What is a FATCA Letter?

Over eight million U.S. taxpayers are expected to receive FATCA letters from their foreign banks. The first reaction of most taxpayers is to ask: “What is a FATCA letter?” The next question is: “What should I do if I receive(d) a FATCA Letter?” This article intends to answer both questions.

The FATCA Letter

A FATCA Letter is a communication from your foreign bank to you in order to obtain the information that the foreign bank is required to disclose to the IRS under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). The basic purpose of a FATCA Letter is to confirm whether you are a U.S. person. Once this information is confirmed, your foreign bank will disclose to the IRS all of the FATCA-required information, including the account numbers and balances of your foreign account.

Your FATCA Letter will usually arrive with the enclosed Forms W-9 and W-8BEN. Form W-9 usually pertains to U.S. citizens, while the Form W-8BEN is usually reserved for nonresident aliens (for U.S. tax purposes).

What Should I Do if I Received a FATCA Letter and I Have Not Reported My Foreign Accounts to the IRS?

Now that you know what a FATCA Letter is, it is important to consider what you should do when you receive one from your foreign bank.

The first thing is to understand what not to do – you should NOT ignore a FATCA Letter. You now know what a FATCA Letter is and you understand that it is used by the bank to comply with FATCA. Hence, if you ignore your FATCA Letter, the bank must do something to explain to the IRS why it could not comply with its reporting obligations. This “something” is likely to get you in trouble, because not only can your bank close your bank account (depending on the FATCA treaty), but your foreign bank will also report you as a “recalcitrant” taxpayer to the IRS together with the account number and the balance. This will likely lead to a later IRS examination which may prevent you from doing any type of a voluntary disclosure and subject you to draconian FBAR penalties.

Rather, with the understanding of the FATCA Letter, your plan of action should be as follows:

1. Understand the deadline by which you should respond to your FATCA letter and see if you have sufficient time to contact an international tax law firm (such as Sherayzen Law Office) prior to the deadline. If you do not have enough time, contact the bank and ask them for more time due to your need to seek legal advice – 30 to 45 days is usually considered reasonable.

However, try to avoid sending any information to the bank if possible without going through step #2 first. I have seen on the internet suggestions from some attorneys to immediately send to the bank Form W-9 before you consult an attorney; usually, such haste is premature and ill-advised. You need to know your legal position first.

2. Schedule a consultation with an international tax law firm immediately after you receive your FATCA Letter – Sherayzen Law Office would naturally be the best choice as the firm that specializes in dealing with FATCA letters.

3. Prepare as many documents and bank records as you can prior to the consultation. Now that you know about the FATCA Letter, you understand that it will involve your entire tax situation. Ask Attorney Eugene Sherayzen for a list of items needed to be supplied prior to the consultation.

4. Go through with the consultation. The consultation is not going to focus just on the FATCA Letter and how it impacts your case; rather, the majority of the consultation will be centered around the discussion of your legal position, your current tax reporting requirements and your voluntary disclosure options.

5. Retain an international tax law firm to do your voluntary disclosure. Again, my suggestion is to retain Sherayzen Law Office, because this is a firm that specializes in the voluntary disclosures and international tax compliance involving FATCA, FBAR, foreign trusts, foreign inheritance, foreign business ownership, and other IRS requirements that may be applicable to you.

UK FATCA Letters

While the United Kingdom signed its FATCA implementation treaty in 2014, UK FATCA letters (i.e. FATCA letters from UK financial institutions) continue to pour into the mailboxes of U.S. taxpayers. In this article, I would like to discuss the purpose and impact of UK FATCA Letters.

UK FATCA Letters

UK FATCA Letters play an integral role in the FATCA Compliance of UK financial institutions. Under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), the UK foreign institutions are obligated to collect certain information regarding U.S. owners of UK bank and financial accounts and provide this information to the IRS. The collected information must include the name, address and social security number (or, EIN number) of U.S. accountholders.

In order to collect the required information and identify who among their clients is a US person for FATCA purposes, the UK financial institutions send UK FATCA Letters to their clients, asking them to provide the information by the required date. If there is no response within the required period of time (which may be extended), the UK financial institutions report the account to the IRS with the classification as a “recalcitrant account”.

UK FATCA Letters and Undisclosed UK Bank and Financial Accounts

While UK FATCA Letters are important to FATCA compliance of UK financial institutions, they also may have important impact on U.S. taxpayers with undisclosed bank and financial accounts in the United Kingdom, particularly on the ability of such U.S. taxpayers to timely disclose their foreign accounts.

