2020 FBAR Criminal Penalties | FBAR International Tax Lawyers

2020 FBAR criminal penalties is a potential threat to any US taxpayer who willfully failed to file his FBARs or knowingly filed a false FBAR. In this essay, I would like to review the 2020 FBAR criminal penalties that these noncompliant US taxpayers may have to face.

2020 FBAR Criminal Penalties: Background Information

A lot of US taxpayers do not understand why the 2020 FBAR criminal penalties are so shockingly severe. These taxpayers question why failing to file a form that has nothing do with income tax calculation should potentially result in a jail sentence.

The answer to this questions lies in the legislative history of FBAR. First of all, it is important to understand that FBAR is not a tax form. The Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (“FBAR”) was born in 1970 out of the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”), in particular 31 U.S.C. §5314. This means that the initial primary purpose of the form was to fight financial crimes, money laundering and terrorism. In other words, FBAR was not initially created to combat tax evasion.

Rather, FBAR criminal penalties were structured from the very beginning for the purpose of punishing criminals engaged in financial crimes and/or terrorism. This is why the FBAR penalties are so severe and easily surpass the penalties of any tax form.

It was only 30 years later, after the enaction of The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (the “USA Patriot Act”), that the enforcement of FBAR was turned over to the IRS allegedly to fight terrorism. Instead, the IRS almost immediately commenced using FBAR to fight the tax evasion schemes that utilized offshore accounts.

The Congress liked the IRS initiative and responded with the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 (“2004 Jobs Act”). The 2004 Jobs Act further increased the FBAR existing penalties and created an new non-willful penalty of up to $10,000 per violation.

2020 FBAR Criminal Penalties: Description

Now that we understand why the 2020 FBAR criminal penalties are so severe, let’s describe what these penalties actually may be. There are three different 2020 FBAR criminal penalties associated with different FBAR violations.

First, a criminal penalty may be imposed under 26 U.S.C. 5322(a) and 31 C.F.R. § 103.59(b) for willful failure to file FBAR or retain records of a foreign account. The penalty is up to $250,000 or 5 years in prison or both.

Second, when the willful failure to file FBAR is combined with a violation of other US laws or the failure to file FBAR is “part of a pattern of any illegal activity involving more than $100,000 in a 12-month period”, then the IRS has the option of imposing a criminal penalty under 26 U.S.C. 5322(b) and 31 C.F.R. § 103.59(c). In this case, the penalty jumps to incredible $500,000 or 10 years in prison or both.

Finally, if a person willingly and knowingly files a false, fictitious or fraudulent FBAR, he may be penalized under 31 C.F.R. § 103.59(d). The penalty in this case may be $10,000 or 5 years or both.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With Past FBAR Violations

If you were required to file an FBAR but you have not done it, you need to contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible to explore your voluntary disclosure options. Our international tax law firm specializes in FBAR compliance and we have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world to resolve their past FBAR noncompliance while reducing and, in some cases, even eliminating their FBAR penalties.

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FBAR Voluntary Disclosure | International Tax Lawyer & Attorney

I often receive calls from prospective clients who talk about FBAR voluntary disclosure. They usually have no clear idea of what is meant by this term and what its requirements are. In this article, I will discuss this concept of FBAR Voluntary Disclosure and explain how this concept covers a variety of offshore voluntary disclosure options.

FBAR Voluntary Disclosure: What is FBAR?

Before we discuss the meaning of FBAR Voluntary Disclosure, we need to understand what “FBAR” is. FBAR is an acronym for Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, officially known as FinCEN Form 114. US Persons must file FBAR to report their financial interest in or signatory authority or any other authority over foreign bank and financial accounts if the aggregate value of these accounts exceeds $10,000 at any point during a calendar year.

FBAR Voluntary Disclosure: Why FBAR Compliance Is So Important?

US taxpayers who fail to comply with their FBAR obligations may find themselves in an extremely difficult legal position, because FBAR has a highly complex and an exceptionally severe penalty system, which includes even criminal penalties for FBAR noncompliance. The form’s civil penalties include not only willful penalties, but also non-willful penalties – i.e. the IRS can assess FBAR penalties even if a taxpayer’s failure to file his FBARs was unintentional and accidental.

FBAR Voluntary Disclosure: What is Voluntary Disclosure?

“Voluntary disclosure” is a process by which taxpayers voluntarily self-correct their past noncompliance. When this process involves foreign assets, it is called “offshore voluntary disclosure”.

