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:
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.” ¶
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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.
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“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))).
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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
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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.
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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.
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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 . . .
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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.
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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.
Is “It’s Almost Impossible for Me to Get a U.S. Taxpayer Identification Number”; a Defense to Not Filing U.S. Tax Returns?
The U.S. federal government has made the basic task of getting taxpayer identification numbers (“TINs”) very difficult for many individuals. Without a TIN, an individual cannot file tax returns or information reporting returns.
U.S. citizens (USCs) residing overseas without a social security number (“SSN”) must use a SSN for their TIN. I presented a recent report to various government officials, including the international tax counsel at the U.S. Treasury Department and the Joint Committee of Taxation, among other groups. Some key excerpts of that paper titled URGENT NEED FOR U.S. CITIZENS RESIDING OUTSIDE THE U.S. TO BE ABLE TO OBTAIN A TAXPAYER IDENTIFICATION NUMBER (“TIN”) OTHER THAN A SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER are set out below in this section:
The U.S. tax law imposing taxation on the worldwide income of USCs residing overseas has created a dilemma that prejudices these USCs without a SSN. This strict SSN/TIN regulatory rule undermines the basic tax administration system and discourages tax compliance for those USCs who never obtained a SSN. This dilemma affects numerous USCs throughout the world, which is now compounded by the certification and reporting requirements of USCs and third parties, such as FFIs and NFFEs under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”).
This dilemma is a creature of the Title 26 regulatory law going back to 1974 and how the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) imposes strict requirements on the issuance of SSNs to residents overseas. One essential step is that the USC overseas must have an in-person interview, with a designated individual (who are typically U.S. Department of State employees and some designated military personnel). They are located in only a few cities around the world. Some USCs need to travel thousands of miles to merely be able to apply for and obtain a SSN.
 See, IRC § 61 and Treas. Reg. §§ 1.1‑1(b) and 1.1‑1(a)(1).
 See, IRC §§ 1471 et. seq. and the regulations thereunder which define “foreign financial institutions” (“FFIs”) and “non-financial foreign entity” (“NFFEs”).
 See, Treas. Reg. § 301.6109-1(a)(1)(ii)(A).
 See, 7 FAM 534.3 Applications for a Social Security Number (Form SS-5-FS).
 Id, page 7 FAM 534.3 Applications for a Social Security Number (Form SS-5-FS).
Further posts will discuss a number of the adverse consequences imposed on USCs who do not have a SSN and the severe penalty regime that exists under current law for those unwitting individuals.
- Non-U.S. Citizens and ITINs –
Many individuals who are not USCs nevertheless need to file a tax return and must obtain what is called an individual taxpayer identification number (“ITIN”). See IRS report Obtaining an ITIN from Abroad. An ITIN is applied for by filing an IRS Form W-7, and providing various original documents, principally a passport, directly to the IRS. The process is complex and time consuming. Indeed, the Taxpayer Advocate report included a key summary explanation of the problems associated with obtaining ITINs as follows:
- IRS ITIN Policy Changes Make Return Filing Difficult and Frustrating
Recent changes to the IRS’s Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) application program are burdening taxpayers and may harm voluntary compliance.
ITINs play an important role in tax administration, as any individual who has a federal tax filing obligation but is not eligible for a Social Security number must apply to the IRS for an ITIN and then use the ITIN on any return, statement, or other document which requires a taxpayer identifying number
Under the new procedures, most applicants must now submit original documentation by mail or travel to Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs) to have documents certified, making the application process more difficult
Since December 17, 2003, the IRS has required ITIN applicants with a filing requirement to attach a valid federal tax return with their application (unless they qualify for an exception).
On June 22, 2012, the IRS implemented temporary changes that required all ITIN applicants to submit original documents supporting the information on their applications. Under these procedures, applicants could no longer submit notarized copies and had to send in original documentation, even if a certified acceptance agent (CAA) reviewed and certified the documentation.
On November 29, 2012, the IRS announced revised procedures for the 2013 filing season that require applicants to submit original documentation or copies certified by the issuing agency.
Although the IRS allows CAAs to submit copies of documentation for primary and secondary taxpayers after reviewing original documentation or certified copies, CAAs must still send in original documentation for all dependent applicants.
