Posts

PLR TAM Comparison | IRS International Tax Lawyer & Attorney

The IRS Private Letter Rulings (“PLR”) and the IRS Technical Advice Memoranda (“TAM”) often get confused by non-practitioners. In this small essay, I will engage in a brief PLR TAM comparison in order to clarify the similarities and differences between both types of IRS administrative guidance.

PLR TAM Comparison: Similarities

Let’s begin our PLR TAM comparison with the similarities. The similarities are great between both types of the IRS administrative guidance; this is why so many taxpayers cannot tell the difference between PLR and TAM. Both, PLR and TAM are written determinations issued by the IRS National Office. Also, PLR and TAM both interpret and apply US tax law to a taxpayer’s specific set of facts. Finally, both PLR and TAM are written IRS determinations which are binding on the IRS only in relation to the taxpayer who requested them.

PLR TAM Comparison: Differences

The differences between PLR & TAM are more nuanced but highly important. The two main differences are: (a) the requesting party and (b) timing of the request.

PLR is requested by a taxpayer; i.e. the IRS issues its opinion to the taxpayer, based on the taxpayer’s pattern of facts and at his request. The request for TAM, however, is made by a district IRS office. Oftentimes, though, the district IRS office makes this request at the urging of a taxpayer to seek technical advice from the IRS National Office.

With respect to the timing of the request, a taxpayer requests a PLR before he files his tax return. The taxpayer wishes to know the IRS position (or he is seeking IRS permission to do something, like a late election) in order to prevent the imposition of IRS penalties by filing an incorrect or late return.

TAM, however, deals with refund claims and examination issues after a tax return has been filed. In fact, oftentimes, a TAM is issued in response to a question concerning a specific set of facts uncovered during an IRS audit.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Experienced US International Tax Help

If you have questions concerning US international tax law and procedure, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. We are a highly experienced US international tax law firm that has helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the globe with their US international tax compliance issues, including offshore voluntary disclosures, IRS audits and various annual tax compliance issues.

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

FY 2018 DOJ Criminal Case Statistics | Tax Lawyer & Attorney Minneapolis

An analysis of the fiscal year 2018 DOJ criminal case statistics reveals certain interesting patterns about federal criminal tax prosecution in that year. Let’s explore in more detail these patterns.

2018 DOJ Criminal Case Statistics: Typical Tax Criminal

The analysis of the FY 2018 DOJ criminal case statistics reveals an interesting fact – a typical tax criminal is very different from any other type of a criminal. A typical tax criminal is about 50 years old and has at least one college degree; and, he is male.

This finding is not very surprising, because this category of males happens to also include the description of one of the most productive and affluent parts of our society. Rational risk-taking and even gambling are also characteristics that belong to this demographic.

2018 DOJ Criminal Case Statistics: Fewer but Longer Sentences

In FY 2018, 577 tax crime offenders were sentenced compared to 660 in 2017. The tax crime sentence, however, was much longer than in 2017 – 17 months in FY 2018 versus 13 months in FY 2017.

It should be pointed out that the majority of tax crime offenders entered into plea agreements. Only 7.5% of tax crime cases went to trial.

2018 DOJ Criminal Case Statistics: Judges Are Mostly More Lenient Than Federal Sentencing Guidelines

Another interesting fact is revealed by the FY 2018 DOJ criminal case statistics concerning sentencing. In FY 2018, federal judges were more lenient than the federal sentencing guidelines, thus considering them too harsh for the crimes committed. Almost 76% of sentences fell short of the minimum recommended by the federal sentencing guidelines. About 24% of tax crime sentences fell within the federal sentencing guidelines, but even 65.1% of them were at the minimum end of the recommended range.

Tax practitioners, however, should not ignore the guidelines or assume that the judges will always be lenient: 10 sentences or 7.8% of the 129 cases within the guidelines came in at the maximum end of the range. There was also additional sentence that even exceeded the guidelines.

2018 DOJ Criminal Case Statistics: Probation

In addition to prison time, the courts imposed probation and other conditional confinement which affected the average 17-month sentence that was discussed above. Without the probation, the average FY 2018 tax crime sentence was 23 months. About 32.2% of the tax crime convictions received probation or probation plus some other conditions of confinement (other than prison).

2018 DOJ Criminal Case Statistics: Fines and Restitution

72.1% of tax crime cases resulted in sentences which included restitution but no fines; 16.3% included both; 6.1% of sentences contained neither fines nor restitution. In FY 2018, the judges imposed fines and restitution totaling close to $283.1 million; this averages at $27,517 in fines and $565,766 in restitution per case.

