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March 31, 2010

NEW LAW ENACTED ENFORCING AND BROADENING REPORTING OF FOREIGN ENTITIES, ASSETS, ETC

The President recently signed into law the “Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act of 2010” (the HIRE Act, P.L. 111-47 ). The HIRE Act includes a comprehensive set of measures to reduce offshore noncompliance by giving IRS new administrative tools to detect, deter and discourage offshore tax abuses, as well as a three-year delay (through 2020) of implementation of worldwide allocation of interest—the liberalized rule for allocating interest expense between U.S. sources and foreign sources for purposes of determining a taxpayer's foreign tax credit limitation. An overview of these provisions follows.


Increased disclosure of beneficial owners


Reporting on certain foreign bank accounts. The Act imposes a 30% withholding tax on certain income from U.S. financial assets held by a foreign institution unless the foreign financial institution agrees to disclose the identity of any U.S. individual with an account at the institution (or the institution's affiliates) and to annually report on the account balance, gross receipts and gross withdrawals/payments from such account. Foreign financial institutions would also be required to agree to disclose and report on foreign entities that have substantial U.S. owners. Congress expects that foreign financial institutions will comply with these disclosure and reporting requirements in order to avoid paying this withholding tax. These provisions are effective generally for payments made after 2012.
Reporting on owners of foreign corporations, foreign partnerships and foreign trusts. The Act requires foreign entities to provide withholding agents with the name, address and tax identification number of any U.S. individual that is a substantial owner of the foreign entity. Withholding agents are to report this information to the U.S. Treasury Department. The Act exempts publicly-held and certain other foreign corporations from these reporting requirements and provides the Treasury Department with the regulatory authority to exclude other recipients that pose a low risk of tax evasion. Any withholding agent making a withholdable payment to a foreign entity that does not comply with these disclosure and reporting requirements is required to withhold tax at a rate of 30%. These provisions are effective generally for payments made after 2012.


Extending bearer bond tax sanction to bearer bonds designed for foreign markets. Bearer bonds (i.e., bonds that do not have an official record of ownership) allow individuals seeking to evade taxes with the ability to invest anonymously. Recognizing the potential for U.S. individuals to take advantage of bearer bonds to avoid U.S. taxes, Congress took a number of steps in the 1980's to eliminate bearer bonds in the U.S. First, they prevented the U.S. government from issuing bearer bonds that would be marketed to U.S. investors. Second, they imposed sanctions on issuers of bearer bonds that could be purchased by U.S. investors. The Act extends many of these sanctions to bearer bonds that are marketed to foreign investors and prevents the U.S. government from issuing any bearer bonds. These provisions apply to debt obligations issued after Mar. 18, 2012.


Foreign financial asset reporting


Disclosure of information with respect to foreign financial assets. The new law requires individuals to report offshore accounts and other foreign financial assets with values of $50,000 or more on their tax returns. Individuals who fail to make the required disclosures are subject to a penalty of $10,000 for the tax year; an additional penalty can apply if Treasury notifies an individual by mail of the failure to disclose and the failure to disclose continues. These provisions apply for tax years beginning after Mar. 18, 2010. The act give the IRS a lot of discretion to define what exactly a "financial asset" might be. It is very possible their definition may be very broad and includes many assets not previously thought of as financial assets.


Penalties for underpayments attributable to undisclosed foreign financial assets. For tax years beginning after Mar. 18, 2010, the Act imposes a penalty equal to 40% of the amount of any understatement that is attributable to an undisclosed foreign financial asset (i.e., any foreign financial asset that a taxpayer is required to disclose and fails to disclose on an information return).


New 6-year limitations period. For returns filed after Mar. 18, 2010, as well as for any other return for which the assessment period has not yet expired as of Mar. 18, 2010, the Act imposes a new six-year limitations period for omissions of items from a tax return that exceed $5,000 and are attributable to one or more reportable foreign assets. The Act also clarifies that the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the taxpayer files the information return disclosing the taxpayer's reportable foreign assets.


