IRS Appeals Video Conference | IRS Tax Lawyer & Attorney

In May of 2019, Mr. Andrew Keyso, a deputy chief of the IRS Office of Appeals, stated that the Appeals Office is in the early stages of rolling out the technology to conduct video conferences as an option for Appeals conferences. This is great news for tax practitioners – an IRS Appeals video conference is a very convenient option for doing business with the IRS.

IRS Appeals Video Conference: WebEx Platform and Early Testing

The IRS Appeals video conference option will be based on WebEx video conferencing software developed by Cisco. It is secure and convenient, but some training is necessary to use it efficiently.

The IRS has already successfully tested WebEx software for appeals video conferences in early 2018. In October of 2018, IRS made the software more broadly available to its employees so that they can offer video conferences.

IRS Appeals Video Conference: IRS Wants Employees to Use It More

Unfortunately, not all IRS employees at the Appeals Office offer video conferences. Neither do many taxpayers seek them (undoubtedly due to lack of knowledge about them). Those who do so, however, find this option very attractive.

The IRS definitely wants its employees to use the IRS Appeals video conference option more. Speaking at the American Bar Association Section of Taxation conference in May of 2019, Diane Ogawa, an IRS appeals officer in Honolulu, stated: “We are trying to get more appeals officers training and on board with WebEx”. Sherayzen Law Office believes that, as more Appeals employees, taxpayers and tax practitioners become familiar with WebEx, the usage of the IRS Appeals video conference option should greatly increase.

IRS Appeals Video Conference: Positive Reaction from Tax Lawyers

The tax lawyers are generally in favor of using the IRS Appeals video conference option. They find it a convenient and effective way to conduct a hearing conference. There is also an additional benefit of reduced costs: there is no need to waste time and money on traveling to the IRS office.

IRS Appeals Video Conference: Potential Problems

This option, however, is not without potential problems. Besides the potential technical issues, the biggest problem is privacy. An unrepresented taxpayer may try to hold a video conference in a public place (like Starbucks) and the IRS will simply not agree to it. A represented taxpayer will not likely run into this problem, because his representative should know about these privacy issues.

The bigger privacy concern, though, comes from tax lawyers. They need to make sure that the prying eye of WebEx technology does not catch the other clients’ files, names and so on in the background of the WebEx video. Lawyers should strive to protect the attorney-client privileged information to the maximum extent possible.

Sherayzen Law Office Supports the IRS Video Conference Option and Hopes the IRS Expands It to Audit Interviews

As an international tax law firm, Sherayzen Law Office has clients throughout the United States and, indeed, the world. Flying to a meeting with an IRS agent is sometimes inconvenient for both, the taxpayer and the attorney; it is also expensive. Video conferencing is a perfect solution to this issue, and Sherayzen Law Office fully supports the current IRS video conferencing efforts.

Moreover, we encourage the IRS to apply video conferencing to other areas, such as IRS audit meetings.

Finnish US Bank Accounts Face IRS John Doe Summonses | FATCA News

On May 1, 2019, the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina (the “Court”) authorized the IRS to serve John Doe Summonses seeking information about Finnish residents who own secret US bank accounts (collectively Finnish US Bank Accounts). Let’s discuss this development concerning Finnish US bank accounts in more depth.

Finnish US Bank Accounts Targeted by the Finnish Tax Administration.

This whole case is about the Finnish government’s efforts to identify noncompliant Finnish taxpayers who failed to disclose income related to their non-Finnish bank accounts. Specifically, the Finnish Tax Administration (“FTA”) identified bank accounts in the United States owned by Finnish tax residents as one of the primary targets in its tax enforcement campaign.

The reason why Finland cannot identify the affected individuals itself is because, in circumstances where the payment cards are used only at ATMs or in other transactions where authorization is by PIN code, and the cardholder need not identify himself or herself to the merchant, the cardholders cannot be identified from sources in Finland. Earlier FTA investigations of approximately 120 to 150 Finnish taxpayers who used foreign payment cards in a similar manner have yielded extremely high rates of tax non-compliance, as noted in the United States’ memo in support of the petition, which indicates that it is likely that the John Does sought by the summons are Finnish residents who are failing to report these foreign accounts and associated income.

Hence, the FTA asked the US Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the IRS for help as prescribed by the tax treaty between Finland and the United States. The treaty provides for cooperation in exchanging information that is necessary for enforcement each of the signatory’s tax laws.

The DOJ and the IRS readily agreed. Then, the DOJ filed a petition in the Court asking for it to grant the IRS a permission to issue John Doe Summonses in response to the FTA’s request for help.

Finnish US Bank Accounts: Affected US Financial Institutions

The IRS Summonses specially target persons who reside in Finland and have Bank of America, Charles Schwab or TD Bank payment cards linked to bank accounts located outside of Finland. It is important to note that the DOJ does not allege that Bank of America, Charles Schwab or TD Bank violated any US or Finnish laws with respect to these accounts.

Finnish US Bank Accounts: Information Targeted by the IRS John Doe Summonses

The IRS John Doe Summonses seek the identities of Finnish residents who have payment cards linked to bank accounts located outside of Finland so that the Finnish government can determine if those persons have complied with Finnish tax laws.

Finnish US Bank Accounts: Foreign Individuals With Secret US Bank Accounts Are Not Safe from Disclosure to Their Governments

The recent IRS John Doe summonses concerning Finnish US bank accounts is another indication that foreign individuals with secret US bank accounts are not immune from the disclosure of these accounts to their governments at home. In fact, the US government will cooperate with requests for such information, at least from friendly governments.

“The Department of Justice and the IRS are committed to working with the United States’ international treaty partners to identify and stop individuals using hidden offshore accounts to evade tax laws,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division. “The United States does not tolerate offshore tax evasion, nor does it sanction tax evasion committed through U.S. financial institutions.”

This cooperation also stems from the desire to somehow thank the foreign government for their prior cooperation with the IRS tax enforcement efforts that targeted (and continue to target) US taxpayers with undisclosed foreign bank accounts. “Our continued success in combating offshore tax noncompliance has been helped by the assistance we receive through the network of tax treaties around the globe,” said IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig. “Yesterday’s effort reflects that the U.S. will return this help by working under the law with tax administrators in other nations to help them in their fight against tax evasion and avoidance. A global economy should not be allowed to serve as a possible vehicle for tax evasion in any country.”

Sherayzen Law Office has predicted in the past that, after FATCA, the global tax enforcement will become tighter and more cooperative. Our predictions turned out to be correct.

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.