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.