Voluntary Disclosure of Foreign Accounts and Foreign Assets in 2012

This article offers an important strategic perspective on the foreign financial accounts disclosure in the year 2012. In particular, it appears that, this year, U.S. taxpayers who have not fully disclosed their foreign financial accounts and foreign assets should make the urgent decision to bring their tax affairs into full compliance.

Three Trends Greatly Enhanced IRS Ability to Identify and Prosecute Non-Compliance

In 2012, waiting with the voluntary disclosure of previously unreported foreign financial accounts is just too dangerous for any U.S. taxpayer to afford. This is the result of three converging trends in U.S. tax enforcement.

First, as a result of the 2009 and 2011 offshore voluntary disclosure programs, the IRS is currently sitting on top of a gigantic mountain of information about the financial institutions, wealth-management advisors, and individual taxpayers involved in the U.S. tax non-compliance. Once processed, this information should allow the IRS to effectively identify and target the main sources of noncompliance, including common countries, financial institutions, and individuals (including U.S. taxpayers). Therefore, the risk of discovery – whether intentional or accidental – has risen tremendously for U.S. taxpayers who either willfully or non-willfully failed to disclosure their reportable foreign assets and foreign income.

Second, the new reporting requirements force U.S. taxpayers to disclose assets that previously may have escaped the IRS disclosure. The first and foremost of these new requirements is Form 8938, which should allow the IRS to collect the information that previously was not required to be collected as well as effectively connect various tax reporting requirements, allowing the IRS to assess the scope of potential non-compliance with relative ease.

Moreover, in addition to Form 8938, a stricter interpretation as well as expansion of other existing forms allows the IRS to upgrade the reach of other reporting requirements. Form 8621 is the best-known example of this trend. Form 8621 is used to report PFIC (Passive Foreign Investment Company) income; soon, the U.S. taxpayers will be required to file a new version of Form 8621 to report their PFIC holdings even if they do not have PFIC income.

Finally, the third trend is the ever expanding IRS statute of limitations. The IRS has been given (or it interpreted the law in such a way) an increasing power to look back farther and deeper into older U.S. tax returns. FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) further enhanced this ability. At this point, failure to file any of the major disclosure forms, such as Forms 5471, 8865, 8938 and so on, is likely to prevent the IRS Statute of Limitations from running, keeping a tax return open potentially forever.

Impact of These Trends on Taxpayer Compliance Strategies

These three trends have a tremendous impact on the tax compliance strategies of U.S. taxpayers. First, as a result of the extended Statute of Limitations, the U.S. taxpayers cannot now just contend themselves with making sure that they are in full compliance in the current year – they need to make sure that they were compliant in all years potentially open to the IRS audit.

This means that the “quiet disclosure” practice (where taxpayers are attempting to amend their tax returns and comply with current reporting requirements without providing any explanation to the IRS) employed by so many accountants in the past can be more damaging than helpful at this point. While I have always been in disagreement with this strategy, it appears that the current enhanced abilities of the IRS to identify and prosecute non-compliance make this strategy downright dangerous for most non-compliant taxpayers.

Second, with the issuance of new Form 8938, the taxpayers’ ability to maneuver around the foreign asset reporting requirements is greatly reduced. Moreover, it appears that Form 8938 forces the previously non-compliant (whether willful or non-willful) taxpayers into a situation where they have to choose between further exacerbating their non-compliance with potentially grave consequences or complete disclosure of all of the assets that they previous did not or could not report.

Third, there is now an added urgency to the voluntary disclosure to non-compliant taxpayers. From one side, the aforementioned obligation to comply with Form 8938 and other forms during this tax season places strict deadlines for conducting voluntary disclosure (even with extensions). From the other side, for the taxpayers who have unreported assets in countries and institutions that were exposed during the 2009 and 2011 offshore voluntary disclosure programs, this is a race against time. As soon as the IRS is able to process the gigantic pile of data that they have accumulated as a result of those programs, these taxpayers are at heightened risk of discovery. It is well-known that, once the IRS launches an investigation against a particular taxpayer, this taxpayer will not be able to take advantage of any existing voluntary disclosure options.

Cumulative Effect: 2012 is the Year of Voluntary Disclosures

The cumulative effect of all of these trends and strategies is likely to be a heavy pressure on the U.S. taxpayers to conduct some form of voluntary disclosure of previously-unreported foreign assets. Therefore, it is very likely that year 2012 will continue to build on the previous years’ pattern of increasing number of disclosures – perhaps, the numbers will climb even higher than in 2011.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With 2012 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure

If you have any unreported foreign accounts, foreign assets or foreign income, contact Sherayzen Law Office. Our experienced voluntary disclosure firm will assist you during every stage of your disclosure – analysis of your legal situation and your risk exposure, choosing the right disclosure based on your fact pattern, preparation of all necessary documents (including tax returns, FBARs, business ownership disclosure (5471, 8865, 8858), PFIC, foreign trust distribution, foreign inheritance, and other forms), management of proper filing of the disclosure, creative ethical approach to establishing the legal foundation of your case, and rigorous advocacy of your interests during IRS negotiations.