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!