The Norman Case: Willful FBAR Penalty Upheld | FBAR Lawyers Miami

On November 8, 2019, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) upheld the decision of the Court of Federal Claims to uphold the IRS assessment of a willful FBAR penalty in the amount of $803,530 with respect to Ms. Mindy Norman’s failure to file her 2007 FBAR. The Norman case deserves special attention because of its facts and circumstances and how the Court interpreted them to uphold the willful FBAR penalty.

The Norman Case: Facts of the Case

Ms. Norman is a school teacher. In 1999, she opened a bank account with UBS bank in Switzerland. It was a “numbered account” – i.e. income and asset statements referred to the account number only; Ms. Norman’s name and address did not appear anywhere on the account statements. Between 2001 and 2008, the highest balance of the account ranged between about $1.5 million and $2.5 million.

The Court described how Ms. Norman was actively engaged in managing and controlling her account. She had frequent contacts with her UBS banker in person and over the phone; she decided how to invest her funds and she signed a request with UBS to prohibit investment in US securities on her behalf (which could have triggered a disclosure of the existence of the account to the IRS). In 2002, she withdrew between $10,000 and $100,000 in cash from the account. In 2008 she closed the account when UBS informed her that it would cooperate with the IRS in identifying noncompliant US taxpayers who engaged in tax fraud; it should also be noted that the IRS presented into evidence UBS client contact records which stated that Ms. Norman exhibited “surprise and displeasure” when she was informed about the UBS decision.

Sometime in the year 2008, Ms. Norman signed her 2007 US tax return which, it appears, contained a Schedule B which stated (in Part III) that she had no foreign accounts. Moreover, she signed this return after her accountant sent her a questionnaire with a question concerning foreign accounts.

Also in 2008, Ms. Norman obtained a referral to an accountant. It appears that the accountant advised her to do a quiet disclosure, filing her amended returns and late FBARs. The quiet disclosure triggered the subsequent IRS audit.

The Court found that, during the audit interview, Ms. Norman made numerous false statements, including denying the knowledge of the existence of her foreign account prior to 2009. She also submitted a letter to the IRS re-affirming her lack of knowledge about the existence of this account.

Then, after retaining an attorney, Ms. Norman completely reversed herself in her second letter, stating that she did in fact know about the existence of the account. She further explained that her failure to timely file her FBARs occurred due to her belief that none of the funds in the account were hers and she was not a de-facto owner of the account.

The Norman Case: Penalty Imposition and the Appeals

It appears that the false statements and radical shifts in claims about what she knew about her account completely damaged her credibility with the IRS agent in charge of the audit. Hence, the IRS found that Ms. Norman willfully failed to file her FBAR and assessed a penalty of $803,530.

Ms. Norman paid the penalty in full and filed a complaint with the Court of Federal Claims requesting a refund. The Court of Federal Claims sustained the penalty; hence, Ms. Norman appealed to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court upheld the penalty imposition.

The Norman Case: Issues on the Appeal

Ms. Norman raised three issues on the appeal: (1) the Court of Federal Claims erred in finding that she willfully violated the FBAR requirement; (2) a 1987 Treasury regulation limits the FBAR willful penalty to $100,000; and (3) a penalty so high violates the 8th Amendment. The Court did not consider the 8th Amendment argument for procedural reasons.

The Norman Case: Recklessness as part of Willfulness

At the heart of the dispute over the imposition of the willful penalty was whether the IRS can use recklessness in its determination of willfulness. It is important to point out here that the IRS imposed the willful penalty even though it could not prove that Ms. Norman actually knew about the existence of FBAR. Rather, it relied on recklessness in its imposition of the willful FBAR penalty.

In the appeal, Ms. Norman argued that one can only violate the FBAR requirement if one has the actual knowledge of the existence of the form. She adopted a strict interpretation of willfulness as the one found in the Internal Revenue Manual (“IRM”): “willfulness is shown by the person’s knowledge of the reporting requirements and the person’s conscious choice not to comply with the requirements.”

The Court, however, did not agree with this interpretation. First of all, it pointed to the well-established law that the IRM is not binding in courts. The courts in several circuits have determined that recklessness should be considered as willfulness. Second, the IRM itself stated that actual knowledge of FBAR is not required for the imposition of a willful penalty. Rather, the IRM allowed for the possibility of the imposition of a willful penalty where the failure to learn about FBAR is combined with other factors, such as attempts to conceal the existence of the account and the amounts involved.

