FATCA at Home: Crackdown on Foreigners’ Accounts in U.S. banks

As the IRS engages in negotiations with foreign governments to implement FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) overseas, there is a rising pressure from some countries for reciprocity – the implementation of FATCA-like disclosure of foreign clients’ U.S. accounts to those clients’ home governments.

FATCA Background

FATCA was enacted in 2010 and set to begin taking effect at the end of 2013. FATCA is the mother of many new international tax requirements. One of the most unique features of FATCA (and most relevant for the purposes of this article) is requiring foreign banks to disclose information about the accounts of U.S. persons to the IRS. The goal of this provision is, of course, to expose U.S. persons who are trying to avoid the payment of U.S. taxes through undisclosed offshore accounts.

IRS Engages In Negotiations With Foreign Governments to Implement FATCA

In order to effectively implement FATCA requirements, the Department of the Treasury has to secure the cooperation of foreign governments (especially since disclosure of information required by FATCA may constitute a violation of some countries’ privacy laws). This is why the IRS is engaged in negotiations with a broad range of foreign governments (actually, over 50 foreign jurisdictions) to implement the information reporting and withholding tax provisions of FATCA.

The Department of the Treasury pursues the policy of concluding a series of bilateral tax agreements based on the model treaty developed by the Treasury.

The Treasury Department has already concluded a bilateral agreement with the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark and Mexico. 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, Sint Maarten, Slovenia, and South Africa.

Push for Reciprocity from Foreign Governments

As the implementation of FATCA begins, however, the ancient Roman principle of “quid pro quo” seems to have become the theme of the IRS negotiations with foreign governments. It appears that some countries, possibly including France, Germany and China, are demanding reciprocity in the disclosure – i.e. if their banks have to disclose to the IRS the foreign accounts of U.S. persons, then U.S. banks should also disclose U.S. accounts of foreign nationals.

U.S. Positively Responds to Reciprocity Requests

It appears that the general trend in the Obama administration is to agree with the foreign governments and engage in partial or even full reciprocity. The Department of the Treasure spokesman stated that: “the United States is committed to a policy of transparency and equivalence, where appropriate, in furtherance of international cooperation to combat offshore tax evasion.”

Actually, according to an October 2012 letter to members of Congress from the Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy, Mark Mazur, the completed FATCA pacts already include commitments “to pursue equivalent levels of reciprocal automatic exchange in the future.” Moreover, the United States appears to have already shared some taxpayer information with foreign countries with which it has a tax treaty or a formal information-sharing agreement. The IRS this year started disclosing to some foreign governments information about bank interest payments earned by their citizens with U.S. bank accounts.

Mexican Nationals Maybe Impacted First, but Europeans May Follow Soon

Despite the impression that reciprocity is mainly a demand of the European government, it appears that Mexican nationals may be the first to feel the impact of disclosure, especially since, as mentioned above, the IRS already started disclosing bank interest payments to some foreign governments, including possibly Mexico.

However, while Mexicans may be the first affected by the reciprocity disclosures, it appears that it will be only a matter of time before the European nationals will be affected. This particularly concerns the French and German nationals.