June 2012 Archives

California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) To Issue 475,000 Tax Levies for Delinquent Tax Debts

June 27, 2012,

If you or your clients have tax problems and owe California State income taxes, the Tax Man Cometh! The California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) is collecting delinquent tax debts through the Financial Institution Record Match (FIRM) program. FIRM uses automated data exchanges to locate bank accounts held by Californians who have tax debts. The FIRM program will match records on a quarterly basis in order to collect tax debts from both individuals and businesses. No financial institution doing business within the state of California is exempt from participating in the program. However, in rare cases temporary exemption or suspension of participation may apply. Banks that chose not to comply are subject to large fines each year. Accounts that are eligible for tax levies include checking and savings accounts, as well as mutual funds. FIRM is similar to the Financial Institution Data Match (FIDM) program, which is used to collect delinquent child support debt.

The FIRM program allows the FTB to use data obtained from banks to find assets and garnish bank accounts up to 100 percent of the amount owed. As of April, the FTB began to serve tax levies on the bank accounts of individuals who have delinquent balances, including penalties, interest, taxes and fees that have been identified through FIRM. With the help of the FIRM program, the FTB expects to issue 475,000 tax levies this fiscal year, a 75 percent increase from last year.

In order to avoid tax levies you or your tax lawyer should consider possible alternatives including installment agreements, offers in compromise and bankruptcies.

Data between FTB and FIRM can be exchanged in two ways. In the first method, information regarding open accounts is given directly to the FTB for the Board to match accounts with delinquent taxpayers. This method is only available to institutions that are unable to match the information against their own records. Institutions that do not qualify for the first method must match taxpayer information against their own records. Banks can choose to hire a third-party transmitter to aid in matching the data. Because the accuracy of the data is of the utmost importance, banks must verify matches from third-party services before submitting them to the FTB.

A 10-day holding period follows the issue of the tax levy to the bank. During this time, the taxpayer or a tax attorney on the taxpayer's behalf may negotiate the amount due or, if financial hardship is creating tax problems, discuss payment options. If the FTB levied an account in error, they will delay the garnishment while they verify the mistake and then issue a garnishment release notice. If the bank has already issued the payment, the Board will return the payment.

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2011 FBAR Filing Date Reminder

June 21, 2012,

FBARs (Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Report Form TD F 90-22.1) are due June 30th. If you or your clients have $10,000 or more in offshore financial accounts and are U.S. citizens, residents and/or U.S. based entities, use this form to report a financial interest in or signatory authority over foreign accounts. In recent years, the IRS has increased enforcement of this required disclosure, and penalties for failure to file the FBAR include hefty fines and in some cases jail time.

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To ensure compliance, it is critical you complete the TDF 90-22.1 as soon as possible since, unlike other IRS documents, the FBAR form must be received (not just postmarked) by the Saturday, June 30th deadline. Normally under the tax law if documents are due on a weekend the due date rolls over until the following business day; however, those rules don't apply to FBARs so it appears that it will be necessary to mail the FBAR via overnight delivery service on the 28th so it arrives by the 29th. That being said the IRS FBAR hotline has informally advised our tax attorneys that FBARs postmarked by the 29th will be considered as timely. Failure to file on time could mean large penalties, and no extensions can be requested.

Some individuals with foreign bank accounts might have skipped filing FBAR forms in the past. If that includes you or your clients, you may wish to consider the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (OVDI), which was created to gain compliance from taxpayers, who wish to comply with tax laws regarding their offshore accounts. The IRS declared its offshore voluntary program a big success in 2009 and 2011. In 2009 alone, the IRS collected $3.4 billion.Those who willfully fail to file an FBAR are subject to penalties as high as 50 percent of the total balance of the account. Each year of non-compliance results in a separate violation and penalty, i.e. multiple 50% penalties are possible. Under that scenario penalties can actually equal 300% of the offshore account balances.

Through OVDI, some taxpayers may be eligible for penalties as low as five percent, although most will be stuck with a 27.5% penalty. In order to participate in the program, taxpayers must file all original and amended returns (including payment of back taxes and interest) for up to eight tax years. For more details see our article here.

If someone wants to obtain the benefits of the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative, he or she cannot simply make a "quiet disclosure," meaning they cannot simply file the FBAR and amend other tax returns. Those individuals who make "quiet disclosures" risk being investigated, and subject to large civil FBAR penalties, but may be protected from criminal tax exposure.

