Voluntary Compliance with US Tax Laws | International Tax Attorney Austin

The IRS has repeatedly stated that the US tax system is a voluntary compliance system. Yet, what does “voluntary compliance” mean in this context? Does it mean that US taxpayers only need to comply with US tax laws whenever they wish to do it? Does it mean that any US taxpayer has a right to refuse to comply with US tax laws or file his tax returns whenever he feels like doing it?

A lot of people tried to take this position and failed. The IRS has always won on the issue that US taxpayers have an obligation to comply with US tax laws, whether they want to do it or not.

Then, what is so “voluntary” about our tax system? Let’s explore this question in more detail.

Voluntary Compliance with US Tax Laws is Obligatory

Let us start with the affirmative statement that the word “voluntary” does not refer to the actual obligation of US taxpayers to comply with US tax laws. In other words, the compliance with US tax laws is compulsory and any noncompliance with US tax laws is punishable to the extent permitted by the law. Intentional noncompliance may even result in incarceration of a noncompliant taxpayer.

The IRS Inability to Engage in Full Enforced Tax Compliance

Since the word “voluntary” does not apply to the actual obligation to comply with US tax laws, we must look at the assessment of US tax liability to understand what voluntary compliance means. In particular, our focus should be on what is known as “enforced tax compliance” – i.e. direct assessment of tax liability and the audit of tax returns.

Here, we encounter an obvious yet interesting fact: the IRS does not have the resources to audit every one of the hundreds of millions of US taxpayers (resident and non-resident, individual and business), especially on an annual basis. Similarly, the IRS also lacks the ability to audit every single tax return every year; in fact, it only audits about 3% of all tax returns per year.

This means that the IRS does not have the capacity to sustain a system of enforced tax compliance and the vast majority of US taxpayers operate outside of this system.

The Definition of Voluntary Compliance

This lack of the IRS ability to engage in 100% enforced tax compliance leads to the inevitable conclusion that it has to rely on US taxpayers to timely file their own tax returns, assess their own tax liability and pay this tax liability to the IRS. It is precisely in this sense that US tax compliance system is “voluntary”.

In other words, voluntary compliance means that US taxpayers do their own self-assessment of their US tax liability (hopefully, in accordance with the IRS guidance) instead of the IRS doing it for each of them. Underlying this voluntary compliance, however, is the threat that the IRS can audit the tax returns and impose noncompliance penalties.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with Your Voluntary Compliance Concerning US International Tax Laws

The IRS focus on the enforced tax compliance regarding the US international tax obligations of US taxpayers has caused an unprecedented rise in the voluntary compliance in this area of law. Noncompliant US taxpayers are at a historically-high risk of detection by the IRS and may face draconian IRS penalties, including jail time.

This means that, if you have foreign assets and foreign income, you need the professional help of Sherayzen Law Office to bring your tax affairs into full compliance with US tax laws. Our firm is highly experienced in the area of US international tax compliance with hundreds of successful cases closed and millions of dollars saved in US taxes and potential penalties! We can help you!

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US Continental Shelf Definition of the United States | US Tax Attorney

The US continental shelf presents a unique problem to the tax definition of the United States. It is governed by a special tax provision that sets it apart from any other tax definition. If fact, the US continental shelf is only considered to be part of the United States with respect to specific taxpayers who are engaged in a particular activity on or over the continental shelf. In this article, I will explore certain features of the US continental shelf definition of the United States that distinguishes it from any other tax provision in the Internal Revenue Code (IRC).

Definition of the US Continental Shelf

For the purposes of the US income tax, the IRC § 638(1) states that the United States “when used in a geographical sense includes the seabed and subsoil of those submarine areas which are adjacent to the territorial waters of the United States and over which the United States has exclusive rights, in accordance with international law, with respect to the exploration and exploitation of natural resources.” The opening clause of IRC § 638 specifically states that this definition of the United States applies only to the activities “with respect to mines, oil and gas wells, and other natural deposits.”

Analysis of the Definition of the US Continental Shelf

Two aspects need to be noted with respect to the definition above. First, the reference to international tax law means that the US government considers 200 miles of land underneath the ocean as its territory (the so-called “Exclusive Economic Zone” or “EEZ”). An interesting assumption that underlies IRC § 638 is that the continental shelf and the EEZ are the same.

Second, I want to emphasize that this is the definition that is tied to land only, not the water above the land – even more precisely, to certain activities on the ocean’s floor rather than in the water. This is a highly important aspect of IRC § 638, because it produces interesting results.

On the one hand, anyone (including foreign vessels and foreign contractors) drilling or exploring oil in the US continental shelf is considered to be engaged in a trade or business in the United States, which subjects these individuals and companies to US income tax. This also means that US tax withholding needs to be done with respect to foreign contractors. Moreover, even personal property (located over the US continental shelf) of a taxpayer engaged in the drilling or the exploration of the US continental shelf would most likely be classified as US personal property within the meaning of IRC § 956.