Then, the Court explained its reasoning for believing that Ms. Norman’s behavior was reckless: she opened the foreign account, actively managed it, withdrew money from it and failed to declare it on her signed 2007 tax return. The fact that Ms. Norman made contradictory and false statements to the IRS during the audit further damaged her credibility with respect to her non-willfulness claims.

The Norman Case: 1987 Treasury Regulation No Longer Valid

Ms. Norman also argued that a 1987 regulation limited the willful FBAR penalty to $100,000. The Court disagreed, because this regulation was rendered invalid by the language found in the 2004 amendment to 31 U.S.C. §5321(a)(5)(C).

The Norman Case: Most Important Lessons for Audited US Taxpayers with Undisclosed Foreign Accounts

The Norman case contains many important lessons for US taxpayers who have undisclosed foreign accounts and who are audited by the IRS. Let’s concentrate on the three most important ones.

First and foremost, do not lie to the IRS; lying to the IRS is almost certain to backfire. In the Norman case, the taxpayer had good facts on her side at the beginning, but her actions during the audit made them almost irrelevant. Ms. Norman’s false statements damaged her credibility not only with the IRS, but also with the courts. It made her appear as a person undeserving of sympathy; someone who deserved to be punished by the IRS.

Second, Ms. Norman fell prey to an incorrect advice from her accountant and did a quiet disclosure. Given how dangerous her situation was as a result of an impending disclosure of her foreign account by UBS, doing a quiet disclosure in 2008 was a mistake. Instead, a full open voluntary disclosure should have been done either through the traditional IRS voluntary disclosure option or a noisy disclosure (unfortunately, the 2009 OVDP was not yet an option in 2008).

Finally, the Norman case highlights the importance of having the appropriate professional counsel. During her quiet disclosure and the subsequent IRS audit Ms. Norman did not hire the right professional to assist her until it was too late – the damage to the case became irreversible. Instead of retaining the right international tax attorney, she chose to rely on an accountant. In the context of an offshore voluntary disclosure and especially an IRS audit involving offshore assets, relying on an accountant is almost always a mistake – only an experienced international tax attorney is right choice.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Your US Tax Compliance and an IRS Audit Concerning Foreign Accounts and Foreign Income

If you have undisclosed foreign accounts and you wish to resolve your US tax noncompliance before the IRS finds you, you need to secure competent legal help. If you are already subject to an IRS audit, then you need to retain an international tax attorney as soon as you receive the initial audit letter. As stated above, Ms. Norman paid a very high price for a failure to do so timely; you should avoid making this mistake.

For this reason, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help as soon as possible. Our team of tax professionals headed by the highly experienced international tax attorney, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, have helped hundreds of US taxpayers to resolve their prior US tax noncompliance issues and successfully conclude IRS international tax audits. We Can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

New FBAR Filing Verification Submission Process | FBAR Lawyer & Attorney

On November 19, 2019, the IRS announced changes to the current FBAR filing verification submission process. The change is technical, but not without importance.

New FBAR Filing Verification Submission Process: FBAR Background Information

FBAR is a common name for FinCEN Form 114 (formerly known as TD F 90-22.1), Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts. US Persons must use this form to report their ownership of or signatory authority or any other authority over foreign bank and financial accounts as long as these accounts’ aggregate balance exceeds the FBAR filing threshold. Despite its official name, the IRS has administered the form since 2001, not FinCEN.

FBAR is one of the most important US international information returns. FBAR noncompliance may lead to the imposition of severe civil and criminal penalties. Hence, it is of absolute importance for US persons to timely and properly file this form.

New FBAR Filing Verification Submission Process: Rules Prior to November 19 2019

Prior to November 19, 2019, US persons who wanted to verify whether their FBARs were filed could obtain the relevant information for up to five FBARs by simply calling 1-866-270-0733 (the IRS FBAR Hotline) and selecting option 1. IRM 4.26.16.4.13(4). In this case, the IRS representatives would provide the verbal verification for free. The filers could make this request sixty days after the date of filing. Id.

If, however, a filer wished to request information concerning more than five forms or he wanted to obtain paper copies of filed FBARs, then he would need to do so in writing. For written verifications, there was a $5.00 fee for verifying five or fewer forms and a $1.00 fee for each additional form. Id. The IRS charged $0.15 per copy of the entire FBAR. Id. Written requests should have been accompanied by payment in accordance with IRM 4.26.16.4.13(4)(b).

