For years, offshore accounts have been a hot topic in popular culture and for the IRS; most recently Liechtenstein has been mentioned, however the IRS is interested in accounts anywhere in the world that generate income for US taxpayers. The IRS is particularly interested in locating those people trying to hide income in offshore accounts as well as the promoters of off-shore tax avoidance schemes.
Individuals continue to try to avoid paying US taxes by illegally hiding income in offshore bank and brokerage accounts or using offshore debit cards, credit cards, wire transfers, foreign trusts, employee leasing schemes, private annuities or life insurance plans.
US taxpayers are required to report all foreign financial accounts if their total value exceeds $10,000 at any point during a given year. Failure to report the accounts can result in a penalty of up to 50 percent of the amount in the accounts. Yikes!
Hiding or not reporting income from foreign sources may be a crime. And the IRS, along with its international partners is pursuing those who hide income or assets offshore to evade taxes. There are specially trained IRS examiners whose focus is to examine aggressive international tax planning, including the use of entities and structures established in foreign jurisdictions. The goal is simply to ensure that U.S. citizens and residents are accurately reporting their income and paying the correct tax.
In addition to reporting your worldwide income, you must also report whether you have any foreign bank or investment accounts. The Bank Secrecy Act requires that you file a Form TD F 90-22.1, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR), if:
– You have financial interest in, signature authority, or other authority over one or more accounts in a foreign country, and
– The aggregate value of all foreign financial accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year.
There are serious consequences for unreported income or undisclosed foreign financial accounts if the IRS uncovers them. These can ranges from additional taxes, to substantial penalties, interest, fines and possibly imprisonment.
Just in the past month a federal judge agreed to allow the IRS to serve legal papers on Swiss banking giant UBS AG in an expanding investigation of U.S. taxpayers who may have used overseas accounts to hide assets and avoid taxes. The summons is one that allows the IRS to investigate a full range of people as it is not limited to one particular individual. The investigation was started after a former UBS private banker pleaded guilty to defrauding the IRS, and claims that UBS has about $20 billion in assets in undeclared accounts for U.S. taxpayers.
UBS is cooperating with Swiss and U.S. investigations and will disclose records involving U.S. clients who might have broken tax laws.
The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service recently announced their initiative to encourage the voluntary disclosure of unreported income hidden by taxpayers in offshore accounts. Under this new plan, eligible taxpayers have to pay back taxes, interest and accuracy and delinquency penalties, but will not face fraud and information return penalties. To obtain the benefits of the initiative, taxpayers will be required to disclose information about who promoted or solicited their participation in the offshore financial arrangement.