PLR TAM Comparison | IRS International Tax Lawyer & Attorney

The IRS Private Letter Rulings (“PLR”) and the IRS Technical Advice Memoranda (“TAM”) often get confused by non-practitioners. In this small essay, I will engage in a brief PLR TAM comparison in order to clarify the similarities and differences between both types of IRS administrative guidance.

PLR TAM Comparison: Similarities

Let’s begin our PLR TAM comparison with the similarities. The similarities are great between both types of the IRS administrative guidance; this is why so many taxpayers cannot tell the difference between PLR and TAM. Both, PLR and TAM are written determinations issued by the IRS National Office. Also, PLR and TAM both interpret and apply US tax law to a taxpayer’s specific set of facts. Finally, both PLR and TAM are written IRS determinations which are binding on the IRS only in relation to the taxpayer who requested them.

PLR TAM Comparison: Differences

The differences between PLR & TAM are more nuanced but highly important. The two main differences are: (a) the requesting party and (b) timing of the request.

PLR is requested by a taxpayer; i.e. the IRS issues its opinion to the taxpayer, based on the taxpayer’s pattern of facts and at his request. The request for TAM, however, is made by a district IRS office. Oftentimes, though, the district IRS office makes this request at the urging of a taxpayer to seek technical advice from the IRS National Office.

With respect to the timing of the request, a taxpayer requests a PLR before he files his tax return. The taxpayer wishes to know the IRS position (or he is seeking IRS permission to do something, like a late election) in order to prevent the imposition of IRS penalties by filing an incorrect or late return.

TAM, however, deals with refund claims and examination issues after a tax return has been filed. In fact, oftentimes, a TAM is issued in response to a question concerning a specific set of facts uncovered during an IRS audit.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Experienced US International Tax Help

If you have questions concerning US international tax law and procedure, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. We are a highly experienced US international tax law firm that has helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the globe with their US international tax compliance issues, including offshore voluntary disclosures, IRS audits and various annual tax compliance issues.

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

IRS Issues FBAR Fact Sheet | FBAR FATCA Tax Lawyer & Attorney

On April 4, 2019, the IRS issued the FBAR Fact Sheet in order to acquaint US taxpayers with this highly important reporting requirement for foreign accounts held by US persons. Let’s analyze the new fact sheet in more detail.

FBAR Fact Sheet: Organizational Structure of the Fact Sheet

The IRS FBAR Fact Sheet can be divided into seven parts: (1) introduction to FBAR and the need to report foreign accounts to the IRS; (2) identification of who needs to file FBARs; (3) explanation of how to file FBARs (including special cases such as joint accounts and the determination of highest balances); (4) discussion of Form 8938 and FBAR; (5) amended and late FBARs; (6) description of FBAR recordkeeping requirements; and (7) more IRS resources concerning FBAR. These parts are not clearly delineated in the Fact Sheet; rather, they are summaries of various information that this brochure contains.

FBAR Fact Sheet: Introduction to FBAR

The IRS FBAR Fact Sheet commences with the warning to US taxpayers that they are required to report their foreign bank and financial accounts even if they do not produce any interest income. April 15 is identified as the critical deadline for these taxpayers. Later, the IRS also states that there is an extension available for FBARs. Again, the IRS did not do a very good job in organizing the Fact Sheet.

FBAR Fact Sheet: Who Needs to File FBARs

Then, the IRS Fact Sheet finally introduces FBAR and states that it was created by the 1970 Bank Secrecy Act; there is no discussion of the significance of this legal history. Then, the IRS focuses on the persons who may have to file FBARs and introduces the concept of “US Person”. It defines US person as a “citizen or resident of the United States or any domestic legal entity such as a partnership, corporation, limited liability company, estate or trust.”

There is a hidden trap in this IRS definition. “Resident of the United States” does not only include US permanent residents (as most non-lawyers would read it), but also US tax residents. I encourage the readers to read this article with respect to the definition of “resident” for FBAR purposes.

