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OVDP Closure Sets the Stage for a Dramatic Increase in IRS FBAR Audits

There has been virtually no discussion of the impact of the OVDP closure beyond how it affects the ability of willful taxpayers to settle their past noncompliance. This is very unfortunate, because there is a direct correlation between OVDP and IRS tax enforcement activities. In this article, I will discuss how the OVPD closure sets the stage for a dramatic increase in the IRS FBAR Audits as well as IRS audits of other US taxpayers with international tax exposure.

The Utility of the OVDP Program Prior to the OVDP Closure

The IRS flagship 2014 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program served various purposes prior to its closure on September 28, 2018. Let’s concentrate on its two most important roles.

First and foremost, it was an important information-gathering tool for the IRS. The taxpayers who participated in the OVDP disclosed not only their noncompliance with US tax laws, but also the identity of the persons and institutions who facilitated this noncompliance. In other words, the OVDP supplied to the IRS valuable, up-to-date information about foreign financial institutions and foreign financial advisors who participated and even set-up the various tax evasion schemes. This ever-growing mountain of evidence was later used by the IRS to target these schemes effectively and efficiently.

Second, the OVDP greatly enhanced the IRS tax enforcement activities in two different ways. On the one hand, the OVDP promoted the general awareness of FBAR requirements as well as voluntary disclosures of FBAR noncompliance by US taxpayers, thereby saving the IRS the time and resources that otherwise would have been unnecessarily spent on finding and auditing these taxpayers. On the other hand, by “weeding-out” these repentant taxpayers, the OVDP allowed the IRS to concentrate its enforcement efforts on the taxpayers who the IRS believed to be true and inveterate tax evaders.

Diminished Utility of the OVDP and the OVDP Closure in 2018

Over time, however, the IRS came to conclusion that, in precisely these two most important aspects, the OVDP had lost a substantial part of its prior utility. The full implementation of FATCA and the ever-spreading web of bilateral and multilateral information exchange treaties made the OVDP a relatively unimportant information collection tool by the end of 2017.

At the same time, due to the introduction of the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures and the fact that most willful taxpayers who wanted to take advantage of the OVDP had already done so, fewer and fewer taxpayers were entering the OVDP. In other words, by early 2018, the IRS was in the position to make the decision that the “weeding-out” process was substantially complete.

For these two reasons as well a number of other smaller reasons, the IRS decided to finally close the 2014 OVDP (which itself was a modification of the 2012 OVDP) on September 28, 2018. The OVDP closure did not happen suddenly; rather, the IRS gave a more than nine-month notice to the public that the OVDP was going to be closed. This was done very much according to the “weeding-out” concept – the IRS gave one last opportunity to certain groups of taxpayers to settle their prior US international tax noncompliance under the established terms of the OVDP program.

The Link Between the OVDP Closure and IRS FBAR Audits

At this point, after giving noncompliant US taxpayers their last chance to “peacefully” resolve their FBAR and other US tax problems, the IRS believes that it has completed its weeding-out process. The time has come for harsh IRS tax enforcement.

Based on my conversations with various IRS agents, I have identified the trend where the IRS currently encourages IRS agents to quickly close their voluntary disclosure cases and shift to doing field audits involving international tax compliance, including FBAR audits.

In other words, the OVDP closure frees up the critical resources that the IRS needs to conduct audits based on the mountains of information it has accumulated over the past decade. Some of this information came from the OVDP, the Swiss Bank Program, from FATCA and other  information exchange mechanisms.

What is worse (from the perspective of noncompliant taxpayers) is that the IRS now can justify the imposition of higher FBAR penalties since it can claim that the taxpayers had prior chances to resolve their prior FBAR noncompliance and intentionally failed to do so.

Sherayzen Law Office Predicted the Shift Toward Tax Enforcement a Long Time Ago

All of these developments – the OVDP closure and the shift toward stricter tax enforcement – were predicted years by Sherayzen Law Office ago. As early as 2013, Mr. Sherayzen made a prediction that the Swiss Bank Program and FATCA are likely to lead to higher levels of FBAR audits and FBAR litigation as well as the general shift of the IRS policy from voluntary disclosures to tax enforcement.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With FBAR Audits and Other International Tax Audits

If you are being audited by the IRS and your tax return involves any international tax issues (including FBARs), you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. Our experienced international tax law firm has successfully helped hundreds of US taxpayers to settle their US tax affairs.

