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

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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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France Asks Switzerland for Names of UBS Accountholders

This is an international tax lawyer news update: on September 26, 2016, Swiss tax officials confirmed that France asked Switzerland to provide the names of the holders of more than 45,000 UBS bank accounts. The request covers years 2006-2008.

Le Parisien newspaper, which first published extracts from the French request that the combined balance in the affected accounts exceeded CHF 11 billion (around $ 11.4 billion.). Le Parisien, which did not disclose how it gained access to the letter, also said the French authorities were able to identify the holders of 4,782 accounts.

The French request came to light after, on September 12th 2016, the Swiss Supreme Court over-ruled the lower court’s rejection of a similar request from the Netherlands for financial details of Dutch residents with accounts at UBS. Despite the Netherlands’ success, doubts still remain about the viability of the French request due to the fact that article 28 of the France-Switzerland tax treaty of 1967, as modified in 2010, provides that accounts that were closed before 2010 are not covered by the agreement and, therefore, should not be subject to information exchange.

Ignorance of the Law and Reasonable Cause Exception

Ignorance of the Law forms part of a much broader Reasonable Cause Exception which is almost a universal defense against the imposition of IRS civil penalties. Ignorance of the Law is often utilized as a defense against the US international tax information return penalties, including penalties envisioned under FBAR, Form 8938, Form 5471, Form 8865, et cetera. In this article, I would like provide a general description for the Ignorance of the Law defense.

It is important to remember that the application of the Ignorance of the Law defense depends on the specific circumstances of your case and nothing in this article should be interpreted as a legal advice. Rather, you need the help of an experienced tax attorney to determine whether the Ignorance of Law defense applies to your case.

Ignorance of the Law Defense Legal Test

Ignorance of the Law may provide the basis for an effective reasonable cause defense in situations where a taxpayer does no know about his obligations to comply with a tax requirement in question and/or pay taxes. However, the ignorance by itself is not sufficient to establish a reasonable cause; other circumstances must be reviewed in order to determine whether all or the requirements of this defense’s legal test are satisfied.

The legal test for the Ignorance of the Law defense requires that three requirements are satisfied in order the for taxpayer’s conduct to satisfy the reasonable cause exception:

1). The taxpayer was not aware of the tax requirement in question;

2). The taxpayer could not reasonably be expected to know of the requirement; and

3). The taxpayer’s conduct satisfied the “ordinary business care and prudence” standard.

Oftentimes, the second and the third requirement are blended into the same analysis. This is why I now turn to the examination of the ordinary business care and prudence standard for the purposes of the Ignorance of the Law defense.

Ignorance of the Law and Ordinary Business Care and Prudence Standard

Ordinary Business Care and Prudence Standard is a requirement present in all reasonable cause defenses. With respect to the Ignorance of the Law defense, the ordinary business care and prudence standard requires that a taxpayer acts in good faith, reasonably and attempts to determine his tax obligations. This means all of the relevant circumstances must be reviewed before the determination is made whether the taxpayer’s conduct satisfied the ordinary business care and prudence standard.

The precise circumstances that need to be considered depend on the particular facts of a case. Some of the common factors include: the taxpayer’s education, his tax advisors (including what information the taxpayer supplied to his tax advisors, whether he has been previously subject the tax at issue, whether he has filed the tax forms in question before, whether he has been penalized before with respect to the issue at hand, whether there any changes to the tax forms or tax law (which the taxpayer could not reasonably be expected to know), the level of complexity of the issue in question, et cetera.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with Your Ignorance of the Law Reasonable Cause Defense

If you were penalized by the IRS with respect to a tax requirement and you did not know about this requirement, contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible for professional and experienced legal help. We have helped taxpayers around the world to successfully reduce and even entirely eliminate penalties based on the reasonable cause defense that often stemmed from our clients’ ignorance of relevant tax requirements. We can also help You!

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