A limited number of TACs can certify documents for primary, secondary, and dependent taxpayers.
The Revised Procedures Create an Impediment for Taxpayers Required to File Returns.
The recent changes to the ITIN program have made it difficult for taxpayers to file returns.
More on ITINs to follow in later posts.
- Legal Defense?
The complexities of obtaining a U.S. TIN begs the question: “Is it a legal defense for a taxpayer to NOT file U.S. tax returns, international information returns, if it is particularly difficult (or nearly impossible in some cases) for that individual to even obtain a TIN?”
Will such a taxpayer have a “reasonable cause” defense to avoid penalties in the case of an audit? These are questions unanswered by any case law to date.
USCs throughout the world are required by FATCA to provide their U.S. TIN to financial institutions throughout the world (on IRS Form W-9, or its equivalent), which under current law necessarily must be a SSN. Of course, if they have no SSN, they cannot sign IRS Form W-9 which provides in Part II: “Under penalties of perjury, I certify that: 1. The number shown on this form is my correct taxpayer identification number . . . “
As FATCA requires overseas individuals, including USCs to certify under penalty of perjury their U.S. taxpayer identification number (and if they have none), they necessarily will not be able to comply with this basic reporting requirement.
Will these individuals have a defense under the law for not complying under these circumstances?
Will the government provide relief for these individuals?
The separation of powers is often on full display when there are key Congressional hearings focused on the work (or lack thereof) undertaken by the key executive branch agencies responsible for tax enforcement:
1. Treasury/IRS, and
2. Justice Department.
There is an important reason why every day taxpayers should be interested in these hearings; particularly those who are considering renouncing United States Citizenship.
The actions and reactions of the IRS and Justice Department are often in response to Congressional hearings. This is very much the case with individual taxpayers with assets throughout the world.
A brief timeline of various hearings, and actions taken by the IRS and Justice Department (largely in response to such criticism) can be followed to demonstrate the influence of these hearings:
- Year 2006
U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, published their report on August 1, 2006, entitled Tax Haven Abuses: The Enablers, The Tools & Secrecy.
Little direct action was taken by the IRS or Justice Department in this year. It was the year 2008, where the direct hearings lead to more direct action taken.
- Year 2008
U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, headed by Chairman Carl Levin, published their report on July 16, 2008, entitled Tax Haven Banks and U.S. Tax Compliance –
November 2008, a U.S. federal grand jury indicted the Chairman and CEO of UBS Global Wealth Management and Business Banking.
- Year 2009
U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, headed by Chairman Carl Levin, published their report on March 4, 2009 Tax Haven Banks and U. S. Tax Compliance – Obtaining the Names of U.S. Clients with Swiss Accounts
UBS agrees in February 2009 to pay a US$780M fine to the U.S. government and enter into a deferred prosecution agreement on charges of conspiring to defraud the United States by impeding the Internal Revenue Service.
IRS Implements first Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”) on March 26, 2009
- Year 2010
Numerous taxpayers and several Swiss bankers were indicted and/or plead guilty to various tax crimes charges; mostly directly related to UBS. See, website of U.S. Department of Justice – Offshore Compliance Initiative.
Congress passes and the President signs into law, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”) in 2010 as part of the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act.
- Year 2011
IRS Implements its second Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (“OVDI”) in 2011.
Numerous taxpayers and several Swiss financial advisors were indicted; and a HSBC Indian client was also indicted or plead guilty to various tax crimes charges; mostly directly related to UBS. See, website of U.S. Department of Justice – Offshore Compliance Initiative.
- Year 2012
IRS creates an open ended OVDP program in 2012 that continues; with modifications made in 2014.
Several taxpayers were indicted; including those implicating an Israeli bank for various tax crimes charges. . See, website of U.S. Department of Justice – Offshore Compliance Initiative.
The Treasury Department obtains commitments from various countries to sign various FATCA, intergovernmental Agreements (“IGAs”) for automatic exchange of financial information; France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, Denmark and Mexico.
- Year 2013
In January 2013, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York secured the guilty plea of Wegelin Bank, the oldest private bank in Switzerland and the first foreign bank to plead guilty to felony tax charges.
