US Taxpayers’ Nightmare Continues: FBAR Penalty Inflation Adjustment

As if the FBAR penalties were not frightening enough, the Congress has mandated the IRS to adjust the FBAR penalties to account for inflation. As a result, the already complicated and severe system of FBAR penalties became even more complex and ruthless. In this article, I would like provide a general overview of the FBAR penalty inflation adjustment and what it means for noncompliant US taxpayers.

FBAR Penalty Inflation Adjustment: The “Old” FBAR Penalty System

The FBAR penalty system was already complex prior to the 2015 FBAR penalty inflation adjustment. It consisted of three different levels of penalties with various levels of mitigation. The highest level of penalties consisted of criminal penalties. The most dreadful penalty was imposed for the willful failure to file FBAR or retain records of a foreign account while also violating certain other laws – up to $500,000 or 10 years in prison or both.

The next level consisted of civil penalties imposed for the willful failure to file an FBAR – up to $100,000 or 50% of the highest balance of an account, whichever is greater, per violation. It is important to emphasize that the IRS has unilaterally interpreted the word “violation” to mean that a penalty should be imposed on each account per year, potentially going back six years (the FBAR statute of limitations is six years).

The third level of penalties were imposed for the non-willful failure to file an FBAR. The penalties were up to $10,000 per violation per year. It is also important to point out that the subsequent laws and IRS guidance imposed certain limitations on the application of the non-willful FBAR penalties.

Finally, there were also penalties imposed solely on businesses for negligent failure to file an FBAR. These penalties were up to $500 per violation; if, however, there was a pattern of negligence, the negligence penalties could increase ten times up to $50,000 per violation.

FBAR Penalty Inflation Adjustment: Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015

Apparently, the Congress did not believe that these FBAR penalties were sufficiently horrific. Hence, it enacted a law awkwardly named Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015 (“2015 Inflation Adjustment Act”) to “improve the effectiveness of civil monetary penalties and to maintain their deterrent effect.”

The 2015 Inflation Adjustment Act required federal agencies to do two things: (1) adjust the amounts of civil monetary penalties with an initial “catch-up” adjustment; and (2) make subsequent annual adjustments for inflation. It is important to note that only civil penalties, not criminal, were subject to the inflation adjustment.

While the annual adjustment requirement is fairly clear, the “catch-up” adjustment requires a bit more explanation. In essence, the catch-up adjustment requires a federal agency to adjust the penalty (as it was last originally established by an act of Congress) for inflation from the time of establishment through roughly the November of 2015. In other words, a penalty would be adjusted in one year for all of the inflation that accumulated between the time the statutory penalty was created and the time the 2015 Inflation Adjustment Act was enacted. The adjustment was limited to 2.5 times of the original penalty.

The end result of the penalty adjustment was a massive increase in federal penalties in 2016. For example, one OSHA penalty went up from $70,000 to $124,709.

New System under the FBAR Penalty Inflation Adjustment

Luckily, the FBAR penalties were last revisited by Congress in 2004 and the increase in FBAR penalties, while very large (about 25%), was not as dramatic as some of the other federal penalties. Nevertheless, the FBAR penalty inflation adjustment further complicated the multi-layered system of FBAR penalties.

The key complication came from the fact that the FBAR penalty became dependent on the timing of the IRS penalty assessment, bifurcating the already existing FBAR penalty system (that was broadly described above) into two distinct parts: pre-November 2, 2015 and post-November 2, 2015.

If an FBAR violation occurred on or before November 2, 2015, the old FBAR penalty system applies. This is also true even if the actual IRS assessment of the FBAR penalties for the violation occurred after this date. In other words, the last FBAR violation definitely eligible for the old statutory penalties is the one concerning 2014 FBAR which was due on June 30, 2015. Obviously, FBARs for prior years are also eligible for the same treatment.

If an FBAR violation occurred after November 2, 2015 and the FBAR penalty would be assessed after August 1, 2016, the new system of penalties (i.e. the one after the FBAR penalty inflation adjustment) applies. In other words, all FBAR violations starting 2015 FBAR (which was due on June 30, 2016) are subject to the ever-increasing FBAR civil penalties.

With respect to these post-November 2, 2015 violations, the exact amount of penalties will depend on the timing of the IRS penalty assessment, not when the FBAR violation actually occurred. For example, if the IRS penalty assessment was made after August 1, 2016 but prior to January 15, 2017, then maximum non-willful FBAR penalty per violation will be $12,459 and the maximum willful FBAR penalty per violation will be the greater of $124,588 or 50% of the highest balance of the account.