Once a U.S. taxpayer receives UK FATCA Letters, he should be aware that the clock has started on his ability to do any type of voluntary disclosure. This is the case because UK FATCA Letters demand a response within certain limited period of time. Then, the UK financial institutions will report the account to the IRS, which may prompt IRS examination which, in turn, may deprive the taxpayer of the ability to take advantage of any type of a voluntary disclosure option.

Furthermore, UK FATCA Letters start the clock for the taxpayers to do their voluntary disclosure in an indirect way. If the taxpayers do not complete their voluntary disclosure within reasonable period of time (which may differ depending on circumstances) after they receive the letters, the IRS may proceed based on the assumption that prior noncompliance with U.S. tax requirements by the still noncompliant taxpayers was willful.

Finally, UK FATCA Letters may impact a U.S. taxpayer’s legal position with respect to current and future tax compliance, because UK FATCA Letters can be used by the IRS as evidence to prove awareness of U.S. tax requirements on the part of noncompliant U.S. taxpayers. This is particularly relevant for taxpayers who receive these letters right before the tax return and FBAR filing deadlines.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office if You Received UK FATCA Letters

If you received one or more UK FATCA Letters from foreign financial institutions, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible. Attorney Eugene Sherayzen is one of the world’s leading professionals in the area of offshore voluntary disclosures and he will personally analyze your case and create the appropriate voluntary disclosure strategy. Then, under his close supervision, his legal team will implement this strategy, including the preparation of all required tax forms.

Call Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Indian FATCA Letters

As the FATCA deadline to report Indian preexisting accounts approaches for Indian foreign financial institutions, more and more Indian-Americans and Indians who live and work in the United States receive Indian FATCA Letters (i.e. FATCA letters from Indian foreign financial institutions).

Many U.S. taxpayers of Indian origin are completely unprepared for Indian FATCA Letters and do not understand what they need to do. In this article, I would like to discuss the origin and purpose of Indian FATCA Letters as well as what you should do if you received such a letter.

Indian FATCA Letters

Indian FATCA Letters are the tools used by Indian foreign financial institutions to comply with their FATCA obligations. Since its enaction into law in 2010, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) has had a tremendous impact on global tax information exchange, forcing foreign financial institutions from more than 110 jurisdictions to comply with FATCA provisions.

One of the most prominent aspects of FATCA is the fact that it forces foreign financial institutions to report (directly or indirectly) certain information regarding U.S. owners of foreign bank and financial accounts. In essence, foreign financial institutions around the world are now forced to play the role of IRS informants, actively spying and turning over information regarding foreign financial activities of U.S. taxpayers to the IRS.

FATCA is implemented worldwide through a network of bilateral treaties. India signed such a treaty which came into force on August 31, 2015, forcing Indian foreign financial institutions to adopt FATCA-compliant procedures.

Indian FATCA Letters represent this compliance effort by Indian foreign financial institutions. In particular, Indian FATCA Letters are designed to collect various information required by FATCA, such as: the name and address of a U.S. taxpayer, the tax identification number of a U.S. taxpayer, and other information required to determine the U.S. tax status of the accountholder.

Indian FATCA Letters and Undisclosed Indian Bank and Financial Accounts

Indian FATCA Letters may have profound impact on U.S. taxpayers with undisclosed bank and financial accounts in India. First of all, Indian FATCA Letters automatically establish the awareness of U.S. tax requirements on the part of U.S. taxpayers – i.e. after receiving these letters, the taxpayers must take prudent steps to assure current and future U.S. tax compliance if they wish to avoid willful noncompliance with consequent imposition of heavy IRS penalties. This is especially important for taxpayers who receive Indian FATCA letters right before the tax return and FBAR filing deadlines.

Second, Indian FATCA Letters “start the clock” for U.S. taxpayers who wish to do voluntary disclosure. This is done in two ways – direct and indirect.

The direct impact of Indian FATCA Letters is the FATCA requirement that foreign financial institutions report the required FATCA information to the IRS with respect to their U.S. (or suspected U.S.) accountholders within certain limited period of time. If the taxpayer refuses to answer his Indian FATCA Letters, the financial institutions will report him to the IRS as a “recalcitrant” taxpayer. This, in turn, may lead to a subsequent IRS examination which may deprive the taxpayer of the ability to take advantage of any type of a voluntary disclosure option.

