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Higher OVDP Penalty Risk for US Taxpayers With Foreign Accounts

December of 2015 was one of the most successful months for the DOJ’s Swiss Bank Program as nearly a record number of banks signed non-prosecution agreements. This success for the DOJ means that more and more of non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts are likely to deal with Higher OVDP Penalty with respect to their undisclosed foreign accounts.

DOJ’s Swiss Bank Program

The Program for Non-Prosecution Agreements or Non-Target Letters for Swiss Banks (Program) was announced by the US Department of Justice on August 29, 2013. The Program was intended to achieve multiple goals, but there are four of them that are most important to the understanding of the Higher OVDP Penalty and the Program.

First, this was an “offer that one cannot refuse” for the Swiss banks– the Program was intended to “allow” (or force) Swiss banks to bring themselves into compliance with US tax laws. In exchange, the Swiss banks received a non-prosecution agreement that promised them protection from US legal enforcement actions.

Second, the Program was intended to obtain as much information as possible about non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts.

The third important goal was to create an atmosphere of global enforcement that would make US voluntary disclosure the most rational choice for non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts given the risk of IRS discovery of their undisclosed foreign accounts.

Fourth, the Program was intended to pave the way for easier acceptance of FATCA throughout the world by demonstrating what could potentially happen in any country that decides to resist the implementation of FATCA.

It must be stated that the Swiss Bank Program has been a spectacular success for the DOJ and the IRS. Both, the banks and non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts flocked to the voluntary disclosure programs. Moreover, today, FATCA is the new global standard of international tax enforcement.

2014 OVDP

The current 2014 IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program is a modification of 2012 OVDP which, in turn, was the continuation of a series of prior IRS offshore voluntary disclosure programs (particularly 2011 OVDI). The 2014 OVDP is designed to help non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts to bring their tax affairs into compliance with US tax laws.

2014 OVDP has a two-tier penalty system. The 50% penalty rate applies to US taxpayers with foreign accounts in the banks on the special IRS list. The 27.5% penalty rate applies to everyone else.

Influence of the Program on the OVDP

The Swiss Bank Program has a direct impact on the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program because every Swiss Bank that signs a Non-Prosecution Agreement under the Program is automatically added to the 50% penalty list of foreign banks.

Thus, as more and more Swiss Banks reach an agreement with the DOJ under the Program, the list of 50% penalty banks keeps expanding and so does the list of US taxpayers with foreign accounts who may be subject to this higher penalty rate.

What Should Non-Compliant US Taxpayers With Foreign Accounts Do?

The growing risk of higher OVDP penalty means that non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts should explore their voluntary disclosure options as soon as possible by contacting an experienced international tax lawyer.

It is a mistake to assume that 50% penalty list will grow only as a result of the Swiss Bank Program. Even today, the list already contains banks which are located outside of the United States (such as HSBC India and Israeli Bank Leumi). This means that any bank in almost any part of the world may tomorrow be on the 50% penalty list and US taxpayers with foreign accounts in this bank would be forced to pay a much higher penalty.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Tax Help With The Voluntary Disclosure of Your Foreign Accounts

The growing risk of higher OVDP penalty means that you should contact the experienced international tax team of Sherayzen Law Office. International tax attorney and Founder of Sherayzen Law Office, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, will personally analyze your case, estimate your IRS penalty exposure, determine your offshore voluntary disclosure options, and implement your customized voluntary disclosure plan to resolve your US tax problems.

Choosing Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer

Choosing the right Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer is a very important decision that may determine the fate of your entire offshore voluntary disclosure case. While making this choice, I recommend that you consider the following five main factors while choosing your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer.

1. Areas of Practice of Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer

The first factor is to determine whether your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure lawyer really practices in this area of law. There are attorneys (especially in large and general practice law firms) out there who like to “dabble” in various areas of law but who really do not know international tax law in depth. You are well advised to stay away from such firms.

You should be looking for an attorney who has devoted the great majority of his practice to international tax law, particularly Offshore Voluntary Disclosure. Remember, Offshore Voluntary Disclosure involves not only the sophisticated analysis of the voluntary disclosure options of the foreign bank and financial accounts (i.e. issues associated with the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts – “FBAR”), but also the complex interaction of various other parts of international tax compliance requirements (such as PFICs, ownership of foreign business entities, ownership of Foreign trusts and so on).