In August, 2013, the United States and Switzerland Issue Joint Statement Regarding Tax Evasion Investigations and ability of Swiss banks to enter into deferred prosecution agreements.
Several taxpayers were indicted and advisors; including multiple financial institutions outside of Switzerland for various tax crimes charges. See, website of U.S. Department of Justice – Offshore Compliance Initiative.
The Treasury Department obtains more commitments for signed FATCA IGAs with various countries for the automatic exchange of financial information;.
- Year 2014
U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, headed by Chairman Carl Levin, published their report on February 26, 2014 Offshore Tax Evasion: The Effort to Collect Unpaid Taxes on Billions in Hidden Offshore Accounts
IRS announces on June 18, 2014, IRS Makes Changes to Offshore Programs; Revisions Ease Burden and Help More Taxpayers Come into Compliance
The Treasury Department obtains numerous commitments for signed FATCA IGAs with various countries for the automatic exchange of financial information. See, HUGE NEWS – China has “Reached an Agreement in Substance” for a FATCA Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) – its Affect on USCs and LPRs Living in China and Hong Kong
The U.S. Tax Court, in an opinion written by Judge Lauber (Abrahamsen v. Commissioner) placed much legal tax significance on the immigration form I-508 that Ms. Abrahamsen signed.
The Court noted this form, I-508, Waiver of Rights, Privileges, Exemptions and Immunities (Under Section 247(b) of the INA) specifically provides that the non-U.S. citizen “waive all rights, privileges, exemptions and immunities which would otherwise accrue to [her] under any law or executive order by reason of [her] occupational status.”
In that case, the individual was a Finnish citizen who eventually applied for lawful permanent residency. The immigration forms were not related to any specific tax form, such as the new IRS Forms W-8BEN; see, IRS Releases New IRS Form W8-BEN. * U.S. citizens and LPRs beware of completing such form at the request of a third party.
The takeaway from this opinion, is that individuals need to be aware of how signing a particular form (that is not a tax form) can have adverse tax consequences. In this case, the Court ruled that she had waived her benefits to IRC Section 893 by signing immigration Form I-508. The opinion of the Tax Court raises an interesting legal question about how signing a form (I-508) can seem to override the statutory protection granted which provides protection to a qualifying “. . . employee [who] is not a citizen of the United States . . . “
Signing various tax forms can cause even greater risks for non-citizen taxpayers; e.g., IRS Form W-9 versus W-8BEN. See, FATCA Driven – New IRS Forms W-8BEN versus W-8BEN-E versus W-9 (etc. etc.) for USCs and LPRs Overseas – It’s All About Information and More Information*
Fortunately for the taxpayer in the Abrahamsen case, she was not subject to the Section 6662 accuracy related penalty (“negligence” penalty) assessed by the IRS.
A subsequent post will analyze some potential U.S. tax consequences for individuals who sign immigration Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
The IRS is not letting up regarding USCs and LPRs living outside the U.S. Quite the opposite, the most recent announcement of the IRS released yesterday on April 11th, emphasizes the U.S. tax law requirements and their applicability to these individuals.
Specifically, the IRS reiterates as follows in IR-2014-52 – IRS Reminds Those with Foreign Assets of U.S. Tax Obligations:
- The Internal Revenue Service reminds U.S. citizens and resident aliens, including those with dual citizenship who have lived or worked abroad during all or part of 2013, that they may have a U.S. tax liability and a filing requirement in 2014.
- The filing deadline is Monday, June 16, 2014, for U.S. citizens and resident aliens living overseas, or serving in the military outside the U.S. on the regular due date of their tax return. Eligible taxpayers get one additional day because the normal June 15 extended due date falls on Sunday this year. To use this automatic two-month extension, taxpayers must attach a statement to their return explaining which of these two situations applies. See U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad for details.
The April 11th date of the notice is ironic, since it is on the eve of the filing deadline for individuals who live within the U.S. Surely, the IRS wants to bring attention to these legal requirements days before the April 15th deadline for those residing in the U.S.
