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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!

4th Quarter 2018 Underpayment and Overpayment Interest Rates

On September 7, 2018, the IRS announced that the 4th Quarter 2018 underpayment and overpayment interest rates will not change from the 3rd Quarter of 2018.

This means that, the 4th quarter 2018 IRS underpayment and overpayment interest rates will be as follows:

  • five (5) percent for overpayments (four (4) percent in the case of a corporation)
  • five (5) percent for underpayments
  • seven (7) percent for large corporate underpayments; and
  • two and one-half (2.5) percent for the portion of a corporate overpayment exceeding $10,000.

Under the Internal Revenue Code, the interest rates are determined on a quarterly basis. This means that the next change in the IRS underpayment and overpayment interest rates may occur only for the 1st Quarter of 2019. In fact, if the analysts are correct, it may very well happen in early 2019.

The 4th Quarter 2018 underpayment and overpayment interest rates are important for many reasons. Not only are these rates used to determine what the IRS will charge in case of an amended tax return (including an amended return made as part of an offshore voluntary disclosure), but they will also determine the interest rate for any adjustments made by the IRS during an audit.

Moreover, the IRS underpayment rates are used to calculate the interest charged on the PFIC (default IRC Section 1291) tax due on an excess distribution. It should be remembered that PFIC calculations de facto remain outside of the Statute of Limitations and PFIC interest can be charged on any PFIC gains made in 2018 but allocated to any prior year (all the way to 1988).

It is important to prevent some US tax accountants from falling into a common trap concerning distributions of accumulated income from a foreign trust. There is a myth that the interest rates on UNI tax is calculated based on the IRS underpayment and overpayment interest rates. This is incorrect – the Throwback Rule follows a separate method for calculating the interest on the UNI tax.

Sherayzen Law Office continues to track any changes IRS makes to its overpayment and underpayment interest rates.

Schedule C IRS Audit | Business Tax Lawyer & Attorney

One of the most common types of IRS audits is the Schedule C IRS audit. In this article, I would like to introduce the readers to the Schedule C IRS audit. In particular, I would like to discuss the type of taxpayers who are affected by an IRS audit of Schedule C and the key legal issues associated with such an audit.

Schedule C IRS Audit: Who is Affected?

A Schedule C IRS audit primarily concerns two groups of taxpayers: owners of sole proprietorships and owners of single-member LLCs. These are the taxpayers who conduct business in either unincorporated form (i.e. sole proprietorship) or the incorporation is disregarded by the IRS (i.e. single-member LLC).

Schedule C IRS Audit: the Focus of the Audit

A typical Schedule C IRS audit focuses on two critical areas: full reporting of revenue and substantiation of expenses.

Generally, the reporting of business revenue should not be too difficult as long as there are sufficient records, but there are exceptions. One of such exceptions is the reporting of foreign income earned by the taxpayer because of the issues of income recognition and currency translation.

Unfortunately, a typical Schedule C IRS audit rarely involves a business with well-kept records. In a purely cash-based business, this is most problematic for obvious reasons – absent records of receipt of cash, it is extremely difficult to recreate an accurate picture of the revenue intake by the business. Similarly, a lot of work will be needed to reconstruct the revenue of a business with multiple revenue conduits, constant transfers between accounts, inexplicable cash withdrawals and deposits, disorganized prepayments and other similar complications.

Schedule C IRS Audit: Substantiation of Expenses

The problems associated with the second part of a Schedule C IRS audit (i.e expenses), however, dwarf the difficulties of revenue identification. The substantiation of expenses is by far the most difficult task in a Schedule C IRS audit. Let’s explore the reasons for this problem in more detail.

During a Schedule IRS C audit, the revenue agent in charge of the audit will only allow a business expenses if it satisfies all of the following three requirements:

1. Expense is Incurred by Business Identified on Schedule C

In this context, the primary problem that plagues taxpayers is the commingling of personal and business expenses. Oftentimes, the taxpayers will pay for business expenses using a personal bank account or a personal credit card. Actually, I have had clients who used credit cards of third parties to pay for business expenses. Proving that these expenses were actually incurred by the business, as opposed to the taxpayer or the third party, can be very challenging.

2. Expense is Supported by Records

The IRS will generally require that a business expense is supported by records. If a taxpayer uses only his own memory as the basis for an expense, an IRS agent is likely to disallow such an expense.

Ideally, the taxpayer should have actual receipts for all business expenses, but IRS agents generally accept bank and credit card statements that would allow them to identify the nature of an expense. The generosity of an IRS agent in this aspect often depends on the general “flow” of a Schedule C IRS audit – i.e. cooperation of the taxpayer, his credibility and the non-willfulness of his prior noncompliance.

