What is a “Willful” Failure to Disclose Offshore Bank Account

This is the central question as to whether a taxpayer enters Offshore Voluntary Disclosure or Streamline.  It also fixes potential penalties under 31 U.S.C. §5321.

31 U.S.C. 5314 is the statute that requires reporting of foreign bank accounts.  Pursuant to the statute, reporting is required by the following:

  1. a United States Citizen,
  2. a resident of the United States or
  3. a person in, and doing business in the United States.

Incidentally, the term “person” has broad meaning, which includes corporations.

Pursuant to 31 U.S.C. §5321, the amount of penalty shall not exceed $10,000 unless the case is “willful“.  In cases of willfulness, the maximum penalty increases to the greater of  $100,000 or 50 percent of the account balance.  It is also noteworthy that, pursuant to subsection (d), a criminal penalty may be stacked on top of this civil penalty.

A lot is riding on the meaning of “willful” so let’s turn our focus to it.  If you would like to read what is required of the Secretary of Treasure to prove an FBAR case, click here to read the 7 elements.

Legal standard and Burden of Proof

To affix the civil penalty under 31 U.S.C. §5321 the Secretary of Treasury must establish willfulness by the preponderance of the evidence.  This is a lower standard than beyond a reasonable doubt.  The Burden of Proof is on the United States Government.

Meaning of “Willful”

31 U.S.C. §5321 does not define “willful”.  In United States of America v. McBride, 908 F. Supp. 1186 (D.Utah 2012), The United State District Court analyzed the meaning of “willful” as it is used in 31 U.S.C. §5321.  The Court gave heavy weight to the fact that taxpayer signed the tax return.

Signature alone is sufficient proof of a taxpayer’s knowledge of the instructions contained in the tax return form and in other contexts, the Court stated.  This is an inference of “willful” conduct by mere signature alone. The Court went on to analyze the proposition that signature by itself does not prove knowledge, but knowledge may be inferred from the signature and the signature is prima facie evidence that the signer knows the contents of the return.

In either case, taxpayer’s signature shifts the burden of proof to taxpayer to prove non-willfulness.  The Court held that knowledge of the law, including knowledge of the FBAR, requirements, is imputed to taxpayer, which is sufficient to inform taxpayer of the requirement to file Form TD F 90-22.1.  The Court held that signature alone imputed knowledge to taxpayer of the FBAR requirement.

It is noteworthy that the Court analyzed taxpayer’s credibility in detail.  Taxpayer alleged that he did not know he had a legal duty to file FBAR’s, which is common and understandable assertion.  Rather than just dismiss this argument on the basis of his signature on tax return, the Court found taxpayer not credible because of prior testimonial inconsistencies.

Implicitly, there is a defense that taxpayer did not know of FBAR requirements despite signature on a tax return.  After all a signature is prima facie evidence of willfulness, not the end-all and be-all of willfulness.

In the end, “willfulness” is determined by the facts and circumstances of each case that must be analyzed in the context of that particular time period in question.

 

Accuracy Related Penalty IRC 6662(a): 5 Tips

5 Tips by Tax Lawyer Philip Falco:

  1. Scan all of your receipts and email the questionable expenses to your CPA for review.
  2. Keep a mileage log and provide the actual log to your CPA.  Telling your CPA what your mileage was is not enough to avoid the IRC 6662(a) accuracy related penalty.
  3. Work with a CPA who has integrity and who will be willing to “fall on the knife” if he gave you incorrect tax advice.  Everyone makes mistakes, not everyone is willing to own up to them.
  4. Categorize your expenses all year long.  If you are not sure if something is a business expense, ask right away and properly categorize it.  It is up to the taxpayer to show the IRS you properly categorized an expense.  This seems simple but is subtly complex.  The IRS will willingly categorize an expense as personal unless taxpayer shows otherwise.
  5. Evidence is the name of the tax game.  In the digital age, there is no excuse for not archiving old receipts.  These documents can be critically important many years down the road.  Keep them, especially those pertaining to rental real estate (purchase, improvements) and business expenses.  Really any real estate evidence should be archived since an owner occupied real estate holding can be converted to a rental.  If so, adjusted basis (ex depreciation) becomes very important.

Accuracy Related Penalty IRC 6662(a)

Section 6662(a) imposes an accuracy-related penalty equal to 20% of the underpayment to which section 6662 applies. Section 6662 applies to the portion of any underpayment which is attributable to, among other things, negligence or disregard of rules or regulations. Sec. 6662(b)(1).  Underpayment of tax is typically attributable to negligence.

