US taxpayers with undisclosed foreign assets and foreign income need to consider their 2023 offshore voluntary disclosure options. As was the case in the year 2022, I expect that Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures will continue to be the flagship voluntary disclosure option in 2023 for US taxpayers who reside in the United States. This is why noncompliant US taxpayers should understand well the main advantages and disadvantages of participating in the 2023 Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures.
2023 Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures: Background Information and Purpose
The IRS created the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures (usually abbreviated as “SDOP”) on June 18, 2014, though the Certification forms became available only a few months later. Since its introduction, Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures quickly eclipsed the then-existing IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”) and became the most popular offshore voluntary disclosure option for US taxpayers who reside in the United States. As we discuss the advantages of the 2023 SDOP, you will quickly understand the reason for this meteoric rise in popularity of the SDOP.
The main purpose of the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures is to encourage non-willful US taxpayers to voluntarily resolve their prior noncompliance with US international tax reporting requirements in exchange for a reduced penalty, simplified disclosure procedure and a shorter disclosure period. In other words, SDOP is a voluntary disclosure option to resolve pretty much any non-willful US international tax noncompliance: foreign income, FBAR, Form 8938, Form 5471, Form 8621, Form 926, et cetera.
2023 Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures: Main Advantages
In exchange for a voluntary disclosure of their prior tax noncompliance through SDOP, US taxpayers escape income tax penalties and pay only a one-time Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty with respect to their prior failures to file the required US international information returns. It is important to emphasize that the Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty replaces not only FBAR penalties, but also penalties for noncompliance with respect to other US international information returns, such as Forms 5471, 8865, 926, et cetera. Depending on the specific circumstances of a case, the Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty is usually below the combined usual failure-to-file potential IRS penalties. In other words, noncompliant taxpayers can greatly reduce their IRS noncompliance penalties through their participation in the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures. This is one of the most important SDOP benefits.
Another advantage of the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures is the limited procedural scope of this voluntary disclosure option. What I mean by this is that the taxpayers should only submit the forms covered by the general statute of limitations unless they choose (i.e. not required, actually choose to do so) to do otherwise. The taxpayers only need to file three (sometime even less) amended US tax returns and six FBARs (sometimes seven and sometimes less than six). This limited disclosure stands in stark contrast with other major voluntary disclosure initiatives, such as 2014 OVDP (which required filings for the past eight years).
Moreover, despite the limited scope of the SDOP filings, taxpayers who utilize the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures are usually able to fully resolve their prior US international tax noncompliance issues even if these years are not included in the actual SDOP filings. This means that the participating taxpayers are able “wipe the slate clean” – i.e. to erase their prior US international tax noncompliance from the time when it began. I should warn, however, that this is not necessarily always the case; I have already encountered efforts from the IRS to open years for which amended tax returns were not submitted (there were specific circumstances, however, in all of these cases that resulted in this increased IRS interference).
The last major advantage of the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures is that this option only requires to establish non-willfulness rather than reasonable cause. Non-willfulness is a much easier legal standard to satisfy (be careful, this is NOT an “easy standard”, just an easier one) than reasonable cause.
2023 Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures: Main Disadvantages
Usually, participation in the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures is highly advantageous to noncompliance taxpayers. However, there are some disadvantages and shortcomings in this program. In this article, I will concentrate only on the three most important of them.
First, this voluntary disclosure option is open only to taxpayers who filed their US tax returns for prior years. This requirement is the exact opposite of the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures (“SFOP”) which allows for the late filing of original returns.
The problem is that there is a large segment of taxpayers who were perfectly non-willful in their prior US international tax noncompliance, but they never filed their US tax returns either due to special life circumstances (such as death in the family, illness, unemployment, et cetera), they were negligent or they believed that they were not required to file them (especially in situations where all of their income comes from foreign sources). These taxpayers would be barred from participating in the SDOP.
Second, when they participate in the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures, the taxpayers have the burden of proof to establish their non-willfulness with respect to their inability to timely report their foreign income as well as file FBARs and other US international information returns. Outside of the SDOP, the IRS has the burden of proof to establish willfulness; if the IRS cannot carry this burden, then it has no choice but to automatically consider the taxpayer as non-willful.
The problem is that most cases have positive and negative facts at the same time. This means that a lot of taxpayers are actually in the “gray” area between willfulness and non-willfulness. In many of these cases, the burden of proof may play a critical role in determining whether a taxpayer is eligible to participate in the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures. By the way, this decision should be made only by an experienced international tax attorney who specializes in this area of law, such as Mr. Eugene Sherayzen of Sherayzen Law Office.
Finally, participation in the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures does not provide a definitive closure to its participants. Unlike OVDP, SDOP does not offer a Closing Agreement without an audit; there may be a follow-up audit after the IRS processes your voluntary disclosure package. This means that going through Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures may not be the end of your case; the IRS can actually audit you over the next three years. If this happens, the audit of your voluntary disclosure will focus not only on the correctness of your disclosure, but also on the truthfulness and correctness of your non-willfulness certification.
Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With 2023 Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures
If you have undisclosed foreign accounts or any other foreign assets, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help with your offshore voluntary disclosure. We have successfully helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world with their offshore voluntary disclosures, including Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures. We can also help you!