Other disclosure provisions


New reporting rule for PFICs. Effective on Mar. 18, 2010, activities with respect to passive foreign investment companies (PFICs) are subject to a new reporting rule. Unless otherwise provided by IRS, each U.S. person who is a shareholder of a PFIC must file an annual information return containing such information as IRS may require. A person that meets this new reporting requirement could, however, also have to meet the new reporting rule requiring disclosure of information with respect to foreign financial assets (see above). It is anticipated that IRS will exercise its regulatory authority to avoid duplicative reporting. 

March 26, 2010

More on IRS Commissioners Position on Offshore Disclosure and International Enforcement

The Journal of Accountancy has just interviewed the IRS Commissioner. The following two questions addressed the IRS on the recent Offhsore Voluntary Disclosure Program and US tax enforcement abroad:


JofA: What can you tell us about processing the estimated 14,700 voluntary disclosures last fall under the reduced-penalty program for foreign financial transaction reporting?

Shulman: For several years, we have been very focused on offshore compliance. When he was a senator, President Obama emphasized offshore compliance and then came in and immediately gave us tremendous new resources for it. [Treasury] Secretary [Timothy] Geithner made this an agenda item at the G8 [Group of Eight summit].

The U.S. government is getting very serious about rooting out offshore tax evasion. And while we’re increasing the risk that you’re going to get caught if you’re hiding assets overseas, we made an offer where people could come in and pay their taxes and interest and a stiff penalty but avoid going to jail. The response was overwhelming. We would have never imagined that 14,700 people would come in.

We are still in the early stages, wading through those returns, looking at information, at patterns of institutions or advisers who help people park money overseas and not pay taxes. Where we don’t have enough information from a taxpayer, we’re digging deeper with further questions and potential audits. This will be a treasure trove of information for us to look for and pursue other wrongdoing.

JofA: Can you say anything about what the government’s next move might be in the UBS case or other foreign financial transaction reporting initiatives?

Shulman: Our offshore compliance effort is a multifaceted and multiyear effort. Probably, the next big thing, I hope, will be passage of FATCA, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. A blueprint was put forward by President Obama in his 2010 budget, and legislation has been introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, [Former] House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel and others. It will require financial institutions doing business as qualified intermediaries to report more information and do more due diligence, so it will give us a lot more and better information. If people don’t sign up to be a QI, there will be withholding at the source.

The president last year gave us funding to hire 800 new people in our international operations. In the 2011 budget that was just put forward, he added funding for another 800 people, so we’re building up expertise. I’m spending a lot of time with my counterparts in foreign governments, comparing notes and sharing information, so international cooperation is being stepped up. We started a high-wealth unit recently, which will look at the web of finances of high-wealth American taxpayers, and that will include their foreign accounts and resources. We are moving on multiple fronts.

March 23, 2010

Five Facts about the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion


If you are living and working abroad you may be entitled to the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.  Here are five important facts from the IRS about the exclusion:
  1. The Foreign Earned Income Exclusion United States Citizens and resident aliens who live and work abroad may be able to exclude all or part of their foreign salary or wages from their income when filing their U.S. federal tax return. They may also qualify to exclude compensation for their personal services or certain foreign housing costs.
  2. The General Rules To qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion, a U.S. citizen or resident alien must have a tax home in a foreign country and income received for working in a foreign country, otherwise known as foreign earned income. The taxpayer must also meet one of two tests: the bona fide residence test or the physical presence test.
  3. The Exclusion Amount The foreign earned income exclusion is adjusted annually for inflation. For 2009, the maximum exclusion is up to $91,400 per qualifying person.
  4. Claiming the Exclusion The foreign earned income exclusion and the foreign housing exclusion or deductions are claimed using Form 2555, Foreign Earned Income, which should be attached to the taxpayer’s Form 1040. A shorter Form 2555-EZ, Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, is available to certain taxpayers claiming only the foreign income exclusion.
  5. Taking Other Credits or Deductions Once the foreign earned income exclusion is chosen, a foreign tax credit or deduction for taxes cannot be claimed on the excluded income. If a foreign tax credit or tax deduction is taken on any of the excluded income, the foreign earned income exclusion will be considered revoked.

