OVDP Closure Sets the Stage for a Dramatic Increase in IRS FBAR Audits

There has been virtually no discussion of the impact of the OVDP closure beyond how it affects the ability of willful taxpayers to settle their past noncompliance. This is very unfortunate, because there is a direct correlation between OVDP and IRS tax enforcement activities. In this article, I will discuss how the OVPD closure sets the stage for a dramatic increase in the IRS FBAR Audits as well as IRS audits of other US taxpayers with international tax exposure.

The Utility of the OVDP Program Prior to the OVDP Closure

The IRS flagship 2014 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program served various purposes prior to its closure on September 28, 2018. Let’s concentrate on its two most important roles.

First and foremost, it was an important information-gathering tool for the IRS. The taxpayers who participated in the OVDP disclosed not only their noncompliance with US tax laws, but also the identity of the persons and institutions who facilitated this noncompliance. In other words, the OVDP supplied to the IRS valuable, up-to-date information about foreign financial institutions and foreign financial advisors who participated and even set-up the various tax evasion schemes. This ever-growing mountain of evidence was later used by the IRS to target these schemes effectively and efficiently.

Second, the OVDP greatly enhanced the IRS tax enforcement activities in two different ways. On the one hand, the OVDP promoted the general awareness of FBAR requirements as well as voluntary disclosures of FBAR noncompliance by US taxpayers, thereby saving the IRS the time and resources that otherwise would have been unnecessarily spent on finding and auditing these taxpayers. On the other hand, by “weeding-out” these repentant taxpayers, the OVDP allowed the IRS to concentrate its enforcement efforts on the taxpayers who the IRS believed to be true and inveterate tax evaders.

Diminished Utility of the OVDP and the OVDP Closure in 2018

Over time, however, the IRS came to conclusion that, in precisely these two most important aspects, the OVDP had lost a substantial part of its prior utility. The full implementation of FATCA and the ever-spreading web of bilateral and multilateral information exchange treaties made the OVDP a relatively unimportant information collection tool by the end of 2017.

At the same time, due to the introduction of the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures and the fact that most willful taxpayers who wanted to take advantage of the OVDP had already done so, fewer and fewer taxpayers were entering the OVDP. In other words, by early 2018, the IRS was in the position to make the decision that the “weeding-out” process was substantially complete.

For these two reasons as well a number of other smaller reasons, the IRS decided to finally close the 2014 OVDP (which itself was a modification of the 2012 OVDP) on September 28, 2018. The OVDP closure did not happen suddenly; rather, the IRS gave a more than nine-month notice to the public that the OVDP was going to be closed. This was done very much according to the “weeding-out” concept – the IRS gave one last opportunity to certain groups of taxpayers to settle their prior US international tax noncompliance under the established terms of the OVDP program.

The Link Between the OVDP Closure and IRS FBAR Audits

At this point, after giving noncompliant US taxpayers their last chance to “peacefully” resolve their FBAR and other US tax problems, the IRS believes that it has completed its weeding-out process. The time has come for harsh IRS tax enforcement.

Based on my conversations with various IRS agents, I have identified the trend where the IRS currently encourages IRS agents to quickly close their voluntary disclosure cases and shift to doing field audits involving international tax compliance, including FBAR audits.

In other words, the OVDP closure frees up the critical resources that the IRS needs to conduct audits based on the mountains of information it has accumulated over the past decade. Some of this information came from the OVDP, the Swiss Bank Program, from FATCA and other  information exchange mechanisms.

What is worse (from the perspective of noncompliant taxpayers) is that the IRS now can justify the imposition of higher FBAR penalties since it can claim that the taxpayers had prior chances to resolve their prior FBAR noncompliance and intentionally failed to do so.

Sherayzen Law Office Predicted the Shift Toward Tax Enforcement a Long Time Ago

All of these developments – the OVDP closure and the shift toward stricter tax enforcement – were predicted years by Sherayzen Law Office ago. As early as 2013, Mr. Sherayzen made a prediction that the Swiss Bank Program and FATCA are likely to lead to higher levels of FBAR audits and FBAR litigation as well as the general shift of the IRS policy from voluntary disclosures to tax enforcement.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With FBAR Audits and Other International Tax Audits

If you are being audited by the IRS and your tax return involves any international tax issues (including FBARs), you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. Our experienced international tax law firm has successfully helped hundreds of US taxpayers to settle their US tax affairs.

We possess profound knowledge and understanding of US international tax law as well as the IRS procedures. We have experience in every stage of IRS enforcement: from offshore voluntary disclosures and IRS administrative appeals to IRS audits (including FBAR audits and audits of Streamlined disclosures) and federal court litigation.

We are a leader in US international tax compliance and We Can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

SDOP Real Estate Penalty | Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Law Firm

One of the most important considerations in an offshore voluntary disclosure is the type of assets that form the Penalty Base for the imposition of the Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty. In this article, I would like to explore the issue of whether there is such a thing as SDOP Real Estate Penalty.