We possess profound knowledge and understanding of US international tax law as well as the IRS procedures. We have experience in every stage of IRS enforcement: from offshore voluntary disclosures and IRS administrative appeals to IRS audits (including FBAR audits and audits of Streamlined disclosures) and federal court litigation.

We are a leader in US international tax compliance and We Can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

US Taxpayers’ Nightmare Continues: FBAR Penalty Inflation Adjustment

As if the FBAR penalties were not frightening enough, the Congress has mandated the IRS to adjust the FBAR penalties to account for inflation. As a result, the already complicated and severe system of FBAR penalties became even more complex and ruthless. In this article, I would like provide a general overview of the FBAR penalty inflation adjustment and what it means for noncompliant US taxpayers.

FBAR Penalty Inflation Adjustment: The “Old” FBAR Penalty System

The FBAR penalty system was already complex prior to the 2015 FBAR penalty inflation adjustment. It consisted of three different levels of penalties with various levels of mitigation. The highest level of penalties consisted of criminal penalties. The most dreadful penalty was imposed for the willful failure to file FBAR or retain records of a foreign account while also violating certain other laws – up to $500,000 or 10 years in prison or both.

The next level consisted of civil penalties imposed for the willful failure to file an FBAR – up to $100,000 or 50% of the highest balance of an account, whichever is greater, per violation. It is important to emphasize that the IRS has unilaterally interpreted the word “violation” to mean that a penalty should be imposed on each account per year, potentially going back six years (the FBAR statute of limitations is six years).

The third level of penalties were imposed for the non-willful failure to file an FBAR. The penalties were up to $10,000 per violation per year. It is also important to point out that the subsequent laws and IRS guidance imposed certain limitations on the application of the non-willful FBAR penalties.

Finally, there were also penalties imposed solely on businesses for negligent failure to file an FBAR. These penalties were up to $500 per violation; if, however, there was a pattern of negligence, the negligence penalties could increase ten times up to $50,000 per violation.

FBAR Penalty Inflation Adjustment: Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015

Apparently, the Congress did not believe that these FBAR penalties were sufficiently horrific. Hence, it enacted a law awkwardly named Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015 (“2015 Inflation Adjustment Act”) to “improve the effectiveness of civil monetary penalties and to maintain their deterrent effect.”

The 2015 Inflation Adjustment Act required federal agencies to do two things: (1) adjust the amounts of civil monetary penalties with an initial “catch-up” adjustment; and (2) make subsequent annual adjustments for inflation. It is important to note that only civil penalties, not criminal, were subject to the inflation adjustment.

While the annual adjustment requirement is fairly clear, the “catch-up” adjustment requires a bit more explanation. In essence, the catch-up adjustment requires a federal agency to adjust the penalty (as it was last originally established by an act of Congress) for inflation from the time of establishment through roughly the November of 2015. In other words, a penalty would be adjusted in one year for all of the inflation that accumulated between the time the statutory penalty was created and the time the 2015 Inflation Adjustment Act was enacted. The adjustment was limited to 2.5 times of the original penalty.

The end result of the penalty adjustment was a massive increase in federal penalties in 2016. For example, one OSHA penalty went up from $70,000 to $124,709.

New System under the FBAR Penalty Inflation Adjustment

Luckily, the FBAR penalties were last revisited by Congress in 2004 and the increase in FBAR penalties, while very large (about 25%), was not as dramatic as some of the other federal penalties. Nevertheless, the FBAR penalty inflation adjustment further complicated the multi-layered system of FBAR penalties.

The key complication came from the fact that the FBAR penalty became dependent on the timing of the IRS penalty assessment, bifurcating the already existing FBAR penalty system (that was broadly described above) into two distinct parts: pre-November 2, 2015 and post-November 2, 2015.

If an FBAR violation occurred on or before November 2, 2015, the old FBAR penalty system applies. This is also true even if the actual IRS assessment of the FBAR penalties for the violation occurred after this date. In other words, the last FBAR violation definitely eligible for the old statutory penalties is the one concerning 2014 FBAR which was due on June 30, 2015. Obviously, FBARs for prior years are also eligible for the same treatment.