March 21, 2010

New Offshore and International Tax Provisions in just enacted HIRE ACT


To pay for the hiring incentives in the recently enacted “Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act” (the 2010 HIRE Act), Congress passed several offsetting revenue raisers, including a comprehensive set of measures to reduce offshore noncompliance by giving IRS new administrative tools to detect, deter and discourage offshore tax abuses. Here is a brief overview of the new offshore anti-abuse provisions.
Increased disclosure of beneficial owners
Reporting on certain foreign bank accounts. The Act imposes a 30% withholding tax on certain income from U.S. financial assets held by a foreign institution unless the foreign financial institution agrees to disclose the identity of any U.S. individual with an account at the institution (or the institution's affiliates) and to annually report on the account balance, gross receipts and gross withdrawals/payments from such account. Foreign financial institutions would also be required to agree to disclose and report on foreign entities that have substantial U.S. owners. Congress expects that foreign financial institutions will comply with these disclosure and reporting requirements in order to avoid paying this withholding tax. These provisions are effective generally for payments made after 2012.
Reporting on owners of foreign corporations, foreign partnerships and foreign trusts. The Act requires foreign entities to provide withholding agents with the name, address and tax identification number of any U.S. individual that is a substantial owner of the foreign entity. Withholding agents are to report this information to the U.S. Treasury Department. The Act exempts publicly-held and certain other foreign corporations from these reporting requirements and provides the Treasury Department with the regulatory authority to exclude other recipients that pose a low risk of tax evasion. Any withholding agent making a withholdable payment to a foreign entity that does not comply with these disclosure and reporting requirements is required to withhold tax at a rate of 30%. These provisions are effective generally for payments made after 2012.
Extending bearer bond tax sanction to bearer bonds designed for foreign markets. Bearer bonds (i.e., bonds that do not have an official record of ownership) allow individuals seeking to evade taxes with the ability to invest anonymously. Recognizing the potential for U.S. individuals to take advantage of bearer bonds to avoid U.S. taxes, Congress took a number of steps in the 1980's to eliminate bearer bonds in the United States. First, they prevented the U.S. government from issuing bearer bonds that would be marketed to U.S. investors. Second, they imposed sanctions on issuers of bearer bonds that could be purchased by U.S. investors. The Act extends many of these sanctions to bearer bonds that are marketed to foreign investors and prevents the U.S. government from issuing any bearer bonds. These provisions apply to debt obligations issued after the date which is two years after the new law's enactment date.
Foreign financial asset reporting
Disclosure of information with respect to foreign financial assets. The new law requires individuals to report offshore accounts and other foreign financial assets with values of $50,000 or more on their tax returns. Individuals who fail to make the required disclosures are subject to a penalty of $10,000 for the tax year; an additional penalty can apply if Treasury notifies an individual by mail of the failure to disclose and the failure to disclose continues. These provisions apply for tax years beginning after the new law's enactment date.
Penalties for underpayments attributable to undisclosed foreign financial assets. For tax years beginning after the new law's enactment date, the Act imposes a penalty equal to 40% of the amount of any understatement that is attributable to an undisclosed foreign financial asset (i.e., any foreign financial asset that a taxpayer is required to disclose and fails to disclose on an information return).
New 6-year limitations period. For returns filed after the new law's enactment date as well as for any other return for which the assessment period has not yet expired as of the new law's enactment date, the Act imposes a new six-year limitations period for omissions of items from a tax return that exceed $5,000 and are attributable to one or more reportable foreign assets. The Act also clarifies that the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the taxpayer files the information return disclosing the taxpayer's reportable foreign assets.
Other disclosure provisions
New reporting rule for PFICs. Effective on the new law's enactment date, activities with respect to passive foreign investment companies (PFICs) are subject to a new reporting rule. Unless otherwise provided by IRS, each U.S. person who is a shareholder of a PFIC must file an annual information return containing such information as IRS may require. A person that meets this new reporting requirement could, however, also have to meet the new reporting rule requiring disclosure of information with respect to foreign financial assets (see above). It is anticipated that IRS will exercise its regulatory authority to avoid duplicative reporting.
