FAQs – Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program
Q. Why did the IRS announce a new offshore voluntary disclosure program at this time?
A. The IRS’s prior Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program ( 2009 OVDP), and Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative ( 2011 OVDI), which closed on September 9, 2011, demonstrated the value of a uniform penalty structure for taxpayers who came forward voluntarily and reported their previously undisclosed foreign accounts and assets. These initiatives enabled the IRS to centralize the civil processing of offshore voluntary disclosures and to resolve a very large number of cases without examination. Because the IRS and Department of Justice offshore enforcement efforts are expected to continue raising the risk of detection of taxpayers with undisclosed foreign assets for the foreseeable future, it has been determined that a similar program should be available to taxpayers who wish to voluntarily disclose their offshore accounts and assets to avoid prosecution and limit their exposure to civil penalties but have not yet done so. Unlike the 2009 OVDP and the 2011 OVDI, there is no set deadline for taxpayers to apply. However, the terms of this program could change at any time going forward. For example, the IRS may increase penalties or limit eligibility in the program for all or some taxpayers or defined classes of taxpayers – or decide to end the program entirely at any point. This new program, the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) will be available until further notice to taxpayers who come forward and complete certain requirements. The terms of the program will also be offered to taxpayers who made offshore voluntary disclosures after the deadline for the 2011 OVDI
Q. What is the objective of this program?
A. The objective remains the same as the 2009 OVDP and 2011 OVDI – to bring taxpayers that have used undisclosed foreign accounts and undisclosed foreign entities to avoid or evade tax into compliance with United States tax laws.
Q. How does this program differ from the IRS’s longstanding voluntary disclosure practice or the 2009 OVDP and 2011 OVDI?
A. The Voluntary Disclosure Practice is a longstanding practice of IRS Criminal Investigation whereby CI takes timely, accurate, and complete voluntary disclosures into account in deciding whether to recommend to the Department of Justice that a taxpayer be criminally prosecuted. It enables noncompliant taxpayers to resolve their tax liabilities and minimize their chance of criminal prosecution. When a taxpayer truthfully, timely, and completely complies with all provisions of the voluntary disclosure practice, the IRS will not recommend criminal prosecution to the Department of Justice.
This current offshore voluntary disclosure program is a counter-part to Criminal Investigation’s Voluntary Disclosure Practice. Like its predecessors, the 2009 OVDP, which ran from March 23, 2009 through October 15, 2009, and the 2011 OVDI, which ran from February 8, 2011 through September 9, 2011, it addresses the civil side of a taxpayer’s voluntary disclosure of foreign accounts and assets by defining the number of tax years covered and setting the civil penalties that will apply. Unlike the 2009 OVDP and the 2011 OVDI, there is no set deadline for taxpayers to apply. However, the terms of this program could change at any time going forward. For example, the IRS may increase penalties or limit eligibility in the program for all or some taxpayers or defined classes of taxpayers – or decide to end the program entirely at any point.
Q. What are some of the civil penalties that might apply if I don’t come in under the OVPD and the IRS examines me? How do they work?
A. Depending on a taxpayer’s particular facts and circumstances, the following penalties could apply:
- A penalty for failing to file the Form TD F 90-22.1 (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, commonly known as an “FBAR”). United States citizens, residents and certain other persons must annually report their direct or indirect financial interest in, or signature authority (or other authority that is comparable to signature authority) over, a financial account that is maintained with a financial institution located in a foreign country if, for any calendar year, the aggregate value of all foreign accounts exceeded $10,000 at any time during the year. Generally, the civil penalty for willfully failing to file an FBAR can be as high as the greater of $100,000 or 50 percent of the total balance of the foreign account per violation. See 31 U.S.C. § 5321(a)(5). Non-willful violations that the IRS determines were not due to reasonable cause are subject to a $10,000 penalty per violation.
- Beginning with the 2011 tax year, a penalty for failing to file form 8938 reporting the taxpayer’s interest in certain foreign financial assets, including financial accounts, certain foreign securities and interests in foreign entities, as required by I.R.C. §6038D. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns is $10,000, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency, up to a maximum of $50,000 per return.
- A penalty for failing to file Form 3520, Annual Return to Report Transactions With Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts. Taxpayers must also report various transactions involving foreign trusts, including creation of a foreign trust by a United States person, transfers of property from a United States person to a foreign trust and receipt of distributions from foreign trusts under IRC § 6048.This return also reports the receipt of gifts from foreign entities under section 6039F.The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns, or for filing an incomplete return, is the greater of $10,000 or 35 percent of the gross reportable amount, except for returns reporting gifts, where the penalty is five percent of the gift per month, up to a maximum penalty of 25 percent of the gift.
- A penalty for failing to file Form 3520-A, Information Return of Foreign Trust With a U.S. Owner. Taxpayers must also report ownership interests in foreign trusts, by United States persons with various interests in and powers over those trusts under IRC § 6048(b).The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns or for filing an incomplete return, is the greater of $10,000 or 5 percent of the gross value of trust assets determined to be owned by the United States person.
- A penalty for failing to file Form 5471, Information Return of U.S. Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations. Certain United States persons who are officers, directors or shareholders in certain foreign corporations (including International Business Corporations) are required to report information under IRC §§ 6035, 6038 and 6046.The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns is $10,000, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency, up to a maximum of $50,000 per return.