However, every case is different, and only a complete investigation of all the facts by a qualified tax lawyer can help a taxpayer make the right choice.

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Grammy Winner Faces Criminal Tax Charges

June 15, 2012,

Tax problems abound for Lauryn Hill, who won five Grammys for her 1998 debut album. Her album, "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," might describe her alleged actions to stop paying taxes and subsequent consequences. Former member of the Fugees band, Ms. Hill, who's also an actress, has been charged by the the Department of Justice with Failure to File a Tax Return, but not tax evasion, on gross income of slightly more than $1.8 million over a three-year period from 2005 through 2007.

In her response to the prosecution regarding her criminal tax problems, Ms. Hill posted a 1,270-word manifesto at mslaurynhill on Tumblr. Thumbnail image for LaurynHill.jpg

"For the past several years, I have remained what others would consider underground. I did this in order to build a community of people, like-minded in their desire for freedom and the right to pursue their goals and lives without being manipulated and controlled by a media protected military industrial complex with a completely different agenda. Having put the lives and needs of other people before my own for multiple years, and having made hundreds of millions of dollars for certain institutions, under complex and sometimes severe circumstances, I began to require growth and more equitable treatment, but was met with resistance."

Ms. Hill goes on to further describe her tax dispute: "I did not deliberately abandon my fans, nor did I deliberately abandon any responsibilities, but I did however put my safety, health and freedom and the freedom, safety and health of my family first over all other material concerns! I also embraced my right to resist a system intentionally opposing my right to whole and integral survival."

Finally she responds to her tax problems: "I conveyed all of this when questioned as to why I did not file taxes during this time period. Obviously, the danger I faced was not accepted as reasonable grounds for deferring my tax payments, as authorities, who despite being told all of this, still chose to pursue action against me, as opposed to finding an alternative solution."

Ms. Hill, who is facing one year in prison and a $100,000 fine for each year she failed to file, is one of a number of celebrities whose alleged tax fraud have made headlines, including Wesley Snipes, currently serving a three-year sentence.

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Offshore Bank Account Owners at Liechtensteinische Landesbank AG (LLB) May be In Trouble

June 13, 2012,

Lichtenstein tax authorities have notified Liechtensteinische Landesbank AG (LLB)'s U.S. clients with offshore accounts of at least $500,000 that their information is subject to being turned over to the IRS according to a report in Bloomberg.com. Apparently the IRS has made a so-called group request to LLB for these accounts to obtain the names of individuals it suspects of tax evasion, and FBAR (Foreign Bank Account Report) related crimes.

According to a spokesman for LLB quoted in the article, changes in Lichtenstein law allow the IRS to make group requests without providing the names of the specific individuals that the IRS is seeking. The spokesman also stated that in the Liechtenstein group request, U.S. authorities are also targeting lawyers, accountants, financial advisers, asset managers and those responsible for professional asset protection, who "conspired "with U.S. taxpayers to commit tax evasion, or other crimes. Apparently the IRS may be seeking information all the way back to 2001.

LLB is Lichtenstein's second largest bank. Tax problems for offshore bank account holders in Lichtenstein date back to 2008 when information stolen from LGT Group was used by German authorities to prosecute tax fraud. The fallout extended to U.S. depositors at LGT who were investigated by the IRS. Since then the IRS has promoted several voluntary disclosure initiatives to attempt to convince U.S. persons who failed to file FBARs to settle up with the IRS. To date those programs have resulted in over 30,000 individuals making voluntary disclosures of the offshore bank accounts to the IRS. These programs have been accused by some tax lawyers as being too much stick, and not enough carrot.

U.S. owners of these offshore accounts have difficult choices to make in a short period of time. Should they enter the IRS' Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP), before it's not too late? Should they appeal the turnover of information by LLB through the Lichtenstein court system? Perhaps they should wait and do nothing?

Each of these solutions has its own set of risks and rewards. Entering the OVDP will be expensive. Penalties of 27.5% of the offshore account balances can be expected. In addition, other non-financial assets may also be subject to the 27.5% penalty. In addition, back taxes must be paid, generally going back to 2004. On top of that expect additional penalties, and interest.

On the other hand not entering the OVDP can lead to FBAR penalties equaling 300% of the foreign bank account balances, as well as possible criminal tax evasion charges. The bottom line is that everyone's situation is different, and only consultation with a tax lawyer experienced in these offshore issues will begin to help in coming to the right personal decision.

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