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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.

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