On April 4, 2019, the IRS issued the FBAR Fact Sheet in order to acquaint US taxpayers with this highly important reporting requirement for foreign accounts held by US persons. Let’s analyze the new fact sheet in more detail.
FBAR Fact Sheet: Organizational Structure of the Fact Sheet
The IRS FBAR Fact Sheet can be divided into seven parts: (1) introduction to FBAR and the need to report foreign accounts to the IRS; (2) identification of who needs to file FBARs; (3) explanation of how to file FBARs (including special cases such as joint accounts and the determination of highest balances); (4) discussion of Form 8938 and FBAR; (5) amended and late FBARs; (6) description of FBAR recordkeeping requirements; and (7) more IRS resources concerning FBAR. These parts are not clearly delineated in the Fact Sheet; rather, they are summaries of various information that this brochure contains.
FBAR Fact Sheet: Introduction to FBAR
The IRS FBAR Fact Sheet commences with the warning to US taxpayers that they are required to report their foreign bank and financial accounts even if they do not produce any interest income. April 15 is identified as the critical deadline for these taxpayers. Later, the IRS also states that there is an extension available for FBARs. Again, the IRS did not do a very good job in organizing the Fact Sheet.
FBAR Fact Sheet: Who Needs to File FBARs?
Then, the IRS Fact Sheet finally introduces FBAR and states that it was created by the 1970 Bank Secrecy Act; there is no discussion of the significance of this legal history. Then, the IRS focuses on the persons who may have to file FBARs and introduces the concept of “US Person”. It defines US person as a “citizen or resident of the United States or any domestic legal entity such as a partnership, corporation, limited liability company, estate or trust.”
There is a hidden trap in this IRS definition. “Resident of the United States” does not only include US permanent residents (as most non-lawyers would read it), but also US tax residents. I encourage the readers to read this article with respect to the definition of “resident” for FBAR purposes.
The IRS also defines “United States” for FBAR purposes. The readers can read this article published by Sherayzen Law Office for a more detailed analysis of this concept.
FBAR Fact Sheet: How to File FBARs
Then, the IRS discusses in more detail certain special cases such as joint accounts and US retirement accounts. The IRS finishes this part of the FBAR fact sheet with the discussion on the determination of the highest value of a foreign account.
FBAR Fact Sheet: Form 8938 & FBAR
In this part of the Fact Sheet, the IRS introduces taxpayers to an existence of another requirement concerning foreign accounts, FATCA Form 8938. The IRS urges the readers to search the IRS website with respect to this form and how it compares to FBAR.
FBAR Fact Sheet: Amended and Late FBARs
The next part of the Fact Sheet focuses on amended and late FBARs. First, the IRS discusses how to amend an FBAR. Then, the IRS states that, as soon as a taxpayer learns that he did not file the required FBARs, he needs to e-file them. At that point, the IRS casually discusses that there is space available on the form to explain the reason for late filing. Finally, the IRS describes the severe FBAR criminal penalties, stating the following: “the IRS will not penalize those who properly report a foreign financial account on a late filed FBAR, and the IRS finds they have reasonable cause for late filing.”
Sherayzen Law Office believes that the IRS has not done a good job in this part of the Fact Sheet. It has completely failed to emphasize the importance of seeking a legal advice prior to filing a late FBAR. A taxpayer may get the wrong impression that he should file a late FBAR as soon as possible before exploring the options on how to do it in a way that protects him from excessive FBAR penalties.
Moreover, the IRS also failed to emphasize the importance of offshore voluntary disclosure with respect to late FBARs. Besides a casual mention of an “IRS compliance program”, there is nothing about the various available voluntary disclosure options for US taxpayers who are filing late FBARs. The IRS does not refer at all to the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures and Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures.
FBAR Fact Sheet: Recordkeeping Requirements
In the next part of the Fact Sheet, the IRS discusses how many years the FBAR filers need to keep the supporting documentation and copies of FBARs. Curiously, the IRS states that the filers should keep the documents for five years from the due date of FBAR, but the FBAR Statute of Limitations is six years.
Sherayzen Law Office does not believe that the IRS advice is correct here. We urge FBAR filers to keep their FBAR records and copies of the filed FBARs for six to ten years.
FBAR Fact Sheet: IRS Resources
The IRS concludes its FBAR Fact Sheet with the discussion of additional available resources to US taxpayers, including FBAR hotline and Publication 4261.
Sherayzen Law Office’s View of the FBAR Fact Sheet
We believe that the FBAR Fact Sheet can serve only as a general introduction to FBAR, but it is not sufficient to provide US taxpayers with sufficient guidance on how to properly deal with late FBARs. On the contrary, a US taxpayer may actually put himself in a worse legal position if he only relies on the Fact Sheet to file his late FBARs.
If you should have filed FBARs but you have not done so, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. As the IRS states in its FBAR Fact Sheet, the FBAR penalties are extremely severe. Hence, it is important to approach any FBAR violations with an extreme caution and retain Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world to deal with late FBARs, and We Can Help You!