Higher OVDP Penalty Risk for US Taxpayers With Foreign Accounts

December of 2015 was one of the most successful months for the DOJ’s Swiss Bank Program as nearly a record number of banks signed non-prosecution agreements. This success for the DOJ means that more and more of non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts are likely to deal with Higher OVDP Penalty with respect to their undisclosed foreign accounts.

DOJ’s Swiss Bank Program

The Program for Non-Prosecution Agreements or Non-Target Letters for Swiss Banks (Program) was announced by the US Department of Justice on August 29, 2013. The Program was intended to achieve multiple goals, but there are four of them that are most important to the understanding of the Higher OVDP Penalty and the Program.

First, this was an “offer that one cannot refuse” for the Swiss banks– the Program was intended to “allow” (or force) Swiss banks to bring themselves into compliance with US tax laws. In exchange, the Swiss banks received a non-prosecution agreement that promised them protection from US legal enforcement actions.

Second, the Program was intended to obtain as much information as possible about non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts.

The third important goal was to create an atmosphere of global enforcement that would make US voluntary disclosure the most rational choice for non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts given the risk of IRS discovery of their undisclosed foreign accounts.

Fourth, the Program was intended to pave the way for easier acceptance of FATCA throughout the world by demonstrating what could potentially happen in any country that decides to resist the implementation of FATCA.

It must be stated that the Swiss Bank Program has been a spectacular success for the DOJ and the IRS. Both, the banks and non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts flocked to the voluntary disclosure programs. Moreover, today, FATCA is the new global standard of international tax enforcement.

2014 OVDP

The current 2014 IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program is a modification of 2012 OVDP which, in turn, was the continuation of a series of prior IRS offshore voluntary disclosure programs (particularly 2011 OVDI). The 2014 OVDP is designed to help non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts to bring their tax affairs into compliance with US tax laws.

2014 OVDP has a two-tier penalty system. The 50% penalty rate applies to US taxpayers with foreign accounts in the banks on the special IRS list. The 27.5% penalty rate applies to everyone else.

Influence of the Program on the OVDP

The Swiss Bank Program has a direct impact on the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program because every Swiss Bank that signs a Non-Prosecution Agreement under the Program is automatically added to the 50% penalty list of foreign banks.

Thus, as more and more Swiss Banks reach an agreement with the DOJ under the Program, the list of 50% penalty banks keeps expanding and so does the list of US taxpayers with foreign accounts who may be subject to this higher penalty rate.

What Should Non-Compliant US Taxpayers With Foreign Accounts Do?

The growing risk of higher OVDP penalty means that non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts should explore their voluntary disclosure options as soon as possible by contacting an experienced international tax lawyer.

It is a mistake to assume that 50% penalty list will grow only as a result of the Swiss Bank Program. Even today, the list already contains banks which are located outside of the United States (such as HSBC India and Israeli Bank Leumi). This means that any bank in almost any part of the world may tomorrow be on the 50% penalty list and US taxpayers with foreign accounts in this bank would be forced to pay a much higher penalty.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Tax Help With The Voluntary Disclosure of Your Foreign Accounts

The growing risk of higher OVDP penalty means that you should contact the experienced international tax team of Sherayzen Law Office. International tax attorney and Founder of Sherayzen Law Office, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, will personally analyze your case, estimate your IRS penalty exposure, determine your offshore voluntary disclosure options, and implement your customized voluntary disclosure plan to resolve your US tax problems.

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.