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2020 Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures: Pros and Cons

Noncompliant US taxpayers with undisclosed foreign assets and foreign income should consider their voluntary disclosure options in this new year 2020. Similarly to 2019, I expect that this year Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures will continue to be the flagship voluntary disclosure option for such taxpayers who reside in the United States. In order for the readers to better understand why I make this assertion, I would like to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of participating in the 2020 Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures.

2020 Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures: Background Information and Purpose

The IRS created the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures (sometimes 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.

The main purpose of the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures is to encourage noncompliant US taxpayers to voluntarily resolve their prior non-willful noncompliance with US international tax compliance requirements. These requirements include all US international information returns such as FBAR, Form 8938, Form 5471, Form 8621, Form 3520, Form 926, et cetera.

2020 Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures: Main Advantages

In exchange for this voluntary disclosure of their prior tax noncompliance, 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. The Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty is usually far below the potential penalties normally associated with failure to file these forms. 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 scope of this voluntary disclosure option. Taxpayers only need to file a small number of amended US tax returns (usually three) and FBARs (usually six) – in other words, the filings are limited to regular statute of limitations without any expansions (as opposed to 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 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.

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, I am not saying that this is an “easy standard”, just an easier one) than reasonable cause.

2020 Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures: Main Disadvantages

For the purpose of this article, I will discuss only two major disadvantages to the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures. First, the eligibility requirements are strict. This voluntary disclosure option is open only to taxpayers who filed their US tax returns for prior years and who are able to certify under the penalty of perjury that their prior noncompliance was non-willful. This certification has to be made specifically with respect to unreported foreign income, FBARs and each other international information return.

Most cases have positive and negative facts at the same time. Hence, a lot of taxpayers are actually in the “gray” area between willfulness and non-willfulness. This means that it is not easy to make a decision on whether a taxpayer is eligible to participate in the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures. This decision should be done only by an experienced international tax attorney who specializes in this area of law, such as Mr. Eugene Sherayzen of Sherayzen Law Office.

The second major disadvantage of the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures is lack of a definitive closure; there may be a follow-up audit after the IRS processes your voluntary disclosure package. Unlike OVDP, Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures does not offer a Closing Agreement without an audit. 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 2020 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!

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50% Offshore Penalty of the 2014 OVDP

The 50% Offshore Penalty is a unique feature of the 2014 OVDP. What is so unusual about this penalty is that its impact widens with each passing month and year to include and affect more and more US taxpayers. In this article, I would like to explore the emergence of the 50% Offshore Penalty and its importance to US international tax compliance.

2014 OVDP Penalty Structure

On June 18, 2014, the IRS completely changed the entire legal landscape of US voluntary disclosure. The unwieldy and uncompromising penalty structure of the 2012 OVDP was replaced by the new Streamlined Procedures and a completely modified 2014 OVDP.

Under the new rules, the IRS eliminated the 5% and 12.5% penalties of the 2012 OVDP and replaced them with milder and more flexible Streamlined Domestic Offshore Penalty of 5% and Streamlined Foreign Offshore Penalty of 0%. On the other hand, the old default 25% penalty of the 2012 OVDP evolved into a new stringent system of dual penalty structure: 27.5% default Offshore Penalty and 50% Offshore Penalty.

FAQ 7.2 and 50% Offshore Penalty

The 27.5% default Offshore Penalty applies unless the participating US taxpayer has foreign accounts in a bank on a special IRS list as described in FAQ 7.2.

FAQ 7.2 states that, starting August 4, 2014, any taxpayer who enters OVDP will be subject to a 50% Offshore Penalty if, at the time the Preclearance letter is submitted to the IRS-CI (Criminal Investigation), a “public disclosure” has already occurred.

FAQ 7.2. further states that a “public disclosure” has occurred if one of the following three events occurs. First, if the foreign financial institution (FFI) where the undisclosed foreign account is held or another “facilitator who assisted in establishing or maintaining the taxpayer’s offshore arrangement” (“facilitator”) is under IRS or US DOJ investigation. The investigation should be the one that is related to accounts that are beneficially owned by a US person.

Second, the FFI or facilitator is cooperating with the IRS or the Department of Justice in connection with accounts that are beneficially owned by a U.S. person. In other words, where a foreign bank signs a Non-Prosecution Agreement with US DOJ; this means every Swiss bank that reached resolution with the DOJ under the Swiss Bank Program; OR

Third, the FFI or facilitator has been identified in a John Doe Summons seeking information about U.S. taxpayers who may hold financial accounts at this FFI or have accounts established or maintained by the facilitator.

FAQ 7.2 provides an example of when a public disclosure occurs: “a public filing in a judicial proceeding by any party or judicial officer; or public disclosure by the Department of Justice regarding a Deferred Prosecution Agreement or Non-Prosecution Agreement with a financial institution or other facilitator.

It is easy to see now why the 50% Offshore Penalty has been increasing in influence – every Non-Prosecution Agreement, every DOJ investigation, every John Doe summons automatically expands the application of the 50% Offshore Penalty to another FFI or even a set of FFIs.

Entire Penalty Base is Subject to 50% Offshore Penalty

If a public disclosure occurs with respect to the FFI or facilitor where the US taxpayer has one or more foreign accounts, the 50% Offshore Penalty applies not only to these accounts but to all of the taxpayer’s assets included in the penalty base. For example, if a US taxpayer has one account at UBS, ten accounts in an Australian bank (for which no public disclosure occurred) and a foreign rental property that generated unreported foreign income, the 50% Offshore Penalty will apply to all of these assets.

List of FFIs and Facilitators

The IRS published the list of all FFIs and Facilitators for which public disclosure has occurred with the dates when the 50% penalty is activated with respect to these FFIs and Facilitators. Here, I am only providing the list up to date through January 7, 2016:

UBS AG
Credit Suisse AG, Credit Suisse Fides, and Clariden Leu Ltd.
Wegelin & Co.
Liechtensteinische Landesbank AG
Zurcher Kantonalbank
swisspartners Investment Network AG, swisspartners Wealth Management AG, swisspartners Insurance Company SPC Ltd., and swisspartners Versicherung AG
CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank Limited, its predecessors, subsidiaries, and affiliates
Stanford International Bank, Ltd., Stanford Group Company, and Stanford Trust Company, Ltd.
The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited in India (HSBC India)
The Bank of N.T. Butterfield & Son Limited (also known as Butterfield Bank and Bank of Butterfield), its predecessors, subsidiaries, and affiliates
Sovereign Management & Legal, Ltd., its predecessors, subsidiaries, and affiliates (effective 12/19/14)
Bank Leumi le-Israel B.M., The Bank Leumi le-Israel Trust Company Ltd, Bank Leumi (Luxembourg) S.A., Leumi Private Bank S.A., and Bank Leumi USA (effective 12/22/14)
BSI SA (effective 3/30/15)
Vadian Bank AG (effective 5/8/15)
Finter Bank Zurich AG (effective 5/15/15)
Societe Generale Private Banking (Lugano-Svizzera) SA (effective 5/28/15)
MediBank AG (effective 5/28/15)
LBBW (Schweiz) AG (effective 5/28/15)
Scobag Privatbank AG (effective 5/28/15)
Rothschild Bank AG (effective 6/3/15)
Banca Credinvest SA (effective 6/3/15)
Societe Generale Private Banking (Suisse) SA (effective 6/9/15)
Berner Kantonalbank AG (effective 6/9/15)
Bank Linth LLB AG (effective 6/19/15)
Bank Sparhafen Zurich AG (effective 6/19/15)
Ersparniskasse Schaffhausen AG (effective 6/26/15)
Privatbank Von Graffenried AG (effective 7/2/15)
Banque Pasche SA (effective 7/9/15)
ARVEST Privatbank AG (effective 7/9/15)
Mercantil Bank (Schweiz) AG (effective 7/16/15)
Banque Cantonale Neuchateloise (effective 7/16/15)
Nidwaldner Kantonalbank (effective 7/16/15)
SB Saanen Bank AG (effective 7/23/15)
Privatbank Bellerive AG (effective 7/23/15)
PKB Privatbank AG (effective 7/30/15)
Falcon Private Bank AG (effective 7/30/15)
Credito Privato Commerciale in liquidazione SA (effective 7/30/15)
Bank EKI Genossenschaft (effective 8/3/15)
Privatbank Reichmuth & Co. (effective 8/6/15)
Banque Cantonale du Jura SA (effective 8/6/15)
Banca Intermobiliare di Investimenti e Gestioni (Suisse) SA (effective 8/6/15)
bank zweiplus ag (effective 8/20/15)
Banca dello Stato del Cantone Ticino (effective 8/20/15)
Hypothekarbank Lenzburg AG (effective 8/27/15)
Schroder & Co. Bank AG (effective 9/3/15)
Valiant Bank AG (effective 9/10/15)
Bank La Roche & Co AG (effective 9/15/15)
Belize Bank International Limited, Belize Bank Limited, Belize Corporate Services Limited, their predecessors, subsidiaries, and affiliates (effective 9/16/15)
St. Galler Kantonalbank AG (effective 9/17/15)
E. Gutzwiller & Cie, Banquiers (effective 9/17/15)
Migros Bank AG (effective 9/25/15)
Graubundner Katonalbank (effective 9/25/15)
BHF-Bank (Schweiz) AG (effective 10/1/15)
Finacor SA (effective 10/6/15)
Schaffhauser Kantonalbank (effective 10/8/15)
BBVA Suiza S.A. (effective 10/16/15)
Piguet Galland & Cie SA (effective 10/23/15)
Luzerner Kantonalbank AG (effective 10/29/15)
Habib Bank AG Zurich (effective 10/29/15)
Banque Heritage SA (effective 10/29/15)
Hyposwiss Private Bank Genève S.A. (effective 10/29/15)
Banque Bonhôte & Cie SA (effective 11/3/15)
Banque Internationale a Luxembourg (Suisse) SA (effective 11/12/15)
Zuger Kantonalbank (effective 11/12/15)
Standard Chartered Bank (Switzerland) SA, en liquidation (effective 11/13/15)
Maerki Baumann & Co. AG (effective 11/17/15)
BNP Paribas (Suisse) SA (effective 11/19/15)
KBL (Switzerland) Ltd. (effective 11/19/15)
Bank CIC (Switzerland) Ltd. (effective 11/19/15)
Privatbank IHAG Zürich AG (effective 11/24/15)
Deutsche Bank (Suisse) SA (effective 11/24/15)
EFG Bank AG (effective 12/3/15)
EFG Bank European Financial Group SA, Geneva (effective 12/3/15)
Aargauische Kantonalbank (effective 12/8/15)
Cornèr Banca SA (effective 12/10/15)
Bank Coop AG (effective 12/10/15)
Crédit Agricole (Suisse) SA (effective 12/15/15)
Dreyfus Sons & Co Ltd, Banquiers (effective 12/15/15)
Baumann & Cie, Banquiers (effective 12/15/15)
Bordier & Cie Switzerland (effective 12/17/15)
PBZ Verwaltungs AG (effective 12/17/15)
PostFinance AG (effective 12/17/15)
Edmond de Rothschild (Suisse) SA (effective 12/18/15)
Edmond de Rothschild (Lugano) SA (effective 12/18/15)
Bank J. Safra Sarasin AG (effective 12/23/15)
Coutts & Co Ltd (effective 12/23/15)
Gonet & Cie (effective 12/23/15)
Banque Cantonal du Valais (effective 12/23/15)
Banque Cantonale Vaudoise (effective 12/23/15)
Bank Lombard Odier & Co Ltd (effective 12/31/15)
DZ Privatbank (Schweiz) AG (effective 12/31/15)
Union Bancaire Privée , USP SA (effective 1/6/16)

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help with Your Undisclosed Foreign Accounts

If you have undisclosed foreign accounts, including those FFIs and Facilitators for which public disclosure has occurred, you should contact the experienced international tax team of Sherayzen Law Office, Ltd. Our international tax law firm has helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the globe to bring their tax affairs into full compliance with US tax laws, while reducing their penalty exposure.

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Initial Consultation!