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2018 FBAR Civil Penalties | FBAR Tax Lawyer & Attorney

Following the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015, the FBAR civil penalties are adjusted every year by the IRS for inflation. In this brief article, I would like to describe the new 2018 FBAR Civil Penalties that may be assessed by the IRS with respect to FBAR noncompliance.

2018 FBAR Civil Penalties: Pre-2016 FBAR Penalty System

The FBAR penalty system was already complex prior to the 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 a willful failure to file an FBAR – up to $100,000 or 50% of the highest balance of an account, whichever is greater, per violation per year.

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.

2018 FBAR Civil Penalties: Penalty Adjustment System

The Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015 further complicated the already complex FBAR penalty system, including for 2018 FBAR civil penalties.

As a result of the Act, with respect to 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, in 2017, the IRS announced that if the IRS penalty assessment was made after August 1, 2016 but prior to January 16, 2017, then the maximum non-willful FBAR penalty per violation would be $12,459 and the maximum willful FBAR penalty per violation would be the greater of $124,588 or 50% of the highest balance of the account.

Similarly, if the penalty was assessed after January 15, 2017, the maximum non-willful FBAR penalty would increase to $12,663 per violation and the maximum civil willful FBAR penalty would be the greater of $126,626 or 50% of the highest balance of the account.

Now, in 2018, post-January 15, 2017 FBAR penalties are adjusted higher.

2018 FBAR Civil Penalties: 2018 Inflation Adjustment

The new 2018 FBAR civil penalties for FBAR violations have increased as a result of inflation. If a penalty was assessed after January 15, 2017, the maximum 2018 FBAR civil penalties for a non-willful violation increased from $12,663 to $12,921. Similarly, the maximum 2018 FBAR civil penalties for a willful violation assessed after January 15, 2017 increased from $126,626 to $129,210.

It should be emphasized that the IRS currently interprets the term “violation” as a failure to report an account on an FBAR. In other words, these higher 2018 FBAR civil penalties can be assessed on a per-account basis.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with 2018 FBAR Civil Penalties

If you have not filed your FBAR and you want to do a voluntary disclosure; if you are being audited by the IRS with the possibility of the imposition of FBAR penalties; or FBAR penalties have already been assessed and you believe that they are too high, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help.

Sherayzen Law Office has helped hundreds of US taxpayers to deal with their FBAR penalties on all levels: offshore voluntary disclosure, FBAR Audit pre-assessment, post-audit FBAR penalty assessment and FBAR litigation in a federal court. We can help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

2018 FBAR Criminal Penalties | FBAR Lawyer & Attorney

2018 FBAR criminal penalties should be on the mind of any US taxpayer who willfully failed to file his FBARs or knowingly filed a false FBAR. In this essay, I would like to do an overview of the 2018 FBAR criminal penalties that these noncompliant US taxpayers may have to face.

2018 FBAR Criminal Penalties: Background Information

A lot of US taxpayers do not understand why the 2018 FBAR criminal penalties are so shockingly high. These taxpayers question why failing to file a form that has nothing do with income tax calculation should potentially result in a jail sentence.

The answer to this questions lies in the legislative history of FBAR. First of all, it is important to understand that FBAR is not a tax form. The Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (“FBAR”) was born in 1970 out of the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”), in particular 31 U.S.C. §5314. This means that the initial primary purpose of the form was to fight financial crimes, money laundering and terrorism. In other words, FBAR was not created as a tool against tax evasion.

Hence, the FBAR penalties were structured from the very beginning for the purpose of punishing criminals engaged in financial crimes and/or terrorism. This is why the FBAR penalties are so severe and easily surpass the penalties of any tax form.

It was only 30 years later, after the enaction of The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (the “USA Patriot Act”), that the enforcement of FBAR was turned over to the IRS. The IRS almost immediately commenced using FBAR to fight the tax evasion schemes that utilized offshore accounts.

The Congress liked the IRS initiative and responded with the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 (“2004 Jobs Act”). The 2004 Jobs Act further increased the FBAR penalties, including the creation of the non-willful penalty of up to $10,000 per violation.

