Search This Blog

August 5, 2009


More on the offshore disclosure program

A lot of Gringos living and working in Mexico have not been filing their US Income Tax Returns as required by U.S. Tax law. The Brits, Canadians and many those from many other countries in world, the U.S. Requires you file returns yearly no mater where you live or work in the world so long as you are a U.S. Citizen.

Some have put off their returns so long, that they are now afraid to surface and file them. Often that is an unfounded concern since due to the US foreign earned income exclusion and foreign tax credits, when many years past due returns are filed, no tax is found to be due anyway.

To try to bring U.S. Expatriates out of the closet, in March the IRS announced the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program which allows those who have not filed returns or who have filed returns and not included their foreign source income to correct these errors and have some certainty of what might happen when they do file those returns. Entering this program will avoid criminal action and will also set a predetermined limit on the amount of penalties which may be imposed.

Though the IRS envisions the program will mostly be used by wealthy taxpayers hiding assets and income abroad, unfortunately due to the its requirements it does immediately affect the average American working or operating a small business in Mexico.

The program is extremely complex and therefore cannot be fully explained with this article, but we will try to cover some of the major points. More details are available using the internet links set forth later below.

The general requirements:

File last six years previously unfiled tax returns or amend your last six years tax returns to include all foreign source income.

These returns should include all previously unfiled foreign tax forms required under us tax law such as those for foreign bank and financial accounts (TDF 90-22.1), foreign corporations (Form 5471), foreign partnerships, foreign LLCS, foreign investment companies, and foreign trusts or fideicomisos (Form 3520 and 3520A)(Mexican real estate trusts required by Mexican law). There are other US foreign tax forms too numerous to mention which also have high penalties for non filing.

Pay all taxes, penalties and interest due on unpaid taxes

Follow certain filing procedures requiring an anouncement you plan to participate in the program.

In lieu of paying the extremely high penalties for failure to file the special foreign tax forms mentioned above, pay a penalty of 20% of the highest balance in all foreign bank and financial accounts during the year with the highest combined balances during that 6 year period. This is often much less than the year penalty for failing to file the form. For example the penalty for failure to file the foreign bank and financial account form (TDF 90-22.1) is $10,000 per year or more.

If you have reported all foreign income (including interest, dividends, corporate income, rents, etc) in your previously filed your tax returns for the past six years, but failed to include all of the special foreign forms (some of which are mentioned above) you are required to now file those forms with an amended return, and also include a reasonable excuse for your failure to file those forms and in most situations no penalties or additional taxes will be imposed. The IRS has failed to define what an acceptable reasonable excuse would be.

If your foreign activities have produced no taxable income during the past six years and you now file all required foreign forms that were previously omitted with amended returns for those years, no additional tax or penalties will be charged if you attach a reasonable excuse for failing to file the required foreign bank account report, foreign corporation report, foreign trust form (fideicomiso), etc.

Also if you failed to file your tax returns, but need to file returns for the period you lived and or worked abroad, and due to the nature of your income and activities have none of the special foreign income tax forms previously mentioned or on the the complete list are required to be filed, you can now file without any fear of the 20% penalty. All that would be owed is any tax due plus normal penalties and interest on that tax due. Form 2555 (to claim the foreign earned income exclusion) and form 1116 (Foreign tax credits) do not trigger the 20% penalty if filed late. However, in certain situations, the IRS can disallow the foreign earned income exclusion if a tax return is filed more than 18 months late and taxes are due with that return.

The IRS has indicated that it is possible after the 9/23/09 deadline for the Program, it will impose all civil, monetary and full criminal penalties against those who have not filed the required foreign income forms or who have failed to report their foreign source income by that deadline. Anyone who thinks they might have problems with nonreported foreign source income, unfiled returns, or unfiled special foreign tax forms should immediately consult with their legal and tax advisors to determine whether they should be participating in the Voluntary Disclosure Program or to file all past unfiled returns.

It should be noted that the IRS has currently been very successful with their program to force foreign banks and other financial institutions to disclose the names, etc. and all US citizens who have accounts. It is presumed they will be matching that data against the tax returns filed by those citizens.


Relevant Web Links:

Wall Street Journal Article:

IRS Information:,,id=105689,00.html

Frequently Asked Questions:


Don D. Nelson, Attorney, C.P.A has been assisting US Citizens living abroad with their U.S. Income taxes for the past 20 years. His email is His website includes a lot more information on the Offshore Disclosure Program and is located at . His blog which includes the most current expat developments is at US phone number is 949-481-4094.

No comments: