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Specified Foreign Financial Assets | Form 8938 International Tax Lawyers

Specified Foreign Financial Assets is one of the most important terms in contemporary US international tax law. In this article, I will explore what these Specified Foreign Financial Assets are and why they play such an important role in modern US international tax compliance.

Specified Foreign Financial Assets and FATCA

In order to understand the significance of the Specified Foreign Financial Assets, we must turn to one of the most important US tax laws called Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act or FATCA.

FATCA was signed into law in 2010 and it immediately became the most important development in international taxation since at least 1970s, if not all the way to the end of the Second World War. There are three parts of FATCA that made it such a revolutionary development in international tax law. The first part of FATCA requires all foreign financial institutions (FFIs) to report to the IRS, directly or indirectly, Specified Foreign Financial Assets (be careful, this concept can be modified by a FATCA implementation treaty to include and exclude various foreign assets) owned by US persons. In essence, it meant that the world financial community would now serve as an IRS informer, providing the third-party reporting of financial assets owned by US persons.

In order to enforce this “obligation”, the second part of FATCA imposed a 30% penalty on the gross amount of a transaction whenever the transaction is related to an institution that is not compliant with FATCA. Such a huge penalty was meant to force all FFIs to become FATCA-compliant and, to a large extent, this goal has been attained.

With the third-party reporting secured by the first two parts of FATCA, the third part of FATCA imposed a new reporting requirement, Form 8938, on certain categories of US taxpayers who would fall within the categories of Specified Individuals and (starting 2016) Specified Domestic Entities. FATCA Form 8938 forced these Specified Persons to directly report their Specified Foreign Financial Assets with their US tax returns.

Specified Foreign Financial Assets: General Definition

In general, Specified Foreign Financial Assets include: foreign financial accounts and assets that are held for investment and not held in an account maintained by a financial institution. The concept of “assets held for investment and not held in an account” covers stocks or securities issued by anyone who is not a US person, any interest in a foreign entity, any financial instrument or contract that has an issuer or counterparty that is other than a US person, stock issued by a foreign corporation, an interest in a foreign trust or foreign estate and a capital or profits interest in a foreign partnership.

In other words, definition of the Specified Foreign Financial Assets is so broad that it applies to virtually any financial instrument or security one can imagine as long as one of the counterparties and/or issuers is a foreign person. It also includes pretty much any ownership interest in a foreign business entity as well as a beneficiary interest in a foreign trust. Therefore, it is always prudent to contact an international tax attorney to confirm whether your particular investment is covered by the definition of the Specified Foreign Financial Assets.

Specified Foreign Financial Assets: Additional Non-Exclusive Lists of Assets

Additionally, the instructions to Form 8938 specifically state that Specified Foreign Financial Assets encompass an interest rate swap, currency swap, basis swap, interest rate cap, interest rate floor, commodity swap, equity swap, equity index swap, credit default swap, or similar agreement with a foreign counterparty. Specified Foreign Financial Assets also include a note, bond, debenture, or other form of indebtedness issued by a foreign person. Finally, options and other derivative instructions with a foreign counterparty or issuer are also included in the definition of Specified Foreign Financial Assets.

Specified Foreign Financial Assets: Influence of FATCA Implementation Treaties

Despite the broad general definition of Specified Foreign Financial Assets and despite the “laundry” list of assets specifically identified above, one should always look at a specific FATCA implementation treaty in order to verify whether an asset is considered to fall within the definition of Specified Foreign Financial Assets. In particular, one must have extra care with foreign retirement accounts. During the negotiation of FATCA Implementation Treaties, countries often insisted that particular types of retirement accounts should be excluded from FATCA reporting (the United Kingdom was particularly successful in this respect).

A word of caution: even if an asset is excluded from FATCA reporting, it does not automatically mean that it would also be excluded from FBAR reporting. It is possible to have a financial asset reportable exclusively on FBAR, but not Form 8938.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with Reporting of Specified Foreign Financial Assets on Form 8938

If you have any of the Specified Foreign Financial Assets listed above, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. In addition to annual tax compliance, our firm can help you with the offshore voluntary disclosure with respect to any delinquent Forms 8938 which you have not timely filed in any of the prior years.