2018 FBAR Criminal Penalties: Description

Now that we understand why the 2018 FBAR criminal penalties are so severe, let’s describe what they penalties actually look like. There are three different 2018 FBAR criminal penalties associated with different FBAR violations.

The first criminal penalty may be imposed under 26 U.S.C. 5322(a) and 31 C.F.R. § 103.59(b) for willful failure to file FBAR or retain records of a foreign account. The penalty is up to $250,000 or 5 years in prison or both.

When the willful failure to file FBAR is combined with a violation of other US laws or the failure to file FBAR is “part of a pattern of any illegal activity involving more than $100,000 in a 12-month period”, then the IRS has the option of imposing a criminal penalty under 26 U.S.C. 5322(b) and 31 C.F.R. § 103.59(c). In this case, the penalty jumps to incredible $500,000 or 10 years in prison or both.

Finally, if a person willingly and knowingly files a false, fictitious or fraudulent FBAR, he is subject to the penalty under 31 C.F.R. § 103.59(d). The penalty in this case may be $10,000 or 5 years or both.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With Past FBAR Violations

If you were required to file an FBAR but you have not done it, you need to contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible to explore your voluntary disclosure options. Our international tax law firm specializes in FBAR compliance and we have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world to bring their US tax affairs into full compliance with US tax laws while reducing and, in some cases, eliminating their FBAR penalties.

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!

FBAR Penalties vs Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program Penalties

There is a great confusion among international tax attorneys and Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) applicants with respect to the OVDP Offshore Penalty and how it differs from the FBAR penalties. I already described in another article the OVDP penalties. In this article, I would like to compare and contrast some of the major features of the OVDP Offshore Penalty with the FBAR penalties.

FBAR Penalties

FBAR is one of the most unforgiving forms on the planet. The penalties associated with delinquent FBARs can be terrifying.

At the apex of the penalty structure are the criminal penalties that are imposed in association with a willful violation of the FBAR filing requirements under 31 U.S.C. section 5322(a), 31 U.S.C. section 5322(b), or 18 U.S.C. Section 1001. The criminal penalties may be up to 10 years in jail and $500,000 in fines.

Willful (i.e. where a person willfully fails to report an account or account identifying information) civil penalties equal to the greater of $100,000 or 50 percent of the balance in the account at the time of the violation. See 31 U.S.C. section 5321(a)(5). Note, that a penalty in this case applies to each violation which is defined as each undisclosed account per year.

Even where the violation is non-willful, a person may be subject to a civil penalty of $10,000 per violation. Again, note that this is a penalty per violation – i.e. per each unreported account per each year.

For the purposes of this article, it is also important to note that the penalties apply only to “foreign financial accounts”. This term is defined broadly to include various types of accounts which are not normally associated with the word “account” (for example: a precious metals storage or a life insurance policy with a cash-surrender value). Nevertheless, the FBAR penalty would not apply to real estate or a business interest; it would apply only to foreign financial accounts – i.e. the balances on the foreign financial accounts and the number of these accounts constitute the primary penalty base for the calculation of the FBAR penalties.

OVDP Offshore Penalties

In contrast to traditional FBAR penalties, OVDP Offshore Penalty may mean a completely different penalty range and penalty base.

Offshore Penalty Range

Unlike the FBAR penalties, OVDP Offshore Penalty is a limited penalty – i.e. there is a certain penalty that you have to pay by virtue of participating into the program. It is very important to understand that most individual circumstances, willfulness, non-willfulness and reasonable case have virtually no impact on the calculation of the Offshore Penalty.

There are three tiers of the OVDP Offshore Penalty. First, there is a 5% penalty tier. There are various possibilities how one would be entitled to such a favorable treatment; a detailed discussion of the 5% penalty possibilities is described elsewhere on sherayzenlaw.com.

