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!

Offshore Voluntary Disclosure of Swiss Accounts and the Program for Banks

Since September, an increasing number of my clients come to me with respect to the offshore voluntary disclosure of Swiss accounts. No doubt that the increase in the offshore voluntary disclosure of Swiss accounts comes from The Program for Non-Prosecution Agreements or Non-Target Letters for Swiss Banks (the “Program”) initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) on August 29, 2013. In this article, I will try to trace the precise influence of the Program on the offshore voluntary disclosure of Swiss accounts.

The Program

At the end of August of 2013, the DOJ, in cooperation with the Swiss government, instituted the Program. What is the Program? I describe it in detail in this article; for the purpose of the present writing, it is sufficient to state that the Program is essentially a voluntary disclosure program for Swiss Banks, not that dissimilar from the OVDP (the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program) now closed.

Essentially, in return for turning over very detailed information about their cross-border operations and U.S. accountholders with accounts over $50,000 (going back to August 1, 2008), the banks receive either a Non-Prosecution Letter or a Non-Target Letter which basically promises that the U.S. government is not going to criminally prosecute or target the participating banks. As in the OVDP, the Program excludes banks currently under the DOJ investigation from participating in the Program. Another similar with the OVDP feature – category 2 banks will pay a hefty penalty.

The Program Increases Pressure on the U.S. Taxpayers to Disclose

U.S. taxpayers with undisclosed bank accounts in Switzerland cannot personally participate in the Program. Nevertheless, the Program has a tremendously deep impact on these taxpayers.

First, under the Program, the Swiss banks should send out letters to all U.S. taxpayers with undisclosed accounts urging them to do the offshore voluntary disclosure of Swiss accounts. The Swiss banks are not only required to do so, but may actually benefit if the U.S. taxpayers enter the OVDP (due to potential penalty reductions).

Second, the participating Swiss banks should turn over very detailed information with respect to U.S. taxpayers and their Swiss accounts. Hence, there is a tremendously high risk of exposure for all U.S. taxpayers with undisclosed Swiss accounts. Moreover, if the IRS receives the information from the Swiss banks about a U.S. taxpayer’s accounts before such taxpayer enters the OVDP, then the IRS is likely to disqualify such U.S. taxpayer from participating in the OVDP.

Finally, because the participating Swiss banks should further disclose various information related to how they obtained business from U.S. taxpayers in the past, it is likely that the IRS will be able to identify the non-compliant accounts indirectly (i.e. even if a taxpayer is not directly identified by the participating Swiss Bank). This means that U.S. taxpayers who indirectly own undisclosed accounts in Switzerland are also at high risk of detection, investigation and, ultimately, criminal prosecution.

Offshore Voluntary Disclosure of Swiss Accounts

As the number of options narrow for U.S. taxpayers, they should seriously consider doing an offshore voluntary disclosure of Swiss accounts.

Be careful, however, not to fall into the trap of thinking that OVDP is the only way to disclosure your Swiss accounts. The exact route of Offshore Voluntary Disclosure of Swiss accounts is likely to depend on the individual circumstances of your case and other venues may be open to you, even though they are not described in the letter that you may have received from a Swiss bank. You should consult an experienced international tax attorney in this matter.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Guidance on the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure of Swiss Accounts

If you are thinking about conducting an Offshore Voluntary Disclosure of Swiss Accounts, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. Our law firm specializes in helping people like you!

OVDP Offshore Penalty Structure: Introduction

The official IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) constitutes a viable voluntary disclosure option for many taxpayers. However, whether this is the best voluntary disclosure option will, in large part, depend on whether the OVDP penalties are lower than the penalties that a taxpayer would be facing under alternative voluntary disclosure options.

The answer to this critical question depends on your attorney’s ability to properly estimate potential OVDP penalties. In this article, I will focus on introducing the general structure of the Offshore Penalty (note that the income-tax related penalties are not discussed in this article).

OVDP Offshore Penalty

It is a requirement of the OVDP that the taxpayers who enter the program pay the Offshore Penalty. This penalty is imposed in lieu of all other penalties that may apply to the taxpayer’s undisclosed foreign assets and entities, including FBAR and offshore-related information return penalties and tax liabilities for years prior to the voluntary disclosure period.

