Some FBAR (Foreign Bank Account Report) relief was announced on June 26th for offshore account holders who currently live outside of the U.S. The program will not take effect until September 1st, and the details have not yet been finalized. Taxpayers who qualify will file delinquent returns for the past three years, and FBARs for six years. Payment of any tax due, plus interest must be submitted at the same time.
Our tax attorneys see a big problem in this program because the IRS has stated that filing under this program provides no protection from possible criminal tax prosecution! All submissions will be reviewed by the IRS, but the degree of review will depend upon "level of compliance risk" as determined by the IRS. Those who are deemed to present low compliance risk will not have FBAR, tax fraud or other penalties asserted against them. However, those that are deemed to have a higher compliance risk will be subject to more thorough review, and possibly a full audit extended beyond the three year of tax returns that are filed. Of course with that tax audit may come full blown FBAR penalties, and no resort to the 27.5% ceiling available for 2012 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program(OVDP) filers. As regular readers of our tax problem attorney blog know maximum penalties can include willfulness penalties of up to 50% of the account balance, and civil fraud penalties of 75% of any tax due.
Compliance risk will be determined assessed based upon information provided on the returns filed, and "certain additional information" that will be required as part of the submission. According to the IRS website if there are no "high risk factors" and there is less than $1,500 in tax due in each of the three years then the taxpayer will be treated as low risk, and qualify for the non-assertion of penalties. Risk level will according to the IRS rise with the taxpayers ' income and assets, indications of "sophisticated tax planning" or tax avoidance, or if there is "material economic activity" in the U.S.
Interestingly the procedure appears to apply only to persons who did not file a tax return. Thus a person who at least filed a U.S. tax return, but failed to file FBARs, and who also did not report all offshore income would not be able to take advantage of this program.
There is no indication that the program will be retroactive. Therefore taxpayers who entered an earlier disclosure program and paid penalties of up to 25% on their offshore accounts are not entitled to a refund even though they would have qualified under the new program.
It may be that the IRS cures some of the apparent flaws before the program goes live. In any event, it means that a sophisticated analysis will need to be done to determine if one should wait until September 1, 2012 to enter the new program, or enter the 2012 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program immediately, or take some other action such as filing a quiet voluntary disclosure. What is increasingly clear is that no action is not an option.