3. Expense is Allowable Business Deduction from Income

Even if the audited taxpayer has good records in support of a business expense, the expense must still be an allowable business deduction. The critical issue here is whether the law actually allows the taxpayer to reduce his business income by the expense in question.

In order to qualify for being a deductible business expense, the expense must be both ordinary (i.e. common and accepted in the relevant area of trade or business) and necessary (i.e. helpful and appropriate for your trade or business). It is also should be kept in mind that some of the business expenses are either capitalized or added to cost of goods sold. There are also limitations on certain types of business deductions (such as business meals).

One of the most frequent problems that arise during a Schedule C IRS audit is the issue of personal expenses paid by the business. Personal expenses are never deductible as a business expense. I already described this problem above in the context of business expenses paid through personal accounts or by a third party; here, I am discussing the opposite situation – personal expenses paid using a business bank account or credit card.

It is important to understand that the fact that an expense is paid by a business, does not automatically mean that this is a deductible business expense. An expense still needs to comply with the “ordinary and necessary” requirement and be separated from personal expenses.

Sometimes, it is fairly easy to identify personal expenses, but this is not always the case; on the contrary, a vast number of expenses can be interpreted either as a business expense or a personal expense. For example, if a business owner buys tickets to a baseball game for himself, his family, potential clients and their families, how much of it is deductible? How about a personal membership at a gold club to which the business owner often invites his prospective clients and pays for their games?

The answers to these questions should not be left to the judgment of the IRS agent in charge of the question; instead, the attorney who represents the audited taxpayer should look at the precise facts, IRS revenue rulings and similar cases to promote the argument that will benefit his client.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with a Schedule C IRS Audit

If the IRS is auditing the Schedule C of your tax return, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office. Our professional audit team, headed by attorney Eugene Sherayzen, is highly experienced in the IRS audits of Schedule C, especially with respect to upper middle-class and high net-worth clients. We can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Amending Tax Returns during An IRS Audit | IRS Audit Lawyer & Attorney

One of the most interesting questions that arise during an IRS audit is whether a taxpayer (or his tax attorney) should amend his tax returns during an IRS audit. Amending tax returns during an IRS audit may offer great benefits as long as it is done properly, but this is not a strategy available in every case. In this article, I would like to discuss the benefits and dangers of amending tax returns during an IRS audit.

Potential Benefits of Amending Tax Returns During an IRS Audit

The main job of a tax attorney during an IRS audit is to protect his client as well as make it easy and convenient for the IRS agent to make a decision that will favor his client. One of the ways to accomplish this is to do the necessary audit groundwork for the IRS agent by amending all tax returns subject to audit before your initial meeting with the IRS agent.

In such cases, amending tax returns is likely to bring the taxpayer various benefits. I will concentrate here on the three main benefits. First, amending tax returns shows that the taxpayer is willing to cooperate with the IRS far and beyond his prescribed obligations.

Second, by amending tax returns and providing supporting documentation, the tax attorney is likely to “buy” a lot of goodwill from the agent, who will appreciate that the attorney is trying to reduce his workload and make all information easily accessible. In some situations, such extensive cooperation may convince the agent not to expand the audit beyond the already audited years.

Finally, depending on the situation, it may show a rift between past noncompliance and present compliance for reasonable cause purposes. This is especially relevant in situations where the original tax preparer can be held accountable for the taxpayer’s past noncompliance.

Potential Drawbacks of Amending Tax Returns During an IRS Audit

There are, however, various risks associated with this strategy. Again, I will concentrate on the three main drawbacks of the strategy. First, the amended tax returns have to be prepared correctly. If the amended returns are incorrect, then the taxpayer would be getting himself into even bigger troubles.

Second, in some situations, a taxpayer may not benefit from prolonging the case, especially where there are Statute of Limitations issues concerning unaudited years. By prematurely exposing the taxpayer’s mistakes on the original return, the taxpayer may give the IRS additional time to open up another year for audit. It is questionable whether this concern outweighs the benefits of amending tax returns; one really should look at the totality of circumstances of the specific case in question and make the decision based on this analysis.

Third, by shifting the workload from the IRS agent to the taxpayer’s tax attorney, the taxpayer is likely to incur substantially higher legal fees. Therefore, a cost-benefit analysis must be done by the attorney to make sure that the proposed strategy of amending tax returns is cost-effective and does not result in unduly high legal fees.

Procedural Concerns: Do NOT File Amended Tax Returns; Send Them to the IRS Agent

One of the biggest procedural mistakes with respect to the strategy of amending tax returns that I see in my practice is incorrect filing of amended tax returns. By “incorrect filing”, I mean here the filing of amended tax returns directly with the IRS bypassing the IRS agent in charge of the audit.

This is a big mistake, because it goes against the proper procedure of having all adjustments to the audited original returns done by the IRS agent in charge of the case. Moreover, the IRS agent will feel ignored and to some degree betrayed by the taxpayer, and the taxpayer will likely lose all goodwill that he has accumulated with the agent up to that point.

