December 9, 2011
IRS announces more information on "reasonable cause" excuse and elimination or reduction of FBAR (TDF 90-22.1) late filing penalties.
The IRS has issued a Fact Sheet for U.S. citizens or dual citizens residing outside the U.S. who may have been unaware of their U.S. tax and information filing obligations and are now seeking to come into compliance. The Fact Sheet outlines information about the delinquent filing of federal income tax returns and Form TD F 90-22.1, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBARs).
Background. U.S. citizens must file a federal income tax return for any tax year in which their gross income is equal to or greater than the applicable exemption amount and standard deduction. A U.S. citizen is required to report his worldwide income on his federal income tax return—that is, all income, regardless of which country is the source of the income. Generally, a taxpayer only need to file returns going back six years.
Under Code Sec. 6651(a)(1), a taxpayer who fails to timely file their tax return is subject to a penalty equal to 5% of the unpaid tax, plus an additional 5% for each month (or fraction thereof), up to 25%. No penalty is due if no tax is due. Code Sec. 6651(a)(2) generally provides for an addition to tax in the case of any failure to pay the tax shown on any return required to be filed on its due date, unless it is shown that the failure is due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect.
The Code Sec. 6651(a)(2) penalty commences on the due date of the return, determined without regard to filing extensions and is 1/2% of the amount of tax shown on the return, plus an additional 1/2% for each month (or fraction thereof), up to 25%.
Code Sec. 6651(c)(1) provides that the failure to file penalty is reduced by the failure to pay penalty for any month where both apply.
Background on FBARs. Each U.S. person who has a financial interest in or signature or other authority over any foreign financial accounts, including bank, securities, or other types of financial accounts in a foreign country, if the aggregate value of these financial accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year, must report that relationship each calendar year by filing an FBAR with the Department of the Treasury on or before June 30th of the succeeding year.
Potential penalties for failure to file/pay. The fact sheet provided guidance on reasonable cause with respect to the reasonable cause for the failure to file or pay penalties. Generally, reasonable cause relief is granted when the taxpayer can demonstrate to the IRS that he/she exercised ordinary business care and prudence but nevertheless failed to meet the tax burden. Factors demonstrating whether or not ordinary business care and prudence were exercised include: the reasons provided for failing to meet the tax obligations; the taxpayer's compliance history; the length of time between the taxpayer's failure to meet the tax obligation and the subsequent compliance; circumstances beyond the taxpayer's control.
The facts and circumstances that the IRS considers in determining whether reasonable cause exists are: the taxpayer's education; whether the taxpayer has been previously subject to the tax; whether the taxpayer has been penalized before; whether there were recent changes in the tax forms or law that the taxpayer could not reasonably be expected to know; and the level of complexity of a tax or compliance issue.
Depending on facts and circumstances of a particular case, taxpayers may be able to establish reasonable cause if they can demonstrate that they were not aware of specific obligations to file returns or pay taxes. In addition to the failure to file and failure to pay penalties, the IRS said that other civil penalties may arise, including the accuracy-related penalty, fraud penalty and the other information reporting penalties.
Potential FBAR penalties. A taxpayer that fails to file a FBAR may be subject to either a willful or non-willful civil penalty, in the absence of reasonable cause. Generally, the civil penalty for willfully failing to file an FBAR can be up to the greater of $100,000 or 50% of the total balance of the foreign account at the time of the violation. Alternatively, non-willful violations that the IRS concludes are not due to reasonable cause are subject to a penalty of up to $10,000 per violation. No penalties are imposed if the IRS determines the violation was due to reasonable cause.
Factors weighing in favor of a determination that an FBAR violation was due to reasonable cause include reliance upon the advice of a professional tax advisor who was informed of the existence of the foreign financial account, that the unreported account was established for a legitimate purpose and there were no indications of efforts taken to intentionally conceal the reporting of income or assets, and that there was no tax deficiency (or there was a tax deficiency but the amount was de minimis) related to the unreported foreign account. Factors weighing against such a determination include whether the taxpayer's background and education indicate that he should have known of the FBAR reporting requirements, whether there was a tax deficiency related to the unreported foreign account, and whether the taxpayer failed to disclose the existence of the account to the person preparing his tax return. No single factor is determinative, the Fact Sheet said.
Although the IRS has established penalty mitigation guidelines, examiners may nevertheless determine that a penalty is not appropriate or that a lesser (or greater) penalty amount than the guidelines would otherwise provide is appropriate. In some instances, examiners may issue a warning letter rather than impose a penalty.
The Fact Sheet advises that if a taxpayer learns that he was required to file FBARs for earlier years, he should file the delinquent FBARs and attach a statement explaining why they were filed late. A taxpayer need not file FBARs that were due more than six years ago, since the statute of limitations for assessing FBAR penalties is six years from the due date of the FBAR. No penalty will be asserted if the IRS determines that the late filings were due to reasonable cause.
In addition, the Fact Sheet notes that beginning in 2012, U.S. taxpayers who have an interest in certain specified foreign financial assets with an aggregate value exceeding $50,000 must report those assets to the IRS on Form 8938 (Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets) with their tax return.
The Fact Sheet can be viewed on the IRS website athttp://www.irs.gov/newsroom/