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Coronavirus Offshore Voluntary Disclosure: Problems & Opportunities

The advancement of coronavirus in the United States and around the world has significantly disrupted the normal conditions and assumptions for a US taxpayer who engages in an offshore voluntary disclosure of his unreported foreign income and foreign assets. I will refer to a voluntary disclosure conducted in this context of the coronavirus disruptions as Coronavirus Offshore Voluntary Disclosure. In this essay, I would like to discuss the most unique problems and opportunities that arise in the context of a Coronavirus Offshore Voluntary Disclosure.

Coronavirus Offshore Voluntary Disclosure: Most Important Problems

The spread of coronavirus created two important problems to conducting an offshore voluntary disclosure of foreign assets and foreign income.

The first and most significant problem is the ability of taxpayers to obtain the information necessary for the correct completion of US international information returns such as FBAR (FinCEN Form 114), Form 8938, Form 8865, Form 5471, et cetera. Oftentimes, in order to complete these returns, taxpayers have to retrieve information from many years ago.

This is a difficult task even without the coronavirus, because electronic access is often limited to just a few years. In cases that involve small and regional banks, the electronic access to information may simply not exist. Hence, a taxpayer often has to engage in a long process of mailing letters to banks requesting information; it is also a standard practice for taxpayers to personally travel to a foreign financial institution to obtain the necessary information.

The coronavirus prohibitions have made such travel virtually impossible due to cancellation of flights between countries. Even traveling within a country has been severely impacted. Moreover, there have been significant disruptions to ability of taxpayers to access financial institutions in the quarantined areas, such as northern Italy. Many financial institutions have simply closed their branches and ceased to operate in a normal way.

The combination of all of these factors has significantly curtailed taxpayers’ ability to collect the vital information necessary for the completion of an offshore voluntary disclosure.

The second most important problem caused by the coronavirus panic are communication disruptions. During a voluntary disclosure, taxpayers need to have access to their financial advisors and their international tax attorney. I’ve already explained above how the coronavirus bank closures have affected such communications.

The most significant communication issue between a taxpayer and his international tax attorney has been limited to mailing documents, particularly securing an original signature for Certifications of Non-Willfulness, Reasonable Cause Statements, amended tax returns and certain other IRS documents (such as Extension of Statute of Limitations in the context of an IRS audit). The coronavirus containment procedures have affected the flow of regular mail around the world and have caused significant delays in obtaining signed documents from clients.

It should mentioned that the normal communications between a client and his attorney were not significantly impacted. If there were any communication problems, this is most likely the result of the attorney’s failure to take advantage of modern means of communication.

Sherayzen Law Office’s usage of email, phone, Skype, Viber and certain other platforms for information exchange and other modern means of communication has assured continuous and uninterrupted communication between our firm and our clients. We have also encouraged and helped our clients to adopt certain procedures to mitigate other problems that have risen as a result of the coronavirus panic.

Coronavirus Offshore Voluntary Disclosure: Unique Opportunities

The coronavirus panic created not only unusual problems, but also unique opportunities for taxpayers with undisclosed foreign assets and foreign income. I will discuss here the two most important coronavirus opportunities.

First, the spread of this virus has given more time for noncompliant US taxpayers to bring their tax affairs into compliance with US tax laws. Not only has the IRS ability to pursue new international tax cases has been impacted by the virus, but the IRS moved the tax filing deadline to July 15, 2020. This means that taxpayers suddenly have three more months to work on their offshore voluntary disclosures without any interruption with respect to current tax compliance.

Second, more time means that taxpayers now can plan for and adopt more complex and beneficial strategies with respect to their offshore voluntary disclosures. For example, taxpayers who were planning to file extensions can now adopt a strategy to shift their voluntary disclosure period by timely filing their 2019 tax returns and 2019 FBARs.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure

If you have undisclosed foreign bank accounts and other foreign assets, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. We have successfully helped hundreds of US taxpayers to bring their tax affairs into full compliance with US tax laws, and we can help you!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

2020 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options | US International Tax Lawyers

As the new year 2020 begins, it is important for US taxpayers with undisclosed foreign assets to consider their 2020 offshore voluntary disclosure options. Unlike last year, there have not been any drastic changes to the voluntary disclosure options since 2019. In this article, I would like to generally explore the 2020 offshore voluntary disclosure options available to US taxpayers who wish to reduce their IRS penalties by voluntarily resolving their prior US tax noncompliance concerning foreign assets and foreign income.