The IRS also defines “United States” for FBAR purposes. The readers can read this article published by Sherayzen Law Office for a more detailed analysis of this concept.

FBAR Fact Sheet: How to File FBARs

This part of the FBAR Fact Sheet focuses on the details concerning how to file FBAR electronically. The IRS cautions taxpayers that FBAR should not be filed with their federal tax returns.

Then, the IRS discusses in more detail certain special cases such as joint accounts and US retirement accounts. The IRS finishes this part of the FBAR fact sheet with the discussion on the determination of the highest value of a foreign account.

FBAR Fact Sheet: Form 8938 & FBAR

In this part of the Fact Sheet, the IRS introduces taxpayers to an existence of another requirement concerning foreign accounts, FATCA Form 8938. The IRS urges the readers to search the IRS website with respect to this form and how it compares to FBAR.

FBAR Fact Sheet: Amended and Late FBARs

The next part of the Fact Sheet focuses on amended and late FBARs. First, the IRS discusses how to amend an FBAR. Then, the IRS states that, as soon as a taxpayer learns that he did not file the required FBARs, he needs to e-file them. At that point, the IRS casually discusses that there is space available on the form to explain the reason for late filing. Finally, the IRS describes the severe FBAR criminal penalties, stating the following: “the IRS will not penalize those who properly report a foreign financial account on a late filed FBAR, and the IRS finds they have reasonable cause for late filing.”

Sherayzen Law Office believes that the IRS has not done a good job in this part of the Fact Sheet. It has completely failed to emphasize the importance of seeking a legal advice prior to filing a late FBAR. A taxpayer may get the wrong impression that he should file a late FBAR as soon as possible before exploring the options on how to do it in a way that protects him from excessive FBAR penalties.

Moreover, the IRS also failed to emphasize the importance of offshore voluntary disclosure with respect to late FBARs. Besides a casual mention of an “IRS compliance program”, there is nothing about the various available voluntary disclosure options for US taxpayers who are filing late FBARs. The IRS does not refer at all to the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures and Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures.

FBAR Fact Sheet: Recordkeeping Requirements

In the next part of the Fact Sheet, the IRS discusses how many years the FBAR filers need to keep the supporting documentation and copies of FBARs. Curiously, the IRS states that the filers should keep the documents for five years from the due date of FBAR, but the FBAR Statute of Limitations is six years.

Sherayzen Law Office does not believe that the IRS advice is correct here. We urge FBAR filers to keep their FBAR records and copies of the filed FBARs for six to ten years.

FBAR Fact Sheet: IRS Resources

The IRS concludes its FBAR Fact Sheet with the discussion of additional available resources to US taxpayers, including FBAR hotline and Publication 4261.

Sherayzen Law Office’s View of the FBAR Fact Sheet

We believe that the FBAR Fact Sheet can serve only as a general introduction to FBAR, but it is not sufficient to provide US taxpayers with sufficient guidance on how to properly deal with late FBARs. On the contrary, a US taxpayer may actually put himself in a worse legal position if he only relies on the Fact Sheet to file his late FBARs.

If you should have filed FBARs but you have not done so, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. As the IRS states in its FBAR Fact Sheet, the FBAR penalties are extremely severe. Hence, it is important to approach any FBAR violations with an extreme caution and retain Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world to deal with late FBARs, and We Can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

FY 2018 DOJ Criminal Case Statistics | Tax Lawyer & Attorney Minneapolis

An analysis of the fiscal year 2018 DOJ criminal case statistics reveals certain interesting patterns about federal criminal tax prosecution in that year. Let’s explore in more detail these patterns.

2018 DOJ Criminal Case Statistics: Typical Tax Criminal

The analysis of the FY 2018 DOJ criminal case statistics reveals an interesting fact – a typical tax criminal is very different from any other type of a criminal. A typical tax criminal is about 50 years old and has at least one college degree; and, he is male.

