In this essay, I would like to discuss three main US tax obligations concerning Mexican bank accounts: the worldwide income reporting requirement, FBAR and Form 8938. I will only concentrate on the obligations concerning individuals, not business entities.
Mexican Bank Accounts and US Tax Residents
Before we delve into the discussion concerning US tax obligations, we should establish who is required to comply with these obligations. In other words, who needs to report their Mexican bank accounts to the IRS?
The answer to this question is clear: US tax residents. Only US tax residents must disclose their worldwide income and report their Mexican bank accounts on FBAR and Form 8938. Non-resident aliens who have never declared themselves as US tax residents do not need to comply with these requirements.
US tax residents include US citizens, US Permanent Residents, an individual who satisfied the Substantial Presence test and an individual who properly declares himself a US tax resident. This is, of course, the general rule; important exceptions exist to this rule.
Mexican Bank Accounts: Worldwide Income Reporting Requirement
US tax residents must disclose their worldwide income on their US tax returns, including any income generated by Mexican bank accounts. In other words, all interest, dividend and royalty income produced by these accounts must be reported on Form 1040. Similarly, any capital gains from sales of investments held in Mexican bank accounts should also be disclosed on Form 1040. US taxpayers should pay special attention to the reporting of PFIC distributions and PFIC sales.
It is also possible that you may have to disclose passive income generated by your Mexican business entities through the operation of Subpart F rules and the GILTI regime, but this is a topic for a separate discussion.
Mexican Bank Accounts: FBAR
US tax residents must disclose on FBAR their ownership interest in or signatory authority or any other authority over Mexican bank and financial accounts if the aggregate highest balance of these accounts exceeds $10,000. FBAR is a common acronym for the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, FinCEN Form 114. Even though this is a FinCEN Form, the IRS is charged with the enforcement of this form since 2001.
While seemingly simple, FBAR contains a number of traps for the unwary. One of the most common trap is the definition of “account”. For the FBAR purposes, “account” has a much broader definition than what people generally think of as an account. ‘Account” includes not just regular checking and savings accounts, but also investment accounts, life insurance policies with a cash surrender value, precious metals accounts, earth mineral accounts, et cetera. In fact, it is very likely that the IRS will find that an account exists whenever there is a custodial relationship between a financial institution and a US person’s foreign asset.
FBAR is a very dangerous form. Not only is the filing threshold very low, but there are huge penalties for FBAR noncompliance. For a willful violation, the penalties can go up to $100,000 (adjusted for inflation) per account per year or 50% of the highest value of the account per year, whichever is higher. In special circumstances, the IRS may refer FBAR noncompliance to the US Department of Justice for criminal prosecution. Even non-willful FBAR penalties may go up to $10,000 (again, adjusted for inflation) per account per year.
Mexican Bank Accounts: FATCA Form 8938
The final requirement that I wish to discuss today is the FATCA Form 8938. Born out of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, Form 8938 occupies a unique role in US international tax compliance. On the one hand, it may result in the duplication of a taxpayer’s US tax disclosures (especially with respect to the accounts already disclosed on FBAR). On the other hand, however, Form 8938 is a “catch-all” form that fills the compliance gaps with respect to other US international tax forms.
For example, if a taxpayer holds a paper bond certificate, this asset would not be reported on FBAR, because it is not an account. For the Form 8938 purposes, however, the IRS would consider this certificate as part of assets that fall within the definition of the Specified Foreign Financial Assets (“SFFA”).
Hence, the scope of Form 8938 is very broad. It requires a specified person (this term is almost equivalent to a US tax resident) to disclose all SFFA as long as these SFFA, in the aggregate, exceed the applicable filing threshold.
SFFA includes a huge variety of foreign financial assets which are divided into two sub-categories: (a) foreign bank and financial accounts; and (b) “other” foreign financial assets. The definition of the “other” assets is impressive in its breadth: bonds, stocks, ownership interest in a closely-held business, beneficiary interest in a foreign trust, an interest rate swap, currency swap; basis swap; interest rate cap, interest rate floor, commodity swap; equity swap, equity index swap, credit default swap, or similar agreement with a foreign counterparty; an option or other derivative instrument with respect to any currency or commodity that is entered into with a foreign counterparty or issuer; and so on.
Form 8938 requires not only the reporting of SFFA, but also the income generated by the SFFA. In essence, the worldwide income reporting requirement is incorporated directly into the form.
The filing threshold for Form 8938 is more reasonable than that of FBAR for specified persons who reside in the United States, but it is still fairly low (especially for individuals). For example, if a taxpayer lives in the United States, he will need to file Form 8938 if he has SFFA of $50,000 ($100,000 for a married couple) or higher at the end of the year or $75,000 ($150,000 for a married couple) or higher during any time during the year. Specified persons who reside outside of the United States enjoy much higher thresholds.
Form 8938 has its own penalty system which contains some unique elements. First of all, a failure to comply with the Form 8938 requirements may allow the IRS to impose a $10,000 failure-to-file penalty which may go up to as high as $50,000 in certain circumstances. Second, Form 8938 noncompliance will lead to an imposition of much higher accuracy-related penalties on the income tax side – 40% of the additional tax liability. Third, Form 8938 noncompliance will limit the taxpayer’s ability to utilize the Foreign Tax Credit.
Finally, a failure to file Form 8938 will directly affect the Statute of Limitations of the entire tax return by extending the Statute to the period that ends only three years after the form is filed. In other words, Form 8938 penalties may allow the IRS to audit tax years which otherwise would normally be outside of the general three-year statute of limitations.
Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With the US Tax Reporting of Your Mexican Bank Accounts
Sherayzen Law Office’s core area of practice is international tax compliance, including offshore voluntary disclosures – i.e. helping US taxpayers with foreign assets and foreign income to stay in US tax compliance and, if a taxpayer fails failed to comply with US tax laws in the past, bring him into compliance through an offshore voluntary disclosure. We can help You!