In this essay, I would like to discuss some of the penalties that may be imposed as a result of the failure to file the FBAR even though you were required to do so. In particular, I will focus on three general scenarios describing specific penalties commonly attributed to each of them. The first scenario is where you willfully failed to file the FBAR, or destroyed or otherwise failed to maintain proper records of account, and the IRS learned about it when it launched an investigation. This is the worst type of scenario which carries substantial penalties. The IRS may impose civil penalties of up to the greater of $100,000, or 50 percent of the value of the account at the time of the violation, as well as criminal penalties of up to $500,000, or 10 years of imprisonment, or both.
Another scenario is where you negligently and non-willfully failed to file the FBAR, and the IRS learned about it during an investigation. Unlike the first scenario, there are no criminal penalties for non-willful failure to file the FBAR; only civil penalties of up to $10,000 per each violation (unless there is a pattern of negligence which carries additional civil penalties of no more than $50,000 per any violation). In this situation, you are likely to fare much better, and you may even be able to obtain lower penalties by showing of reasonable cause for the failure to file.
The third scenario is where you non-willfully fail to file the FBAR, accidentally discover your mistake, and come to an attorney to file a delinquent FBAR before the IRS commences its investigation of your finances. This is the most favorable of all scenarios due to the fact that you may qualify for the benefits of a voluntary disclosure program, despite the fact that the position of the IRS regarding civil penalties for voluntarily filed but delinquent FBARs is uncertain following the October 15, 2009 voluntary disclosure deadline. The best strategy for addressing delinquent FBARs, however, varies depending on the facts and circumstances of the particular case.
A word of caution: this discussion focuses solely on the penalties associated with the failure to file the FBAR. This essay does not address the various strategies that may be employed in dealing with the delinquent FBAR filings in the post-October 15, 2009 world, including qualification for the voluntary disclosure program. In certain situations, there may also be other relevant significant tax issues outside of the FBAR realm – the most important of which is non-payment of taxes on undisclosed income by the U.S. taxpayers – which may significantly alter the amount of penalties, interest, and taxes due to the IRS.