Electronic filing. For returns the due date for which (determined without regard to extensions) is after the new law's enactment date, the Act creates an exception to the general annual 250 returns threshold for electronic filing: IRS will be permitted to issue regs requiring filing on magnetic media for any return filed by a financial institution with respect to any taxes withheld by it for which it is personally liable. Thus, IRS will be authorized to require a financial institution to electronically file returns with respect to any taxes withheld by the financial institution even though the financial institution files less than 250 returns during the year.
Provisions related to foreign trusts
Clarifications with respect to foreign trusts. Under present law, a U.S. person is treated as the owner of the property transferred to a foreign trust if the trust has a U.S. beneficiary. Under current Treasury regulations, a foreign trust is treated as having a U.S. beneficiary if any current, future or contingent beneficiary of the trust is a U.S. person. Notwithstanding this requirement, some taxpayers have taken positions that are contrary to this regulation. In order to enhance compliance with this regulation, the Act codifies this regulation into the statute. This provision is effective on the new law's enactment date. The Act also clarifies that a foreign trust will be treated as having a U.S. beneficiary if (1) any person has discretion to determine the beneficiaries of the trust unless the terms of the trust specifically identify the class of beneficiaries and none of those beneficiaries are U.S. persons or (2) any written oral or other agreement could result in a beneficiary of the trust being a U.S. person. As a final clarification, the Act clarifies that the use of any trust property will be treated as a payment from the trust in the amount of the fair market value of such use.
Presumption with respect to transfers to foreign trusts. For transfers of property after the new law's enactment date, the Act provides that if a U.S. person directly or indirectly transfers property to a foreign trust (other than a trust established for deferred compensation or a charitable trust) IRS may treat the trust as having a U.S. beneficiary unless such person can demonstrate to the satisfaction of IRS that under the terms of the trust, (1) no part of the trust may be paid or accumulated during the year for the benefit of a U.S. person, (2) that if the trust were terminated during the year, no part of the trust could be paid to a U.S. person (3) and that such person provides any additional information as IRS may require with respect to such transfer.
Minimum penalty with respect to failure to report on certain foreign trusts. Under pre-Act law, a taxpayer that fails to file an information return with respect to certain transactions involving foreign trusts (e.g., the creation of a foreign trust, the transfer of money or property to a foreign trust, or the death of a U.S. owner of a foreign trust) is subject to a penalty of 35% of the amount required to be disclosed on such return. If IRS uncovers the existence of an undisclosed foreign trust but is unable to determine the amount required to be disclose on such return, it is unable to impose a penalty. The Act strengthens this penalty by imposing a minimum penalty of $10,000 on any such failure to file. This provision applies to notices and returns required to be filed after Dec. 31, 2009. Notwithstanding this minimum penalty, in no event may the penalties imposed on taxpayers for failing to file an information return with respect to a foreign trust exceed the amount required to be disclosed on the return.
Dividend equivalent payments
Dividend equivalents treated as dividends. For payments made on or after the date that is 180 days after the new law's enactment date, the Act treats a dividend equivalent as a dividend from U.S. sources for certain purposes, including the U.S. withholding tax rules applicable to foreign persons. A dividend equivalent is any substitute dividend made pursuant to a securities lending or a sale-repurchase transaction that (directly or indirectly) is contingent upon, or determined by reference to, the payment of a dividend from sources within the U.S. or any payment made under a specified notional principal contract that directly or indirectly is contingent upon, or determined by reference to, the payment of a dividend from sources within the U.S. A dividend equivalent also includes any other payment that IRS determines is substantially similar to a payment described in the preceding sentence. Under this rule, for example, IRS may conclude that payments under certain forward contracts or other financial contracts that reference stock of U.S. corporations are dividend equivalents.

