The Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) normally comes along with an “offshore penalty” equal to 27.5 percent of the highest aggregate account balance of the previously unreported foreign financial assets. However, the penalty is increased to 50 percent for taxpayers who have accounts at foreign financial institutions that are under investigation by the IRS or Department of Justice, or who are cooperating with the U.S. government regarding accounts held by U.S. persons. These foreign financial institutions have been referred to as “bad banks”, and the list of bad banks has continued to grow each year.
How the 50 Percent Penalty Works
Not only does a taxpayer face a 50 percent offshore penalty for any assets held at a bad bank, the taxpayer must pay the 50 percent penalty on all of their unreported foreign assets. For example, a taxpayer with a $10,000 account at a bad bank and $500,000 at a foreign bank that is not under investigation will be subject to the 50 percent penalty on the total of both accounts, despite the fact that the majority of their funds are held at a bank that is not under investigation.