Even today many US owners of Colombian bank accounts remain completely unaware of the numerous US tax requirements that may apply to them. The purpose of this essay is to educate these owners about the requirement to report income generated by these accounts in the United States as well as the FBAR and FATCA obligations concerning the disclosure of ownership of Colombian bank accounts to the IRS.
Colombian Bank Accounts: Individuals Who Must Report Them
Before we discuss the aforementioned requirements in more detail, we need to determine who is required to comply with them. In other words, is every Colombian required to file FBAR in the United States? Or, does this obligation apply only to certain individuals?
The answer is very clear: only Colombians who fall within one of the categories of US tax residents must comply with these requirements. US tax residents include US citizens, US Permanent Residents, an individual who satisfies the Substantial Presence test and an individual who properly declares himself a US tax resident. There are important exceptions to this general rule, but, if you fall within any of these categories, you need to contact an international tax attorney as soon as possible to determine your US tax obligations concerning your ownership of Colombian bank accounts.
Colombian Bank Accounts: Income Reporting
All US tax residents are subject to the worldwide income reporting requirement. In other words, they must disclose on their US tax returns not only their US-source income, but also their foreign income. The latter includes all bank interest income, dividends, royalties, capital gains and any other income generated by Colombian bank accounts.
The worldwide income reporting requirement also requires the disclosure of PFIC distributions, PFIC sales, Subpart F income and GILTI income. These are complex requirements which are outside the scope of this article, but US owners of Colombian bank accounts need to be aware of the existence of these requirements.
Colombian Bank Accounts: FinCEN Form 114 (FBAR)
FinCEN Form 114, the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (commonly known as “FBAR”) mandates US tax residents to disclose their ownership interest in or signatory authority or any other authority over Colombian bank and financial accounts if the aggregate highest balance of these accounts exceeds $10,000. Every part of this sentence has a special significance and contains a trap for the unwary.
The most dangerous of these traps is the definition of an “account”. The FBAR definition of account is much broader than how this word is generally understood by taxpayers. For the purposes of FBAR compliance, this term includes checking accounts, savings accounts, fixed-deposit accounts, investments accounts, mutual funds, options/commodity futures accounts, life insurance policies with a cash surrender value, precious metals accounts, earth mineral accounts, et cetera. In fact, it is very likely that the IRS will find that an account exists whenever there is a custodial relationship between a foreign financial institution and a US person’s foreign asset.
FBAR has its own intricate penalty system which is widely known for its severity. The FBAR penalties range from incarceration to willful and even non-willful penalties which may easily exceed the value of the penalized accounts. In order to circumvent the potential 8th Amendment challenges and make the penalty imposition more flexible, the IRS has implemented a system of self-imposed limitations, but it is a completely voluntary system (i.e. the IRS can, and in fact already did several times, disregard these limitations).
Colombian Bank Accounts: FATCA Form 8938
While Form 8938 is a relative newcomer (since tax year 2011), it has occupied a special place among the US international tax requirements. In fact, one could argue that it is currently as important as FBAR for US taxpayers with Colombian bank accounts.
The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”) gave birth to Form 8938, making it part of a taxpayer’s federal tax return. This means that a failure to file Form 8938 may render the entire federal tax return incomplete, and the IRS may be able to audit the return. Immediately, we can see the profound impact Form 8938 has on the Statute of Limitations for the entire tax return.
Given the fact that it is a direct descendant of FATCA, it is not surprising Form 8938’s primary focus is on foreign financial assets. Form 8938 requires a US taxpayer to disclose all Specified Foreign Financial Assets (“SFFA”) as long as he satisfies the relevant filing threshold. The filing thresholds differ depending on the filing status and the place of residence (i.e. inside or outside of the United States) of the taxpayer.
SFFA includes an enormous variety of foreign financial assets, including foreign bank and financial accounts. In fact, with respect to bank and financial accounts, Form 8938 is very similar to FBAR, which often results in double-reporting of the same assets. It is important to emphasize that Form 8938 does not replace FBAR, both forms must still be filed. In other words, US taxpayers should report their Colombian bank accounts on FBAR and disclose them again on Form 8938.
Form 8938 has its own penalty system which contains some unique elements. In addition to its own $10,000 failure-to-file penalty, Form 8938 directly affects the accuracy-related income tax penalties and the ability of a taxpayer to use foreign tax credit.
Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With the US Tax Reporting of Your Colombian Bank Accounts
US international tax compliance is extremely complex. It is very easy to get yourself into trouble, and much more difficult and expensive to get yourself out of this trouble. If you have Colombian bank accounts, contact the experienced international tax attorney and owner of Sherayzen Law Office, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen. Mr. Sherayzen has helped hundreds of US taxpayers with their US international tax issues, and He can help You!