IRC Section 6662(c) provides that “[f]or purposes of section 6662, the term ‘negligence’ includes any failure to make a reasonable attempt to comply with the provisions of the Code, and the term ‘disregard’ includes any careless, reckless, or intentional disregard.”

Negligence also includes any failure to exercise ordinary and reasonable care in the preparation of a tax return or any failure to keep adequate books and records and to properly substantiate items. Sec. 1.6662-3(b)(1), Income Tax Regs.

Burden of Proof

Section 7491(c) provides that the Commissioner bears the “burden of production” with regard to penalties and must come forward with sufficient evidence indicating that it is appropriate to impose the penalty. See Higbee v. Commissioner, 116 T.C. 438, 446 (2001). Once the Commissioner meets his “burden of production”, however, the “burden of proof” remains with the taxpayer, including the burden of proving that the penalty is inappropriate because of reasonable cause under section 6664. See Rule 142(a); Higbee v. Commissioner, 116 T.C. at 446-447.

Exception: Reasonable Cause for Taxpayer’s Position

Section 6664(c)(1) provides that the penalty under section 6662(a) shall not apply to any portion of an underpayment if it is shown that there was reasonable cause for the taxpayer’s position and that the taxpayer acted in good faith with respect to that portion. See Higbee v. Commissioner, 116 T.C. at 448. The determination of whether the taxpayer acted with reasonable cause and in good faith is made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all the pertinent facts and circumstances. Sec. 1.6664-4(b)(1), Income Tax Regs. Petitioners have the burden of proving that the penalty is inappropriate because of reasonable cause under section 6664. See Rule 142(a); Higbee v. Commissioner, 116 T.C. at 446-447.

Reasonable cause can be reliance on a CPA’s tax advice.  However, For reliance to be reasonable, “the taxpayer must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the taxpayer meets each requirement of the following three prong test: (1) The adviser was a competent professional who had sufficient expertise to justify reliance, (2) the taxpayer provided necessary and accurate information to the adviser, and (3) the taxpayer actually relied in good faith on the adviser’s judgment.” Neonatology Assocs., P.A. v. Commissioner, 115 T.C. at 99.

As an example, if a taxpayer tells his CPA about mileage without also giving the CPA a mileage log, this has been held to be not sufficient, and the accuracy related penalty was imposed.

It is up to the taxpayer to show that he provided his CPA with sufficient documentation of a deduction.

Practical Effect: Your CPA will have to write a letter to the IRS, be interviewed by the IRS, or testify in Tax Court (or US District Court) to adequately present this approach.

Meticulous bookkeeping is critical for taxpayers in the 21st Century.  Please feel free to ask us about our bookkeeping, accounting, and tax services.

Breaking News: IRS Changes to the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP)

IRS Reduces OVDP Penalty to 5% in non-willful offshore compliance cases.

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.

Other positive changes for taxpayers living in the United States:

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

The IRS increases its effort to make OVDP accessible to everyone.  This is a step in the right direction.  The goal is to get taxpayers in compliance.

Non-willful conduct is conduct that is due to negligence, inadvertence, or mistake or conduct that is the result of a good faith misunderstanding of the requirements of the law.

Other good news: If you made an OVDP submission prior to July 1, 2014 you may elect to have your case considered under Streamline so long as a closing agreement has not been executed.

We specialize in Offshore Account Compliance. We represent taxpayers entering the 2012 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative Program (OVDP)

See our page on OVDP / OVDI

Please contact Tax Attorney Philip Falco, Attorney, CPA to discuss these new measures and how they apply to you (303) 626-7000.

 

Tax Compliance Check-Up

For Individuals, Small Businesses, Corporations, Partnerships, and Limited Liability Companies

Tax Compliance Checkup-Up by Tax Attorney Philip Falco, Attorney, CPA

As a licensed CPA and an Attorney, my office has direct IRS e-services. We can quickly find out what is not making you or your company tax compliant.

For example, an old unfiled tax return, a quarterly filing, or an IRS Form 940 might not have been filed at some point in time. You might not even know that the IRS has the non-compliance flagged until it is too late.  We can nip this in the bud and get you in 100% compliance.  We also provide tax preparation services so we can actually prepare your unfiled returns for you.

This service can help minimize exposure to an IRS Audit, issues with Unfiled Tax Returns, and Criminal Tax indictment.

Give us a call if you would like us to do a tax check-up for you (303) 626-7000.