Sherayzen Law Office Strives to Help Its Clients to Avoid Criminal Prosecution

US international tax law is replete with criminal penalties. A US taxpayer who fails to comply with US international tax requirements must always contend with the possibility of facing criminal prosecution.

One of the primary goals of Sherayzen Law Office is to help its clients reduce and even eliminate the possibility of a criminal prosecution with respect to prior noncompliance with US tax laws. A number of strategies may be employed to achieve this goal depending on the situation, including offshore voluntary disclosure and proper handling of an IRS audit.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help with reducing the possibility of criminal prosecution with respect to your past US tax noncompliance.

Panamanian Bank Accounts | US International Tax Lawyer & Attorney

A large number of US taxpayers own Panamanian bank accounts. These taxpayers have bank accounts in Panama for a variety of reasons: personal, business, tax planning and/or estate planning. Many of these account holders still do not realize that their Panamanian bank accounts may be subject to numerous reporting requirements in the United States. In this essay, I will outline the three most common US tax reporting requirements that may apply to Panamanian bank accounts.

Panamanian Bank Accounts: Definition of a “Filer”

Each of the requirements discussed below has its own eligibility requirements – i.e. each has its own definition of “filer” who is required to comply with these requirements. Despite these differences in the definition of a filer, we can identify a certain common definition that underlies all of the requirements we will discuss in this article, even if this definition is modified for the purposes of a particular form. This common denominator is the concept of “US tax residency”.

US tax residents include the following persons: US citizens, US permanent residents, persons who satisfy the Substantial Presence Test and persons who declare themselves as US tax residents. It is important to remember that this general definition of US tax residents is subject to a number of important exceptions.

All of the US international tax reporting requirements adopt US tax residency as the basis for their definitions of a filer. Where there are differences from the definition of US tax residency, they are mostly limited to the application of the Substantial Presence Test and/or the first-year and last-year definitions of a US tax resident.

For example, Form 8938 identifies its filers as “Specified Persons” while FBAR defines its filers as “US Persons”. Yet, the differences between these two terms mostly arise with respect to persons who voluntarily declared themselves as US tax residents or non-residents. A common example can be found with respect to treaty “tie-breaker” provisions, which foreign persons use to escape the effects of the Substantial Presence Test for US tax residency purposes.

The determination of your US tax reporting requirements is the primary task of your international tax attorney. It is simply too dangerous for a common taxpayer or even an accountant to attempt to dabble in US international tax law.

Panamanian Bank Accounts: Worldwide Income Reporting

Now that we understand the concept of US tax residency, we are ready to explore the aforementioned three US reporting requirements with respect to Panamanian bank accounts.

The first and most fundamental requirement is worldwide income reporting. It is also the requirement that applies to US tax residents as they are defined above (i.e. we are dealing here with the classic definition of US tax residency in its purest form).

All US tax residents must disclose their worldwide income on their US tax returns. This means that they must report to the IRS their US-source and foreign-source income. The worldwide income reporting requirement applies to all types of foreign-source income: bank interest income, dividends, royalties, capital gains and any other income.

The worldwide income reporting requirement applies even if the foreign income is subject to Panamanian tax withholding or reported on a Panamanian tax return. It also does not matter whether the income was transferred to the United States or stayed in Panama. US tax residents must disclose their Panamanian-source income on their US tax returns.

Panamanian Bank Accounts: FBAR/FinCEN Form 114

The second requirement that I would like to discuss in this essay is FinCEN Form 114, the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, commonly known as “FBAR”. Under the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970, the US government requires all US Persons to disclose their ownership interest in or signatory authority or any other authority over Panamanian (and any other foreign country) bank and financial accounts if the aggregate highest balance of these accounts exceeds $10,000. If these requirements are met, the disclosure requirement is satisfied by filing an FBAR.

It is important to understand all parts of the FBAR requirement are terms of arts that require further exploration and understanding. I encourage you to search our firm’s website, sherayzenlaw.com, for the definition of “US Persons” and the explanation of other parts of the FBAR requirement.

There is one part of the FBAR requirement, however, that I wish to explore here in more detail – the definition of “account”. The reason for this special treatment is the fact that the definition of an account for FBAR purposes is a primary source of confusion among US Persons with respect to what needs to be disclosed on FBAR.