2020 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options: Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures

The Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures (“SDOP”) is currently the flagship voluntary disclosure option for US taxpayers who reside in the United States. SDOP is a highly beneficial voluntary disclosure option to non-willful taxpayers: it is simple, limited (in terms of the voluntary disclosure period for which tax returns and FBARs must be filed) and mild (in terms of its penalty structure). There are some drawbacks to SDOP, such as the imposition of the Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty on income-tax compliant foreign accounts, but the benefits offered by this option outweigh its deficiencies for most taxpayers.

The main challenge of SDOP is its requirement that a taxpayer certifies under the penalty of perjury that he was non-willful with respect to his prior income tax noncompliance, FBAR noncompliance and noncompliance with any other US international information tax return (such as Form 8938, 3520, 5471, et cetera). This is a huge problem for willful taxpayers and taxpayers who are in the “gray” area between willfulness and non-willfulness. It will be up to your international tax lawyer to make the determination on whether you are able to make this certification.

2020 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options: Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures

Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures (“SFOP”) is very similar to SDOP (in fact, both options were created in 2014), but it is even more beneficial to taxpayers who are able to satisfy SFOP’s eligibility requirements – this is a true amnesty program, because its participants do not pay IRS penalties of any kind, even on income tax due (taxpayers only need to pay the interest on additional tax due). Moreover, SFOP preserves SDOP’s non-invasive and limited scope of voluntary disclosure.

SFOP, however, is available to a much more limited number of US taxpayers who are able to satisfy its eligibility requirements, particularly those related to non-willfulness certification and physical presence outside of the United States. Again, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office to help you determine whether you meet the eligibility requirements of SFOP.

2020 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options: Delinquent FBAR Submission Procedures

Delinquent FBAR Submission Procedures (“DFSP”) is another voluntary disclosure option that fully eliminates IRS penalties. This is not a new option; in fact, in one form or another, it has always existed within the IRS procedures. Prior to 2014, it was even written into the OVDP (IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program) as FAQ#17.

While DFSP is highly beneficial to noncompliant US taxpayers, it is available to even fewer number of taxpayers than those who are eligible for SDOP and SFOP. This is the case due to two factors. First, DFSP has a very narrow scope – it applies only to FBARs. Second, DFSP has extremely strict eligibility requirements; even de minimis income tax noncompliance will deprive a taxpayer of the ability to use this option.

2020 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options: Delinquent International Information Return Submission Procedures

Delinquent International Information Return Submission Procedures (“DIIRSP”) has a very similar history to DFSP. In fact, it was “codified” into OVDP rules as FAQ#18. Similarly to DFSP, DIIRSP also offers the possibility of escaping IRS Penalties. DIIRSP has a broader scope than DFSP and applies to international information returns other than FBAR, such as Form 8938, 3520, 5471, 8865, 926, et cetera.

Since it turned into an independent voluntary disclosure option in 2014, DIIRSP’s eligibility requirements became much harsher. US taxpayers are now required to provide a reasonable cause explanation in order to escape IRS penalties under this option. On the other hand, the fact that there may be unreported income associated with international information returns is not an impediment by itself to participation in DIIRSP.

2020 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options: Modified IRS Traditional Voluntary Disclosure Program

The traditional IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“TVDP”) has existed for a very long time. However, it faded into a complete obscurity once the IRS opened its first major OVDP option in 2009. The closure of 2014 OVDP in September of 2018 has brought TVDP back to life, but in a modified format.

On November 20, 2018, the IRS has completely revamped the TVDP’s procedural structure and clarified the penalty imposition rules. I am almost tempted to call this new version of TVDP as “2018 TVDP”!

The main benefit of TVDP is that it is now the main voluntary disclosure option for taxpayers who willfully violated their US tax obligations. If you are willful taxpayer, contact Sherayzen Law Office to explore your voluntary disclosure option under the TVDP.

2020 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options: Reasonable Cause Disclosure

Since 2014, the popularity of Reasonable Cause disclosure (also known as “Noisy Disclosure”) has declined substantially due to the introduction of SDOP and SFOP. Nevertheless, Reasonable Cause disclosure continues to be a highly important voluntary disclosure alternative to official IRS voluntary disclosure options. In fact, the closure of the 2014 OVDP in September of 2018 has led to some resurgence of Reasonable Cause disclosures.