Sherayzen Law Office is a law firm that specializes in international tax law and specifically in Offshore Voluntary Disclosures. Virtually our entire practice is devoted to helping clients throughout the world to comply with the complex requirements of U.S. international tax law, particularly voluntary disclosure of foreign income, offshore bank and financial accounts, foreign gifts and inheritance, and ownership of foreign business entities and trusts.

2. Experience of Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer

After making sure that he really practices in the area of Offshore Voluntary Disclosure, you should find out about the experience of your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure lawyer. What you should be looking for is the concentration of the experience as well as number of years that the attorney practices law (at least five years).

Do not be fooled by someone who says that he has thirty years of Offshore Voluntary Disclosure experience – this is a relatively new and quickly developing area of practice. the IRS implemented its first voluntary disclosure program (which was quite unknown at that time) in 2003. The first voluntary disclosure program of real importance was the 2009 OVDP and it served as a prototype for the highly successful 2011 OVDI and the later 2012 OVDP and 2014 OVDP (which closed in 2018).

Since 2005, Sherayzen Law Office has developed a unique expertise in the area of Offshore Voluntary Disclosure helping clients throughout the world, and it has practiced international tax law with the emphasis on offshore voluntary disclosures during the existence of all major IRS Voluntary Disclosure Programs.

3. Personal Attention of Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer to Your Voluntary Disclosure Case

The key point here is that, since offshore voluntary disclosures are highly fact-dependent, it is very important the experienced offshore voluntary disclosure lawyer that you wish to retain for your case is the one who will actually handle the entire case, not just the voluntary disclosure. Similarly, you want to make sure that your offshore voluntary disclosure lawyer is able to communicate with you personally with respect to the case.

Unfortunately, it is common practice for large law firms to divide up the work between the partner and the associates to the extent that the partner (usually an experienced attorney) contributes very little beyond getting you to sign the retainer agreement while less-experienced and even complete inexperienced associates do most of the work, potentially jeopardizing your entire voluntary disclosure.

Eugene Sherayzen, the founder and owner of Sherayzen Law Office, will personally handle your initial consultation and your entire case. Of course, parts of the case will be given to associates, accountants and staff members; however, Mr. Sherayzen invests a substantial amount of his time in training and supervision of all members of Sherayzen Law Office, making sure that the high quality of our firm’s work is maintained while certain cost benefits are passed through to the client. Moreover, Mr. Sherayzen is personally available for personal communication throughout the progress of your case.

4. Ethical Creativity of Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer

Offshore voluntary disclosures require consideration of interaction of various strategies and possibilities before the your disclosure options are finalized. This requires a healthy degree of ethical creativity that must be displayed by your offshore voluntary disclosure lawyer as early as the initial consultation.

If the offshore voluntary disclosure lawyer only proposes one option without considering any facts or without at least mentioning the other options and why they are rejected, then you may wish to get a second opinion. Similarly, if the attorney only concentrates on the OVDP penalty without discussion of the FBAR penalty structure, something may not be right.

Also, stay away from attorneys (and accountants) who propose unethical solutions which involve concealment of truth from the IRS or who propose easy solutions. Your voluntary disclosure is required to be truthful and complete; anything short of this standard may get you in deep troubles with the IRS and result in high civil and even criminal penalties.

Sherayzen Law Office follows a very high standard for ethical creativity, making sure that the required disclosures are honestly made the IRS while implementing ethical creative solutions based on legitimate interpretations of the Internal Revenue Code and Treasury regulations. In the end, we strive to achieve the combination of the required transparency with the tax and penalty reductions permitted by the Code.

5. Trust in Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer

This fifth factor of “trust” is highly important. If, after your initial consultation, you have a feeling of distrust and suspicion of the voluntary disclosure lawyer or his tactics, my suggestion is to try another attorney.