This finding is not very surprising, because this category of males happens to also include the description of one of the most productive and affluent parts of our society. Rational risk-taking and even gambling are also characteristics that belong to this demographic.

2018 DOJ Criminal Case Statistics: Fewer but Longer Sentences

In FY 2018, 577 tax crime offenders were sentenced compared to 660 in 2017. The tax crime sentence, however, was much longer than in 2017 – 17 months in FY 2018 versus 13 months in FY 2017.

It should be pointed out that the majority of tax crime offenders entered into plea agreements. Only 7.5% of tax crime cases went to trial.

2018 DOJ Criminal Case Statistics: Judges Are Mostly More Lenient Than Federal Sentencing Guidelines

Another interesting fact is revealed by the FY 2018 DOJ criminal case statistics concerning sentencing. In FY 2018, federal judges were more lenient than the federal sentencing guidelines, thus considering them too harsh for the crimes committed. Almost 76% of sentences fell short of the minimum recommended by the federal sentencing guidelines. About 24% of tax crime sentences fell within the federal sentencing guidelines, but even 65.1% of them were at the minimum end of the recommended range.

The practitioners, however, should not ignore the guidelines or assume that the judges will always be lenient: 10 sentences or 7.8% of the 129 cases within the guidelines came in at the maximum end of the range. There was also additional sentence that even exceeded the guidelines.

2018 DOJ Criminal Case Statistics: Probation

In addition to prison time, the courts imposed probation and other conditional confinement which affected the average 17-month sentence that was discussed above. Without the probation, the average FY 2018 tax crime sentence was 23 months. About 32.2% of the tax crime convictions received probation or probation plus some other conditions of confinement (other than prison).

2018 DOJ Criminal Case Statistics: Fines and Restitution

72.1% of tax crime cases resulted in sentences which included restitution but no fines; 16.3% included both; 6.1% of sentences contained neither fines nor restitution. In FY 2018, the judges imposed fines and restitution totaling close to $283.1 million; this averages at $27,517 in fines and $565,766 in restitution per case.

Sherayzen Law Office Strives to Help Its Clients to Avoid Criminal Prosecution

US international tax law is replete with criminal penalties. A US taxpayer who fails to comply with US international tax requirements must always contend with the possibility of facing criminal prosecution.

One of the primary goals of Sherayzen Law Office is to help its clients reduce and even eliminate the possibility of a criminal prosecution with respect to prior noncompliance with US tax laws. A number of strategies may be employed to achieve this goal depending on the situation, including offshore voluntary disclosure and proper handling of an IRS audit.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help with reducing the possibility of criminal prosecution with respect to your past US tax noncompliance.

CRS Success: 47 Million Financial Accounts Reported | FATCA Lawyer News

On June 7, 2019, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (“OECD”) announced that countries shared information concerning 47 million financial accounts under the OECD’s Common Reporting Standard (“CRS”). Let’s explore this CRS success in more detail.

Measuring CRS Success: What is CRS?

CRS can be called the response of the rest of the world to the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”), a groundbreaking piece of US legislation that became a law in 2010. The idea behind the CRS is the same as that of FATCA – to combat tax evasion that utilizes secret foreign accounts through automatic information exchange between the member-countries concerning these accounts.

CRS was developed in 2014 as the information exchange standard for the Automatic Exchange of Information (“AEOI”) Agreements. Legally, CRS is based on the multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters, but it is the standard in the bilateral AEOI agreements as well. The first reporting under the CRS occurred in 2017.

The United States has refused to information exchange under the CRS. This is an egoistical position – CRS does not substantially help the IRS in its combat against tax evasion; the US government believes that FATCA already provides the IRS with all of the information that it needs. Moreover, the CRS would require the United States to disclose information concerning domestic accounts owned by foreigners, thereby endangering the US “tax haven” appeal. Finally, there is a practical aspect of paying for the implementation of the CRS.