The irony is that the tax law does not require USCs or LPRs who live outside the U.S. and have U.S. tax filing obligations to file by April 15th. The deadline for these individuals who live outside the U.S. is not until June 15th as explained in the IRS notice (June 16th in 2014, since the 15th falls on a Sunday).
In this notice, the IRS does not emphasize the draconian penalties that befall these taxpayers for not filing international information returns or FBARs. The minimum civil penalties for failures to file these forms is almost always at least US$10,000. See, USCs and LPRs Living Outside the U.S. – Key Tax and BSA Forms.
Next, the due date for filing of FBARs is not the same as the due date for income tax returns, June 15th, but always falls on June 30th. There is no extension for FBARs, unlike income tax returns. See, Nuances of FBAR – Foreign Bank Account Report Filings – for USCs and LPRs living outside the U.S.
Will the IRS publish another notice, or beat more drums on the eve of the June 15th (16th for 2014) filing deadline for USCs and LPRs living outside the United States?
U.S. citizens and Lawful permanent residents living outside the U.S. generally have additional tax and financial account (from the Bank Secrecy Act – “BSA”) reporting requirements. These filings are unique for persons who reside in their home country compared to those who reside in the U.S.
The forms and basic concepts that may be applicable are as follows:
A common misconception that contributes to the international tax gap is that this potentially excludable foreign earned income is exempt income not reportable on a US tax return. In fact, only a qualifying individual with qualifying income may elect to exclude foreign earned income and this exclusion applies only if a tax return is filed and the income is reported.
In addition to filing a U.S. tax return, the taxpayer must meet the residency tests and file IRS Form 2555, Foreign Earned Income
Importantly, as the government explains, ” . . . Once you choose to exclude either foreign earned income or foreign housing costs, you cannot take a foreign tax credit for taxes on income you can exclude. If you do take the credit, one or both of the choices may be considered revoked. . . ”
In addition to filing a U.S. tax return, the taxpayer must meet various conditions for eligibility for the foreign tax credit. The calculation is complex and is ultimately reported on IRS Form 1116 and must be attached to the income tax return, which will always be IRS Form Form 1040 for U.S. citizens and LPRs who reside in a country with no U.S. income tax treaty; and could be IRS Form 1040NR for certain LPRs residing in a country with a U.S. income tax treaty.
C) Information Reporting Requirements
There can be multiple reporting requirements, depending upon the type of transaction, foreign asset, etc.
A summary of these reporting requirements is set forth towards the end of the article “Accidental Americans” – Rush to Renounce U.S. Citizenship to Avoid the Ugly U.S. Tax Web” International Tax Journal,CCH Wolters Kluwer, Nov./Dec. 2012, Vol. 38 Issue 6, p45.
In addition to the forms reflected in the article, IRS Form 8938 Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets became part of the law for 2011 tax year filings in 2012. There is often overlap of reporting on this form and the FBAR referred to below.
This form 8938, along with most other forms must be attached to your income tax return (e.g., IRS form 1040) when filed with the IRS. It is common for most types of tax preparation software NOT to have support for this and other particular forms that must be filed regarding non-U.S. assets. Accordingly, the forms often times need to be completed manually by using an Adobe Acrobat version.
The definition of “ownership interest in” or “signature authority over” is very broad under the FBAR regulations. See, FOREIGN BANK ACCOUNT REPORTS – 2011 REGULATIONS EXTEND RULES TO MANY UNAWARE PERSONS
The filing of the FBAR form is not with the IRS, but rather with FinCEN. It must now be filed electronically on Form 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts through the BSA E-Filing System website. The electronic form supersedes TD F 90-22.1 (the FBAR form that was used in prior years).
The penalties for not filing or even filing late are by statute $10,000 for each failure to file (or up to 50% of the account balances when intentionally not filed by the person with the requirement to file).
* Simply More Compliance Obligations for Persons Residing Outside the U.S.
At the end of the day, a USC or LPR residing outside the U.S. necessarily has a much greater burden of tax compliance and filings of these forms, compared to someone living in the U.S. without foreign bank accounts, foreign assets, foreign income, etc.
The apparent renewed focus of the government on U.S. citizens and LPRs residing overseas is worth considering in the current environment.