FBAR Voluntary Disclosure: Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options (Tax Year 2020)

The IRS has created a number of voluntary disclosure programs to encourage taxpayers to come forward and correct their past US tax noncompliance. These offshore voluntary disclosure options include: Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures, Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures, Delinquent FBAR Submission Procedures, Delinquent International Information Return Submission Procedures (effectively discontinued several weeks ago), IRS Criminal Investigation Voluntary Disclosure Practice (used to be called “Traditional IRS Voluntary Disclosure”) and the now-closed OVDP (Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Process) and OVDI (Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative).

Moreover, there is also a voluntary disclosure based on Reasonable Cause exception that is sometimes called “noisy disclosure”. This is not an official IRS voluntary disclosure program, but simply a voluntary disclosure venue based on specific provisions in the Internal Revenue Code.

Finally, some taxpayers attempt to do “quiet disclosures”. A quiet disclosure can mean a range of actions voluntarily taken by a taxpayer to comply with US international tax laws without officially informing the IRS about his past noncompliance with them. In other words, a taxpayer never takes advantage of any of the voluntary disclosure options and does not claim Reasonable Cause Exception defense; rather, he either files amended tax returns or simply starts to comply with US international tax laws without doing anything about his past noncompliance.

The IRS strongly disfavors quiet disclosures and does not consider them to be voluntary disclosures. In fact, the IRS has officially stated that the agency will try to identify the taxpayers who are doing it and audit them in order to impose penalties for past noncompliance.

FBAR Voluntary Disclosure Versus Offshore Voluntary Disclosure

You probably already noticed that I never listed “FBAR Voluntary Disclosure” as a voluntary disclosure option. The reason is because it is not an official voluntary disclosure option. Rather, FBAR Voluntary Disclosure is merely a term that refers to any offshore voluntary disclosure option involving past FBAR noncompliance (such as Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures).

Hence, when a prospective client calls me to discuss his FBAR voluntary disclosure, I know that he does not mean any specific offshore voluntary disclosure program but merely wishes to know what option he should use to voluntarily correct his past FBAR noncompliance.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office About Your FBAR Voluntary Disclosure

If you have not filed your required FBARs for prior years, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible. Sherayzen Law Office is a leader in offshore voluntary disclosures involving FBARs – this is our core specialty.

We have filed thousands of FBARs for hundreds of clients all over the world. We have prepared hundreds of voluntary disclosures under all offshore voluntary disclosure options, including Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures and Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures. We can help you!

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Beware of Flat-Fee Lawyers Doing Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures

Recently, I received a number of phone calls and emails from people who complained about incorrect filing of their Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures (“SDOP”) packages by lawyers who took their cases on a flat-fee basis. In this article, I would like to discuss why a flat fee is generally not well-suited for a proper SDOP preparation and why clients should critically examine all facts and circumstances before retaining flat-fee lawyers.

A small disclosure: the analysis below is my opinion and the result of my prior experience with SDOPs. Moreover, I am only describing general trends and there are certainly exceptions which may be applicable to a specific case. Hence, the readers should consider my conclusions in this article carefully and apply them only after examining all facts and circumstances related to a specific lawyer before making their final decision on whether to retain him.

Flat-Fee Lawyers versus Hourly-Rate Lawyers

The two main business models that exist in the professional tax community in the United States with respect to billing their clients are the hourly-rate model and the flat-fee model. The hourly-rate model means that an attorney’s fees will depend on the amount of time he actually worked on the case. The flat-fee model charges one fee that covers a lawyer’s work irrespective of how much time he actually spends on a case.

Both billing models have their advantages and disadvantages. Generally, the chief advantage of an hourly-rate model is potentially higher quality of work. The hourly-rate model has a built-in incentive for attorneys to do as accurate and detailed work as possible, maximizing the quality of the final work product. An hourly-rate attorney is likely to take more time to explore the documents, uncover hidden problems of the case and properly resolve them.

The disadvantage of an hourly-rate model is that it cannot make an absolutely accurate prediction of what the legal fees will ultimately be. However, this problem is usually mitigated by estimates – as long as he knows all main facts of the case, an experienced attorney can usually predict the range of his legal fees to cover the case. Only a discovery of substantial unexpected issues (that were not discussed or left unresolved during the initial consultation) will substantially alter the estimate, because more time would be needed to resolve these new issues.

The chief advantage of the flat-fee model is the certainty of the legal fee – the client knows exactly how much he will pay. A secondary advantage of this model is the built-in incentive for flat-fee lawyers to complete their cases as fast as possible.

