IRS Makes Changes to Offshore Programs to Help More Taxpayers

On June 18, 2014, the Internal Revenue Service announced major changes in its offshore voluntary compliance programs, providing new options to help both taxpayers residing overseas and those residing in the United States. The changes are anticipated to provide thousands of people a new avenue to come into compliance with their U.S. tax obligations. The changes include an expansion of the streamlined filing compliance procedures announced in 2012 and important modifications to the 2012 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP). The expanded streamlined procedures are intended for U.S. taxpayers whose failure to disclose their offshore assets was non-willful.

Helping to facilitate the government’s ongoing effort to combat the misuse of offshore assets, the IRS, working closely with the U.S. Department of Justice, continues to investigate foreign financial institutions that may have assisted U.S. taxpayers in avoiding their tax filing and payment obligations. Moreover, on July 1, the new information reporting regime resulting from the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) will go into effect and thousands of foreign financial institutions will begin to report to the IRS the foreign accounts held by U.S. persons.

The current Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, launched in 2012, is the successor to prior voluntary programs offered in 2011 and 2009. Since the launch of the first program, more than 45,000 taxpayers have come into compliance voluntarily, paying about $6.5 billion in taxes, interest and penalties.
Expansion of Streamlined Procedures

The announced changes to the 2012 OVDP make key expansions in the streamlined procedures to accommodate a wider group of U.S. taxpayers who have unreported foreign financial accounts. The original streamlined procedures announced in 2012 were available only to non-resident, non-filers. In addition, taxpayer submissions were subject to different degrees of review based on the amount of the tax due and the taxpayer’s response to a “risk” questionnaire. The expanded streamlined procedures are available to a wider population of U.S. taxpayers living outside the country and, for the first time, to certain U.S. taxpayers residing in the United States. The changes include:

  • Eliminating a requirement that the taxpayer have $1,500 or less of unpaid tax per year;
  • Eliminating the required risk questionnaire; and
  • Requiring the taxpayer to certify that previous failures to comply were due to non-willful conduct.

For eligible U.S. taxpayers residing outside the United States, all penalties will be waived. For eligible U.S. taxpayers residing in the United States, the only penalty will be a miscellaneous offshore penalty equal to 5 percent of the foreign financial assets that gave rise to the tax compliance issue.

Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) Modifications

The changes announced today also make important modifications to the OVDP. The changes include:

  • Requiring additional information from taxpayers applying to the program;
  • Eliminating the existing reduced penalty percentage for certain non-willful taxpayers in light of the expansion of the streamlined procedures;
  • Requiring taxpayers to submit all account statements and pay the offshore penalty at the time of the OVDP application;
  • Enabling taxpayers to submit voluminous records electronically rather than on paper; and
  • Increasing the offshore penalty percentage (from 27.5% to 50%) if, before the taxpayer’s OVDP pre-clearance request is submitted, it becomes public that a financial institution where the taxpayer holds an account or another party facilitating the taxpayer’s offshore arrangement is under investigation by the IRS or Department of Justice.

The IRS is encouraging taxpayers who are concerned about their undisclosed offshore accounts to come in voluntarily before learning that the U.S. is investigating the taxpayer, their bank or banks where they hold accounts. By then, it may be too late to avoid potential criminal charges, or the new higher penalties under the OVDP of 50 percent – nearly double the regular 27.5 percent. For anyone who wants to come into compliance but isn’t sure what to do, Daniel Rosefelt & Associates, LLC, Attorney & CPA recommends that you consult with an experienced tax attorney versed in the intricacies of U.S. offshore disclosure practice.