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Berner Kantonalbank Non-Prosecution Agreement

On June 9, 2015, the Department of Justice announced that Berner Kantonalbank AG (Berner Kantonalbank), signed a Non-Prosecution Agreement with the DOJ pursuant to the department’s Swiss Bank Program.

Swiss Bank Program Background

The Swiss Bank Program, which was announced on August 29, 2013, provided a path for Swiss banks to resolve potential criminal liabilities in the United States. Swiss banks eligible to enter the program were required to advise the department by December 31, 2013, that they had reason to believe that they had committed tax-related criminal offenses in connection with undeclared U.S.-related accounts. Banks already under criminal investigation related to their Swiss-banking activities and all individuals were expressly excluded from the program.

Swiss banks which meet the requirements of the Program are eligible for a non-prosecution agreement.

Berner Kantonalbank Background

Berner Kantonalbank was founded in 1834 as Kantonalbank von Bern, the first Swiss cantonal bank. Berner Kantonalbank is based in the Canton of Bern and presently has 73 branches in Switzerland. Berner Kantonalbank knew or had reason to know that it was likely that some U.S. taxpayers who maintained accounts at Berner Kantonalbank were not complying with their U.S. reporting obligations. Berner Kantonalbank opened, serviced and profited from accounts for U.S. clients who were not complying with their income tax obligations.

Berner Kantonalbank provided services that facilitated some U.S. clients in opening and maintaining undeclared accounts in Switzerland and concealing the assets in those accounts and related income. These services included opening and maintaining numbered accounts, allowing clients to use code names rather than full account numbers and providing hold mail services. Berner Kantonalbank opened accounts for account holders who exited other Swiss banks and accepted deposits of funds from those banks. Berner Kantonalbank also processed standing orders from U.S. persons to transfer amounts under $10,000 from their U.S.-related accounts. In one instance, a relationship manager asked an accountholder, who was a dual Swiss-U.S. citizen living in the United States, about the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and voluntary disclosure. When the accountholder failed to execute FATCA-related documents, Berner Kantonalbank took steps to close the account. In connection with that closing, the accountholder withdrew $70,000 and approximately 500,000 Swiss francs in cash.

Berner Kantonalbank: Participation in the DOJ Program for Swiss Banks

Berner Kantonalbank committed to full cooperation with the U.S. government throughout its participation in the Swiss Bank Program. As part of its cooperation, Berner Kantonalbank provided a list of the names and functions of 16 individuals who structured, operated or supervised its cross-border business. These individuals served as the chairman of the board of directors, members of the executive board, regional managers, heads of departments or heads of divisions. Berner Kantonalbank additionally provided information concerning its relationship managers and external asset managers, and it described in detail the structure of its cross-border business with U.S. persons, including narrative descriptions of high-value U.S.-related accounts and U.S.-related accounts held by entities.

Berner Kantonalbank Non-Prosecution Agreement

According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreement, Berner Kantonalbank agrees to cooperate in any related criminal or civil proceedings, demonstrate its implementation of controls to stop misconduct involving undeclared U.S. accounts and pay penalties in return for the department’s agreement not to prosecute these banks for tax-related criminal offenses.

Since August 1, 2008, Berner Kantonalbank held approximately 720 U.S.-related accounts, which included both undeclared and not undeclared accounts, with total assets of approximately $176.5 million. Berner Kantonalbank will pay a penalty of $4.619 million.

In accordance with the terms of the Swiss Bank Program, Berner Kantonalbank mitigated its penalty by encouraging U.S. accountholders to come into compliance with their U.S. tax and disclosure obligations.

Consequences for US Taxpayers With Bank Accounts At Berner Kantonalbank

While U.S. accountholders at Berner Kantonalbank who have not yet declared their accounts to the IRS may still be eligible to participate in the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, the price of such disclosure has increased.

