish a real and immediate threat that he would again suffer similar injury in the future.” (quotation omitted)). This leaves Kuettel’s claims concerning the FBAR requirement, in Counts 3 and 6, for which the Government concedes Kuettel has standing. Response, ECF 16, at 15, PAGEID 216.
* * *
Donna-Lane Nelson is a citizen of Switzerland who has also renounced her U.S. citizenship. ¶ 59. She alleges that her Swiss bank “notified her that she would not be able to open a new account if she ever closed her existing one because she was an American. Fearing that she would eventually not be able to bank in the country where she lived, she decided to relinquish her U.S. citizenship.” ¶ 65. After she renounced, a Swiss bank “offered investment opportunities that were not available to her as an American.” Id. She “resents having to provide” “explanations” to Swiss banks that have requested information on her past U.S. citizenship and payments to her daughter, who lives in the United States, and she sees “threats implied by these requests which appear to be prompted by FATCA.” ¶ 68. Like other Plaintiffs, Nelson does not want to disclose financial information to the Government, and she fears willful FBAR penalties, even though no such penalty has been imposed or threatened against her. ¶¶ 69, 70. Unlike the preceding Plaintiffs, however, she adds that she fears the 30% withholding tax may be imposed against her “if her business partner,” who is now her husband, and with whom she has joint accounts, “opts to become a recalcitrant account holder.” ¶
* * *
L. Marc Zell states that he is a practicing attorney and a citizen of both the United States and Israel who lives in Israel. He alleges that: (1) he and his firm have been required by Israeli banking institutions to complete IRS withholding forms for individuals whose funds his firm holds in trust, regardless of whether the forms are legally required, causing certain clients to leave his firm, ¶¶ 79 & 81; (2) Israeli banks have required his firm to close accounts, refused to open others, and requested conduct contrary to banking regulations, ¶¶ 79-80; and, (3) the compelled disclosure of his fiduciary relationship with clients impinges on the attorney-client relationship, ¶ 82. On request of clients, who claim their rights are violated by FATCA, Zell “has decided not to comply with the FATCA disclosure requirements whenever that alternative exists.” ¶ 83. He fears that the FATCA 30% withholding tax on pass-through payments to recalcitrant account holders could be imposed due to his refusal to provide identifying information about a client to an Israeli bank. ¶ He also has refused to provide information to his own bank and “fears that he will be classified as a recalcitrant account holder,” ¶ 85. Like the other Plaintiffs, he does not want his financial information disclosed, ¶ 86, and fears an FBAR penalty if the IRS determines that he willfully failed to file an FBAR, ¶ 87.
The majority of Zell’s allegations concern conduct of Israeli banks and his belief that the actions have been unfair to him or his clients. But conduct of third parties (even if related to the banks’ compliance with FATCA) does not confer standing to bring suit against Defendants. See, e.g., Ammex Inc. v. United States, 367 F.3d 530, 533 (6th Cir. 2004). Nor may Zell seek redress on behalf of third parties who have allegedly suffered harm, including unidentified clients. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 499 (1975). The third parties who have allegedly suffered harm are not plaintiffs, thus, alleged harm to them does not provide a basis for Zell to maintain this suit. The contention that disclosure of the identity of clients for whom Zell holds funds in trust violates the attorney-client privilege is also without merit. He gives no example of harm that has occurred or how he was harmed by disclosure of clients’ identities. He cannot raise the attorney-client privilege on his clients’ behalf, nor is the fact of representation privileged. See In re Special Sept. 1978 Grand Jury (II), 640 F.2d 49, 62 (7th Cir. 1980) (“[A]ttorney-client privilege belongs to the client alone[.]”); United States v. Robinson, 121 F.3d 971, 976 (5th Cir. 1997) (“The fact of representation . . . is generally not within the privilege.”). It is the fiduciary relationship, not the attorney-client relationship, that is the basis for the reporting requirement.