The indirect impact of Indian FATCA Letters is linked to the “knowledge” issue described above – Indian FATCA Letters start the clock for the taxpayers to do their voluntary disclosure. If they do not do it within reasonable period of time (which may differ depending on circumstances), the IRS may proceed based on the assumption that prior noncompliance with U.S. tax requirements by the procrastinating taxpayers was willful.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office if You Received Indian FATCA Letters

If you received one or more Indian FATCA Letters from foreign financial institutions, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible. Our experienced legal team is led by one of the leading experts in offshore voluntary disclosures in the world – attorney Eugene Sherayzen. He will personally analyze your situation, advise you with respect to your FATCA Letter, and develop your voluntary disclosure strategy. Then, our legal team will implement this strategy, including the preparation of all required tax forms.

Call Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Receiving FATCA Letter from Your Foreign Bank

Since July 1, 2014, the most feared US legislation regarding international tax enforcement – Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”) – is being implemented by most banks around the world. As part of this compliance, foreign banks are sending out so-called FATCA letter to their customers seeking to verify certain type of information. In this article, I would like to introduce this FATCA letter and what the FATCA letter may mean to a US taxpayer with undisclosed foreign bank and financial accounts.

What is FATCA?

FATCA was signed into law in 2010 and codified in Sections 1471 through 1474 of the Internal Revenue Code. The law was enacted in order to reduce offshore tax evasion by US persons with undisclosed offshore accounts. There are two parts to FATCA – US taxpayer reporting of foreign assets and income on Form 8938 and reporting by a foreign financial institution (FFI) of foreign bank and financial account to the IRS.  Here, I will concentrate on the latter, because it is an FFI that sends out the FATCA letter.

FATCA generally requires a foreign payee (i.e. FFI) to identify certain US accountholders and report their accounts to the IRS. Such reporting is done either through an FFI Agreement directly to the IRS or through a set of local laws that implement FATCA.

If an FFI refuses to do so or otherwise does not satisfy these requirements (and is not otherwise exempt), US-source payments made to the FFI may be subject to withholding under FATCA at a rate of 30%. Note that FATCA information reporting and withholding requirements generally do not apply to FFIs that are treated as “deemed-compliant” because they present a relatively low risk of being used for tax evasion or are otherwise exempt from FATCA withholding.

FATCA Implementation and FATCA Letter

As of July 1, 2014, the FATCA went into full effect, which means that FFIs now have to report the required FATCA information to the IRS. However, it appears that the IRS is not likely to fully enforce the penalties until the end of 2014 just to give FFIs enough time to comply.

Nevertheless, many FFIs are making a full effort to comply with FATCA. As part of this effort, FFIs around the world have been sending out “FATCA letters”. A FATCA letter is basically a letter from your bank or other financial institution which introduces FATCA to their customers and asks them to provide answers to a various set of questions aiming to find out information specific to FATCA compliance. Often, instead of asking all of these questions directly a FATCA letter would simply list out a series of forms that contain these questions (for example, W9, W8BEN, et cetera).

If the customer refuses to answer the questions or provide the necessary forms, the financial institution would often close the account and report it as a “recalcitrant account” to the IRS.

Impact of FATCA Letter on US Taxpayers with Undisclosed Accounts

A FATCA letter may have a very profound impact on a US taxpayer with foreign accounts which were not properly disclosed to the IRS (usually on the FBAR and/or Form 8938). Let’s concentrate on two most important aspects of receiving a FATCA letter. First, a FATCA letter puts the taxpayer on notice that he is required to report his foreign financial accounts and foreign income to the IRS. This may have a big impact on whether the taxpayer can later certify his non-willfulness for the purposes of the Streamline Filing Compliance Procedures.

Second, a FATCA letter starts the clock for the taxpayer to beat the bank’s disclosure of his account to the IRS. If the taxpayer intends to participate in the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”), it is imperative that he files his Pre-Clearance Request before the IRS finds out about his non-compliance with respect to his foreign accounts. If the latter occurs, the taxpayer may not be able to enter the OVDP.

In essence, receiving a FATCA letter forces the taxpayer to quickly choose the path of his voluntary disclosure under significant time pressure.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office if You Received a FATCA Letter

If you received a FATCA letter from your bank or any other financial institution, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office immediately to assess your situation and determine the path of your voluntary disclosure. Our highly experienced team of international tax professionals will thoroughly analyze your case, prepare all of the required documentation (legal documents and tax forms), conduct the voluntary disclosure and defend your interests before the IRS.

Remember, time is of the essence in these matters. So, Call Us Now to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!