If, however, the penalty was assessed after January 15, 2017 but prior to January 15, 2018, the maximum non-willful FBAR penalty will increase to $12,663 per violation and the maximum civil willful FBAR penalty will be the greater of $126,626 or 50% of the highest balance of the account.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help with Avoiding or Reducing Your FBAR Penalties

Whether you have undisclosed foreign accounts on which the FBAR penalties have not yet been imposed or the IRS has already imposed FBAR penalties for your prior FBAR noncompliance, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible to secure professional help. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers to reduce and, under certain circumstances, completely eliminate FBAR penalties through properly made voluntary disclosures. We have also helped US taxpayers to fight the already imposed FBAR penalties through appeals to the IRS Office of Appeals as well as in a federal court.

We can help You! Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Cyprus Tax Amnesty Extended | FATCA Lawyer & Attorney

For the second time now, the Cyprus Tax Amnesty has been extended. Let’s discuss in more detail the new deadline and the terms of the Cyprus Tax Amnesty.

Cyprus Tax Amnesty: Deadline Extensions

The original deadline for the Scheme for the Settlement of Overdue Taxes (the official name of the Cyprus Tax Amnesty) was October 3, 2017. The deadline, however, was extended for the first time to January 3, 2018. In early January of 2018, the deadline was further extended to the current deadline of July 3, 2018. Thus, the more recent extension gives Cyprus taxpayers another six months to bring their tax affairs in full compliance with Cyprus tax law.

Main Terms of the Cyprus Tax Amnesty

The Cyprus Tax Amnesty allows “qualifying applicants” to pay off their tax liabilities for prior years with up to 95% reduction in the interest and penalties that otherwise would have been or have already been imposed by the Cyprus tax authorities. The precise percentage of the reduction of interest and penalties depends on the number of monthly installment payments chosen by the taxpayer (i.e. if you pay off everything in full immediately, you get the full benefit of the 95% reduction in interest and penalties).

The Cyprus Tax Amnesty encompasses all outstanding tax liabilities that were incurred in the tax years up to and including 2015. The Amnesty also covers a great variety of taxes: income tax, capital gains tax, VAT, property tax, stamp duties, inheritance tax and certain special fees.

Cyprus Tax Amnesty: Qualifying Taxpayers

Since the main purpose of the Amnesty is to bring Cyprus taxpayers into full and ongoing compliance with Cyprus tax law, the emphasis is placed on assuring current compliance. This is done through the definition of “qualifying taxpayers” who are the only taxpayers eligible to participate in the Cyprus Tax Amnesty.

Qualifying taxpayers are defined as taxpayers who have been in full tax compliance from the tax year 2016 onwards – i.e. these taxpayers must have filed all of their Cyprus tax returns and paid all of their Cyprus tax liabilities for the tax year 2016 and all of the following tax years.

Cyprus Tax Amnesty is Part of a Trend Amplified by the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program

The Cyprus Tax Amnesty is just one more example of the tax amnesty programs which have proliferated around the world in the recent years. This trend was greatly strengthened and really amplified to its current status by the establishment of the 2009 IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“2009 OVDP”). The 2009 OVDP, 2011 OVDI and 2012/2014 OVDPs together with enactment of FATCA have drawn the attention around the world and many countries began to imitate the successes of these US initiatives.

Sherayzen Law Office has helped clients deal with each of these major IRS voluntary disclosure programs as well as other voluntary disclosure options (like the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures and the Reasonable Cause Disclosures). A voluntary disclosure program presents wonderful opportunities to taxpayers to settle their past tax noncompliance. This is why we sympathize with the Cyprus Tax Amnesty and see it as a positive development in the international tax law.

Specified Domestic Entity: Passive Test | FATCA Form 8938 Lawyer & Attorney

This article is published as part of a long series of articles on the Specified Domestic Entity (“SDE”) Definition. In a previous article, I stated that the term “formed or availed of” consists of two legal tests: the Closely-Held Test and the Passive Test. Since I already explained the general requirements of the Closely-Held Test in another article, I would like to focus today on the Passive Test.

The Passive Test: Background Information

Starting tax year 2016, business entities classified as SDEs may be required to attach Form 8938 to their US tax returns. What entity is considered to be SDE? The answer is found in Treas. Reg. §1.6038D-6(a): “a specified domestic entity is a domestic corporation, a domestic partnership, or a trust described in IRC Section 7701(a)(30)(E), if such corporation, partnership, or trust is formed or availed of for purposes of holding, directly or indirectly, specified foreign financial assets.”

I already explained in a previous article that “formed or availed of” is a term of art and a requirement that an entity meets two legal tests: the Closely-Held Test and the Passive Test.

The Passive Test: General Requirements

The Passive Test consists of two threshold requirements: the Passive Income Threshold and the Passive Assets Threshold. If one of these Thresholds is satisfied, the Passive Test is met and a business entity would be considered as formed or availed of for the purposes of holding specified foreign financial assets. Let’s explore these two requirements in more detail.

