Tip of the Month for July, 2011

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Tip: Update on IRS Revised Guidelines for Overseas Accounts

The IRS has extended its deadline for U.S. taxpayers to enter a voluntary disclosure program regarding their offshore foreign bank accounts. The IRS decided to extend its initial Aug. 31 deadline by as many as 90 days to help taxpayers who are struggling to meet the deadline and who are making a good faith effort to report overseas income as part of the voluntary program. The 2011 disclosure program is a type of amnesty program for U.S. citizens living overseas who have foreign bank accounts, as well as taxpayers residing in the United States who hold foreign accounts. The IRS previously had taken a hard line on the program’s timeline, giving taxpayers no leeway on the Aug. 31 deadline. The revision might be a response to criticism from tax professionals who claim that their clients’ cases have been delayed because information has been passed from one agent to another without resolution

The IRS cracks down hard on U.S. taxpayers who don’t provide full disclosure of overseas accounts – the top penalty has been increased from 20 percent in the 2009 program to 25 percent in 2011, and it applies to accounts in existence from 2003 through 2010. To further deter scofflaws, the IRS guidelines outline the civil penalties and the range of criminal charges that face account owners whose holdings are discovered by the IRS rather than through voluntary disclosure.

As well as the decision to extend deadlines, the IRS also announced that taxpayers already in the program can now choose to opt out of the disclosure program’s civil-settlement process and have their cases reviewed under standard audit procedures. The IRS’ decision to do this came about after significant criticism of the current program.

In addition to the deadline issue, many tax professionals also believe that the IRS has failed to distinguish between real tax evaders with complicated financial accounts and others who have been swept up in the crackdown. The small fry caught up in this includes people who are heirs to family holdings outside the United States. In response, the IRS announced a new lower penalty rate of 12.5 percent for people whose offshore accounts are less than $75,000 for the applicable time frame. Criticism of the program’s unwieldy structure and slow procedures might be the impetus behind a further IRS announcement that allows taxpayers who have already entered the voluntary disclosure program to opt out. According to the IRS, those who chose to do so will not be penalized further.

Opting out of the voluntary disclosure program could be more costly for some taxpayers, but not for others. Taxpayers who choose this option will have their cases reviewed by a central committee, which will take the taxpayers’ statements into account before deciding on appropriate penalties. The IRS also reserves the right to remove taxpayers from the voluntary disclosure program if they are deemed uncooperative or if the IRS examiners believe their case won’t be resolved within a reasonable time frame.

The revisions to the 2011 disclosure program have met with approval from some tax advisors who’ve been involved in assisting clients with compliance. The issue is complicated, and the IRS’s revisions to their guidelines have not made matters any easier. For more information on the disclosure program and on current tax laws regarding overseas bank accounts, consult your tax professional.


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