The FBAR definition of an account is substantially broader than what this word generally means in our society. “Account” for FBAR purposes 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, whenever there is a custodial relationship between a foreign financial institution and a US person’s foreign asset, there is a very high probability that the IRS will find that an account exists for FBAR purposes.

Despite the fact that FBAR compliance is neither easy nor straightforward, FBAR has a very severe penalty system. On the criminal side, FBAR noncompliance may lead to as many as ten years in jail (of course, these penalties come into effect in extreme situations). On the civil side, the most dreaded penalties are FBAR willful civil penalties which can easily exceed a person’s net worth. Even FBAR non-willful penalties can wreak a havoc in a person’s financial life.

Civil FBAR penalties have their own complex web of penalty mitigation layers, which depend on the facts and circumstances of one’s case. In 2015, the IRS added another layer of limitations on the FBAR penalty imposition. One must remember, however, that these are voluntary IRS actions which the IRS may disregard whenever circumstances warrant such an action.

Panamanian Bank Accounts: FATCA Form 8938

The third requirement that I wish to discuss today is a relative newcomer, FATCA Form 8938. This form requires “Specified Persons” to disclose all of their Specified Foreign Financial Assets (“SFFA”) as long as these Persons meet the applicable filing threshold. The filing threshold depends on a Specified Person’s tax return filing status and his physical residency.

The IRS defines SFFA very broadly to include an enormous variety of financial instruments, including foreign bank accounts, foreign business ownership, foreign trust beneficiary interests, bond certificates, various types of swaps, et cetera. In some ways, FBAR and Form 8938 require the reporting of the same assets, but these two forms are completely independent from each other. This means that a taxpayer may have to report the same foreign assets on FBAR and Form 8938.

Specified Persons consist of two categories of filers: Specified Individuals and Specified Domestic Entities. You can find a detailed explanation of both categories by searching our website sherayzenlaw.com.

Finally, Form 8938 has its own penalty system which has far-reaching income tax consequences (including disallowance of foreign tax credit and imposition of 40% accuracy-related income tax penalties). There is also a $10,000 failure-to-file penalty.

One must also remember that, unlike FBAR, Form 8938 is filed with a federal tax return and forms part of the tax return. This means that a failure to file Form 8938 may render the entire tax return incomplete and potentially subject to an IRS audit.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With the US Tax Reporting of Your Panamanian Bank Accounts

If you have Panamanian bank accounts, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help with your US international tax compliance. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers with their US international tax issues (including disclosure of Panamanian bank accounts), and We can help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

May 2018 IRS Compliance Campaigns | International Tax Lawyer & Attorney

On May 21, 2018, the IRS announced the creation of another six compliance campaigns. Let’s explore these May 2018 IRS Compliance Campaigns in more detail.

May 2018 IRS Compliance Campaigns: Background Information

After a long period of planning, the IRS Large Business and International division (“LB&I”) finalized its new restructuring plan in 2017. Under the new plan, LB&I decided to switch to issue-based examinations and IRS campaigns.

The idea behind the IRS compliance campaigns is to concentrate the LB&I limited resources where they are most needed – i.e. where there is the highest risk of noncompliance. The first campaigns were announced by the IRS on January 31, 2017. Then, the IRS introduced additional campaigns in November of 2017 and March of 2018. As of March 13, 2018, there were a total of twenty-nine campaigns outstanding.

Six New May 2018 IRS Compliance Campaigns

On May 21, 2018, the LB&I introduced the following new campaigns: Interest Capitalization for Self-Constructed Assets; Forms 3520/3520-A Non-Compliance and Campus Assessed Penalties; Forms 1042/1042-S Compliance; Nonresident Alien Tax Treaty Exemptions; Nonresident Alien Schedule A and Other Deductions; and NRA Tax Credits. Each of these campaigns was selected by the IRS through the analysis of the LB&I data as well as from suggestions made by IRS employees.

It is also important to point out that each of these campaigns as well as the twenty-nine previous campaigns were reviewed by the IRS in light of the 2017 Tax Reform (which was enacted on December 22, 2017).

May 2018 IRS Compliance Campaigns: Interest Capitalization for Self-Constructed Assets

The first campaign focused on the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) Section 263A. Under this provision if a taxpayer engaged in certain production activities with respect to “designated property”, he is required to capitalize the interest that he incurs or pays during the production period with respect to this property.

IRC Section 263A(f) defined “designated property” as: (a) any real property, or (b) tangible personal property that has: (i) a long useful life (depreciable class life of 20 years or more), or (ii) an estimated production period exceeding two years, or (iii) an estimated production period exceeding one year and an estimated cost exceeding $1,000,000.