Second, there is a 12.5% penalty tier. An OVDP applicant would be entitled to this penalty tier only if, during each of the years covered by the OVDP, the taxpayer’s penalty base (see below for detailed explanation of what “penalty base” means) is less than $75,000.

Finally, if neither 5% nor 12.5% penalty tiers apply, the default penalty of 27.5% of the penalty base will apply.

Penalty Base

As important as the penalty range, it pales in comparison to the determination of the OVDP Offshore Penalty base, because these calculations can be vastly different from the FBAR penalties.

First, the Offshore Penalty is imposed only once on the highest amount of the penalty base during the Voluntary Disclosure period (i.e. years covered by the OVDP which sometimes can be quite tricky to figure out).

Second, the base for the Offshore Penalty includes a wide variety of assets including foreign bank accounts, the fair market value of assets in undisclosed offshore entities, and the fair market value of any foreign assets that were either acquired with improperly untaxed funds or produced improperly untaxed income. The general rule is that the offshore penalty is intended to apply to all of the taxpayer’s offshore holdings that are related in any way to tax non-compliance, regardless of the form of the taxpayer’s ownership or the character of the asset.

This means that the Offshore Penalty may include such assets as business ownership interests, stocks, artwork, automobiles, patents, trademarks, and (very important) real estate. Even ownership of U.S. businesses acquired with tainted funds may be open to the Offshore Penalty.

In other words, the penalty base of the OVDP Offshore Penalty may include a much greater variety of assets in addition to the assets already covered by the FBAR.

Penalty Differences Between FBARs and OVDP Should Influence Your Voluntary Disclosure Options

Given the tremendous differences in the range of penalties and the calculation of the penalty base, it is highly important (and I cannot stress this point enough) to properly analyze the potential tax liabilities under both methods before making the decision on whether to enter the OVDP or pursue a reasonable cause (so-called “noisy” or “modified”) voluntary disclosure. It is highly important that the client understands the differences in the calculations and the potential risks of pursuing either option.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With the Disclosure of Your Foreign Financial Accounts

If you have undisclosed foreign financial accounts or other offshore assets, contact Sherayzen Law Office for legal help. Our experienced international tax law firm will thoroughly analyze your case, calculate your potential tax liabilities, present you with a range of options, and implement your voluntary disclosure plan (including preparation of all tax forms and legal documents).

Reducing Your FBAR Penalties

FBAR (FinCEN Form 114 formerly Form TD F 90-22.1) penalties can be absolutely draconian. However, with a help of an experienced international tax attorney, they do not have to be so brutal.

Unfortunately, the IRS, accountants and even many lawyers present an overly simplistic view of the FBAR penalty structure. They start out with the potential criminal penalties and absolutely outrageous willful penalties and they usually end there by arguing that a non-compliant taxpayer should enter into the OVDP program.

What many tax professionals do not discuss is the immense complexity of the FBAR penalty structure that offers various chances to reduce and, sometimes, even eliminate your FBAR penalties through establishing non-willfulness and various mitigation guidelines.

This is a discussion that a tax professional must have with his client; otherwise, the client will not get the full picture of his case and cannot make an informed decision with respect to his voluntary disclosure options.

Notice that the potential for reduction of the FBAR penalties that exists under the current law is not the same as chimerical schemes that abound the internet. On the contrary, this is a serious discussion of what your potential FBAR penalties may be and what is the likelihood of success.

In some case, mitigation of penalties is a real possibility while, in others, entering the OVDP program may constitute a better choice. The important argument at the core of this essay is that the taxpayer should know about all of the options before the decision to the OVDP is made – i.e. the taxpayer has a chance to make a fully-informed decision, not a fear-driven one.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office to Discuss the FBAR Penalty Structure and Possibilities for Reducing Your FBAR Penalties

If you have undisclosed foreign assets, contact Sherayzen Law Office for legal help with your voluntary disclosure. Our experienced tax law firm will thoroughly review your case, estimate your FBAR penalties, analyze the potential for reduction of these penalties vis-a-vis entrance into the OVDP and present to you the available voluntary disclosure options so that you can make an informed decision.