The Passive Test: the Passive Income Threshold

The Passive Income Threshold is satisfied if “at least 50 percent of a corporation’s or a partnership’s gross income for the taxable year is passive income.” Treas. Reg. §1.6038D-6(b)(1)(ii). The definition of passive income includes:

“(A) Dividends,

(B) Interest;

(C) Income equivalent to interest, including substitute interest;

(D) Rents and royalties, other than rents and royalties derived in the active conduct of a trade or business conducted, at least in part, by employees of the corporation or partnership;

(E) Annuities;

(F) The excess of gains over losses from the sale or exchange of property that gives rise to passive income described in paragraphs (b)(3)(i)(A) through (b)(3)(i)(E) of this section;

(G) The excess of gains over losses from transactions (including futures, forwards, and similar transactions) in any commodity, but not including –

(1) Any commodity hedging transaction described in section 954(c)(5)(A), determined by treating the corporation or partnership as a controlled foreign corporation; or

(2) Active business gains or losses from the sale of commodities, but only if substantially all the corporation or partnership’s commodities are property described in paragraph (1), (2), or (8) of section 1221(a);

(H) The excess of foreign currency gains over foreign currency losses (as defined in section 988(b)) attributable to any section 988 transaction; and

(I) Net income from notional principal contracts as defined in § 1.446-3(c)(1).” Treas. Reg. §1.6038D-6(b)(3).

The Treasury Regulations also contain certain exceptions to the definition of passive income (for example, for dealers).

The Passive Test: the Passive Assets Threshold

The Passive Assets Threshold is satisfied if at least 50 percent of the assets held by a corporation or a partnership for the taxable year “are assets that produce or are held for the production of passive income.” Treas. Reg. §1.6038D-6(b)(1)(ii). Such assets are called “passive assets”. Id.

The percentage of passive assets held by a corporation or a partnership during a taxable year is determined based on “the weighted average percentage of passive assets (weighted by total assets and measured quarterly).” Id. This is very similar to the PFIC test.

The regulations allow for two different methods of valuation of the assets for the purpose of the Passive Asset Threshold. The first method is Fair Market Value of the assets. The second method is valuation of assets based on the “book value of the assets that is reflected on the corporation’s or partnership’s balance sheet.” Id. Surprisingly, both US and an international financial accounting standard are permitted for the purpose of the valuation of assets (usually, only US GAAP is allowed).

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with FATCA Form 8938 Compliance

If you are concerned about whether your entity is required to file Form 8938 or you have any other FATCA-related questions, please contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. Sherayzen Law Office is an international tax law firm that specializes in the US international tax compliance, including FATCA Form 8938 compliance. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers with their FATCA requirements and We can help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Shakira Tax Evasion is Reportedly Investigated by Spain | Tax Law News

On January 23, 2018, the Spanish Newspaper based in Madrid “El País” broke the news that the Colombian Singer Shakira (full name Shakira Isabel Mebarak) is being reportedly investigated by the Spanish tax authorities for tax evasion. Let’s explore the alleged Shakira tax evasion investigation in more detail.

Alleged Shakira Tax Evasion Investigation is Centered Around Spanish Tax Residency

At the core of the alleged investigation of potential Shakira tax evasion lies the concept of tax residency. Under the tax laws of Spain, a person who resides in Spain for at least 183 days during a calendar tax year may generally be considered a Spanish tax resident. As such, he would be required to disclose his worldwide income on a Spanish tax return.

It should be noted (as Sherayzen Law Office has pointed out in the past) that Spain is a very strict tax jurisdiction in many aspects, especially when it comes to tax evasion. In fact, it is the only country in the European Union which has a form similar to the IRS Form 8938 – Spanish Modelo 720.

Alleged Shakira Tax Evasion Investigation: 2011-2014 Tax Residency of Shakira in Question

El País reported that the Spanish tax authorities focused their investigation of Shakira on tax years 2011 through 2014. The singer has claimed that she was resident of the Bahamas at that time. Shakira’s lawyer stated that Shakira lived in several places over the years due to her lifestyle as an international singer and has been in full compliance with tax laws of all relevant jurisdictions.

The tax authorities reportedly reached a different conclusion – that Shakira was a Spanish tax resident during the years 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. It is not clear whether the alleged conclusion was arrived at using direct evidence or indirect evidence. El País, for example, stated that the Spanish Tax Agency investigators went to her hairdresser in Spain to establish that Shakira lived in Spain.

It should be pointed out that Shakira officially declared herself as a Spanish tax resident in 2015 due to her marriage with the Spanish soccer player Gerard Pique.

Paradise Papers Could Have Prompted the Investigation of Potential Shakira Tax Evasion

The alleged Shakira Tax Evasion investigation also has an interesting twist. It appears that it could have been prompted by the famous Paradise Papers in November of 2017.