On the other hand, fishing in a boat in the same zone will not be considered as an activity within the United States, because it is not linked to mines, oil and gas wells, and other natural deposits.

This means that the application of the US Continental Shelf’s definition of the United States depends on the activity of the taxpayer, not just his location.

US Continental Shelf Rules and Foreign Countries

There is one more interesting aspect of the US continental shelf definition of the United States: its application to foreign countries. The first part of IRC § 638(2) states that the same definition of the continental shelf will also apply to foreign countries – i.e. the seabed and subsoil adjacent to the foreign country or possession and over which the country has EEZ rights.

At the end, however, IRC § 638(2) contains an interesting limitation: “ but this paragraph shall apply in the case of a foreign country only if it exercises, directly or indirectly, taxing jurisdiction with respect to such exploration or exploitation.” In other words, if a foreign country exercises its taxing jurisdiction over the continental shelf, then it is considered to be part of a foreign country. Otherwise, it will be considered as “international waters” (since it is also outside of the US continental shelf).

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with US Tax Issues

The definition of the United States in the context of the US continental shelf is just one of many examples of the enormous complexity of US tax laws. While even US citizens with domestic assets only have to struggle with these issues, the complexity of US tax laws is multiplied numerous times when one deals with a foreign individual/company or even US taxpayers with foreign assets. It is just too easy to get yourself into trouble.

This is why you need the help of the professional international tax law firm of Sherayzen Law Office. Our firm specializes in helping US and foreign taxpayers with their annual tax compliance, tax planning and dealing with past US tax noncompliance.

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Tax Definition of the United States | US Tax Lawyers

The tax definition of the United States is highly important for US tax purposes; in fact, it plays a key role in identifying many aspects of US-source income, US tax residency, foreign assets, foreign income, application of certain provisions of tax treaties, et cetera. While it is usually not difficult to figure out whether a person is operating in the United States, there are some complications associated with the tax definition of the United States that I wish to discuss in this article.

Tax Definition of the United States is Not Uniform Throughout the Internal Revenue Code; Three-Step Analysis is Necessary

From the outset, it is important to understand that the tax definition of the United States is not uniform. Different sections of the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) may have different definitions of what “United States” means.

Therefore, one needs to engage in a three-step process to make sure that the right definition of the United States is used. First, the geographical location of the taxpayer must be identified. Second, one needs to determine the activity in which the taxpayer is engaged. Finally, it is necessary to find the right IRC provision governing the taxation of that taxpayer engaged in the identified specific activity in that specific location; then, look up the tax definition of the United States with respect to this specific IRC provision.

General Tax Definition of the United States

Generally, for tax purposes, the United States is comprised of the 50 states and the District of Columbia plus the territorial waters (along the US coastline). See IRC § 7701(a)(9). The territorial waters up to 12 nautical miles from the US shoreline are also included in the term United States.

General Tax Definition of the United States Can Be Replaced by Alternative Definitions

As it was pointed out above, this general definition is often modified by the specific IRC provisions. The statutory reason why this is the case is the opening clause of IRC § 7701(a) which specifically allows for the general definition to be replaced by alternative definitions of the United States: “when used in this title, where not otherwise distinctly expressed or manifestly incompatible with the intent thereof … .”

Hence, instead of relying on the general tax definition of the United States in IRC § 7701(a), one needs to look for alternative definitions specific to the IRC provision that is being analyzed. Moreover, the fact that there is no express alternative definition is not always sufficient, because one may have to determine the intent (most likely from the legislative history of an IRS provision) behind the analyzed IRC provision to see if an alternative tax definition of the United States should be used.

General Tax Definition and Possessions of the United States

While the object of this small article does not include a detailed discussion of the alternative tax definitions of the United States, it is important to note that the Possessions of the United States (“Possessions”) are not included within the general tax definition of the United States. They are not mentioned in IRC § 7701(a)(9); IRC 1441(e) even states that any noncitizen resident of Puerto Rico is a nonresident alien for tax withholding purposes. Similarly, IRC § 865(i)(3) defines Possessions as foreign countries for the purposes of sourcing income from sale of personal property.

On the other hand, Possessions may be included within some of the alternative tax definitions of the United States. For example, for the purposes of the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, Possessions are treated as part of the United States.

Thus, it is very important for tax practitioners and their clients who reside in Possessions to look at the specific IRS provisions and determine whether an alternative definition applies to Possessions in their specific situations.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Tax Help

If you need professional tax help, contact the international tax law firm of Sherayzen Law Office Ltd. Our legal team is highly experienced in US domestic and international tax law. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers to resolve their tax issues and We can help You!

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Bitcoin Offshore Abusive Tax Scheme | FATCA International Tax Lawyer

Bitcoin Offshore Abusive Tax scheme is now at the center of the new war against offshore tax noncompliance. The IRS started this war on November 17, 2016, with the John Doe Summons petition against Coinbase, Inc., the largest US bitcoin exchanger. In this petition, the IRS Revenue Agent David Utzke details one variation of the Bitcoin Offshore Abusive Tax scheme that seems to be the main target of the IRS battle against Coinbase. Let’s discuss it in more detail.

