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 seems innocent and completely unrelated to US tax laws, the ownership of these accounts may put them at a significant risk 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 requirement. 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 the 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!