However, this advantage is undermined by several serious disadvantages. First, the flat-fee model provides a powerful incentive for lawyers to spend the least amount of time on a client’s case in order to maximize their profits; in other words, the flat-fee model has a potential for undermining the quality of a lawyer’s work product. Of course, it does not happen in every case, but the potential for such abuse is always present in the flat-fee model.

Second, closely-related to the first problem, the flat-fee model discourages lawyers from engaging in a thorough analysis of their clients’ cases. This may later result in undiscovered issues that may later expose a client to a higher risk of an unfavorable outcome of the case. Again this does not happen in every case, but I have repeatedly seen this problem occur in voluntary disclosures handled by flat-fee lawyers and CPAs.

Finally, a client may actually over-pay for a flat-fee lawyer’s services compared to an hourly-rate attorney, because a flat-fee lawyer is likely to set his fees at a high level to make sure that he remains profitable irrespective of potential surprises contained in the case. Of course, there is a risk for flat-fee lawyers that the reverse may occur – i.e. despite being set to a high level, the fee is still too small compared to issues involved in a case.

The effective usage of either one of these billing models differs depending on where they are applied. In situations where the facts are simple and legal issues are clear, a flat-fee model may be preferable. However, where one deals with a complex legal situation and the facts cannot all be easily established during an initial consultation, the hourly-rate model with its emphasis on thoroughness and quality of legal work is likely to be the best choice.

Flat-Fee Lawyers Can Be An Inferior Choice for Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures

In my opinion and based on the analysis above, in the context of an SDOP voluntary disclosure, a flat-fee engagement is particularly dangerous because of the nature of offshore voluntary disclosure cases.

Voluntary disclosures are likely to deal with complex US international tax compliance issues and unclear factual patterns. It may be difficult to identify all legal issues and all US international tax reporting requirements during an initial consultation. There are too many facts that clients may simply not have at their disposal during an initial consultation. Moreover, additional issues and questions are likely to arise after the documents are processed. I once had a situation where I discovered that a client had an additional foreign corporation with millions of dollars only several months after the initial consultation – the corporation was already closed and the client forgot about it.

For these reasons, SDOP and offshore voluntary disclosures in general require an individualized, detailed and thorough approach as well as a hard-to-determine (during an initial consultation) depth of legal analysis which is generally ill-fit for a flat-fee engagement. A flat-fee lawyer is unlikely to accurately estimate how much time is required to complete a client’s case and, hence, unlikely to accurately set his flat fee for the case.

This can cause a huge conflict of interest as the case progresses. I have seen a number of cases where, in an attempt to remain profitable, flat-fee lawyers did their analysis too fast and failed to properly identify all relevant tax issues; as a result, the voluntary disclosures (including SDOP disclosures) done by them had to amended later by my firm. This caused significant additional financial costs and mental stress to my clients.

In my opinion, this potential conflict of interest makes the flat-fee model unsuitable for the vast majority of the SDOP cases.

Beware of Some Flat-Fee Lawyers Including Unnecessary Services Into the Flat Fee

This applies only to a tiny minority of flat-fee lawyers. I have observed several times where flat-fee lawyers included irrelevant services that the client never used to increase the flat fee for the case (for example, audit fees for years not included in the SDOP). My recommendation is that, if you decide to go with a flat-fee arrangement, you should make sure that it includes only the services that you will likely use.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures

Sherayzen Law Office is a leader in SDOP disclosures. We have helped clients from over 70 countries with their offshore voluntary disclosures, including SDOPs. Our firm follows an hourly-rate billing model, because we value the quality of our work above all other considerations. Of course, we make every effort to make our fees reasonable and competitive, but our priority is the peace of mind of our clients who know that they can rely on the creativity of our legal solutions and the high quality of our work.

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October 31 2020 FBAR Deadline | FBAR Tax Lawyer & Attorney

US taxpayers can still timely file their 2019 FBAR (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts) by the new October 31 2020 FBAR deadline. This FBAR deadline extension is highly unusual and requires some explanation.

October 31 2020 FBAR Deadline: What is FBAR?

The Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (“FBAR”) is officially known as FinCen Form 114. This form must be filed by US persons with an ownership interest in or signatory authority or any other authority over foreign bank and financial accounts if the aggregate value of such accounts exceeds $10,000 at any point during a calendar year. This is a very important US international information return; a failure to timely and correctly file an FBAR may result in an imposition of draconian FBAR penalties. This is why it is so important to learn about FBAR deadlines.

