Noncompliant US taxpayers with undisclosed foreign assets and foreign income should consider their voluntary disclosure options in this new year 2020. Similarly to 2019, I expect that this year Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures will continue to be the flagship voluntary disclosure option for such taxpayers who reside in the United States. In order for the readers to better understand why I make this assertion, I would like to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of participating in the 2020 Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures.
2020 Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures: Background Information and Purpose
The IRS created the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures (sometimes abbreviated as “SDOP”) on June 18, 2014, though the Certification forms became available only a few months later. Since its introduction, Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures quickly eclipsed the then-existing IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”) and became the most popular offshore voluntary disclosure option.
The main purpose of the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures is to encourage noncompliant US taxpayers to voluntarily resolve their prior non-willful noncompliance with US international tax compliance requirements. These requirements include all US international information returns such as FBAR, Form 8938, Form 5471, Form 8621, Form 3520, Form 926, et cetera.
2020 Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures: Main Advantages
In exchange for this voluntary disclosure of their prior tax noncompliance, US taxpayers escape income tax penalties and pay only a one-time Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty with respect to their prior failures to file the required US international information returns. The Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty is usually far below the potential penalties normally associated with failure to file these forms. In other words, noncompliant taxpayers can greatly reduce their IRS noncompliance penalties through their participation in the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures. This is one of the most important SDOP benefits.
Another advantage of the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures is the limited scope of this voluntary disclosure option. Taxpayers only need to file a small number of amended US tax returns (usually three) and FBARs (usually six) – in other words, the filings are limited to regular statute of limitations without any expansions (as opposed to OVDP which required filings for the past eight years).
Moreover, despite the limited scope of the SDOP filings, taxpayers who utilize the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures are able to fully resolve their prior US international tax noncompliance issues even if these years are not included in the actual SDOP filings. This means that the participating taxpayers are able “wipe the slate clean” – i.e. to erase their prior US international tax noncompliance from the time when it began.
The last major advantage of the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures is that this option only requires to establish non-willfulness rather than reasonable cause. Non-willfulness is a much easier legal standard to satisfy (be careful, I am not saying that this is an “easy standard”, just an easier one) than reasonable cause.
2020 Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures: Main Disadvantages
For the purpose of this article, I will discuss only two major disadvantages to the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures. First, the eligibility requirements are strict. This voluntary disclosure option is open only to taxpayers who filed their US tax returns for prior years and who are able to certify under the penalty of perjury that their prior noncompliance was non-willful. This certification has to be made specifically with respect to unreported foreign income, FBARs and each other international information return.
Most cases have positive and negative facts at the same time. Hence, a lot of taxpayers are actually in the “gray” area between willfulness and non-willfulness. This means that it is not easy to make a decision on whether a taxpayer is eligible to participate in the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures. This decision should be done only by an experienced international tax attorney who specializes in this area of law, such as Mr. Eugene Sherayzen of Sherayzen Law Office.
The second major disadvantage of the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures is lack of a definitive closure; there may be a follow-up audit after the IRS processes your voluntary disclosure package. Unlike OVDP, Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures does not offer a Closing Agreement without an audit. This means that going through Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures may not be the end of your case; the IRS can actually audit you over the next three years. If this happens, the audit of your voluntary disclosure will focus not only on the correctness of your disclosure, but also on the truthfulness and correctness of your non-willfulness certification.
Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With 2020 Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures
If you have undisclosed foreign accounts or any other foreign assets, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help with your offshore voluntary disclosure. We have successfully helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world with their offshore voluntary disclosures, including Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures. We can also help you!