I wrote an article that was published back in Jan-Feb 2012 in the International Tax Journal titled Unsettled Future for U.S. Taxpayers Residing Overseas: Mixed Messages from IRS Commissioner vs. Ambassador—Part I
More troubling and problematic is the mixed
message sent to U.S. citizens residing overseas,
including by David Jacobson, the U.S. Ambassador
to Canada who stated in a recent interview:
“What the IRS is saying here is that if … you don’t
owe taxes to the U.S., and you file your return and
they show you don’t owe taxes, there aren’t going
to be any penalties for having filed late.” Is that
what the IRS is really saying? The short answer is
a resounding “NO”! The IRS spoke a few days
after the Ambassador’s comments when it issued a
statement entitled, Information for U.S. Citizens or
Dual Citizens Residing Outside the U.S. In the IRS
statement, they indicate that taxpayers who do not
owe any U.S. taxes “ … due to the application of
the foreign earned income exclusion or foreign tax
credits) will owe no failure to file or failure to pay
penalties. In addition, no FBAR penalty applies in
the case of a violation that the IRS determines was
due to reasonable cause.” [Emphasis added.]
There are a number of problems USCs and LPRs living overseas face regarding the application of U.S. law and whether they have filed U.S. income tax returns, FBARs or information returns, such as IRS Form 5471, 3520, 8858, etc. These problems include:
1. The IRS makes the determination of whether there is “reasonable cause” when no FBARs were previously filed. The IRS has not attempted to articulate in any real detail, what they view as “reasonable cause.” This is not a determination by the taxpayer. Will one know it when they see it?
2. USCs and LPRs living outside the U.S. can be subject to the FBAR penalties even if no U.S. income tax is owing (e.g., due to the foreign earned income exclusion and/or foreign tax credits). Each of these individuals have to track the exchange rate applicable in their home country of residence to know if and when the U.S. dollar thresholds in the U.S. law are met.
3. The FAQs 17 and 18 provide solace to USCs and LPRs residing outside the U.S. only if they ” . . . reported, and paid tax on, all their taxable income for the prior years but did not file FBARS . . . ” Of course, the school teacher in the IRS’s own example in IRS Example 1 and 2 did not have an account that ever reached the equivalent of US$10,000. If the school teacher in the IRS example did have such an account, even for a day, she would not fall within the “free on base” rule that the IRS will not assess an FBAR penalty. That “free on base rule” is only applicable when ” . . . The IRS will not impose a penalty for the failure to file the delinquent FBARs if there are no underreported tax liabilities and you have not previously been contacted regarding an income tax examination or a request for delinquent returns. . . ” In example 2, there is an unreported tax liability of $2,100. Hence, according to the IRS analysis the school teacher can be subject to a $10,000 FBAR failure to file penalty, even if the income tax is paid of $2,100, if the IRS determines the late FBAR filing was not due to “reasonable cause.”
4. A published 2012 District Court opinion, McBride, held the taxpayer was liable for FBAR penalties even if the taxpayer had no actual knowledge. The facts of that taxpayer were very bad in the case of McBride, yet the conclusions of the Court and statements below, give little comfort to USCs and LPRs residing overseas who have not filed FBARs, that the government might assess large FBAR penalties (the 50% willfulness penalty of the highest account balance in the case of McBride):
. . . The government does not dispute that McBride’s failure to comply with FBAR was the result of his belief that he did not have a reportable financial interest in the foreign accounts. However, because it is irrelevant that McBride “may have believed he was legally justified in withholding such information[,] [t]he only question that remains is whether the law required its disclosure.” Lefcourt, 125 F.3d at 83. Here, the FBAR requirements did require that McBride disclose his interests in the foreign accounts during both the 2000 and the 2001 tax years. As a result, McBride’s failure to do so was willful. . .
