France Asks Switzerland for Names of UBS Accountholders

This is an international tax lawyer news update: on September 26, 2016, Swiss tax officials confirmed that France asked Switzerland to provide the names of the holders of more than 45,000 UBS bank accounts. The request covers years 2006-2008.

Le Parisien newspaper, which first published extracts from the French request that the combined balance in the affected accounts exceeded CHF 11 billion (around $ 11.4 billion.). Le Parisien, which did not disclose how it gained access to the letter, also said the French authorities were able to identify the holders of 4,782 accounts.

The French request came to light after, on September 12th 2016, the Swiss Supreme Court over-ruled the lower court’s rejection of a similar request from the Netherlands for financial details of Dutch residents with accounts at UBS. Despite the Netherlands’ success, doubts still remain about the viability of the French request due to the fact that article 28 of the France-Switzerland tax treaty of 1967, as modified in 2010, provides that accounts that were closed before 2010 are not covered by the agreement and, therefore, should not be subject to information exchange.

Ignorance of the Law and Reasonable Cause Exception

Ignorance of the Law forms part of a much broader Reasonable Cause Exception which is almost a universal defense against the imposition of IRS civil penalties. Ignorance of the Law is often utilized as a defense against the US international tax information return penalties, including penalties envisioned under FBAR, Form 8938, Form 5471, Form 8865, et cetera. In this article, I would like provide a general description for the Ignorance of the Law defense.

It is important to remember that the application of the Ignorance of the Law defense depends on the specific circumstances of your case and nothing in this article should be interpreted as a legal advice. Rather, you need the help of an experienced tax attorney to determine whether the Ignorance of Law defense applies to your case.

Ignorance of the Law Defense Legal Test

Ignorance of the Law may provide the basis for an effective reasonable cause defense in situations where a taxpayer does no know about his obligations to comply with a tax requirement in question and/or pay taxes. However, the ignorance by itself is not sufficient to establish a reasonable cause; other circumstances must be reviewed in order to determine whether all or the requirements of this defense’s legal test are satisfied.

The legal test for the Ignorance of the Law defense requires that three requirements are satisfied in order the for taxpayer’s conduct to satisfy the reasonable cause exception:

1). The taxpayer was not aware of the tax requirement in question;

2). The taxpayer could not reasonably be expected to know of the requirement; and

3). The taxpayer’s conduct satisfied the “ordinary business care and prudence” standard.

Oftentimes, the second and the third requirement are blended into the same analysis. This is why I now turn to the examination of the ordinary business care and prudence standard for the purposes of the Ignorance of the Law defense.

Ignorance of the Law and Ordinary Business Care and Prudence Standard

Ordinary Business Care and Prudence Standard is a requirement present in all reasonable cause defenses. With respect to the Ignorance of the Law defense, the ordinary business care and prudence standard requires that a taxpayer acts in good faith, reasonably and attempts to determine his tax obligations. This means all of the relevant circumstances must be reviewed before the determination is made whether the taxpayer’s conduct satisfied the ordinary business care and prudence standard.

The precise circumstances that need to be considered depend on the particular facts of a case. Some of the common factors include: the taxpayer’s education, his tax advisors (including what information the taxpayer supplied to his tax advisors, whether he has been previously subject the tax at issue, whether he has filed the tax forms in question before, whether he has been penalized before with respect to the issue at hand, whether there any changes to the tax forms or tax law (which the taxpayer could not reasonably be expected to know), the level of complexity of the issue in question, et cetera.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with Your Ignorance of the Law Reasonable Cause Defense

If you were penalized by the IRS with respect to a tax requirement and you did not know about this requirement, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional and experienced legal help. We have helped taxpayers around the world to successfully reduce and even entirely eliminate penalties based on the reasonable cause defense that often stemmed from our clients’ ignorance of relevant tax requirements. We can also help You!

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US–Hungary Totalization Agreement Enters Into Force

On September 1, 2016, the US–Hungary Totalization Agreement entered into force. In this article, I will briefly discuss the main benefits of this Agreement to US and Hungarian nations.

US–Hungary Totalization Agreement: What is a Totalization Agreement?

The Totalization Agreements are authorized by Section 233 of the Social Security Act for the purpose of eliminating the burden of dual social security taxes. In essence, these are social security agreements between two countries that protect the benefit rights of workers who have working careers in both countries and prevent such workers and their employers from paying social security taxes on the same earnings in both countries.

Usually, such a situation arises where a worker from country A works in Country B, but he is covered under the social security systems in both countries. In such cases, without a totalization agreement, the worker has to pay social security taxes to both countries A and B on the same earnings.

US–Hungary Totalization Agreement Background

The US–Hungary Totalization Agreement was signed by the United States and Hungary on February 3, 2015 and entered into force on September 1, 2016. This means that Hungary now joined 25 other countries – Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom – that have similar Totalization Agreements with the United States.