Most U.S. taxpayers who enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program to resolve undeclared offshore accounts will pay a penalty equal to 27.5 percent of the high value of the accounts. On August 4, 2014, the IRS increased the penalty to 50 percent if, at the time the taxpayer initiated their disclosure, either a foreign financial institution at which the taxpayer had an account or a facilitator who helped the taxpayer establish or maintain an offshore arrangement had been publicly identified as being under investigation, the recipient of a John Doe summons or cooperating with a government investigation, including the execution of a deferred prosecution agreement or non-prosecution agreement. This means that the noncompliant U.S. accountholders at Berner Kantonalbank must now pay that 50 percent penalty to the IRS if they wish to enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Undisclosed Foreign Accounts

If you have undisclosed foreign accounts at Berner Kantonalbank or any other bank outside of the United States, please contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible to explore your voluntary disclosure options. Our professional experienced legal team has helped hundreds of US taxpayers worldwide to bring their US tax affairs in order. We can help you!

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Cayman Islands FATCA Registration Portal

On March 20, 2015, the Cayman Islands FATCA Registration Portal was launched by the Department for International Tax Cooperation (which is a department within Cayman Islands Tax Information Authority).

Cayman Islands FATCA Background 

The Cayman Islands FATCA Registration Portal is part of the long process of Cayman Islands FATCA compliance. Cayman Islands FATCA IGA (Model 1) was signed with the United States on November 29, 2013. At the same time, Cayman Islands signed the amended Tax Information Exchange Agreement. Both of these developments led to the creation of the Portal as a way to automatically exchange information required by FATCA between Cayman Islands and the United States.

It is also important to point out that Cayman Islands FATCA compliance was not only driven by the US considerations, but also by the UK considerations. As an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, Cayman Islands had to come to an agreement with the United States that could not have been better the terms negotiated between the UK and Cayman Islands with respect to the exchanges of tax-related information.

Purchase of the Portal

The Portal plays a critical role in Cayman Islands FATCA compliance, because it allows Cayman’s financial institutions (including the investment funds based in Cayman islands) to report information required by FATCA to the Cayman Islands Tax Information Authority, which, as it is mandated by Model 1 FATCA agreement, will turn over the required information to the IRS.

Registration

As part of Cayman Islands FATCA compliance, the Cayman Islands Tax Information Authority warned the island’s financial institutions that they much must register via the Portal by April 30, 2015 and provide their names, FATCA classification, principal point of contact and other information.

Reporting Deadline by May 31, 2015

The deadline for reporting the 2014 (calendar year) information by the Cayman’s financial institutions must be done by May 31, 2015. The information that will have to be submitted through the Portal is the one usually required by FATCA, including:

1. US person’s name, address and tax identification number (and date of birth, where applicable);
2. US person’s account number or its equivalent;
3. Name and ID of the reporting financial institution; and
4. Year-End Balance of the account.

Interestingly enough, the UK FATCA requirement for Cayman Islands is much later – May 31, 2016.

Caymans Islands FATCA Compliance Is Not Unique

Cayman Islands FATCA compliance through a Portal is now a common theme throughout the world. In fact, it is expected that most of the Model 1 FATCA countries around the world have either complied with 2014 US FATCA requirements or will do so soon, and they are likely to be using a Portal of some kind.

For example, it is expected that the following jurisdictions will do their FATCA reporting through an information reporting system (deadlines in parenthesis): Ireland (June 30, 2015), Luxembourg (June 30, 2015), United Kingdom (May 31, 2015), Canada (May 2, 2015), and so on.

What Portal Means for US Persons with Undisclosed Cayman Islands Accounts

If you are a US person with undisclosed foreign accounts in Cayman Islands (any many other jurisdictions around the world), you are very likely to have very little time left before your account will be disclosed to the IRS. The penalties (especially FBAR and Form 8938 penalties) for failure to report foreign accounts can be draconian, including potential incarceration. Moreover, once the IRS learns about the existence of your account and initiates an invest, you may not be able to do a voluntary disclosure to reduce your penalties.

This means that US persons with undisclosed foreign accounts need to immediately contact an experienced international tax lawyer to explore their voluntary disclosure options in order to timely file their request for Preclearance.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Disclosing Your Foreign Accounts

Sherayzen Law Office, PLLC is the experienced international tax firm that can help you with the voluntary disclosure of your foreign accounts. We have already successfully helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world to conduct various types of voluntary disclosures (OVDP, SDOP (Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures), SFOP (Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures), Delinquent Information Returns, Delinquent FBAR Submission, and Noisy/Reasonable Cause disclosures), and We can help You!

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