The stakes in the offshore voluntary disclosure can be very high and the information involved can be very sensitive. In such situations, at least some feeling of trust in the abilities and honesty of your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer is crucial to the success of your case.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office to Retain The Right Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer for Your Case

If you are thinking about doing an Offshore Voluntary Disclosure with respect to your foreign assets and foreign income, contact Sherayzen Law Office for experienced professional help.

Over the years, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, an experienced Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer has developed a unique expertise in the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure which allows Sherayzen Law Office to successfully help clients throughout the United States and the world. We offer a comprehensive approach which produces realistic voluntary disclosure options assessment on which you can rely. Then, once the voluntary disclosure option is chosen, we will implement the necessary ethical strategies (including drafting of legal documents and completing the necessary tax forms) and rigorously defend your position against the IRS.

Contact Us to schedule a Confidential Consultation now.

2012 OVDP and Domestic Voluntary Disclosure

Sometimes a taxpayer who enters 2012 OVDP also has undisclosed domestic tax liability and the question arises with respect to how to handle this additional liability.

As was the case with the 2009 OVDP and the 2011 OVDI, the 2012 OVDP is available to taxpayers who have both offshore and domestic issues to disclose. The Voluntary Disclosure Practice requires an accurate and complete disclosure. Consequently, if there are undisclosed income tax liabilities from domestic sources in addition to those related to offshore accounts and assets, they must also be disclosed in the 2012 OVDP.

Therefore, when applying for the 2012 OVDP, the taxpayer should indicate on the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Letter that he is also making a domestic voluntary disclosure.

However, these domestic tax liabilities are not going to be covered by the same IRS agent who will be in charge of your 2012 OVDP. Rather, such voluntary disclosures will go through the traditional IRS voluntary disclosure program and another agent will be assigned to the case to deal specifically with domestic issues. This further means that there is a separate application process for acceptance into the traditional IRS voluntary disclosure program in addition to applying to the 2012 OVDP.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Legal Help with Domestic and Offshore Voluntary Disclosures

If you have undisclosed offshore accounts and foreign income in addition to undisclosed U.S.-source income, contact Sherayzen Law Office for help. Our experienced international tax firm will thoroughly review your case, determine your options with respect to foreign and domestic voluntary disclosures, prepare all of the necessary legal documents and tax forms, and vigorously represent your interests during your negotiations with the IRS.

Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program: Advantages and Disadvantages

2012 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (2012 OVDP) now closed may offer tremendous benefits to certain types of taxpayers, but it may not be as beneficial in other circumstances. Whether to enter the 2012 OVDP is a decision that should be made by the taxpayer only after he had an opportunity to discuss this matter in depth with an experienced attorney who specializes in offshore voluntary disclosures. In this article, however, I wish to outline some of the broader considerations with respect to entering into the 2012 OVDP in order to provide some background information to the readers so that they can understand better their attorney’s advice.

Background Information

2012 OVDP was announced by the IRS barely four months after the end of the wildly-successful 2011 OVDI (Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative). However, the actual terms of the program were not announced until much later, June 26, 2012.

2012 OVDP brought in tougher terms than 2011 OVDI (for example, the highest penalty category is 27.5% instead of 25% as it was under 2011 OVDI rules), closed some 2011 OVDI loopholes and created a more complex and detailed set of rules. 2012 rules also clarified many heretofore obscure procedures and contained new features that may benefit certain classes of taxpayers, especially those who owned Canadian retirement accounts.

The basic structure of 2012 OVDP, however, remains largely similar to 2011 OVDI. It still has three penalty levels (27.5%, 12.5% and 5%), highly demanding information disclosure requirements and general rigidness with respect to its terms.

General Cost-Benefit Considerations

There are actually three general analytical steps with respect to benefits and drawbacks of entering into the 2012 OVDP. First, the extent of current liability exposure of the taxpayer outside of the 2012 OVDP. Second, the estimate of the OVDP liability of the taxpayer and comparison of OVDP versus non-OVDP exposure (here, an attorney would also explore the non-tax aspects of the OVDP disclosure such as the comfort level of the taxpayer with the invasive nature of the OVDP requirements). Finally, whether 2012 OVDP is the best route to proceed vis-a-vis alternative voluntary disclosure options.