If an FBAR violation occurred after November 2, 2015 and the FBAR penalty would be assessed after August 1, 2016, the new system of penalties (i.e. the one after the FBAR penalty inflation adjustment) applies. In other words, all FBAR violations starting 2015 FBAR (which was due on June 30, 2016) are subject to the ever-increasing FBAR civil penalties.

With respect to these post-November 2, 2015 violations, the exact amount of penalties will depend on the timing of the IRS penalty assessment, not when the FBAR violation actually occurred. For example, if the IRS penalty assessment was made after August 1, 2016 but prior to January 15, 2017, then maximum non-willful FBAR penalty per violation will be $12,459 and the maximum willful FBAR penalty per violation will be the greater of $124,588 or 50% of the highest balance of the account.

If, however, the penalty was assessed after January 15, 2017 but prior to January 15, 2018, the maximum non-willful FBAR penalty will increase to $12,663 per violation and the maximum civil willful FBAR penalty will be the greater of $126,626 or 50% of the highest balance of the account.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help with Avoiding or Reducing Your FBAR Penalties

Whether you have undisclosed foreign accounts on which the FBAR penalties have not yet been imposed or the IRS has already imposed FBAR penalties for your prior FBAR noncompliance, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible to secure professional help. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers to reduce and, under certain circumstances, completely eliminate FBAR penalties through properly made voluntary disclosures. We have also helped US taxpayers to fight the already imposed FBAR penalties through appeals to the IRS Office of Appeals as well as in a federal court.

We can help You! Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

What to do if the IRS Audits Your Quiet Disclosure | FBAR Lawyer Madison

This essay is concerned with a situation where the IRS audits your quiet disclosure of foreign assets and foreign income. The IRS audit can be an absolute nightmare in this case. Not only will the audit examine the accuracy of the disclosure, but the IRS may actually raise the issue of willful and non-willful FBAR penalties as well as the potential income tax fraud penalty.

So, is everything lost if the IRS audits your quiet disclosure? The answer is “no”. While the situation may undoubtedly be dire, it is not hopeless if the case is handled properly. While it is not possible to discuss in this article the whole spectrum of strategies available to taxpayers in such a situation, this article attempts to line out the three most important steps that you should do if the IRS audits your quiet disclosure.

1. If the IRS Audits Your Quiet Disclosure, You Should Not Panic

An IRS audit is always a stressful event. The stress increases exponentially if the audit involves a quiet disclosure of foreign assets and foreign income.

While your situation may be difficult, you should try to resist the panic. Panic is an emotional condition where a person starts acting irrationally and may follow a course of action that may worsen the already difficult situation.

2. If the IRS Audits Your Quiet Disclosure, Do Not Try to Handle the Audit by Yourself

Do NOT attempt to solve the IRS audit of your quiet disclosure by yourself, even if you believe that you were non-willful in your original noncompliance. This is extremely dangerous and may result in imposition of non-willful or even willful penalties. US international tax law is so complex that you may easily get yourself in trouble even if you believe that you are doing well.

There is a myth that the IRS is somehow gracious when a taxpayer represents himself and will be willing to reduce the penalties – this is completely false, especially in a situation involving a quiet disclosure. The IRS agents follow procedures and they will follow them ruthlessly until they run into a legal defense built by a lawyer. Without such a defense, there is nothing to stop the IRS from imposing penalties to the extent an agent believes is justified by the facts of the case.

3. If the IRS Audits Your Quiet Disclosure, You Should Immediately Find and Retain an International Tax Lawyer

Get yourself an international tax lawyer to help you with an IRS audit of your quiet disclosure. This can be a highly complex situation and you should have a professional by your side to guide you throughout the process. This is the best way to assure that your case will be handled properly.

In this case, a professional must be an international tax lawyer, not an accountant. I am always suspicious of cases where accountants start to go beyond their professional capacity and take on the legal defense of their clients’ cases. While it may be tolerable in simple domestic cases (though still not recommended), it may result in a horrific outcome where the IRS audits a quiet disclosure.

Sherayzen Law Office Can Be Your International Tax Lawyer if the IRS Audits Your Quiet Disclosure

If the IRS audits your quiet disclosure, you should consider retaining Sherayzen Law Office, Ltd. as your international tax lawyer to represent you during the IRS audit. Sherayzen Law Office is an international tax firm which focuses on helping its clients with their voluntary disclosures and the audits of these voluntary disclosures. The firm is not only a leader in the field, but it has also extensive experience in combating and reducing the IRS penalties associated with prior tax noncompliance.