SDOP Real Estate Penalty: Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures Background

Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures or SDOP is an offshore voluntary disclosure option that was announced by the IRS in June of 2014. With the recent termination of the OVDP (Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program), SDOP has become the main voluntary disclosure vehicle for eligible taxpayers.

Under the terms of the SDOP, a taxpayer voluntarily discloses his prior noncompliance with US international tax laws, files FBARs for the past six years, amends tax returns for the past three years and certifies under the penalty of perjury that his prior noncompliance with US tax laws was non-willful. Moreover, the taxpayer must pay a 5% Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty that supplants all other penalty structures associated with FBAR and other US international information returns (such Form 5471, 8865, et cetera).

SDOP Real Estate Penalty: SDOP Penalty Base

The 5% Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty is imposed on the entire SDOP Penalty Base. The SDOP Penalty Base is formed by the inclusion all foreign financial assets undisclosed on US international information returns as well as income-noncompliant foreign financial assets. This includes without limitation all assets listed on FBARs and Forms 8938, 5471, 8858, 8865, 3520 (the foreign trust portion), 3520-A, et cetera.

Is there A SDOP Real Estate Penalty?

Now, armed with this understanding of the structure of the SDOP Penalty Base, we can answer the question of whether there is such a thing as SDOP Real Estate Penalty. Since the SDOP Penalty Base is formed by the inclusion of all foreign financial assets and real estate is not a foreign financial asset, we can conclude that there is no SDOP Real Estate Penalty on the real estate owned directly by a US taxpayer.

What about real property owned through a foreign business entity or a foreign trust? Unfortunately, it is here where we encounter the hidden SDOP Real Estate Penalty. If the foreign entity (or income from this foreign entity) was not properly disclosed on Form 8938 or any other relevant information return which is used to avoid the duplication of reporting of foreign business ownership (i.e. Form 5471, 8865, 8858, 3520 and 3520-A), then the SDOP Penalty Base will include the fair market value of the undisclosed foreign entity. In other words, the SDOP Real Estate Penalty may be imposed on the value of the entity that is holding the real estate, not real estate per se.

This is very worrying news to taxpayers who hold real estate through foreign entities. In virtually all Latin American countries, US taxpayers usually own real estate through a corporation. This means that they are exposed to the imposition of SDOP Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty on their personal real estate that is held through a foreign entity simply because it is a local custom to do so.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure

If you have undisclosed foreign assets and/or foreign income, you need to contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. Our legal team, led by an international tax attorney Eugene Sherayzen, is highly experienced in offshore voluntary disclosures of unreported offshore assets and income. Whether it is Indian mutual funds, Swiss Structured Products, a French Assurance Vie account, Polish lokatas, Australian Superannuation accounts, Canadian RRSPs, a Malaysian health insurance investment policy, a Singapore Central Provident Fund (CPF), an Italian Corporation, a British Limited Company, a Spanish rental property, a Panamanian Sociedad Anonima, a Kazakh foreign branch, a Jersey trust and many, many other varieties of foreign assets – we have done it all and successfully brought our clients in full compliance with the US international tax laws. We Can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

4th Quarter 2018 Underpayment and Overpayment Interest Rates

On September 7, 2018, the IRS announced that the 4th Quarter 2018 underpayment and overpayment interest rates will not change from the 3rd Quarter of 2018.

This means that, the 4th quarter 2018 IRS underpayment and overpayment interest rates will be as follows:

  • five (5) percent for overpayments (four (4) percent in the case of a corporation)
  • five (5) percent for underpayments
  • seven (7) percent for large corporate underpayments; and
  • two and one-half (2.5) percent for the portion of a corporate overpayment exceeding $10,000.

Under the Internal Revenue Code, the interest rates are determined on a quarterly basis. This means that the next change in the IRS underpayment and overpayment interest rates may occur only for the 1st Quarter of 2019. In fact, if the analysts are correct, it may very well happen in early 2019.

The 4th Quarter 2018 underpayment and overpayment interest rates are important for many reasons. Not only are these rates used to determine what the IRS will charge in case of an amended tax return (including an amended return made as part of an offshore voluntary disclosure), but they will also determine the interest rate for any adjustments made by the IRS during an audit.

Moreover, the IRS underpayment rates are used to calculate the interest charged on the PFIC (default IRC Section 1291) tax due on an excess distribution. It should be remembered that PFIC calculations de facto remain outside of the Statute of Limitations and PFIC interest can be charged on any PFIC gains made in 2018 but allocated to any prior year (all the way to 1988).

It is important to prevent some US tax accountants from falling into a common trap concerning distributions of accumulated income from a foreign trust. There is a myth that the interest rates on UNI tax is calculated based on the IRS underpayment and overpayment interest rates. This is incorrect – the Throwback Rule follows a separate method for calculating the interest on the UNI tax.

Sherayzen Law Office continues to track any changes IRS makes to its overpayment and underpayment interest rates.