Traditional Offshore Abusive Tax Scheme

In the petition, the IRS first provided a description of a common traditional offshore abusive tax scheme based on a real-life example of “Taxpayer 1″. In this scheme, Taxpayer 1 retained the services of a foreign promoter who set up a controlled foreign corporation which was merely a shell corporation. The corporation first diverted the taxpayer’s income to a foreign brokerage account and, then, to a foreign bank account. After the funds were transferred to a foreign bank account, Taxpayer 1 was able to repatriate the funds as cash (US dollars) through an ATM machine.

Obviously, this scheme had a number of disadvantages. First, it was not cheap: Taxpayer 1 had to retain foreign attorneys and engage in various other regulatory expenses.

Second and most importantly, the entire scheme was done in US dollars and, hence, ran a relatively high risk of the IRS detection. If the IRS discovered the scheme, it would not be difficult to trace it directly to Taxpayer 1. The weakest point of the scheme was the repatriation in US dollars of the hidden income.

Bitcoin Offshore Abusive Tax Scheme

When Taxpayer 1 discovered bitcoins, he adopted a new model which I will call a Bitcoin Offshore Abusive Tax Scheme. The first two steps (i.e. the diversion of income) were the same – a controlled foreign shell corporation was set up and the funds were diverted to a foreign account.

The difference between the schemes was really in the repatriation process. Under the Bitcoin Offshore Abusive Tax Scheme, the funds from a foreign account were moved to a bank which worked with a virtual currency exchanger (such as Coinbase), converted to bitcoins and placed in a virtual currency account. Then, the taxpayer used the bitcoins to anonymously purchase goods and services without ever converting the hidden income into US dollars. Under this process, Taxpayer 1 had hoped to avoid the IRS detection of the repatriation of funds.

Bitcoin Offshore Abusive Tax Scheme Protects the Taxpayer From IRS Detection During the Repatriation Process

The biggest advantage of the Bitcoin Offshore Abusive Tax Scheme is its ability to protect a taxpayer from the IRS detection when he tries to repatriate the undisclosed income back to the United States. Since bitcoin ownership and purchases are done anonymously and without conversion to US dollars, the IRS may never be able to detect tax noncompliance.

Revenue Agent Utzke himself states in the petition that “because there is no third-party reporting of virtual currency transactions for tax purposes, the risk/reward ratio for a taxpayer in the virtual currency environment is extremely low, and the likelihood of underreporting is significant”.

Indeed, it appears that Taxpayer 1 was highly successful in his Bitcoin Offshore Abusive Tax Scheme. The discovery of that scheme was only made possible due to the voluntary disclosure of Taxpayer 1 to the IRS (most likely Taxpayer 1 prudently decided to enter the OVDP).

Bitcoin Offshore Abusive Tax Scheme Begins to Dominate Offshore Tax Noncompliance

These advantages of the Bitcoin Offshore Abusive Tax Scheme led to its increasing popularity among noncompliant US taxpayers. In fact, it appears that the Bitcoin Offshore Abusive Tax Scheme now dominates this market. Even Agent Utzke admitted that virtual currencies have now largely replaced “traditional abusive tax arrangements as the preferred method for tax evaders”. The John Doe Summons Against Coinbase is Aimed at the Bitcoin Offshore Abusive Tax Scheme.

Given this fact, it is little surprise that the IRS decided to begin a war against abusive tax schemes involving virtual currencies and, especially, bitcoins. The John Doe Summons Petition against Coinbase is the first battle of this war against the Bitcoin Offshore Abusive Tax Scheme.

Given the IRS victory in its battle against Swiss banks, it is very likely that, in one form or another, the IRS will prevail against Coinbase and the virtual currency industry in general. This victory will result in the exposure of noncompliant US taxpayers who will then face a litany of draconian IRS penalties, including possibly criminal penalties and jail time.

Noncompliant US Taxpayer Engaged in a Bitcoin Offshore Abusive Tax Scheme Should Consider Voluntary Disclosure

Given this precarious legal environment and the significant risk of the IRS detection, noncompliant US taxpayers should consider doing a voluntary disclosure while they have the ability to do so. Once the IRS identifies noncompliant taxpayers and commences investigations against them, these taxpayers may lose forever the ability to do a voluntary disclosure to avoid criminal penalties and reduce civil penalties.

This is why these taxpayers urgently need to contact an international tax lawyer to consider their voluntary disclosure options.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Legal Help with Bitcoin Tax Noncompliance

If you are a US taxpayer who has engaged in a Bitcoin Offshore Abusive Tax Scheme or any other tax noncompliance involving bitcoins, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help as soon as possible. Our legal and accounting team has helped hundreds of US taxpayers with their voluntary disclosures and we can help You!

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