IRS FBAR Audits Caused by Tax Returns | FBAR Audit Lawyer

IRS FBAR Audits can lead to catastrophic consequences for noncompliant US taxpayers. While there may be a numbers of factors that influence the IRS decision to commence such an audit, one of the leading sources of the IRS FBAR Audits are the US tax returns. In this article, I would like to explore the main types of documents that the IRS is searching for during a tax return examination in order to uncover the information that may lead to the commencement of IRS FBAR Audits (I will not discuss here the right of the IRS to disclose US tax return information for Title 31 FBAR Audit; this topic is reserved for a subsequent article).

IRS FBAR Audits and IRS Title 26 Examinations

From the outset, it should be made clear that filing of US tax returns does not automatically lead to IRS FBAR Audits. Rather, a great percentage of the IRS FBAR Audits arise from the IRS Title 26 Examinations of these returns– i.e. IRS examinations and audits of US tax returns pursuant to the various provisions of the Internal Revenue Code. During these examinations, the IRS analyzes the audited tax returns and may uncover information related to FBAR non-compliance which usually serves as a cause of the subsequent FBAR audit.

Tax Return Information that May Trigger IRS FBAR Audits

So, what kind of evidence is the IRS looking for that may trigger IRS FBAR audits? First and most logical is Schedule B, particularly looking at whether box in Part III (which has questions related to foreign accounts and foreign trusts) is checked. If there is a discrepancy between the information provided to the IRS and Schedule B, this may lead to IRS FBAR Audits.

Second, foreign income documents from the tax examination administrative case file (which includes the Revenue Agent Reports). Here, the IRS is looking for income related to foreign bank and financial accounts that was not reported. A combination of unreported foreign income and undisclosed foreign accounts is precisely the toxic mix that lays the foundation for IRS FBAR Audits.

Third (and this is a very interesting strategy), copies of tax returns for at least three years before the opening of the offshore account and for all years after the account was opened, to show if a significant drop in reportable income occurred after the account was opened. The analysis of the returns for three years before the opening of the account would give the examiner a better idea of what the taxpayer might have typically reported as income before the foreign account was opened. This strategy shows just how analytical and creative the IRS can be in looking for cases that should be subject to IRS FBAR Audits.

Fourth, copies of any prior Revenue Agent Reports that may show a history of noncompliance. This strategy confirms once again the notion that a large history of noncompliance may lead to more frequent IRS examinations, including IRS FBAR Audits.

Fifth, IRS is also looking into “cash accounting’ – two sets of cash T accounts (a reconciliation of the taxpayer’s sources and uses of funds) with one set showing any unreported income in foreign accounts that was identified during the examination and the second set excluding the unreported income in foreign accounts.

Finally, the IRS makes a connection between tax fraud and FBAR noncompliance – the IRS is looking at any documents that would support fraud in commencing IRS FBAR Audits. Such documents include: false explanations regarding understated or omitted income, large discrepancies between actual and reported deductions of income, concealment of income sources, numerous errors which are all in the taxpayer’s favor, fictitious records or other deceptions, large omissions of certain types of income (personal service income, specific items of income, gambling winnings, or illegal income), false deductions, false exemptions, false credits, failure to keep or furnish records, incomplete information given to the return preparer regarding a fraudulent scheme, large and frequent cash dealings that may or may not be common to the taxpayer’s business, and verbal misrepresentations of the facts and circumstances.

Of course, the IRS is not limited to these six types of tax return documents; however, this is the most common evidence that the IRS uncovers during a tax return examination that may lead to subsequent IRS FBAR Audits.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Legal Help with IRS FBAR Audits

If you are subject to an IRS FBAR Audit or a tax return examination that involves foreign assets and foreign income, or you have undisclosed foreign assets and you are looking for a way to bring your legal situation into compliance with US tax laws, then you should contact the international tax law firm of Sherayzen Law Office, Ltd. Sherayzen Law Office is one of the best law firms in the world dedicated to helping US taxpayers with foreign assets and foreign income. Our highly experienced team of tax professionals, headed by an international tax attorney Eugene Sherayzen, provides effective, knowledgeable and reliable legal and tax help to its clients throughout the world, and we can help you deal with any IRS problem.

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!