New FBAR Filing Verification Submission Process: New November 19 2019 Rules

On November 19, 2019, the IRS issued a memorandum which contained interim guidance concerning the process by which the IRS would accept the requests for FBAR filing verifications. The memorandum introduced the following revisions to the FBAR filing verification process.

Effective as of the date of this memorandum, the IRS no longer accepts verbal verification requests; all requests must be submitted in writing. Hence, the existing fee structure in IRM 4.26.16.4.13(4)(b) now applies to all verification requests.

The IRS has stated that this procedural change is necessary to provide documentary evidence of all verification inquiries and IRS response to them. This new interim guidance will be incorporated into IRM 4.26.16 within the next two years from the date of issuance of the memorandum.

New FBAR Filing Verification Submission Process: Making a Proper Written Request

The written request for FBAR filing verification should include the filer’s name, Taxpayer Identification Number, and filing period(s). Tax practitioners requesting verifications for their clients must also make these requests in writing, and provide a copy of the Form 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative, authorizing them to receive the FBAR information. The same fee structure as described above (i.e. a $5.00 fee for verifying five or fewer forms, a $1.00 fee for each additional form, and copies for an additional fee of $0.15) will continue to apply. Checks or money orders should be made payable to the “United States Treasury”.

Written requests and payments for FBAR filing verifications and copies of filed FBARs should be mailed to:

IRS Detroit Federal Building
Compliance Review Team
Attn.: Verification
P.O. Box 32063
Detroit, MI 48232-0063

In response to written requests, the IRS will send a letter stating whether the record shows that an FBAR was filed and if so, the date filed. If a copy of a paper-filed FBAR was requested, a copy will be included with IRS letter.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with FBAR Compliance

The new FBAR filing verification process will be especially relevant in the context of offshore voluntary disclosures. Oftentimes, taxpayers do not have copies of their prior FBARs; and it is necessary to obtain these copies in order to properly calculate the penalty exposure as well as use them as evidence of non-willfulness (or find out if the IRS may use them as evidence of willfulness).

If you are required to file FBARs and you have not done so, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers with their FBAR compliance issues, and We Can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

November 21 2019 BSU Seminar in Minsk, Belarus | International Tax News

On November 21, 2019, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, an international tax attorney and founder of Sherayzen Law Office, Ltd., conducted a seminar at the Belarusian State University Law School (the “2019 BSU Seminar”) in Minsk, Belarus. Let’s explore the 2019 BSU Seminar in more detail.

2019 BSU Seminar

2019 BSU Seminar: Topic and Attendance

The topic of the seminar was “Unique Aspects of the US International Tax System”. The seminar was well-attended (more than 80 attendees) by the students of the Belarusian State University (“BSU”), BSU law school faculty and attorneys from the Minsk City Bar Association.

The seminar with the follow-up Q&A session lasted close to two and a half hours.

2019 BSU Seminar Part I: Mr. Sherayzen Biography As Illustration of a Successful Career of an International Tax Attorney

The first part of the seminar was devoted to the discussion of Mr. Sherayzen’s legal career. He commenced by describing his educational path: a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, History and Global Studies with Summa Cum Laude honors and a Juris Doctor degree in Law with Cum Laude honors from the University of Minnesota Law School. Then, Mr. Sherayzen discussed how he acquired the passion for US international tax law, founded Sherayzen Law Office at the end of the year 2005 and developed his career as a successful international tax attorney.

At that point, Mr. Sherayzen described his main specialities in US international tax law: (1) offshore voluntary disclosure of foreign assets and foreign income; (2) IRS international tax audits; (3) US tax compliance concerning foreign gifts and foreign inheritance; (4) US tax compliance concerning US information returns, including FBAR and FATCA compliance; and (5) US international tax planning.

2019 BSU Seminar Part II: Discussion of Eight Unique Characteristics of the US International Tax Law

The second pat of the seminar was devoted to the long discussion of eight main unique characteristics of US international tax law. Mr. Sherayzen commenced this part with the concept of “Voluntary Compliance” and its significance for a taxpayer’s personal liability for the accuracy of his IRS submissions. Then, the attorney discussed the enormous complexity and extremely invasive nature of US international tax law. Mr. Sherayzen also separately emphasized the potentially huge penalty exposure as the fourth characteristic of the US international tax law, specifically referring to FBAR penalties.

