by Brian Mahany
That’s pretty much the headline from a CNBC article on Friday. And it’s true.
In 2009, 15,000 Americans came forward and admitted having foreign bank accounts. Unfortunately, Uncle Sam estimates there are some 500,000 more people hiding money offshore. Opening a bank account in another country isn’t illegal. There are a whole host of reasons why people may wish to send money offshore. It only becomes illegal when you send money to a foreign country in the hopes of cheating Uncle Sam.
U.S. law makes it a felony if you fail to declare the income from foreign investments on your U.S. tax return and makes it illegal to not disclose the existence of the foreign account.
So what is a person to do? Taxpayers can do nothing and hope they don’t lose the “audit lottery” (there are no winners with the IRS). Or taxpayers can come into compliance, report the account and pay the government ¼ of the highest dollar amount that was in the account. That’s right, if you had an account with $200,000 in it, get out the checkbook and write a check to the IRS for $50,000.
Taxpayers wanting to take advantage of the current amnesty program (called the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative) must move quickly, however. Unlike the 2009 program, which simply said you had to apply be the deadline, the current amnesty requires that all missing forms (“FBAR’s”), amended returns and payment must be made by the deadline. There is a great deal of paperwork involved with the new program, waiting until the last minute is a recipe for disaster.
Those that don’t comply face prison and loss of 50% of their highest account value.
So what is the risk of getting caught? We think it is quite high.
Transparency within the international banking community is at an all time high. And the developed countries are exchanging information. That means if Germany obtains information about accounts in a Bermuda bank it will likely share that information with other countries.
The U.S. has been issuing “John Doe” subpoenas to foreign banks fishing for the names of American account holders. Countries like Germany have been bribing foreign bank officials to simply steal the information and turn it over.
Still not convinced? The IRS paid its first award under the new whistleblower program – $4.5 million to an accountant who reported his employer! If anyone, anywhere knows you have a foreign account; they may report you and keep a large percentage of what you pay.
The world suddenly got much smaller.
Mahany & Ertl is a boutique law firm concentrating in tax resolution and fraud recovery. With offices in Milwaukee, Detroit and Portland, we help taxpayers anywhere within the U.S. and beyond. All calls are kept in strict confidence. Brian Mahany can be reached directly at (414) 704-6731 or at