Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures has been the best voluntary disclosure option since its creation in 2014 for eligible US taxpayers with undisclosed foreign assets and foreign income, and I predict that it will remain so in the year 2024. Let’s discuss in more detail the unique advantages of the 2024 Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures.
2024 Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures: Background Information and Purpose
The IRS created the current Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures (usually abbreviated as “SFOP”) on June 18, 2014, though the Certification forms became available only a few months later. Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures quickly became the most popular option for US taxpayers who reside overseas, because it is the only voluntary disclosure option that can truly be called an “amnesty program” with zero penalties.
Why did the IRS create Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures and offered such favorable terms? The main reason is that the enforcement of international tax compliance for taxpayers who reside overseas is highly complex and very expensive. Where such noncompliance is willful, the penalty framework and deterrence considerations make it worthwhile for the IRS to engage in these expenses (although, even in these cases, the IRS offers a special voluntary disclosure option). With respect to non-willful taxpayers, however, this logic does not work well.
Hence, the IRS (correctly, in my opinion) decided that it would be in the best interests of the United States to allow noncompliant US taxpayers overseas to voluntarily come forward and resolve their prior tax noncompliance. In order to achieve this goal, the IRS decided to offer such a sweet deal to these taxpayers that it would make no sense for these taxpayers to remain noncompliant. Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures is precisely this “sweet deal” meant to encourage non-willful US taxpayers who reside overseas to voluntarily resolve their prior noncompliance with US international tax reporting requirements.
2024 Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures: the “Sweet Deal”
Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures offers four great advantages to eligible participants. First and most important, it is a true tax amnesty program, because there are no penalties for prior noncompliance. There are no income tax penalties; the taxpayers only need to pay the extra tax owed plus interest. There is also no Offshore Penalty for prior noncompliance with respect to FBAR and other US information tax returns. It is definitely the best deal a taxpayer can ever get when it comes to offshore voluntary disclosure programs.
Second, Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures offers a simplified (not simple, though) offshore voluntary disclosure procedure which covers a relatively short disclosure period. Unlike the OVDP (Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program), SFOP only demands the taxpayers to file tax forms within the general statute of limitations for tax returns (i.e. past three years) and a regular statute of limitations for FBARs (i.e. past six years).
Third, Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures allows its participants to resolve their prior non-willful noncompliance with respect to unreported foreign income as well as pretty much any US international information return (FBAR, Form 8938, Form 5471, Form 8621, Form 926, et cetera).
Finally, the last major advantage of the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures is that this option only requires to establish non-willfulness rather than a reasonable cause. Non-willfulness is a much easier legal standard to satisfy (be careful, this is NOT an “easy standard”, just an easier one) than reasonable cause.
2024 Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures: Main Disadvantages
Usually, participation in the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures is highly advantageous to noncompliant taxpayers. However, there are some disadvantages and shortcomings in this program. In this article, I will briefly discuss three of the most important of them.
First of all, Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures is available only to taxpayers who satisfied the program’s foreign residency requirements. Even if you resided outside of the United States during most of each year and you are a bona fide tax resident of a foreign country, you still may not satisfy the strict residency requirements of SFOP.
Second, there is an issue of a shifting burden of proof. When they participate in the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures, taxpayers have the burden of proof to establish their non-willfulness with respect to their inability to timely report their foreign income as well as file FBARs and other US international information returns. Outside of the SFOP, the IRS has the burden of proof to establish willfulness; if it cannot carry this burden, then the taxpayer is automatically considered non-willful.
The problem is that most cases have positive and negative facts at the same time. This means that a lot of taxpayers are actually in the “gray” area between willfulness and non-willfulness. In many of these cases, the burden of proof may play a critical role in determining whether a taxpayer is eligible to participate in the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures.
Finally, participation in the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures does not provide a definitive closure to its participants. Unlike OVDP, SFOP does not offer a Closing Agreement without an audit; there may be a follow-up audit after the IRS processes your voluntary disclosure package. This means that going through Streamlined Foreign 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 2024 Streamlined Foreign 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 Foreign Offshore Procedures. We can also help you!
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