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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.

Receiving FATCA Letter from Your Foreign Bank

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!