The attorney continued the discussion with the description of the worldwide reach of the US tax jurisdiction. Here, he used the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”) as an example.

Then, Mr. Sherayzen described the obscurity that surrounds many US international tax provisions and explained how such obscurity presents problems and opportunities for US taxpayers. The attorney concluded the second part of the 2019 BSU seminar with the discussion of the flexibility of US international tax system and how the US tax system should be considered a source of endless opportunities to knowledgeable US international tax attorneys and their clients.

2019 BSU Seminar Part III: Basic Unique Principles of US International Tax System

The next part of the seminar focused on the basic principles of the US international tax system. Mr. Sherayzen organized this part from the perspective of how US taxpayers should declare their foreign assets and taxable income. The structure of this part was based on answering three questions: “who”, “what” and “when”.

The first question was: who should declare their foreign assets and pay taxes on their income? In this context, Mr. Sherayzen defined the concept of “US tax residency”. He further emphasized that non-resident aliens who are not US tax residents may still need to file non-resident US tax returns with the IRS.

The next question was: what income is subject to US taxation and what assets should be declared to the IRS? Here, Mr. Sherayzen describes the most fundamental principle of US international tax law that applies to US tax residents – the worldwide income taxation requirement. He also emphasized that US tax residents must declare on their US international information returns virtually all classes of their foreign assets with the exception of directly-owned real estate.

Then, as part of his discussion of US tax responsibilities of non-residents (for tax purposes), the attorney introduced the “source of income” rules used to characterize income as US-source income or foreign-source income. He provided the audience with the basic rules concerning sourcing of bank interest, dividends, earned income, rental income and royalties.

The final question was: when should the tax be paid on income? In this context, Mr. Sherayzen explained the concept of “realized income” and the general principle that income becomes taxable when it is realized for US tax purposes. He also described the anti-deferral regimes and the Section 250 full participation exemption as exceptions to the general principle of income recognition.

2019 BSU Seminar Part IV: International Information Returns and Conclusion

During the final part of the seminar, Mr. Sherayzen briefly discussed the most important US international information returns. He concluded his lecture by re-stating that US international tax provisions reflect the reality of US position in the world economy and other countries should understand this basic fact before they attempt to copy any US international tax provisions.

Greek Flat Tax Residency: Draft Bill | International Tax Lawyer News

The new Greek government headed by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis wishes to reach 2.8% economic growth next year. Part of the plan to achieve this goal includes a tax reform which introduces a curious new concept of Greek flat tax residency for wealthy foreign investors. Let’s discuss this interesting idea in more detail.

Greek Flat Tax Residency: Basic Description

The government envisions that the flat tax residency scheme will function in the following way: a foreign individual who makes qualified investments into the Greek economy will be allowed to shift his tax residency to Greece and pay a certain flat tax rate on his entire taxable income. In order to counter the other EU members’ potential objections, these new Greek tax residents will need to be physically present in Greece for at least 183 days per year.

Greek Flat Tax Residency: Required Investments

In order to become a qualified individual, the investor will need to invest at least 500,000 euros into the Greek economy during the first three years of his tax residency.

Greek Flat Tax Residency: Flat Tax Rates

The exact flat tax rate depends on the amount of investments into the Greek economy. If an investor invests only the minimum required 500,000 euros, then his flat tax will be 100,000 euros plus 20,000 euros for each family member.

If, however, this investor invests 1.5 million euros into Greek assets, then the flat tax will be only 50,000 euros. An investor who invests 3 million euros into the Greek economy will see this flat tax halved again to a mere 25,000 euros.

Given the unstable nature of Greek politics, the government intends to insert a grandfather clause which will protect investors against any tax reforms by future governments.

Greek Flat Tax Residency: Term of the Program

The flat tax residency program will be in place for at least fifteen years, unless renewed by future governments.

Greek Flat Tax Residency: Bill Voting

At this point, the flat tax residency scheme is merely a bill, not a reality. The government expects that the Hellenic parliament will vote on the draft bill by the end of November of 2019.

Greek Flat Tax Residency: Impact on US Citizens

The proposed flat tax residency would be a great tax planning tool for the high-net worth citizens of the great majority of countries in the world, because the majority of the world follows either the territorial model of taxation or residency-based model of taxation. This is not the case with respect to the United States.