* * *
A. Constructive Knowledge of the Reporting Requirement Is Imputed to Taxpayers Who Sign Their Federal Tax Returns.
All persons in the United States are charged with knowledge of the Statutes-at-Large. Jones v. United States, 121 F.3d 1327 (9th Cir. 1997) (citing Bollow v. Federal Reserve Bank, 650 F.2d 1093, 1100 (9th Cir.1981)). It is well established that taxpayers are charged with the knowledge, awareness, and responsibility for their tax returns, signed under penalties of perjury, and submitted to the IRS. Magill v. Comm’r, 70 T.C. 465, 479-80 (1978), aff’d, 651 F.2d 1233 (6th Cir. 1981); Teschner v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo. 1997-498, *17 (1997); accord United States v. Overholt, 307 F.3d 1231, 1245-46 (10th Cir. 2002) (observing that in Bryan v. United States, 524 U.S. 184, 194-95 (1998), the Supreme Court distinguished cases like Cheek v. United States, 498 U.S. 192 (1991) and Ratzlaf v. United States, 510 U.S. 135 (1994) from another context of willfulness on the grounds that the “highly technical statutes” involved in criminal tax prosecutions “carve out an exception to the traditional rule that ignorance of the law is no excuse and require that the defendant have knowledge of the law.”) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see also Am. Vending Group, Inc. v. United States, 102 A.F.T.R.2d 6305, *6 (D. Md. 2008) (“Failing to read does not absolve a filer of his or his corporation’s legal obligations. Of course if one does not read the instructions, one does not know of the obligation to file the informational returns.”). . .
* * *
The Big Gap ? – How U.S. Citizens and LPRs Residing in the U.S. versus those Living Outside the U.S. File U.S. Tax Returns.
The U.S. worldwide taxation system of U.S. citizens and LPRs causes much confusion. It is unique in the world as most all other countries only impose worldwide taxation on their residents. See, . “Tax Simplification: The Need for Consistent Tax Treatment of All Individuals (Citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents and Non-Citizens Regardless of Immigration Status) Residing Overseas, Including the Repeal of U.S. Citizenship Based Taxation,” by Patrick W. Martin and Professor Reuven Avi-Yonah, 2013.
These U.S. citizens and LPRs living outside the U.S. have (at least prior to FATCA) little third party reporting of income directly to the IRS. There are numerous government reports that demonstrate that when third parties (e.g., banks, tenants, securities brokers, credit card companies, real estate sales transactions, etc.) report the income of a particular transaction to the government, the voluntary compliance of taxpayers increases significantly. See, OECD FORUM ON TAX ADMINISTRATION: COMPLIANCE SUB GROUP
and the U.S. GAO-12-342SP: General government: 44. Internal Revenue Service Enforcement Efforts which highlights that the ” . . . where IRS can improve its programs which can help it collect billions in tax revenue, facilitate voluntary compliance, or reduce IRS’s costs. These include pursuing stronger enforcement through increasing third-party information reporting . . . Expanding third-party information reporting improves taxpayer compliance and enhances IRS’s enforcement capabilities. The tax gap is due predominantly to taxpayer underreporting and underpayment of taxes owed. At the same time, taxpayers are much more likely to report their income accurately when the income is also reported to IRS by a third party. By matching information received from third-party payers with what payees report on their tax returns, IRS can detect income underreporting, including the failure to file a tax return.”
The current trend of worldwide reporting of assets and income via FATCA and the OECD programs is designed to accomplish just this; increase information reporting by third party payers (e.g., principally from foreign financial institutions) directly to the IRS and tax revenue authorities around the world to deter U.S. citizens and LPRs living outside the U.S. from under-reporting or not reporting at all their income on their U.S. income tax returns.
Traditionally, there were limits on the law and the jurisdictional authority the U.S. government had to require non-U.S. institutions to report non-U.S. source income directly to the IRS. This has changed significantly now with FATCA, which started in earnest this year, in 1 January 2014. See,
Is the new government focus on U.S. citizens living outside the U.S. misguided or a glimpse at the new future?
Senators on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations have recently focused extensively on U.S. nationals living outside the U.S. who have Swiss accounts. The full report can be read REPORT: Offshore Tax Evasion:The Effort to Collect Unpaid Taxes on Billions in Hidden Offshore Accounts (February 26, 2014)
There are millions of U.S. citizens living in all parts of the world, many of whom I have identified as “Accidental Americans.” See the detailed tax article Accidental Americans” – Rush to Renounce U.S. Citizenship to Avoid the Ugly U.S. Tax Web” International Tax Journal,CCH Wolters Kluwer, Nov./Dec. 2012, Vol. 38 Issue 6, p45; Martin, P.