* * *
“We begin, of course, with the presumption that the challenged statute”—FATCA—“is valid. Its wisdom is not the concern of the courts; if a challenged action does not violate the Constitution, it must be sustained[.]” INS v. Chadha, 426 U.S. 919, 944 (1983); see also National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius 132 S. Ct. 2566, 2594 (2012) (“‘[E]very reasonable construction must be resorted to, in order to save a statute from unconstitutionality.’” (quoting Hooper v. California, 155 U.S. 648, 657 (1895))).
* * *
Plaintiffs decry that U.S. citizens living in foreign countries are in this manner treated differently than U.S. citizens living in the United States. According to Plaintiffs, the federal government has no legitimate interest in knowing the amount of any income, gain, loss, deduction, or credit recognized on a foreign account, whether a foreign account was opened or closed during the year, or the balance of a foreign account.
Plaintiffs contend that the “heightened reporting requirements” imposed by FATCA, the FBAR information-reporting requirements, and the Canadian, Swiss, Czech, and Israeli IGAs, violate the Fifth Amendment rights of “U.S. citizens living in a foreign country” and should be enjoined. See Complaint ¶¶ 124-130
* * *
Plaintiffs’ equal protection claims fail because the statutes, regulations, and executive agreements that they challenge simply do not make the classification they assert. None of the challenged provisions single out U.S. citizens living abroad. Instead, all Americans with specified foreign bank accounts or assets are subject to reporting requirements, no matter where they happen to live. The provisions Plaintiffs contend discriminate against “U.S. citizens living abroad” actually apply to all U.S. taxpayers, no matter their residence.
* * *
The distinction that the regulations do make is rationally related to a legitimate government interest. The U.S. tax system is based in large part on voluntary compliance: taxpayers are expected to disclose their sources of income annually on their federal tax returns. The information reporting required by FATCA is intended to address the use of offshore accounts to facilitate tax evasion, and to strengthen the integrity of the voluntary compliance system by placing U.S. taxpayers that have access to offshore investment opportunities in an equal position with U.S. taxpayers that invest within the United States. Third party information reporting is an important tool used by the IRS to close the tax gap between taxes due and taxes paid. The knowledge that financial institutions will also be disclosing information about an account encourages individuals to properly disclose their income on their tax returns. See Leandra Lederman, Statutory Speed Bumps: The Roles Third Parties Play in Tax Compliance, 60 STAN. L. REV. 695, 711 (2007).
Unlike most countries, U.S. taxpayers are subject to tax on their worldwide income, and their investments have become increasingly global in scope. Absent the FATCA reporting by FFIs, some U.S. taxpayers may attempt to evade U.S. tax by hiding money in offshore accounts where, prior to FATCA, they were not subject to automatic reporting to the IRS by FFIs. The information required to be reported, including payments made or credited to the account and the balance or value of the account is to assist the IRS in determining previously unreported income and the value of such information is based on experience from the DOJ prosecution of offshore tax evasion. See Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations bipartisan report on “Offshore Tax Evasion: The Effort to Collect Unpaid Taxes on Billions in Hidden Offshore Accounts,” February 26, 2014; see also Cal. Bankers Ass’n v. Shultz, 416 U.S. 21, 29 (1974) (“when law enforcement personnel are confronted with the secret foreign bank account or the secret foreign financial institution they are placed in an impossible situation…they must subject themselves to time consuming and often times fruitless foreign legal process.”).
The FBAR reporting requirements, likewise, have a rational basis. As the Supreme Court noted in California Bankers, when Congress enacted the Bank Secrecy Act (which provides the statutory basis for the FBAR), it “recognized that the use of financial institutions, both domestic and foreign, in furtherance of activities designed to evade the regulatory mechanism of the United States, had markedly increased.” Id. at 38. The Government has a legitimate interest in collecting information about foreign accounts, including account balances held by U.S. citizens, for the same reason that it requires reporting of information on U.S.-based accounts. The information assists law enforcement and the IRS, among other things, in identifying unreported taxable income of U.S. taxpayers that is held in foreign accounts. Without FBAR reporting, the Government’s efforts to track financial crime and tax evasion would be hampered.