The United States follows a citizenship-based worldwide income model of taxation. US citizens are considered to be US tax residents irrespective of where they reside and whether they acquire tax residency in another country. This is almost unique in the world.

This means that the proposed Greek flat tax residency would be of limited value to US citizens. Despite the fact that they would acquire Greek tax residency, they would still be considered US tax residents and will have to pay US taxes on their worldwide income. Most likely, they will be able to get a Foreign Earned Income Exclusion for any active income (i.e. salary, self-employment income and similar earnings) up to the annual exclusion amount and some tax treaty benefits, but no other direct benefits.

Greek flat tax residency may still, however, offer more indirect benefits in the context of more sophisticated tax planning. For example, foreign corporations owned by US citizens who are also Greek tax residents may be able to obtain better tax treaty benefits.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Your US International Tax Compliance

If you are a US citizen who acquires Greek tax residency, you should be concerned about your US tax compliance. US international tax law is extremely complex and it is very easy to run afoul of its provisions, Noncompliance penalties in these cases may be extremely high. This is why it is important to have a trustworthy knowledgeable US international tax attorney by your side.

Sherayzen Law Office has successfully helped hundreds of US taxpayers with their US international tax compliance, including those who are tax residents of other countries. We Can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Foreign Income Reporting Without Forms W-2 or 1099 | Tax Lawyer

There is a surprisingly large number of US taxpayers who believe that reporting foreign income that was not disclosed on a Form W-2 or 1099 is unnecessary. Even if they honestly believe it to be true, this erroneous belief exposes these taxpayers to an elevated risk of imposition of high IRS penalties. In this article, I will discuss the US tax rules concerning foreign income reporting which was never disclosed on a Form W-2 or 1099 and how the IRS targets tax noncompliance in this area.

Foreign Income Reporting: Worldwide Income Reporting Requirement

If you are a US tax resident, you are subject to the worldwide income reporting requirement. In other words, you are required to disclose your US-source income and your foreign-source income on your US tax return.

This requirement applies to you irrespective of whether this income was ever disclosed to the IRS on a Form W-2 or Form 1099. It is important to understand that Forms W-2 and 1099 are only third-party reporting requirements. They do not impact your foreign income reporting on your US tax return in any way, because such a disclosure is your personal obligation as a US tax resident.

This means that, if your foreign employer pays you a salary for the work performed in a foreign country, you must disclose it on your US tax return. Similarly, if you are a contractor who receives payments for services performed overseas, you are obligated to disclose these payments on your US tax return. The fact that neither your foreign employer nor your clients ever filed any information returns, such as Forms W-2 or 1099, with the IRS is irrelevant to your foreign income reporting obligations in the United States.

Foreign Income Reporting: Many US Taxpayers Are Noncompliant

Unfortunately, many US taxpayers are not complying with their foreign income reporting obligations. Some of them are doing it willfully, taking advantage of the absence of third-party IRS reporting (such as Forms W-2 and 1099). Others have fallen victims to numerous online false claims of exceptions to the worldwide income reporting.

Foreign Income Reporting: Noncompliant Taxpayers at Elevated Risk of IRS Penalties

The noncompliance in this area is so great that it drew the attention of the IRS. In July of 2019, the IRS announced a specific compliance campaign that targets high-income US citizens and resident aliens who receive compensation from overseas that is not reported on a Form W-2 or Form 1099.

The IRS has adopted a tough approach to noncompliance with the worldwide income reporting requirement – IRS audits only. The IRS did not mention any other, more lenient treatment streams for this campaign.

This means that we will see an increase in the number of IRS audits devoted mainly to discovering unreported foreign income and punishing noncompliant US taxpayers. Of course, these audits may further expand depending on other facts that the IRS discovers during these audits. For example, if foreign income comes from a foreign corporation owned by the taxpayer, the IRS may also impose Form 5471 penalties. If this corporation owns undisclosed foreign accounts, then the taxpayer may also face draconian FBAR civil as well as criminal penalties.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Your Foreign Income Reporting Obligations and Your Voluntary Disclosure of Unreported Foreign Income

If you are a US taxpayer who earns income overseas, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help with your US tax compliance. Furthermore, if you have not reported your overseas income for prior years, you should explore your voluntary disclosure options as soon as possible in order to reduce your IRS civil penalties and avoid potential IRS criminal prosecution. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers like you to resolve their US tax noncompliance issues, including those concerning foreign income reporting, and We Can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!