During the past century U.S. Citizens living permanently or nearly permanently outside the U.S. have been “de facto” non-residents for U.S. income tax purposes. Not because the law provided they were not residents, but simply because there was little awareness of the unique system of U.S. citizenship based taxation (or those cases where individuals purposefully chose not to comply with U.S. tax laws). The U.S. Supreme Court in Cook vs. Tait found it Constitutional nearly 100 years ago. See . “Tax Simplification: The Need for Consistent Tax Treatment of All Individuals (Citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents and Non-Citizens Regardless of Immigration Status) Residing Overseas, Including the Repeal of U.S. Citizenship Based Taxation,” by Patrick W. Martin and Professor Reuven Avi-Yonah, 2013.
This “de facto” non-residency for U.S. citizens is rapidly changing for several reasons:
First, the UBS scandal of U.S. citizens with undeclared accounts broke in 2008 and 2009.
Second the legal struggle between the U.S. Justice Department and the Swiss government and Swiss financial institutions during these past years.
Third, the adoption of FATCA by the Congress and President Obama in 2010.
Fourth, the current day technology which makes collecting, sending, sorting and identifying taxpayers and their assets through the worldwide financial sector now feasible.
Fifth, the implementation of FATCA by the U.S. in 2014 and the 20 plus FATCA Intergovernmental Agreements entered into with various countries.
Sixth, the OECD plan for a worldwide multilateral FATCA like system to be implemented shortly.
Seventh, the high profile IRS offshore voluntarily disclosure programs in 2009, 2011 and the current program launched in 2012.
Eighth, the on-going deferred prosecution agreements that have been entered into with more than 100 Swiss banks and the U.S. Justice Department.
Ninth, on-going criminal indictments by the U.S. Justice department of various taxpayers, foreign bankers, foreign lawyers and other so-called enablers for tax evasion, filing fraudulent documents and aiding and abetting the same.
Tenth, the Senate bi-partisan hearings that have and keep focusing and pushing these issues publicly at multiple levels.
Eleventh, the internet and current methods of communications and international media that have brought worldwide awareness to all of the above. This awareness has arrived to many of the corners of the world about these efforts and the concept of U.S. citizenship based worldwide taxation.
A large portion of the Senate committee report is dedicated to U.S. citizens who live outside the U.S. and are not compliant with U.S. tax laws. The following chart from the report highlights this focus as to the approximately 6,000 U.S. citizen accounts at Credit Suisse who were/do not live in the U.S:
For further observations on this topic, see an earlier post – Key Take Aways from Senate Investigations re: Foreign Banks and “Offshore Tax Evasion”: U.S. Citizens Residing Overseas have Become a Focus of the Government.; Posted on March 4, 2014
What are the consequences of becoming a “covered expatriate” for failing to comply with Section 877(a)(2)(C)?
Many lay persons are stumped as they try to understand the tax consequences of Sections 877 and 877A. The language in the drafting of the statutes is not so clear. Be careful to understate the meaning and how the IRS interprets the law.
One of the greatest risks for anyone who wants to self-diagnose their path towards becoming a former U.S. citizen, is Section 877(a)(2)(C). To be blunt, anyone who renounces their citizenship at the Embassy or Consulate will find that process relatively easy. However, no one at the U.S. Department of State will provide tax advice or try to interpret the meaning of Section 877(a)(2)(C). Indeed, the Foreign Affairs Manual used to read to the person taking the oath, simply provides the standard overview language of “special tax consequences” arising form the renunciation.
Even the most economically modest individual, with little assets or income, can fall into this trap for the unwary – Section 877(a)(2)(C). The statute is spelled out below –
- This section shall apply to any individual if—
- (A) the average annual net income tax . . . is greater than $124,000,
- (B) the net worth of the individual as of such date is $2,000,000 or more, or
- (C) such individual fails to certify under penalty of perjury that he has met the requirements of this title for the 5 preceding taxable years or fails to submit such evidence of such compliance as the Secretary may require.