Over the past couple of years, I have seen a rise in the number of clients with Pakistani bank accounts. This increase is undoubtedly tied to the last year’s changes to Pakistani tax laws, which now require a disclosure of certain foreign assets for certain Pakistani tax residents. These new laws created for the very first time awareness among Pakistani taxpayers that foreign assets may be subject to a separate disclosure. For Pakistanis who are also US Persons, this awareness created further inquiries into their US tax reporting of their Pakistani bank accounts. In this article, I will discuss the two most important US tax reporting requirements that may be applicable to US taxpayers with Pakistani bank accounts – FBAR and FATCA Form 8938.
Pakistani Bank Accounts: Income-Reporting Requirements
Before we delve into our discussion of FBAR and FATCA, it is important to address the income tax reporting requirements concerning foreign accounts in general as well as Pakistani accounts in particular. If you are a tax resident of the United States, you are subject to the worldwide income reporting requirement and you must disclose all income generated by your Pakistani bank accounts on your personal US tax return.
This is an absolute rule with almost no exceptions. It does not matter whether you live outside of the United States or reside in the United States, whether this income is brought to the United States or if it continues to accumulate in your foreign bank accounts, or whether you already paid Pakistani taxes on this income or not. As long as you are a tax resident of the United States, you must comply with the worldwide income reporting requirement.
This requirement applies to all reportable income as determined by US tax rules. I want to emphasize this point: the worldwide income reporting rule requires US tax residents to disclose all of their foreign income deemed reportable under the US tax rules, not the Pakistani rules. Since there are huge differences between the Pakistani tax code and the US Internal Revenue Code, this is a potential tax trap for US taxpayers with Pakistani bank accounts.
Pakistani Bank Accounts: Asset Disclosure In General
As I mentioned above, under FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) as well as the BSA (Bank Secrecy Act of 1970), Pakistani bank accounts may be subject to multiple asset disclosure requirements. FinCEN Form 114 (FBAR) and FATCA Form 8938 are undoubtedly the most important among these requirements.
Pakistani Bank Accounts: FBAR
The most important requirement that applies to US taxpayers with Pakistani bank accounts is FinCEN Form 114, the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, commonly known as “FBAR”. As long they meet the filing threshold (see below), US taxpayers are required to disclose all of their Pakistani bank accounts over which they have signatory authority or in which they have a financial interest (i.e. they own an account directly or indirectly, either individually or jointly).
FBAR is a unique information return. The anomaly begins with the fact that FBAR is not technically a tax form, but a BSA form which has been administered by the IRS since the year 2001. This is why FBAR is not filed together with the tax return, but has to be e-filed separately through BSA website.
Second, FBAR also has a very low filing threshold – just $10,000. Moreover, this threshold is determined by taking the highest balances during a calendar year of all of the taxpayer’s foreign accounts (even if these accounts are located in another country in addition to Pakistan) and adding them all up. Sometimes, this results in significant over-reporting of a person’s actual balances, which easily satisfies the reporting threshold.
Finally, FBAR has the most severe noncompliance penalties among all information returns concerning foreign asset disclosure. Its penalties range from non-willful penalties (i.e. potentially a situation where a person simply did not know about FBAR’s existence) to extremely high civil willful penalties and even criminal penalties. In other words, in certain circumstances, FBAR noncompliance may result in actual jail time.
Pakistani Bank Accounts: FATCA Form 8938
While a relative newcomer, FATCA Form 8938 quickly occupied a special place in US international tax compliance. It may appear that Form 8938 duplicates FBAR with respect to foreign bank account reporting, but there are very important differences between these forms. Let’s focus on the top five differences.
First of all, unlike FBAR, it is filed with a US tax return and forms part of the return. This means that the Form 8938 noncompliance may keep the statute of limitations open on the entire tax return indefinitely, potentially subjecting it to an IRS audit indefinitely.
Second, there are differences in how information concerning foreign accounts is being disclosed on FBAR and Form 8938. Form 8938 forces US taxpayers to disclose not only most of the information that is required to be reported on FBAR, but also such details as whether an account was opened or closed in the reporting year, whether it produced any income, how much income was produced, et cetera. This may give the IRS additional information necessary to determine if there was prior tax noncompliance with respect to these accounts.
Third, there are important substantive differences between these two forms with respect to what accounts have to be disclosed. For example, signatory authority accounts must be disclosed on FBAR, but Form 8938 has no such requirement. On the other hand, a bond certificate may not need to be reported on FBAR, but it must be disclosed on Form 8938. In general, Form 8938 is likely to apply to a wider range of Pakistani assets than FBAR; this is why it is often called the “catch-all” form.
Fourth, while FBAR penalties are extremely severe, Form 8938 sports its own arsenal of noncompliance penalties. While they are theoretically lower than FBAR penalties, the Form 8938 penalties may have an equivalent impact due to the fact that they have a much wider range. For example, Form 8938 noncompliance may lead to higher accuracy-related penalties with respect to income-tax noncompliance. A taxpayer’s ability to utilize foreign tax credit may also be impacted by the Form 8938 penalties.
Finally, unlike FBAR, Form 8938 comes with a third-party FATCA verification mechanism. Under FATCA, the IRS should receive foreign-account information not only from taxpayers who file Forms 8938, but also from their foreign financial institutions. This means that it is much easier for the IRS to identify Form 8938 noncompliance than that of FBAR. It also means that Form 8938 noncompliance may have a higher chance to be investigated and penalized by the IRS.
Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With US Tax Reporting of Your Pakistani Bank Accounts
If you are a US Person who has undisclosed Pakistani bank accounts, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help as soon as possible. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the globe to resolve their past FBAR and FATCA noncompliance, including with respect to financial accounts in Pakistan We can help you!