Failure to Conduct Voluntary Disclosure and Potential Penalties: 2013 Update

Failure to conduct voluntary disclosure may mean heavy penalties for U.S. taxpayers are not in compliance with international tax laws established by U.S. government. In this article, I summarize some of the key penalties that such non-compliant U.S. taxpayers may face once the IRS finds them.

Penalties in General

In general, if the IRS verifies that a taxpayer failed to disclose his offshore financial accounts and foreign entities (and the income from these sources), the taxpayer may be subject to severe civil and criminal penalties. In addition to income-related accuracy related penalties, the IRS may also assess additional fraud-related penalties, FBAR penalties and foreign asset reporting penalties (with interest). Combined, all of these penalties and interest may exceed the actual value of nondisclosed assets and foreign bank accounts. In the worst-case scenario, a criminal prosecution may be initiated against such noncompliant taxpayers.

Finally, the voluntary disclosure process – which would otherwise be a far less painful way to deal with this problem – is automatically unavailable for taxpayers as soon as they are subject to IRS investigation.

Let’s discuss the penalties in more detail.

Accuracy-Related and Failure to File and Pay Penalties

An accuracy-related penalty on underpayments is imposed under IRC § 6662. Depending upon which component of the accuracy-related penalty is applicable, a taxpayer may be liable for a 20 percent or 40 percent penalty.

If a taxpayer fails to file the required income tax return, a failure to file (“FTF”) penalty may be imposed pursuant to IRC § 6651(a)(1). The penalty is generally five percent of the balance due, plus an additional five percent for each month or fraction thereof during which the failure continues may be imposed. The total penalty will not exceed 25 percent of the balance due.

If a taxpayer fails to pay the amount of tax shown on the return, a failure to pay (“FTP”) penalty may be imposed pursuant to IRC § 6651(a)(2). The penalty may be half of a percent of the amount of tax shown on the return, plus an additional half of a percent for each additional month or fraction thereof that the amount remains unpaid, not exceeding the total of 25 percent of the balance due.

Fraud Penalties

Fraud penalties may imposed under IRC §§ 6651(f) or 6663. Where an underpayment of tax, or a failure to file a tax return, is due to fraud, the taxpayer is liable for penalties that may essentially amount to 75 percent of the unpaid tax.

FBAR Penalties

The most severe civil penalties are likely to come from non-compliance with FinCEN Form 114 formerly Form TD F 90-22.1 (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, commonly known as an “FBAR”) non-compliance. Generally, the civil penalty for willfully failing to file an FBAR can be as high as the greater of $100,000 or 50 percent of the total balance of the foreign account per violation (see 31 U.S.C. § 5321(a)(5)). Non-willful violations that the IRS determines were not due to reasonable cause are subject to a $10,000 penalty per violation. For more detailed discussion of the FBAR civil penalties, I refer you to this article.

Form 8938 Penalties

Form 8938 is a newcomer to the world of tax penalties. The Form was born out of the HIRE and came into existence only starting the tax year 2011. Generally, failure to file Form 8938 carries a penalty of $10,000; however, other additional penalties may be applicable (for more detailed discussion of Form 8938 penalties, please read this article).

Penalties for Failure to File Other Information Returns

In addition to these common penalties, additional penalties may apply depending on the particular circumstances of the non-compliant taxpayer. I will summarize a few key penalties here.

Form 5471

If the taxpayer belongs to one of the four categories of required filers of Form 5471 (Information Return of U.S. Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations) and he fails to do so, he generally faces a penalty of $10,000 for each return. For a more detailed discussion of Form 5471 penalties, review this article.

Form 8865

Where the taxpayer is required to file Form 8865 (Return of U.S. Persons With Respect to Certain Foreign Partnerships) and he fails to do so, the non-compliant taxpayer generally faces a $10,000 per each unfiled return with additional penalties possible. If the taxpayer transferred property to a controlled foreign partnership and he fails to file Form 8865, he faces additional penalties of 10 percent of the value of any transferred property; the penalty is limited to $100,000. Please, review this article for a more detailed discussion of Form 8865 penalties.

Other Common Information Returns

Depending on a taxpayer’s situation, he may face additional penalties for failure to file Forms 926, 3520, 3520-A, 5472 and other forms.

Criminal Prosecution

In the worst-case scenario, a criminal prosecution may be conucted by the IRS. Huge penalties and potential jail time are the possible in case of tax evasion.

Possible criminal charges related to tax returns include tax evasion (26 U.S.C. § 7201), filing a false return (26 U.S.C. § 7206(1)) and failure to file an income tax return (26 U.S.C. § 7203). Willfully failing to file an FBAR and willfully filing a false FBAR are both violations that are subject to criminal penalties under 31 U.S.C. § 5322 (see this article for discussion of the FBAR criminal penalties)

A person convicted of tax evasion is subject to a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000. Filing a false return subjects a person to a prison term of up to three years and a fine of up to $250,000. A person who fails to file a tax return is subject to a prison term of up to one year and a fine of up to $100,000. Failing to file an FBAR subjects a person to a prison term of up to ten years and criminal penalties of up to $500,000.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With Offshore Voluntary Disclosure

If you have undisclosed offshore accounts or foreign entities, contact Sherayzen Law Office for help as soon as possible. We are an international tax law firm that specializes in helping U.S. taxpayers in the United States and throughout the world to avoid the nightmare scenario and properly conduct disclosure of offshore assets, foreign bank accounts, foreign entities and unreported foreign income to the IRS.

If you believe that you may not be in full compliance with U.S. tax laws, the worst course of action is to do nothing and wait for the IRS to discover your noncompliance. Once this happens, your options are likely to be severely limited and the penalties a lot higher. Therefore, contact us NOW so that we can help you with your international tax problems. Remember, all calls and e-mails are confidential.