Since the first and the third steps are outside of the scope of this article, I will concentrate on the calculation of advantages and disadvantages of entering of the 2012 OVDP versus non-OVDP exposure. It should be remembered, however, that this calculation will depend heavily on the individual circumstances of each case.

Primary Advantages of the 2012 OVDP

2012 OVDP enjoys five primary advantages over non-OVDP options. First, it is an official IRS program with a virtual certainty (though, according to the IRS, not a 100% guarantee) of elimination of criminal prosecution.

Second, 2012 OVDP provides a taxpayer with an opportunity to calculate, with a reasonable degree of certainty, the total cost of resolving all offshore tax issues at the same time. This is the case because OVDP rules assess one single Offshore Penalty with respect to all information returns – Forms 5471, 8865, 926, 3520, FBARs, et cetera. This can highly advantageous for the taxpayer, because, outside of the OVDP, he will have to deal with the penalties associated with each form.

Moreover, paying one single penalty may represent huge savings over paying penalties outside of the OVDP. The IRS provides a hypothetical example where a taxpayer would pay, outside of the 2012 OVDP, $4,543,000 (plus interest) in tax, accuracy-related penalty, and FBAR penalty on a single $1,000,000 account with the undisclosed income of $50,000 per year. This is not even counting the additional penalties and jail time in case the IRS decides to initial a criminal prosecution. On the other hand, in the same example, a taxpayer would pay only $518,000 plus interest under the 2012 OVDP rules (assuming 27.5% offshore penalty category).

Third, 2012 OVDP rules provide for a certain flexibility where the taxpayer’s attorney can look for strategies to lower the Offshore Penalty further if the circumstances of the case allow for such possibility. Therefore, despite its overall rigidness, the OVDP does take some individual circumstances into the account. However, it is important to point out that much of this flexibility is likely to be achieved only securing the agreement of the IRS agent in charge of your case, his manager and the technical analyst – this is a very hard achievement even for an experienced attorney (though, unfortunately, there are a number of cases where the taxpayers’ representatives failed to even try to achieve this goal) and it puts very strict limits on the OVDP flexibility.

Fourth, 2012 OVDP limits the taxpayer’s liability to eight years and the IRS will not look further absent extraordinary circumstances. Outside of the OVDP, the IRS does have an argument that failure to file certain information returns may keep the statute of limitations open to IRS examination with respect to affected tax returns.

Finally, 2012 OVDP provides a definite closure to the case. At the end of the OVDP process, Form 906 (the Closing Agreement) is signed by the taxpayer and the IRS by which both sides agree to the terms of the Agreement and the case is over (absent extraordinary circumstances, such as fraudulent claims by the taxpayer during the voluntary disclosure process).

Primary Disadvantages of the 2012 OVDP

2012 OVDP also has numerous disadvantages. First, this is a very rigid program with numerous requirements. The side-effect is that the OVDP process can be an expensive one for the taxpayer when it comes to legal and accounting fees.

Second, despite having some flexibility with respect to the calculation of penalties, OVDP rules are not likely to be sensitive to major circumstances of a taxpayer’s case, such as non-willfulness of his conduct. While it is never officially stated, the OVDP unofficially incorporate the assumption that the OVDP applicants acted willfully in its Offshore Penalty structure and there is no reasonable cause that can explain their failure to comply with U.S. tax laws. This often leads to a result where innocent taxpayers with smaller cases or taxpayers who live overseas (and for one reason or another do not satisfy the requirements of the 5% penalty category) can be highly penalized under the OVDP structure.

Third, related to the preceding paragraph, the OVDP penalty structure may actually impose a higher penalty on a taxpayer where IRS is not able to establish the willfulness of the taxpayer’s conduct. This is a highly complex calculation that should be made by an attorney, but, generally, the higher the chances of the taxpayer to establish non-willfulness, the less appealing the OVDP penalty structure is likely to be. This is especially true where OVDP Offshore Penalty includes the assets that would not otherwise either be subject to penalty outside of the OVDP or be subject to a much lower penalty.

