Main Worldwide Income Reporting Myths | International Tax Attorney St Paul

In a previous article, I discussed the worldwide income reporting requirement and I mentioned that I would discuss the traps or false myths associated with this requirement in a future article. In this essay, I will keep my promise and discuss the main worldwide income reporting myths.

Worldwide Income Reporting Myths: the Source of Myths

I would like to begin by reminding the readers about what the worldwide income reporting rule requires. The worldwide income reporting requirement states that all US tax residents are obligated to disclose all of their US-source income and foreign-source income on their US tax returns.

This rule seems clear and straightforward. Unfortunately, it does not coincide with the income reporting requirements of many foreign tax systems. It is precisely this tension between the US tax system and tax systems of other countries that gives rise to numerous false myths which eventually lead to the US income tax noncompliance. Let’s go over the four most common myths.

Worldwide Income Reporting Myths: Local Taxation

Many US taxpayers incorrectly believe that their foreign-source income does not need to be disclosed in the United States because it is taxed in the local jurisdiction. The logic behind this myth is simple – otherwise, the income would be subject to double taxation. There is a variation on this myth which relies on various tax treaties between the United States and foreign countries on the prevention of double-taxation.

The “local taxation” myth is completely false. US tax law requires US tax residents to disclose their foreign-source income even if it is subject to foreign taxation or foreign tax withholding. These taxpayers forget that they may be able to use the foreign tax credit to remedy the effect of the double-taxation.

Where the foreign tax credit is unavailable or subject to certain limitations, the danger of double taxation indeed exists. This is why you need to consult an international tax attorney to properly structure your transactions in order to avoid the effect of double-taxation. In any case, the danger of double taxation does not alter the worldwide income reporting requirement – you still need to disclose your foreign-source income even if it is taxed locally.

The tax-treaty variation on the local taxation myth is generally false, but not always. There are indeed tax treaties that exempt certain types of income from US taxation; the US-France tax treaty is especially unusual in this aspect. These exceptions are highly limited and usually apply only to certain foreign pensions.

Generally, however, tax treaties would not prevent foreign income from being reportable in the United States. In other words, one should not turn an exception into a general rule; the existence of a tax treaty would not generally modify the worldwide income reporting requirement.

Worldwide Income Reporting Myths: Territorial Taxation

Millions of US taxpayers were born overseas and their understanding of taxation was often formed through their exposure to much more territorial systems of taxation that exist in many foreign countries. These taxpayers often believe that they should report their income only in the jurisdictions where the income was earned or generated. In other words, the followers of this myth assert that US-source income should be disclosed on US tax returns and foreign-source income on foreign tax returns.

This myth is false. US tax system is unique in many aspects; its invasive worldwide reach stands in sharp contrast to the territorial or mixed-territorial models of taxation that exist in other countries. Hence, you cannot apply your prior experiences with a foreign system of taxation to the US tax system. With respect to individuals, US tax laws continue to mandate worldwide income reporting irrespective of how other countries organize their tax systems.

Worldwide Income Reporting Myths: De Minimis Exception

The third myth has an unclear origin; most likely, it comes from human nature that tends to disregard insignificant amounts. The followers of this myth believe that small amounts of foreign source income do not need to be disclosed in the United States, because there is a de minimis exception to the worldwide income reporting requirement.

This is incorrect: there is no such de minimis exception. You must disclose your foreign income on your US tax return no matter how small it is.

This myth has a special significance in the context of offshore voluntary disclosures. The Delinquent FBAR Submission Procedures can only be used if there is no income noncompliance. Oftentimes, taxpayers cannot benefit from this voluntary disclosure option, because they failed to disclose an interest income of merely ten or twenty dollars.

Worldwide Income Reporting Myths: Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

Finally, the fourth myth comes from the misunderstanding of the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (the “FEIE”). The FEIE allows certain taxpayers who reside overseas to exclude a certain amount of earned income on their US tax returns from taxation as long as these taxpayers meet either the physical presence test or the bona fide residency test.

Some US taxpayers misunderstand the rules of the FEIE and believe that they are allowed to exclude all of their foreign income as long as they reside overseas. A variation on this myth ignores even the residency aspect; the taxpayers who fall into this trap believe that the FEIE excludes all foreign income from reporting.

This myth and its variation are wrong in three aspects. First of all, even in the case of FEIE, all of the foreign earned income must first be disclosed on a tax return and then, and only then, would the taxpayer be able to take the exclusion on the tax return. Second, the FEIE applies only to earned income (i.e. salaries or self-employment income), not passive income (such as bank interest, dividends, royalties and capital gains). Finally, as I already stated, in order to be eligible for the FEIE, a taxpayer must satisfy one of the two tests: the physical presence test or the bona fide residency test.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Your Worldwide Income Reporting

Worldwide income reporting can be an incredibly complex requirement despite its appearance of simplicity. In this essay, I pointed out just four most common traps for US taxpayers; there are many more.