March 8, 2010

Tax Data Theft Abroad Helps US Tax Evasion Effort

Tax data thefts at HSBC in Switzerland and other offshore banks are leading more whistleblowers to come forward to U.S. tax authorities, a top Department of Justice prosecutor said on March 5, 2010. The whistleblowers -- many former bank employees who worked in information technology -- could help the U.S. government look for the next bank after UBS AG that may be helping clients evade taxes and further deter wealthy individuals from stashing money offshore. "A lot of folks, and they seem to be IT (information technology) people, see what's happening" in Germany and France and are coming to the U.S. with information, Kevin Downing, a top DOJ lawyer said to a group of private and government lawyers at a conference in Washington. "It's a cottage industry right now," Downing said, declining to name specific banks that could be implicated.

UBS agreed last year to pay $780 million and hand over 4,450 client names to settle criminal and civil charges against the bank after it admitted it actively helped U.S. clients evade U.S. tax law. Germany has said it is prepared to pay for data offered by whistleblowers on clients of Swiss banks who may have been evading taxes, even if the information has been obtained illegally. Germany's move came after France, another key market for Swiss private banks, announced it had obtained sensitive data belonging to potential tax evaders, some of which belonged to the Swiss private banking operations of HSBC

Tax enforcement authorities around the world are coordinating activities on a greater basis than ever, lawyers said. "That data got into the hands of the IRS (Internal Revenue Service)," noted George Clarke, an attorney for wealthy clients at Miller Chevalier.

March 2, 2010

IRS announces limited FBAR reporting relief


Notice 2010-23, 2010-11 IRB
A new notice provides administrative relief to certain persons who may be required to file Form TD F 90-22.1, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR), for calendar year 2009 and earlier calendar years.
Background. 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 TD F 90-22.1, with the Department of the Treasury on or before June 30, of the succeeding year.
On Aug. 31, 2009 (see Federal Taxes Weekly Alert 08/13/2009), IRS published Notice 2009-62, 2009-35 IRB 260, which extended the filing deadline for (i) persons with no financial interest in a foreign financial account but with signature or other authority over that account (“signature authority”); and (ii) persons with a financial interest in, or signature authority over, a foreign financial account in which the assets are held in a commingled fund (“foreign commingled funds”). This extension was provided in order for the Treasury Department to have the time necessary to develop comprehensive FBAR guidance.
Since the issuance of Notice 2009-62, the Treasury Department has published proposed FBAR regs, as well as proposed revisions that clarify instructions for the FBAR (see next article below).
New relief. To provide taxpayers with guidance on who is required to file FBARs due on June 30, 2010, and in particular to provide immediate guidance to taxpayers on how to answer FBAR-related 2009 federal income tax return questions (e.g., Schedule B of Form 1040, the “Other Information” section of Form 1041, Schedule B of Form 1065, and Schedule N of Form 1120), IRS is providing the following administrative relief:
·       Signature authority. Persons with signature authority over, but no financial interest in, a foreign financial account for which a FBAR would otherwise have been due on June 30, 2010, will now have until June 30, 2011, to report those foreign financial accounts. This new deadline applies to FBARs reporting foreign financial accounts over which the person has signature authority, but no financial interest, for the 2010 and prior calendar years.
·       Certain foreign commingled funds. Persons with a financial interest in, or signature authority over, a foreign commingled fund that is a mutual fund are required to file a FBAR unless another filing exception, as provided in the FBAR instructions or other relevant guidance, applies. IRS won't interpret the term “commingled fund” as applying to funds other than mutual funds with respect to FBARs for calendar year 2009 and prior years. Thus, IRS won't apply its enforcement authority adversely to persons with a financial interest in, or signature authority over, any other foreign commingled fund with respect to that account for calendar year 2009 and earlier calendar years. A financial interest in, or signature authority over, a foreign hedge fund or private equity fund is included in this relief.
·       FBAR-related questions on federal tax forms. Provided the taxpayer has no other reportable foreign financial accounts for the year in question, a taxpayer who qualifies for the filing relief provided in Notice 2010-23 should check the “no” box in response to FBAR-related questions found on federal tax forms for 2009 and earlier years that ask about the existence of a financial interest in, or signature authority over, a foreign financial account.