Fourth, 2012 OVDP has no real appeal structure in place – in most cases, the IRS agent’s decision is final. If you do not like it, the only real recourse is to opt-out with its murky consequences (it may still be an option depending on the individual circumstances of the case, especially when the taxpayer should not have been in the OVDP program in the first place). The only exception is having a full examination of the tax return and an appeal maybe filed with respect to any tax and penalties imposed by the IRS on examination, but the IRS decisions on the terms of the OVDP closing agreement is almost never subject to an appeal. Such dependance on the good will of an IRS agent in charge of the case naturally produces certain anxiety among the OVDP applicants and constitutes a major drawback of entering into the program.

Finally, 2012 OVDP may take a fairly long time to complete (there are still some 2009 OVDP cases open in 2013). The IRS does try to process the cases as soon as possible, but it has few resources and its agents are overwhelmed with the number of cases pending on their desks. On the average, a taxpayer should expect about a fifteen to eighteen-month process between the acceptance into the OVDP and the final resolution of the case.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help with Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure

This article merely outlines some of the main consideration with respect to the 2012 OVDP. The actual cost-benefit calculation is much more complex and will vary wildly depending on the individual circumstances of each case.

This calculations and the probabilities with respect to each disclosure option should be done by an international tax attorney experienced in the offshore voluntary disclosures.

This is why you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for help with your voluntary disclosure. Our international tax firm is highly experienced in the voluntary disclosure process. We will thoroughly examine the circumstances of your case, assess your penalties under the various disclosure scenarios, prepare all of the required legal documents and tax forms, and rigorously represent your interests during negotiations with the IRS.

U.S. Engaging with More than 50 Jurisdictions to Curtail Offshore Tax Evasion

The U.S. Department of the Treasury recently announced that it is engaged with more than 50 countries and jurisdictions around the world to improve international tax compliance and implement the information reporting and withholding tax provisions commonly known as the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). Enacted by Congress in 2010, these provisions target noncompliance by U.S. taxpayers using foreign accounts. Treasury’s engagement with this broad coalition of foreign governments to efficiently and effectively implement FATCA marks an important milestone in establishing a common intergovernmental approach to combating tax evasion.

Model Intergovernmental Agreement and Most Recent Developments

This year, the Treasury Department published a model intergovernmental agreement for implementing FATCA and announced the development of a second model agreement. These models serve as the basis for concluding bilateral agreements with interested jurisdictions.

The Treasury Department has already concluded a bilateral agreement with the United Kingdom. Additional jurisdictions with which Treasury is in the process of finalizing an intergovernmental agreement and with which Treasury hopes to conclude negotiations by year end include: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan, Switzerland, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Guernsey, Ireland, Isle of Man, Jersey, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Norway.

Jurisdictions with which Treasury is actively engaged in a dialogue towards concluding an intergovernmental agreement include: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, the Cayman Islands, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Israel, Korea, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Malta, New Zealand, the Slovak Republic, Singapore, and Sweden. Treasury expects to be able to conclude negotiations with several of these jurisdictions by year end.

The jurisdictions with which Treasury is working to explore options for intergovernmental engagement include: Bermuda, Brazil, the British Virgin Islands, Chile, the Czech Republic, Gibraltar, India, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Romania, Russia, Seychelles, Saint Maarten, Slovenia, and South Africa.

Aggressive Effort by the United States to Assure International Compliance with U.S. Tax Laws

All of these moves by the Treasury Department with respect to FATCA implementation agreements is part of a broader effort to assure international compliance with U.S. tax laws. FATCA has already gave birth to a powerful compliance weapon that must be filed by U.S. taxpayers in the United States – namely, Form 8938. In combination with other information returns, such as FBARs, Form 5471, Form 8865, Form 926, Form 3520 and others, FATCA hopes to achieve universal tax compliance among U.S. taxpayers who are engaging in international activities.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help with Disclosure of Foreign Accounts and Foreign Income

If you have undisclosed offshore accounts and you have not reported your foreign income, contact Sherayzen Law Office for legal help. Our experienced voluntary disclosure firm will thoroughly review your case, advise you on the available disclosure options, prepare your voluntary disclosure documentation (including tax returns and offshore information returns such as Forms 5471, 8865, 926, 3520, FBARs and others) and vigorously represent your interests during the entire disclosure process.