General Structure of the Offshore Penalty

The Offshore Penalty incorporates a penalty structure which contains three different penalty rates. The default penalty rate is 27.5% of the highest aggregate balance in foreign bank accounts/entities or value of foreign assets during the period covered by the voluntary disclosure (the “penalty base”).

The default penalty rate applies to all cases except the cases where the two alternative rates apply: 12.5% and 5%. Each of these exceptions has its own set of strict requirements; the 5% penalty rate structure is much more diverse and complex that the 12.5% one, but the IRS will expect strict compliance with all of the terms of these exceptions. In my practice, I often find that the IRS will be pressuring hard to disqualify a taxpayer from alternative penalty rates.

Whether your particular case satisfies the requirements of either or both of the alternative penalty rates is the question that only your attorney can answer. The qualification is highly fact-dependent and will require a very detailed analysis of your situation.

Calculation of the Offshore Penalty

The Offshore Penalty calculation consists of three steps. First, your attorney should determine what assets should be included in the calculation of the Offshore Penalty (i.e. determine the penalty base). Second, your attorney should determine what penalty rate should apply to your assets (i.e. determine what penalty category applies). Finally, after the determinations under the first and second step are made, you attorney should determine the highest account balance (if the asset is a financial account) and the fair market value of other assets, convert the values to US dollars and apply the appropriate penalty rate (i.e. calculation of penalty base and application of the penalty rate).

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure

Sherayzen Law Office can help you with the disclosure of any of your foreign assets. Our international tax firm is highly experienced in conducting offshore voluntary disclosures. We will thoroughly analyze your case, assess your current tax liability as well as the liability that you would face under the OVDP, determine the available disclosure options and implement the appropriate disclosure strategy (including preparation of all legal and tax documents as well as IRS representation).

Contact Sherayzen Law Office NOW to schedule your consultation!

2012 OVDP vs. 2011 OVDI: Five Key Differences

On June 26, 2012, the IRS published the instructions for the 2012 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”). The program was originally announced on January 9, 2012, but there were no instructions with respect to the program aside from modifications in the 2011 penalty structure and general references to the 2011 OVDI.

The new 2012 OVDP shares many similarities with 2011 OVDI, but there are specific differences with further implications that go far beyond its appearances.

There are five key differences between the programs that I would like to emphasize here:

1. The highest penalty is increased from 25% under the OVDI to 27.5% under the OVDP;

2. Unlike 2011 OVDI and every other previous voluntary disclosure program, 2012 OVDP is open for an indefinite period of time. This means that it can potentially be closed next week or it may be open far beyond 2012 and other years – the IRS has complete control over the exact expiration time of the OVDP.

3. The IRS may change the terms of the OVDP at any time. While the IRS did amend the 2011 OVDI instructions several times, these amendments (with the exception of June regulations) usually were for the purposes of clarification of the existing terms. It appears that, under 2012 OVDP, the fundamental rules of the program maybe changed at any time (it is debatable whether such changes would have any retroactive impact with respect to persons who already entered the program).

4. The eligibility terms have been modified for certain types of taxpayers. Two changes in particular must be highlighted under FAQ 21 of the 2012 OVDP instructions. First, a taxpayer in ineligible to participate in the 2012 OVDP if the taxpayer (i) appeals a foreign tax administrator’s decision authorizing the supply of account information to the IRS, (ii) does not serve the notice of account information to the IRS and (iii) fails to properly serve (as required under 18 U.S.C. 3506 ) on the Attorney General of the United States the notice of any such appeal and/or other documents relating to the appeal at the time such notice of appeal or other document is submitted.

The second eligibility modification concerns certain groups of taxpayer singled out by the IRS. In essence, a taxpayer is ineligible to participate in the 2012 OVDP if he has or had accounts at specified foreign financial institutions which were subject to U.S. government actions. The IRS may announce such taxpayer groups ineligible at any time; such announcements will be posted on the 2012 OVDP page.

This provision should be of special importance to taxpayers who maintain accounts with high-risk institutions.