* * *
In Count Six, Plaintiffs contend that the FBAR “Willfullness Penalty” is unconstitutional under the Excessive Fines Clause. Plaintiffs decry that 26 U.S.C. § 5321 imposes a penalty of up to $100,000 or 50% of the balance of the account at the time of the violation, whichever is greater, for failures to file an FBAR as required by 26 U.S.C. § 5314 (the FBAR “Willfulness Penalty”). 31 U.S.C. § 5321(b)(5)(C)(i). 31
Plaintiffs allege the Willfulness Penalty is designed to punish and is therefore subject to the Excessive Fines Clause. Plaintiffs further allege the Willfulness Penalty is grossly disproportionate to the gravity of the offense.
Plaintiffs’ Eighth Amendment claims, however, are not ripe for adjudication because no withholding or FBAR penalty has been imposed against any Plaintiff . . .
* * *
Plaintiffs have failed to establish that they are entitled to a preliminary injunction . . . The FATCA statute, the IGAs, and the FBAR requirements encourage compliance with tax laws, combat tax evasion,37 and deter the use of foreign accounts to engage in criminal activity. A preliminary injunction would harm these efforts and intrude upon the province of Congress and the President to determine how best to achieve these policy goals. Thus, Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction, ECF 8, is DENIED.
DONE and ORDERED in Dayton, Ohio, this Tuesday, September 29, 2015.
* * *
For those U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents residing outside the U.S. who expected the Courts to be sympathetic to their legal arguments somehow invalidating Chapter 4/FATCA and the FBAR filing requirements under Title 31, they will surely be disappointed by the result.
Tax Foundation: Here’s How Much Taxes on the Rich Rose in 2013
This recent report is worth reading to better understand what has happened to U.S. individual taxpayers since the tax rates were modified.
A nice graph is included, which shows how once taxpayers reach US$500,000 of income or above, their effective tax rates increased, compared to taxpayers with incomes below these amounts. This, of course, is to be expected and was part of the planned tax increases in the federal law (including the 3.8% tax on net investment income).
Once the incomes reached US$1M, the effective tax rate increased more substantially, per the excerpts from the report:
” . . . Americans making between $1 million and $2 million saw their effective income tax rates rise from 24.2 percent to 28.6 percent between 2013 and 2014; on average, these taxpayers paid $53,050 more in taxes.
For the highest-income taxpayers, rates spiked by even greater amounts. Taxpayers with over $10 million of income saw their average rates rise from 19.8 percent to 26.1 percent, equivalent to an average tax hike of $1.52 million. . . “
Ironically, the super wealthy (those earning over US$10M) had a substantially lower effective tax rate than those earning between US$1M and US$10M.
Many policy makers are of the view that only these wealthy individuals (e.g., those earning US$500,00 or more) are those who are renouncing U.S. citizenship.
The author’s experience is that many individuals without significant incomes and assets are choosing to renounce U.S. citizenship for the various complications they experience in their lives. They include the following for U.S. citizens who reside outside the U.S.:
- Incurring the costs and time required to comply with U.S. tax law requirements – even if no U.S. income taxes are owing (i.e., FBAR filings annually, IRS Forms 5471, 3520, 8864, 8858, etc.).
- Being forced to close their bank accounts in their home country of residency, since the financial institution no longer accepts U.S. citizens as customers.
- Risking violating their residency country laws (sometimes with severe consequences) that prohibit dual nationalities as a matter of law.
While some of the negative consequences of U.S. citizenship have probably been exaggerated by those who gain to benefit from the exaggerations, there are indeed real world consequences to many in their day to day lives.