The proper procedure for amending tax returns during an IRS audit is to prepare the amended tax returns and send them to the IRS agent in charge of the audit with supporting documentation.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Amending Tax Returns During an IRS Audit

Amending tax returns may not a be a strategy that is available in all cases. If done properly, in many cases, it will offer great benefits to a taxpayer, while it may result in augmenting the already existing problems in other cases. This type of a decision should not be made by the taxpayer, but by an experienced IRS audit lawyer.

This is why you should contact the professional IRS audit team of Sherayzen Law Office. Headed by our highly-experienced tax attorney, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, Sherayzen Law Office has helped US taxpayers around the world to deal with various types of IRS audits, including audits of offshore voluntary disclosures and high net-worth audits.

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Streamlined Audit Interview | Streamlined Audit Tax Lawyers

In an earlier article, I described the main features of an IRS audit of a voluntary disclosure made pursuant to the Streamlined Domestic Submission Procedures (“Streamlined Submission Audit”). Today, I would like to discuss a very specific feature of this process – Streamlined Audit Interview.

Streamlined Audit Interview: Background Information on Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures

Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures (“SDOP”) is a special offshore voluntary disclosure program initiated by the IRS in 2014. SDOP allows US taxpayers to remedy their past tax noncompliance concerning the reporting of foreign assets and foreign income while paying a highly reduced 5% Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty. The reason for such a lenient treatment is that the taxpayers must certify that their prior noncompliance with US international tax laws was non-willful.

Streamlined Audit Interview: General Description

Virtually every IRS field audit will involve an attempt to interview the audited taxpayer(s). The concept of a Streamlined Audit Interview describes a situation where an audited taxpayer is interviewed specifically in the context of a Streamlined Submission Audit.

Streamlined Audit Interview: Main Differences from Regular IRS Audit Interview

In many ways, a regular IRS audit interview is similar to a Streamlined Audit Interview. In fact, procedurally, there are very few differences: both audits involve the same type of scheduling procedures, same interview format and, with respect to audited tax returns, very similar questions.

The main difference between a regular IRS audit interview and the Streamlined Audit Interview lies in the fact that the latter will involve the examination of the audited taxpayer’s non-willfulness with respect to prior tax noncompliance – i.e. whether the taxpayer carried his burden of proof to participate in SDOP in the first place. In other words, the difference between the two types of audits is in the substantive legal issues to be discussed.

There are also differences in the potential stakes. A failure for the taxpayer to substantiate his original non-willfulness arguments may lead the IRS to impose heavy penalties and even refer the case to the US Department of Justice’s Tax Division for criminal prosecution.

Finally, a Streamlined Audit Interview is likely to involve a much broader spectrum of issues than just amended tax returns. For example, there could be questions concerning FBARs, sources of foreign account balances, US assets purchased with undisclosed foreign funds, et cetera.

Streamlined Audit Interview: Extensive Preparation Is Necessary

A taxpayer should prepare for a Streamlined Audit Interview. It should be remembered that this interview may happen two or even almost three years from the time when the SDOP voluntary disclosure package was originally submitted. Hence, it is important to refresh the memory of the taxpayer so that he would be able to respond to the IRS questions (instead of constantly saying “I have no recollection”, thereby creating an impression as if he had to hide something).

The taxpayer should also be prepared on how to properly answer a question. Again, the idea is to avoid unnecessary suspicions and an impression that he has something to hide. This why the taxpayer’s answers should be firm and clear in order to eliminate any doubt of their meaning.

In every case, there are going to be weak or negative facts. The temptation to avoid a discussion of negative facts is huge, but it should be resisted. The taxpayer should be prepared to speak of them boldly, explain these facts and show how they fit into his overall non-willfulness arguments.

A taxpayer should never be trained in lying to the IRS or obfuscating the facts. Never, under any circumstances, should an attorney allow his client to commit a perjury, especially in the context of a voluntary disclosure based on the taxpayer’s non-willfulness. The outcome of this unethical strategy is likely to be disastrous (the IRS is likely to find out the truth in any case) and may result in criminal charges filed against the client, even if his original tax noncompliance was non-willful.

Being honest is of utmost importance in a Streamlined Audit Interview. This, however, does not preclude an attorney from employing certain strategies as described above to prevent unnecessary complications by the failure of a taxpayer to express himself clearly or creating a temptation on the part of the IRS to go on a “fishing expedition”.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With an Audit of Your Streamlined Submission and a Streamlined Audit Interview

If your Streamlined Submission is being audited by the IRS, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible for professional help. Sherayzen Law Office is a highly experienced international tax law firm that specializes in all stages of offshore voluntary disclosures, including IRS audits of a Streamlined Submission and federal court representation.

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