Measuring CRS Success: Account Information Shared

On June 7, 2019, OECD shared some actual data concerning the impact of CRS on information exchange. This announcement was made in Fukuoka, Japan, right before the G20 meeting of finance ministers. The results are extraordinary: the participating countries shared information concerning 47 million foreign accounts, which comprise $5.5 trillion or €4.9 trillion. The OECD already called CRS as the “largest exchange of tax information in history.”

Measuring CRS Success: Voluntary Disclosure Programs

Prior to the implementation of the CRS, many participating countries offered their taxpayers a chance to remedy their past noncompliance through a voluntary disclosure program. These programs turned out to be a great success.

Fearing disclosure under the CRS, about 500,000 account holders revealed more than €95 billion in offshore funds. OECD believes that the responsibility for such a huge success of voluntary disclosure programs should be attributed to the CRS; i.e. these disclosures were “early evidence of taxpayer behavioral responses” to the potential future information exchanges.

Measuring CRS Success: Drop in Tax Haven Investments

Another measure of the CRS success is its impact on the deposits in jurisdictions identified by the OECD as tax havens. The International Monetary Fund reported a 34% decline since 2008 in the tax haven deposits by individuals and corporations. The OECD believes that as much as two-thirds of this decline should be attributed to the CRS.

Hungarian Bank Accounts | US International Tax Lawyer & Attorney

US taxpayers who own Hungarian bank accounts may have to comply with a large number of US tax reporting requirements. In particular, they need to be concerned about reporting income generated by their Hungarian bank accounts as well as disclosing the ownership of these accounts on FBAR and Form 8938. Other requirements may apply, but these are the three main ones. Let’s explore them in more detail in this essay.

Hungarian Bank Accounts: Definition of “Filer”

It is important to understand that each of the aforementioned three requirements has its own definition of “filer” – a person who is subject to these obligations to report his foreign assets and foreign income. These differences in the definition of filer, however, are fairly small. Rather, every definition is essentially based on the concept of “US tax residency”. In fact, the worldwide income reporting requirement applies only to US tax residents.

Who are “US tax residents”? This definition encompasses the following persons: US citizens, US permanent residents, persons who satisfy the Substantial Presence Test and persons who declare themselves as US tax residents. Keep in mind that this is a general definition of US tax residents which is subject to a number of important exceptions.

So, if US tax residency definition forms the basis for all three requirements, what are the differences? Generally, the differences arise with respect to situations which are less common and mostly limited to the persons who try to declare themselves as US tax residents or non-resident aliens. The most common issues arise with respect to the application of the Substantial Presence Test, first-year definition of US tax resident and last-year definition of a US tax resident. A common example can be found with respect to treaty “tie-breaker” provisions, which foreign persons use to escape the effects of the Substantial Presence Test for US tax residency purposes.

The determination of your US tax reporting requirements is the primary task of your international tax attorney. It is simply too dangerous for a common taxpayer or even an accountant to attempt to dabble in this area of US international tax law.

Hungarian Bank Accounts: Worldwide Income Reporting Requirement

Now that we understand the concept of US tax residency, we are ready to explore the aforementioned three US reporting requirements with respect to Hungarian bank accounts. Let’s begin with the obligation to report income generated by Hungarian bank accounts.

All US tax residents, as defined above, must disclose their worldwide income on their US tax returns. This means that they must report to the IRS their US-source and foreign-source income. The worldwide income reporting requirement applies to all types of foreign-source income: bank interest income, dividends, royalties, capital gains and any other income.

The worldwide income reporting requirement applies even if the foreign income is subject to Hungarian tax withholding or reported on a Hungarian tax return. It also does not matter whether the income was ever transferred to the United States or stayed in Hungary – the worldwide income reporting requirement will still apply in either case.

Hungarian Bank Accounts: FBAR (FinCEN Form 114)

In addition to reporting the income generated by Hungarian bank accounts, a taxpayer may also need to disclose the ownership of these accounts on his Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (abbreviated as “FBAR”). The official name of FBAR is FinCEN Form 114.