Hence, if you have foreign income, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. Our highly-experienced tax team, headed by a known international tax lawyer, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, has helped hundreds of US taxpayers to bring themselves into full compliance with US tax laws. We can help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

History and Success of the Main Voluntary Disclosure Programs

In order to bring back into the system the non-compliant taxpayers with undisclosed foreign assets, the IRS created various offshore voluntary disclosure programs. The voluntary disclosure programs have been part of a wider effort to stop offshore tax evasion, which includes enhanced enforcement, criminal prosecutions and implementation of third-party reporting via the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). Recently, the IRS shared the statistics regarding the success of its three latest and most voluntary disclosure programs: 2009 OVDP, 2011 OVDI and 2012 OVDP (recently updated to become the 2014 OVDP).

Results for All Three Programs

The outcome of the three voluntary disclosure programs is indeed impressive. Overall, the three voluntary programs have resulted in more than 45,000 voluntary disclosures from individuals who have paid about $6.5 billion in back taxes, interest and penalties.

Let’s take a closer look at each program.

2009 OVDP

This was the first of the “troika” of the latest voluntary disclosure programs. The IRS announced the 2009 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) in March 2009. It offered taxpayers an opportunity to avoid criminal prosecution and a settlement of a variety of civil and criminal penalties in the form of single miscellaneous offshore penalty. It was based on existing voluntary disclosure practices used by IRS Criminal Investigation.

Generally, the miscellaneous offshore penalty for the 2009 program was 20 percent of the highest aggregate value of the unreported offshore accounts from 2003 to 2008. Participants were also required to file amended or late returns and FBARs for those years.

In the 2009 OVDP the IRS received 15,000 disclosures prior to the October 15, 2009 closing date. It resulted in the collection of $3.4 billion in back taxes, interest and penalties. It also led to another 3,000 disclosures after the closing date.

No doubt that the success of the 2009 OVDP was made possible by the IRS victory in the UBS case in August of 2008 and the action it started to take to follow-up on this victory. The UBS case became the turning point in the offshore compliance for U.S. taxpayers because the victory was achieved over one of the largest banks in the world in the country which was considered to be the most formidable fortress of bank secrecy for centuries.

2011 OVDI

While the 2009 program was the first of the post-UBS voluntary disclosure programs, the 2011 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (OVDI) was the program that established the offshore voluntary disclosure programs as one of the main pillars of U.S. voluntary tax compliance. The 2011 OVDI was announced in February of 2011 and lasted until September 9 of that year (originally, it was supposed to close on August 31, 2011, but the IRS extended the deadline to September 9).

Generally, participants of this program paid a 25% miscellaneous offshore penalty on the highest aggregate value of unreported offshore accounts from 2003 to 2010. In addition, some participants were eligible for special 5% or 12.5% penalties, but there were very strict requirements to qualify for this treatment.

The 2011 OVDI was extremely popular. It drew 15,000 disclosures and resulted in the collection of $1.6 billion in back taxes, interest and penalties for the 70 percent of cases that were closed that year.

2012 OVDP

After analyzing the results from the two prior voluntary disclosure programs and reflecting on the best way to induce tax compliance (while intensifying international tax enforcement and looking forward to the implementation of FATCA), the IRS created a new 2012 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (2012 OVDP) in January of 2012 and 2014 OVDP now closed.

In constructing the 2012 OVDP rules, the IRS drew on its experience from the experience from the prior voluntary disclosure programs, revised the terms of the 2011 OVDI program and made the 2012 OVDP permanent until further notice. Under the 2012 OVDP, participants paid a penalty of 27.5 percent of the highest aggregate balance or value of offshore assets during the prior eight years. The 5% or 12.5% penalties remained in effect for certain taxpayers. This 2012 program has drawn 12,000 disclosures since its inception.

2012 Streamlined Option

In June of 2012, the IRS expanded its voluntary disclosure programs beyond 2012 OVDP and added an option to the existing disclosure program that enabled some U.S. citizens and others residing abroad to catch up on their filing requirements and avoid large penalties if they owed little or no back taxes. This option took effect in September of that year.

2014 Changes to Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Programs

In June of 2014, the IRS announced major changes in the 2012 offshore account compliance programs. As a result of these changes, the taxpayers now currently have to analyze up to five different voluntary disclosure paths. The more prominent changes to the voluntary disclosure programs include: new 2014 OVDP with the double-penalty structure of 27.5% and 50%, major enhancement of the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures, introduction of the brand-new Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures with its new 5% penalty structure, slightly modified Delinquent FBAR Submission rules, and slightly modified Delinquent Information Return Submission rules (which partially incorporates now the statutory Reasonable Cause exception).

The changes are anticipated to provide thousands of people a new avenue to come back into compliance with their tax obligations.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Advice Regarding Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options

If you have undisclosed foreign accounts and other foreign assets, you are likely to face very steep penalties if the IRS discovers your non-compliance. This is why it is prudent to consider your voluntary disclosure options as soon as possible.

Sherayzen Law Office is a firm that specializes in international tax compliance and offshore voluntary disclosures. Our experienced international tax law firm can offer professional advice with respect to your voluntary disclosure options and conduct the entire offshore voluntary disclosure for you. Contact Us to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation Now!