5. In conjunction with the OVDP instructions, the IRS also published a new procedure for certain non-resident taxpayers (including dual citizens) seeking to establish a de minimis, low-risk exception to FBAR penalties. While seemingly benign, the new procedure does pose dilemmas for the taxpayers who are not eligible to take advantage of the new procedure and seek to do a modified voluntary disclosure (also known as “noisy voluntary disclosure”). I will explore this subject later in a separate article.

There are other differences between the 2012 OVDP and 2011 OVDI, but they are less pronounced. In order to find out exactly how these differences may affect your case, contact Sherayzen Law Office direct.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with 2012 OVDP

If you have undisclosed offshore accounts and/or income, contact Sherayzen Law Office immediately. Our experienced voluntary disclosure tax firm will conduct a thorough analysis of your case, explore all options available to you, help you draft all of the required tax documents, amend your tax returns, and offer rigorous professional representation of your interests in IRS negotiations.

IRS Declares New 2012 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program

On January 9, 2012, the Internal Revenue Service announced that it opens another offshore voluntary disclosure program – 2012 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program or 2012 OVDP – to help people hiding offshore accounts get current with their taxes and announced the collection of more than $4.4 billion so far from the two previous international programs.

The IRS opened the 2012 OVDP following continued strong interest from taxpayers and tax practitioners after the closure of the 2011 and 2009 programs. The third offshore program comes as the IRS continues working on a wide range of international tax issues and follows ongoing efforts with the Justice Department to pursue criminal prosecution of international tax evasion. This program will be open for an indefinite period until otherwise announced.

“Our focus on offshore tax evasion continues to produce strong, substantial results for the nation’s taxpayers,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “We have billions of dollars in hand from our previous efforts, and we have more people wanting to come in and get right with the government. This new program makes good sense for taxpayers still hiding assets overseas and for the nation’s tax system.”

The 2012 OVDP is similar to the 2011 OVDI program in many ways, but with a few key differences. First, unlike the last year, there is no set deadline for people to apply. Second, while the 2012 OVDP penalty structure is mostly similar to the OVDI program, the taxpayers in the highest penalty category will suffer from a hike in the penalty rate – the new penalty framework requires individuals to pay a penalty of 27.5 percent of the highest aggregate balance in foreign bank accounts/entities or value of foreign assets during the eight full tax years prior to the disclosure. That is up from 25 percent in the 2011 program. Some taxpayers will be eligible for 5 or 12.5 percent penalties; these remain the same in the new program as in 2011. Third, participants must file all original and amended tax returns and include payment for back-taxes and interest for up to eight years as well as paying accuracy-related and/or delinquency penalties. Fourth, as under the prior programs, taxpayers who feel that the penalty is disproportionate may opt instead to be examined.

The important details of the 2012 OVDP are still going to be announced by the IRS later.  It is important to emphasize, however, that the terms of the 2012 OVDP could change at any time going forward. For example, the IRS may increase penalties in the 2012 OVDP for all or some taxpayers or defined classes of taxpayers – or decide to end the program entirely at any point.

The IRS also stated that it is currently developing procedures by which dual citizen taxpayers, who may be delinquent in filing but owe no U.S. tax, may come into compliance with U.S. tax law.

“As we’ve said all along, people need to come in and get right with us before we find you,” Shulman said. “We are following more leads and the risk for people who do not come in continues to increase.”

This offshore effort comes as Shulman also announced today the IRS has collected $3.4 billion so far from people who participated in the 2009 offshore program, reflecting closures of about 95 percent of the cases from the 2009 program. On top of that, the IRS has collected an additional $1 billion from up front payments required under the 2011 program. That number will grow as the IRS processes the 2011 cases.

In all, the IRS has seen 33,000 voluntary disclosures from the 2009 and 2011 offshore initiatives. Since the 2011 program closed last September, hundreds of taxpayers have come forward to make voluntary disclosures. Those who have come in since the 2011 program closed last year will be able to be treated under the provisions of the new 2012 OVDP program.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Legal Help With Your Voluntary Disclosure

If you are currently not in compliance with U.S. tax laws, contact Sherayzen Law Office for legal help. Our experienced international tax firm will explore all of the available options, advise you on the best course of action, draft all of the required documentation, provide IRS representation, and conduct the necessary disclosure to bring your affairs tax affairs into full compliance with U.S. tax system.