The IRS created this campaign with the goal of ensuring taxpayer compliance by verifying that interest is properly capitalized for designated property and the computation to capitalize that interest is accurate. Construction companies are likely to be the most immediate target of this campaign. Given the fact that Section 263A is not well-known, the IRS adopted varous treatment streams for this campaign, including issue-based examinations, education soft letters, and educating taxpayers and practitioners to encourage voluntary compliance.

May 2018 IRS Compliance Campaigns: Form 3520/3520-A Non-Compliance and Campus Assessed Penalties

This campaign reflects the increasing attention of the IRS to foreign trusts. This is a highly complex area of law. In order to deal with this complexity, the IRS stated that it will adopt a multifaceted approach to improving Form 3520 and Form 3520-A compliance. The treatment streams will include (but not limited to) examinations and penalties assessed by the campus when the forms are received late or are incomplete. The IRS will also use Letter 6076 to inform the trusts about their potential Form 3520-A obligations.

May 2018 IRS Compliance Campaigns: Form 1042/1042-S Compliance

Taxpayers who make payments of certain US-source income to foreign persons must comply with the related withholding, deposit and reporting requirements. This campaign targets Withholding Agents who make such payments but do not meet all of their compliance duties. The IRS will address noncompliance and errors through a variety of treatment streams, including examination.

May 2018 IRS Compliance Campaigns: Nonresident Alien Tax Treaty Exemptions

This campaign is intended to increase compliance in nonresident alien (NRA) individual tax treaty exemption claims related to both effectively connected income and Fixed, Determinable, Annual Periodical (“FDAP”) income. Some NRA taxpayers may either misunderstand or misinterpret applicable treaty articles, provide incorrect or incomplete forms to the withholding agents or rely on incorrect information returns provided by US payors to improperly claim treaty benefits and exempt US-source income from taxation. This campaign will address noncompliance through a variety of treatment streams including outreach/education and traditional examinations.

May 2018 IRS Compliance Campaigns: Nonresident Alien Schedule A and Other Deductions

This is another campaign that targets NRAs. In this case, the IRS focuses on the Form 1040NR Schedule A itemized deductions. NRA taxpayers may either misunderstand or misinterpret the rules for allowable deductions under the previous and new IRC provisions, do not meet all the qualifications for claiming the deduction and/or do not maintain proper records to substantiate the expenses claimed. The campaign will address noncompliance through a variety of treatment streams including outreach/education and traditional examinations.

May 2018 IRS Compliance Campaigns: NRA Tax Credits

This is yet another (third) campaign that targets NRAs; this time it concerns tax credits claimed by the NRAs. The IRS here targets NRAs who erroneously claim a dependent tax credit and who either have no qualifying earned income, do not provide substantiation/proper documentation, or do not have qualifying dependents. Furthermore, the IRS also wants to target NRAs who claim education credits (which are only available to U.S. persons) by improperly filing Form 1040 tax returns. This campaign will address noncompliance through a variety of treatment streams including outreach/education and traditional examinations.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Tax Help

If you have been contacted by the IRS as part of any of its campaigns, please contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world with their US tax compliance issues, and we can help you!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Costa Rican Bank Accounts | International Tax Lawyer & Attorney Miami

Upon moving to Costa Rica, many US retirees open Costa Rican bank accounts in order to pay for their local expenses and purchase properties. While to US retirees their Costa Rican bank accounts seem innocent and completely unrelated to US tax laws, the ownership of these accounts may put them at a significant risk for US tax noncompliance. In this article, I would like to discuss the top three US reporting requirements with which US owners of the Costa Rican bank accounts need to comply.

Costa Rican Bank Accounts: Who Must Report Them?

Before we discuss these US tax requirements in more detail, we need to make it clear that, generally, only US tax residents must comply with these requirements. The definition of a US tax resident is broad and includes US citizens, US permanent residents, an individual who declares himself a US tax resident.

A couple of words of caution. First, there are important exceptions to this general definition of a US tax resident. For example, students on an F-1 visa are generally exempt from the Substantial Presence Test for five years. It is the job of your international tax attorney to determine whether you fall within any of these exceptions.

Second, different information returns may modify the categories of persons which are included in the category of the required filers. In other words, while it is generally true that US tax residents are the ones who are required to comply with the US tax requirements concerning Costa Rican bank accounts, there are important, though limited exceptions. The most prominent example is FBAR discussed below; the form requires “US persons”, not “US tax residents” to disclose the ownership of foreign accounts. While these two concepts are similar, they are not exactly the same.