Treasury proposes clarifications to FBAR reporting requirements


FinCEN’s Proposes Clarifications to Foreign Bank Accounts Report (FBAR):  http://www.fincen.gov/news_room/nr/pdf/20100226.pdf
The Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) recently issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposing to amend the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) implementing regs regarding the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR).

Background. The FBAR form is used to report a financial interest in, or signature or other authority over, one or more financial accounts in foreign countries. No report is required if the aggregate value of the accounts does not exceed $10,000. When filed, FBARs become part of the BSA database. They are used in combination with Suspicious Activity Reports, Currency Transaction Reports, and other BSA reports to provide law enforcement and regulatory investigators with valuable information to fight fraud, money laundering, terrorist financing, tax evasion and other financial crime.
FinCEN delegated the authority to enforce the FBAR rules and to amend the form to IRS in 2003. However, FinCEN retained the authority to revise the applicable regs.

Overview of proposed changes. The proposed regs would:

·       include provisions to prevent persons from avoiding reporting requirements;
·       define a U.S. person required to file the FBAR and define the types of reportable accounts such as bank, securities, and other financial accounts;

·       exempt certain persons with signature or other authority over, but no financial interest in, foreign financial accounts from filing FBARs;
·       exempt certain low-risk accounts e.g., the accounts of a government entity or instrumentality for which reporting wouldn't be required;
·       exempt participants/beneficiaries in certain types of retirement plans and include a similar exemption for certain trust beneficiaries;
·       clarify what it means for a person to have a financial interest in a foreign account;
·       permit summary filing by persons who have a financial interest in 25 or more foreign financial accounts, or signature or other authority over 25 or more foreign financial accounts; and
·       permits an entity to file a consolidated FBAR on behalf of itself and the subsidiaries of which it owns more than a 50% interest.
Filing requirement. The proposed regs would use a new term U.S. person to indicate persons that would be required to file an FBAR. A U.S. person would be defined as a citizen or resident of the U.S., or an entity, including but not limited to a corporation, partnership, trust or limited liability company, created, organized, or formed under the laws of the U.S., any state, the District of Columbia, the Territories and Insular Possessions of the U.S. or the Indian Tribes.
This definition would apply to an entity regardless of whether an election has been made under Reg. § 301.7701-2 or Reg. § 301.7701-3 to disregard the entity for federal income tax purposes. The determination of whether an individual is a U.S. resident would be made under Code Sec. 7701(b) and its regs except that the definition of the term “United States” provided in the FinCEN regs 31 CFR 103.11(nn) would be used instead of the definition of “United States” in Reg. § 301.7701(b)-1(c)(2)(ii). FinCEN believes that this approach is appropriate because it would provide for uniformity regardless of where in the United States an individual may be. In addition, it believes this approach would take into account that individuals may seek to hide their residency in an effort to obscure the source of their income or location of their assets.

Accounts subject to reporting. The regs would be amended to add definitions of the accounts subject to reporting. Bank account would be defined a savings deposit, demand deposit, checking, or any other account maintained with a person engaged in the business of banking. Securities account would be defined as an account maintained with a person in the business of buying, selling, holding, or trading stock or other securities. The proposed regs would define “other financial account” to mean:
·       An account with a person that is in the business of accepting deposits as a financial agency;

·       An account that is an insurance policy with a cash value or an annuity policy;
·       An account with a person that acts as a broker or dealer for futures or options transactions in any commodity on or subject to the rules of a commodity exchange or association; or
·       An account with a mutual fund or similar pooled fund which issues shares available to the general public that have a regular net asset value determination and regular redemptions