The Paradise Papers is a collection of 13.4 million of files that were stolen from the client files of Appleby law firm, a Singapore-based trust company, as well as company registries of nineteen different jurisdictions.

According to the Paradise Papers, Shakira transferred some or all of her intellectual property and trademarks to Tournesol, Ltd., (“Tournesol”) a company registered in Malta in 2009. Shakira is the sole shareholder of this company. Tournesol increased its capital by 31 million euros through an interest-free loan agreement with ACER Entertainment, a related company owned by Shakira and registered in Luxembourg.

Alleged Shakira Tax Evasion Investigation: Potential Penalties

Shakira’s estimated net worth is $200 million. This means that her tax fraud case will involve large numbers, possibly in the millions of dollars.

It appears that if Shakira is found guilty of tax fraud that is in excess of 600,000 euros, she could be facing from two to six years in prison for each count of tax fraud. Moreover, she could be facing a fine of six times the amount of underpaid tax. It should be pointed out that the charges will most likely focus on the years 2012-2014, because 2011 appears to be barred by the Spanish statute of limitations.

Shakira’s celebrity status will not have any impact on the Spanish tax authorities. In fact, she now joined a list of many celebrities who have been investigated by the Spanish Tax Agency, including Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Swiss Voluntary Disclosures Rise as Swiss AEOI Compliance Nears

The voluntary disclosures by Swiss taxpayers jumped dramatically in 2017. The most likely reason for the increase is the fact that the Swiss government started to collect information under its numerous Automatic Exchange of Information (“AEOI”) agreements. Let’s analyze in more detail this connection between the Swiss voluntary disclosures and the Swiss AEOI Compliance.

Swiss AEOI Compliance: Increase in Swiss Voluntary Disclosures

The increase in Swiss voluntary disclosures between 2015 and 2017 is undeniable. The Swiss said approximately 350,000 voluntary declarations were made in 2016, compared to 328,000 in 2015. While the numbers for 2017 for the entire country are not available, we can extrapolate the 2017 numbers based on the canton of Zurich.

On January 4, 2018, the canton of Zurich reported that there were almost three times as many of voluntary disclosures of unreported assets by Swiss taxpayers in 2017 than in 2016. A total of 6,150 voluntary disclosures were submitted in 2017 whereas only 2,100 voluntary disclosures were made in 2016. The disclosures brought in about 104 million Swiss francs of additional tax income in 2017; the 2016 number was only 85 million Swiss francs.

The Swiss government also stated that the 2017 voluntary disclosures concerning ownership of real estate in Italy, Portugal and Spain were especially high.

Swiss AEOI Compliance Has a Direct Impact on Swiss Voluntary Disclosures

The connection between Swiss AEOI compliance and the increase in the voluntary disclosures is obvious. In fact, the cantonal government of Zurich directly stated that it attributed the jump in voluntary disclosures to the Swiss AEOI agreements, especially those related to the EU countries.

Already in 2017, the Swiss government started collecting financial information about Swiss taxpayers in order to turn it over to its partner jurisdictions under the Swiss AEOI agreements. The exchange of information under the Swiss AEOI compliance obligations is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2018 for the calendar year 2017 and 2019 for the calendar year 2018.

The Swiss AEOI compliance obligations are very broad due to the fact that Switzerland signed AEOI agreements with 53 jurisdictions already, including the European Union. The European Union is considered to be a single jurisdiction even though it consists of twenty-eight countries. The EU-Switzerland AEOI agreement was approved by the Swiss Parliament in 2016.

The Connection Between Swiss AEOI Compliance and FATCA

As Sherayzen Law Office has repeatedly pointed out in the past, the passage of FATCA in the United States has completely changed the international tax landscape concerning international information exchange with respect to foreign accounts and other foreign assets. In fact, FATCA and the DOJ Program for Swiss Banks have completely destroyed the vaulted Swiss bank privacy laws (though, the 2008 UBS case made the first hole in this bastion of offshore privacy).

After seeing the success of FATCA with respect to US tax compliance, the rest of the world joined the party. The new Common Reporting Standard or CRS was the OECD’s response to FATCA with an ambition to force even more transparency than required by FATCA and making this transparency apply to the United States. The US government refused to join CRS, but it did not prevent the CRS into growing in as important of an international tax compliance standard as FATCA.

Additionally, the enforcement of FATCA had another side-effect: a rapid proliferation of the AEOI agreements, both bilateral and multilateral. The new web of AEOI agreements is growing larger with the passage of time forcing an ever greater international tax transparency. The recent Swiss AEOI compliance is just the latest example of this trend.

Will we ever see a reversal of this trend? It is a real possibility, but it is unlikely that it will be able to destroy the legal groundwork for greater tax transparency that has been laid out by FATCA, CRS and the AEOI agreements.