Reasonable Cause disclosure is based on the actual statutory language; it is not part of any official IRS program. Special care must be taken in using this option, because this is a high-risk, high-reward option. If a taxpayer is able to satisfy his high burden of proof, then, he will be able to avoid IRS penalties. If the IRS audits the Reasonable Cause disclosure and disagrees, this taxpayer may face significant IRS penalties and, potentially, years of IRS litigation.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Analysis of Your 2020 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options

If you have undisclosed foreign assets, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help as soon as possible. We have successfully helped hundreds of US taxpayers from over 70 countries with their voluntary disclosures of foreign assets to the IRS, and we can help you!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

2019 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options | International Tax Lawyers

The closure of the IRS flagship 2014 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”) in September of 2018 posed a critical issue of the 2019 offshore voluntary disclosure options available to US taxpayers. This is precisely the issue that I would like to explore today – the 2019 offshore voluntary disclosure options available to US taxpayers who wish to voluntarily resolve their prior US tax noncompliance concerning foreign assets and foreign income.

2019 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options: Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures

With the closure of the OVDP, the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures (“SDOP”) became the main voluntary disclosure option for US taxpayers who reside in the United States. SDOP offers huge benefits to its participants in terms of simplicity of the process, limitations on the years subject to voluntary disclosure and the mildness of its penalty structure. There are some “unfair” provisions, such as subjecting income-compliant accounts to SDOP’s Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty, but, overall, the benefits offered by this option outweigh its deficiencies for most taxpayers.

The main obstacle to using SDOP in 2019 remains its requirement that a taxpayer certifies under the penalty of perjury that he was non-willful with respect to his prior income tax noncompliance, FBAR noncompliance and noncompliance with any other US international information tax return (such as Form 8938, 3520, 5471, et cetera). This is an insurmountable problem for willful taxpayers. It will be up to your international tax lawyer to make the determination on whether you are able to make this certification.

2019 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options: Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures

Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures (“SFOP”) is SDOP’s brother; both options were announced at the same time in 2014 as two distinct parts of the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures. SFOP is available to US taxpayers who satisfy its eligibility requirements, particularly those related to non-willfulness certification and physical presence outside of the United States. Again, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office to help you determine whether you meet the eligibility requirements of SFOP.

The taxpayers who are able to satisfy SFOP’s eligibility requirements will find themselves in a tax paradise, because SFOP is the closest option to a true amnesty program that the IRS ever provided to US taxpayers. Not only does SFOP preserve the non-invasive and limited scope of voluntary disclosure that characterizes SDOP, but SFOP also does not require US taxpayers to pay any penalties. A taxpayer only needs to pay the extra tax due with interest for the past three years. The announcement by the IRS of this option in 2014 was a true gift to US taxpayers.

2019 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options: Delinquent FBAR Submission Procedures

Another highly beneficial voluntary disclosure option for 2019 is Delinquent FBAR Submission Procedures (“DFSP”). This is not a new option; in fact, in one form or another, it has always existed within the IRS procedures. Prior to 2014, it was even written into the OVDP as FAQ#17.

Since its “independence” in 2014, DFSP is a somewhat more difficult option than what it used to be as FAQ#17. Nevertheless, it is still a zero-penalty option for those taxpayers who are able to satisfy its eligibility requirements. Unfortunately, the eligibility requirements are very strict and even de minimis income tax noncompliance will deprive a taxpayer of the ability to use this option.

2019 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options: Delinquent International Information Return Submission Procedures

Delinquent International Information Return Submission Procedures (“DIIRSP”) has a very similar history to DFSP. In fact, it was “codified” into OVDP rules as FAQ#18. Since it became an independent option in 2014, however, its eligibility requirements became much harsher. Now, US taxpayers are required to provide a reasonable cause explanation in order to escape IRS penalties under this option.

2019 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options: Modified IRS Traditional Voluntary Disclosure Program

The traditional IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“TVDP”) has existed for a very long time. However, it faded into complete obscurity once the IRS opened its first major OVDP option. The recent closure of the OVDP has brought TVDP back to life.

In fact, the IRS is now presenting TVDP as the main, almost default, voluntary disclosure option for US taxpayers who willfully violated their US tax obligations. On November 20, 2018, the IRS has completely revamped the TVDP’s procedural structure and clarified the penalty imposition rules. I am almost tempted to call this new version of TVDP as “2018 TVDP”!

2019 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options: Reasonable Cause Disclosure

This was the most popular voluntary disclosure option prior OVDP; then, after 2009 (and between various OVDP options), Reasonable Cause disclosure continued to play the role of the most important alternative to the OVDP. Since 2014, however, the appearance of SDOP and SFOP has substantially deflated the appeal of Reasonable Cause disclosures. The fact that the IRS closed the physical address for such disclosures and tried to make this option as unpopular as possible further contributed to the decline of Reasonable Cause disclosures. Starting the end of 2018, however, Reasonable Cause disclosure experienced some resurgence due to the closure of the OVDP, sometimes for all the wrong reasons.