Costa Rican Bank Accounts: Worldwide Income Reporting

All US tax residents must report their worldwide income on their US tax returns. In other words, US tax residents must disclose both US-source and foreign-source income to the IRS. In the context of the Costa Rican bank accounts, foreign-source income would usually include bank interest income, but this concept also covers dividends, royalties, capital gains and any other income generated by the Costa Rican bank accounts.

Costa Rican Bank Accounts: FBAR Reporting

The official name of the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (“FBAR”) is FinCEN Form 114. FBAR requires all US tax persons to disclose their ownership interest in or signatory authority or any other authority over Costa Rican bank and financial accounts if the aggregate highest balance of these accounts exceeds $10,000.

Note that the term “US persons” is very close to “US tax residents”, but it is not the same. The term “US tax residents” is slightly broader than “US persons”. I have already discussed the definition of US persons in a series of articles (for example, see this article on individuals who are considered US persons); hence, I will not discuss it here, but I urge the readers to search sherayzenlaw.com for more materials on this subject.

There is one aspect of the FBAR requirement that I wish to explain in more detail here – the definition of an “account”. The FBAR definition of an account is substantially broader than how this word is generally understood by taxpayers. “Account” for FBAR purposes 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, whenever there is a custodial relationship between a foreign financial institution and a US person’s foreign asset, there is a very high probability that the IRS will find that an account exists for FBAR purposes.

The final aspect of FBAR that I wish to discuss here is its penalty system. US taxpayers dread FBAR penalties which are supremely severe to an astonishing degree. At the apex are the criminal penalties with up to 10 years in jail (of course, these penalties come into effect only in the most egregious situations). While FBAR willful civil penalties do not threaten incarceration, they are so harsh that they can easily exceed a person’s net worth. Even taxpayers who non-willfully did not file an FBAR (either because they did not know about it or due to circumstances beyond their control) are not free from FBAR penalties. Since 2004, the Congress added non-willful FBAR penalties of up to $10,000 per account per year.

In order to mitigate the potential for the 8th Amendment challenges to FBAR penalties and make the penalty imposition more flexible, the IRS created a multi-layered system of penalty mitigation. Since 2015, the IRS has added additional limitations on the FBAR penalty imposition. These self-imposed limitations of course help, but one must keep in mind that they are voluntary IRS actions and maybe disregarded under certain circumstances (in fact, there are already a few instances where this has occurred).

Costa Rican Bank Accounts: FATCA Form 8938

Form 8938 is one of the most important and relatively recent additions to the numerous US international tax requirements. The IRS created Form 8938 under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”) in 2011.

Form 8938 is filed with a federal tax return. This means that, without Form 8938, the tax return would not be complete and, potentially, open to an IRS audit.

The primary focus of Form 8938 is on the reporting by US taxpayers of Specified Foreign Financial Assets (“SFFA”). SFFA includes a very diverse range of foreign financial assets, including: foreign bank accounts, foreign business ownership, foreign trust beneficiary interests, bond certificates, various types of swaps, et cetera.

In some ways, Form 8938 requires the reporting of the same assets as FBARs (especially with respect to foreign bank and financial accounts), but the two requirements are independent. This means that a taxpayer may have to do duplicate reporting on FBAR and Form 8938.

Form 8938 has a filing threshold that depends on a taxpayer’s tax return filing status and his physical residency. For example, if a taxpayer is single and resides in the United States, he needs to file Form 8938 as long as the aggregate value of his SFFA is more than $50,000 at the end of the year or more than $75,000 at any point during the year.

Form 8938 needs to be filed by Specified Persons. Specified Persons consist of two categories: Specified Individuals and Specified Domestic Entities. There are specific definitions for both categories; you can find them by searching our website sherayzenlaw.com.

Finally, Form 8938 has its own penalty system which has far-reaching consequences for income tax liability (including disallowance of foreign tax credit and imposition of higher accuracy-related income tax penalties). There is also a $10,000 failure-to-file penalty.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With the US Tax Reporting of Your Costa Rican Bank Accounts

Foreign income reporting, FBAR and Form 8938 do not constitute a complete list of requirements that may apply to Costa Rican bank accounts. There may be many more.

This is why, if you have Costa Rican bank accounts, you should 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!

Contact Mr. Sherayzen Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!