October 31 2020 FBAR Deadline & FinCEN Mistake

The 2019 FBAR deadline extension became possible as a result of an incorrect message posted by FinCEN on its BSA (Bank Secrecy Act) website. On October 14, 2020, FinCEN posted a message that incorrectly stated that the 2019 FBAR deadline was extended to December 31, 2020 for all FBAR filers. Within twenty-four hours, FinCEN removed the message.

On October 16, 2020, FinCEN posted a corrected message that stated that the extension to December 31, 2020, was intended only for victims of recent natural disasters listed in FinCEN’s October 6, 2020 notice.

Since, however, there were filers who have missed the October 15 deadline due to the incorrect October 14 message, FinCEN decided to allow these filers to have an extra couple of weeks to file their 2019 FBARs. For this reason, FinCEN established a new October 31 2020 FBAR deadline for all FBAR filers (except those who were victims of natural disasters listed in the aforementioned October 6 list).

October 31 2020 FBAR Deadline & December 31 2020 FBAR Deadline

Thus, there are two separate FBAR filing deadline extensions still outstanding. The first one is the October 31 2020 FBAR deadline which applies to all FBAR filers except the ones who are also eligible for the second deadline extension.

The second deadline extension to December 31, 2020 applies only to victims of natural disasters listed in FinCEN’s October 6, 2020 notice.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with FBAR Compliance

Sherayzen Law Office is a leading US international tax law firm that specializes in US international tax law and FBAR compliance. We have filed thousands of FBARs for our clients. We have also helped US taxpayers from over 70 countries to deal with FBAR filing violations for prior years, including as part of a voluntary disclosure (such as Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures, Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures, Delinquent FBAR Submission Procedures and Reasonable Cause disclosures). Our FBAR clients include individuals, corporations, partnerships, estates, trusts and disregarded entities.

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26 U.S.C. Subpart A: Taxation of Recipients of Corporation Distributions

This article is a second installment of our series of articles on corporate distributions. Today’s topic is the description of 26 U.S.C. Subpart A, which contains the most important tax provisions for our subsequent discussions of this subject.

26 U.S.C. Subpart A: Purpose

26 U.S.C Subpart A is the first part of Part I of Subchapter C, which deals with corporate distributions and adjustments. The main purpose of Subpart A is to establish the rules for taxation of recipients of corporate distributions. In other words, this section of the Internal Revenue Code deals with a situation where a corporation distributes or is deemed to have distributed something – a property, stocks, et cetera – to its shareholders. The focus here is not on the corporation, but on how its shareholders should be taxed.

26 U.S.C. Subpart A: §§301-307

26 U.S.C. Subpart A contains seven tax sections: IRC (Internal Revenue Code) §§301-307. All of these provisions are very important for both US domestic and international tax purposes.

IRC §301 establishes a general tax framework for corporate distributions and specifically deals with the distributions of property classified as dividends under IRC §316.

IRC §§302-304 describe the tax rules related to redemptions of stock (as defined in §317(b)), including some very specific situations. For example, §303 deals with distributions in redemption of stock to pay death taxes. The main provision, however, is §302 with its four tests which are highly important for determining whether a redemption of stock will be treated as a sale under §1001 or a corporate distribution under §301.

IRC §305 focuses on the special tax rules concerning stock dividends. It establishes the general rule that stock dividends are not taxable, but it also contains numerous exceptions to the general rule. More exceptions to the general rule may be found in §306.

IRC §306 deals with dispositions of “§306 stock” as defined in §306(c). §306 is very important to taxpayers because, with a few exceptions, it treats a disposition of §306 stock as ordinary income. This section also contains a loss non-recognition provision.

Finally, IRC §307 explains the calculation of cost-basis of stock received by shareholders as a result of a §305(a) distribution. This section has very important implications not only to stock dividends in general, but also to stock dividends made by a PFIC (Passive Foreign Investment Company). The calculation of PFIC tax and PFIC interest with respect to a disposition of such PFIC stock dividends are directly influenced by §307.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Tax Help Concerning Corporate Distributions

Sherayzen Law Office is an international tax law firm highly-experienced in US and foreign corporate transactions, including corporate distributions. We have helped our clients around the world not only to engage in proper US tax planning concerning cash, property and stock distributions from US and foreign corporations, but also resolve any prior US tax noncompliance issues (including conducting offshore voluntary disclosures). We can help you!

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