FBAR is arguably the most important reporting requirement with respect to foreign accounts. The irony is that it is not a tax form – i.e. it is not part of the Internal Revenue Code which is Title 26 of the United States Code. Rather, FBAR was created by the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 under Title 31 of the United States Code.

Basically, the US Department of the Treasury requires all “US Persons” to disclose their ownership interest in or signatory authority or any other authority over Hungarian (and any other foreign country) bank and financial accounts if the aggregate highest balance of these accounts exceeds $10,000. If these requirements are met, the disclosure requirement is satisfied by filing an FBAR.

It is important to understand that all parts of this FBAR requirement are terms and conditions that require further exploration and understanding. I encourage you to search our firm’s website, sherayzenlaw.com, for the definition of “US Persons” and the explanation of other parts of the FBAR requirement.

There is one part of the FBAR requirement, however, that I wish to explore here in more detail – the definition of “account”. The reason for this special treatment is the fact that this definition is a very important source of confusion among US taxpayers with respect to what needs to be disclosed on FBAR.

The FBAR definition of an account is substantially broader than what this word generally means in our society. “Account” for FBAR purposes includes: checking accounts, savings accounts, fixed-deposit accounts, investments accounts, mutual funds, options/commodity futures accounts, life insurance policies with a cash surrender value, precious metals accounts, earth mineral accounts, et cetera. In fact, whenever there is a custodial relationship between a foreign financial institution and a US person’s foreign asset, there is a very high probability that the IRS will find that an account exists for FBAR purposes.

Despite the fact that FBAR compliance is neither easy nor straightforward, FBAR has a very severe penalty system. On the criminal side, FBAR noncompliance may lead to as many as ten years in jail (of course, these penalties come into effect in extreme situations). On the civil side, the most dreaded penalties are FBAR willful civil penalties which can easily exceed a person’s net worth. Even FBAR non-willful penalties can wreak a havoc in a person’s financial life.

Civil FBAR penalties have their own complex web of penalty mitigation layers, which depend on the facts and circumstances of one’s case. In 2015, the IRS added another layer of limitations on the FBAR penalty imposition. One must remember, however, that these are voluntary IRS actions which the IRS may disregard whenever circumstances warrant such an action.

Hungarian Bank Accounts: FATCA Form 8938

Finally, the third requirement that I wish to discuss today is a relative newcomer, FATCA Form 8938. This form requires “Specified Persons” to disclose all of their Specified Foreign Financial Assets (“SFFA”) as long as these Specified Persons meet the applicable filing threshold. The filing threshold depends on the Specified Person’s tax return filing status and his physical residency.

The IRS defines SFFA very broadly to include an enormous variety of financial instruments, including foreign bank accounts, foreign business ownership, foreign trust beneficiary interests, bond certificates, various types of swaps, et cetera. In some ways, FBAR and Form 8938 require the reporting of the same assets, but these two forms are completely independent from each other. This means that a taxpayer may have to report same foreign assets on FBAR and Form 8938.

Specified Persons consist of two categories of filers: Specified Individuals and Specified Domestic Entities. You can find a detailed explanation of both categories by searching our website sherayzenlaw.com.

Finally, Form 8938 has its own penalty system which has far-reaching income tax consequences (including disallowance of foreign tax credit and imposition of 40% accuracy-related income tax penalties). There is also a $10,000 failure-to-file penalty.

One must also remember that, unlike FBAR, Form 8938 is filed with the filer’s federal tax return and forms part of the tax return. This means that a failure to file Form 8938 may render the entire tax return incomplete and potentially subject to an IRS audit.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With the US Tax Reporting of Your Hungarian Bank Accounts

If you have Hungarian bank accounts, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help with your US international tax compliance. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers with their US international tax issues (including disclosure of Hungarian bank accounts), and We can help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!