Reasonable Cause disclosure (a/k/a “Noisy Disclosure”) is based on the actual statutory language; it is not part of any IRS program. Special care must be taken in using this option, because this is a high-risk, high-reward option. If a taxpayer is able to satisfy his high burden of proof, then, he will be able to avoid IRS penalties. If the IRS audits the Reasonable Cause disclosure and disagrees, this taxpayer may face significant IRS penalties and, potentially, years of IRS litigation.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Analysis of Your 2019 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options

If you have not been able to comply with your US international tax obligations concerning foreign assets and foreign income, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help.

Sherayzen Law Office is a leading international tax law firm in the area of offshore voluntary disclosures. Our highly specialized legal team, led by a known international tax attorney Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, has successfully helped hundreds of US taxpayers with assets in more than 70 countries to bring their tax affairs into full compliance with US tax laws.

We can Help You! Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

3 Main Streamlined Domestic Compliance Disadvantages | SDOP Lawyer

In a previous article, I described the three main advantages of doing an offshore voluntary disclosure through Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures (“Streamlined Domestic Compliance”). Today, I would like to discuss three main Streamlined Domestic Compliance disadvantages.

Streamlined Domestic Compliance Disadvantages: Audit Risks

The first main disadvantage of Streamlined Domestic Compliance is the potential IRS audit within three years after the voluntary disclosure is completed. The audit is likely to include everything: FBARs, amended tax returns, Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty calculation and, most importantly, the determination of non-willfulness.

The potential IRS audit stands in a shark contrast to the IRS flagship Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”) which closed in September of 2018. At the end of a voluntary disclosure through OVDP, the taxpayer and the IRS sign the Closing Agreement, which (absent fraud or material mis-statements) effectively closes prior tax noncompliance issues forever.

The audit risks may be particularly important to taxpayers who are in the process of obtaining their US citizenship or US permanent residence.

Streamlined Domestic Compliance Disadvantages: Penalty Base Not Limited to Income Noncompliance

One of the main Streamlined Domestic Compliance disadvantages is the fact that the calculation of the penalty base (i.e. what assets are subject to the 5% penalty) includes assets that never produced any foreign income. Moreover, the penalty base includes a foreign asset even if the foreign income from this asset was timely disclosed on the taxpayer’s original tax return, but the asset itself was not reported on FBAR or any other international information return.

In other words, a taxpayer who participates in the Streamlined Domestic Compliance should be prepared to pay a 5% penalty even on assets that are compliant with the US income tax laws.

Again, this is contrary to the rules of the OVDP. In the OVDP, only assets that are tied to income tax noncompliance are included in the penalty base.

Streamlined Domestic Compliance Disadvantages: Danger of Superficial Analysis

Finally, the danger of superficial analysis concerning non-willfulness constitutes the third main disadvantage of the Streamlined Domestic Compliance. In reality, there are two dangers which should be placed at the opposite ends of the voluntary disclosure continuum.

The first danger is the natural bias in the self-assessment of non-willfulness. Oftentimes, a taxpayer may exaggerate the facts in his favor while selectively ignoring the facts that may establish willful noncompliance. This is very natural. It is difficult to find a person who will state outright that he was willful in his prior tax noncompliance.

Usually, this problem can be (and should be) fixed by retaining an international tax attorney to do an independent assessment of the taxpayer’s non-willfulness.

At the opposite end is the danger of concentrating on non-willfulness and ignoring the possibility of doing a Reasonable Cause disclosure. In most cases, this is not a problem because Streamlined Domestic Compliance would be a superior choice despite the 5% penalty. This, however, is not true in all cases and real opportunities are often lost by failure to explore this route.

I should state that the biggest problem that I found in my practice is the fact that some taxpayers do not consult an international tax attorney on this issue. Instead, they try to do everything themselves even though they have no specialized knowledge in this field. I strongly discourage this practice.

I believe that the involvement of an international tax attorney is essential to doing a proper offshore voluntary disclosure.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure

Choosing the correct offshore voluntary disclosure path is the most important decision for a taxpayer who wishes to remedy his past noncompliance with US tax laws. Every voluntary disclosure option has its advantages and disadvantages. All essential factors must be considered.

The failure to do proper legal analysis may have highly negative legal and tax consequences. It may even put a taxpayer in a position worse than what he was prior to his attempt to do a voluntary disclosure.

This is why you need the professional help of Sherayzen Law Office. Our experienced legal team has helped hundreds of US taxpayers to do their offshore voluntary disclosures properly. We Can Help You! Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!