New 2013 FBAR form: E-filing Explanation for Late FBARs

On October 1, 2013, in response to various requests from FBAR tax lawyers and accountants, FinCEN updated the online FBAR filing form. There are various new technical additions and a much friendlier user interface, but the inclusion of the explanation for the delay in FBAR filing is definitely the key new feature for the FBAR tax lawyers who are thinking about recommending the reasonable cause disclosure (a/k/a Modified Voluntary Disclosure) to their clients.

The late FBAR explanation has two particularly interesting characteristics.

Analysis of the Late Filing Explanation Choices

First, a taxpayer who files his FBAR late can choose among the following ten answers to explain the reason for filing the FBAR late:

A. Forgot to file
B. Did not know that I had to file
C. Thought account balance was below reporting threshold
D. Did not know that my account qualified as foreign
E. Account statement not received in time
F. Account statement lost (replacement requested)
G. Late receiving missing required account information
H. Unable to obtain joint spouse signature in time
I. Unable to access BSA E-Filing System
Z. Other

These choices are somewhat surprising for FBAR tax lawyers because some of these choices would not normally constitute a reasonable cause, others are repetitive and some may actually get the taxpayer (especially a taxpayer who is not represented by an FBAR tax lawyer).

The most dangerous answer is “A” – forgetting the FBAR means that the taxpayer admits to the knowledge of the existence of the FBAR requirement and non-willfully but negligently fails to comply with the FBAR requirement. Potentially, the IRS can use this answer to impose a $10,000 penalty per violation.

Choice “B” is a good but insufficient choice. Lack of knowledge of the FBAR may help establish non-willfulness, but it is not sufficient in itself for a reasonable cause. FBAR tax lawyers usually start with non-willfulness, but this is not where they end.

Choices “C” and, to a lesser extent, “F” may be dangerous because it is unclear where the confusion (in case of “C”) comes from and why the statements (in the case of “F”) were lost. The taxpayer could be opening the door to potential charge that he is not compliant with the FBAR recordkeeping requirements.

Outside of U.S. territories, I am not certain who would be using answer “D”. In any case, by itself, it does not appear to be sufficient to avoid the imposition of an FBAR penalty.

Choices “E” and “G” are pretty much the same and would be useful in presenting the argument for the reasonable cause, but this task can hardly accomplished without presenting a comprehensive context in which these events occurred. The same problem applies to “H” and “I”.

Choice “Z” – Other Explanation

The second and most important feature of the new FBAR is that it provides the space for writing an explanation for why the FBARs are filed late – this is the last choice “Z”.

There is, however, a very important limitation with respect to choice “Z”; there are only a maximum of 750 characters allowed. In other words, FinCEN and the IRS only gave taxpayers a few tweets to present a complex argument for non-willfulness and reasonable cause. Most FBAR tax lawyers will agree that 750 characters is a laughable amount of space for a reasonable cause explanation.

I believe that this feature will continue to be a great obstacle to submitting reasonable cause explanations purely electronically. More likely, the electronic explanation will need to reference the reasonable cause statement on paper.

Possibility of PDF File Upload in the Future

It seems that the IRS also understands that there is a big problem with choice Z. I fully expect the IRS to finish and implement a new feature (probably in the next version of the FBAR) that would allow FBAR tax lawyers to upload their reasonable cause statements as a pdf file (in a same manner as it is currently done in many court systems in the United States).

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Legal Help With Late FBARs

If you have undisclosed foreign accounts and you are facing a situation where your FBARs will be filed late, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional legal help with your late FBARs. Our experienced FBAR tax firm will thoroughly analyze your case, present the available choices, and properly conduct your voluntary disclosure, including the preparation and filing of late FBARs and other necessary legal documents and tax forms.