US–Hungary Totalization Agreement: Key Provisions

There are three key provisions of the US–Hungary Totalization Agreement which are relevant to Hungarian and US workers. First, protection of workers’ benefits and prevention of dual taxation. US workers who work in Hungary and are already covered under Hungarian social security system should be exempt from US social security payments, including health insurance (under FICA and SECA only), retirement insurance, survivors and disability insurance contributions. However, US–Hungary Totalization Agreement does not apply to the Medicare; US employees must still make sure that they have adequate medical insurance coverage. Similarly, Hungarian workers who work in the United States and are already covered by the US social security system should be exempt from Hungarian social security taxes.

The second key provision of the US–Hungary Totalization Agreement provides for a Certificate of Coverage. The Certificate can be used by an employee to remain covered under his home country’s social security system for up to 60 months. Additional extensions are possible upon approval by the host country.

Finally, under the US–Hungary Totalization Agreement, workers may qualify for partial US benefits or partial Hungarian benefits based on combined (or “totalized”) work credits from both countries. This means that, where there is insufficient number of periods (or credits in the United States) to claim social security benefits, the periods of contributions in one country can be added to the period of contributions in another country to qualify to these benefits.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for US Tax Issues Concerning Hungarian Assets and Income

If you have foreign accounts and other assets in Hungary and/or income from these Hungarian assets, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. We have helped hundreds of clients throughout the world, including in Hungary, with their US tax issues and we can help you!

US International Tax Attorney On The Necessity of Anti-Deferral Regimes

As a US international tax attorney, I am fully aware of the crucially important role that the US international tax anti-deferral regimes (the Subpart F rules and PFIC rules) play in the Internal Revenue Code. Yet, the enormous complexity of the US international anti-deferral regimes often makes some people wonder about why we even have them.

As a US international tax attorney, I feel that it is important to educate the general public about the necessity of the anti-deferral regimes and how this necessity is deeply grounded in our tax system. I also wish to address here the issue of why the US anti-deferral regimes are so complex.

US International Tax Attorney: Anti-Deferral Regimes are a Natural Product of Our Tax System

The anti-deferral regimes is a natural legislative response to the anti-deferral strategies that originate from the deep policy contradictions that form the core of the US tax system. The most important of these contradictions arose from the recognition of income rules.

Generally, the US government imposes an income tax only when income is “recognized.” The recognition rules are complex, but there is a basic asymmetry in the treatment of individuals and corporation. On the one hand, the US citizens are taxed on their worldwide income which is usually (though, with important exceptions) recognized when it is earned.

On the other hand, in general and without taking into account any anti-deferral regimes, the individuals are not be taxed on the corporate income (even if this is a one-hundred percent owned corporation) until: (a) the income is distributed (for example, as a dividend), or (b) the shares of the corporation are sold.

In the past, US international tax attorneys would combine these rules with the fact that, in general, foreign corporation would not be subject on foreign-source income earned outside of the United States, to build an effective investment strategy – contribution of all investment assets to a foreign corporation in order to avoid current US taxation of the taxpayers’ investment income. If a US international tax attorney was able to extend this strategy indefinitely, then it brought his clients benefits almost as valuable as not paying taxes at all.

Obviously, such an indefinite offshore deferral of US taxation of otherwise taxable income was not considered consistent with the fundamental goals and policies of US government. This is why the US Congress deemed it necessary to enact various anti-deferral regimes to combat offshore tax avoidance.

US International Tax Attorney: Why Are There Two Anti-Deferral Regimes Instead of One?

Even a US international tax attorney would agree that having multiple esoteric anti-deferral regimes with complex interrelationship between each other cannot be the best way to combat offshore tax avoidance investment strategies. Yet, this is our present reality and it is important to understand why this is the case.

There are four reasons for having multiple anti-deferral regimes. First, the US Congress did not create all of the anti-deferral regimes at the same time. Rather, the anti-deferral regimes appeared gradually over time with multiple amendments and shifting IRS interpretations.

Second, undoubtedly, the political influence of various lobbies with competing policies has greatly hampered the creation of a more transparent anti-deferral regime and elimination of many loopholes and exceptions.

Third, as I explained above, the offshore investment policies arose from the basic contradiction between different income recognition rules of the Internal Revenue Code. This contradiction in itself necessitates a more complex approach to combating any strategies of US international tax attorneys that seek to exploit it. It is difficult to do so with only one anti-deferral regime.

Finally, the combination of the sheer complexity of international commerce, conflicting policy priorities (for example, the Congress does not want to stifle the US companies’ ability to compete overseas just for the purpose of completely closing off some offshore investments) and the great variety of various fact patterns makes it virtually impossible to address the offshore investment strategies in a simple way. This factor partially explains why there is such a variety of international tax rules that form part of the anti-deferral regimes.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help with Anti-Deferral Regime Compliance and Planning

If you are a US person who owns a foreign business or foreign brokerage accounts, you are very likely to run into either Subpart F rules or PFIC rules. At this point, the extremely complex nature of these anti-deferral regimes makes it a reckless gamble to attempt to conduct business overseas without an advice from an experienced US international tax attorney.

This is why you should contact the experienced US international tax professionals of Sherayzen Law Office. We have helped clients around the globe to comply with and plan for the US anti-deferral regimes, and we can help you!

So, Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Initial Consultation!