- A penalty for failing to file Form 5472, Information Return of a 25% Foreign-Owned U.S. Corporation or a Foreign Corporation Engaged in a U.S. Trade or Business. Taxpayers may be required to report transactions between a 25 percent foreign-owned domestic corporation or a foreign corporation engaged in a trade or business in the United States and a related party as required by IRC §§ 6038A and 6038C. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns, or to keep certain records regarding reportable transactions, is $10,000, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency.
- A penalty for failing to file Form 926, Return by a U.S. Transferor of Property to a Foreign Corporation. Taxpayers are required to report transfers of property to foreign corporations and other information under IRC § 6038B. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns is ten percent of the value of the property transferred, up to a maximum of $100,000 per return, with no limit if the failure to report the transfer was intentional.
- A penalty for failing to file Form 8865, Return of U.S. Persons With Respect to Certain Foreign Partnerships. United States persons with certain interests in foreign partnerships use this form to report interests in and transactions of the foreign partnerships, transfers of property to the foreign partnerships, and acquisitions, dispositions and changes in foreign partnership interests under IRC §§ 6038, 6038B, and 6046A. Penalties include $10,000 for failure to file each return, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency, up to a maximum of $50,000 per return, and ten percent of the value of any transferred property that is not reported, subject to a $100,000 limit.
- Fraud penalties imposed under IRC §§ 6651(f) or 6663. Where an underpayment of tax, or a failure to file a tax return, is due to fraud, the taxpayer is liable for penalties that, although calculated differently, essentially amount to 75 percent of the unpaid tax.
- A penalty for failing to file a tax return imposed under IRC § 6651(a)(1). Generally, taxpayers are required to file income tax returns. If a taxpayer fails to do so, a penalty of 5 percent of the balance due, plus an additional 5 percent for each month or fraction thereof during which the failure continues may be imposed. The penalty shall not exceed 25 percent.
- A penalty for failing to pay the amount of tax shown on the return under IRC § 6651(a)(2). If a taxpayer fails to pay the amount of tax shown on the return, he or she may be liable for a penalty of .5 percent of the amount of tax shown on the return, plus an additional .5 percent for each additional month or fraction thereof that the amount remains unpaid, not exceeding 25 percent.
- An accuracy-related penalty on underpayments imposed under IRC § 6662. Depending upon which component of the accuracy-related penalty is applicable, a taxpayer may be liable for a 20 percent or 40 percent penalty.
Q. What are the requirements of the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program?
A. Under the terms of the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, taxpayers must:
- Provide copies of previously filed original (and, if applicable, previously filed amended) federal income tax returns for tax years covered by the voluntary disclosure;
- Provide complete and accurate amended federal income tax returns (for individuals, Form 1040X, or original Form 1040 if delinquent) for all tax years covered by the voluntary disclosure, with applicable schedules detailing the amount and type of previously unreported income from the account or entity (e.g., Schedule B for interest and dividends, Schedule D for capital gains and losses, Schedule E for income from partnerships, S corporations, estates or trusts and, for years after 2010, Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets).
- File complete and accurate original or amended offshore-related information returns (see FAQ 29 for certain dissolved entities) and Form TD F 90-22.1 (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, commonly known as an “FBAR”) for tax years covered by the voluntary disclosure;
- Cooperate in the voluntary disclosure process, including providing information on offshore financial accounts, institutions and facilitators, and signing agreements to extend the period of time for assessing Title 26 liabilities and FBAR penalties;
- Pay 20% accuracy-related penalties under IRC § 6662(a) on the full amount of your offshore-related underpayments of tax for all years;
- Pay failure to file penalties under IRC § 6651(a)(1), if applicable;
- Pay failure to pay penalties under IRC § 6651(a)(2), if applicable;
- Pay, in lieu of all other penalties that may apply to your undisclosed foreign assets and entities, including FBAR and offshore-related information return penalties and tax liabilities for years prior to the voluntary disclosure period, a miscellaneous Title 26 offshore penalty, equal to 27.5% (or in limited cases 12.5% (see FAQ 53) or 5% (see FAQ 52)) of the highest aggregate balance in foreign bank accounts/entities or value of foreign assets during the period covered by the voluntary disclosure;
- Submit full payment of any Title 26 tax liabilities for years included in the offshore disclosure period and all tax, interest, accuracy-related penalties for underpayments related to offshore accounts and entities, and, if applicable, the failure to file and failure to pay penalties with the required submissions set forth in FAQ 25 or make good faith arrangements with the IRS to pay in full, the tax, interest, and these penalties (see FAQ 20 for more information regarding a taxpayer’s ability to fully pay) (the suspension of interest provisions of IRC § 6404(g) do not apply to interest due in this program); and
- Execute a Closing Agreement on Final Determination Covering Specific Matters, Form 906.
- Agree to cooperate with IRS offshore enforcement efforts by providing information about offshore financial institutions, offshore service providers, and other facilitators, if requested.
- Provide the information listed in FAQ 54, if the taxpayer has a Canadian registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) or registered retirement income fund (RRIF), did not make a timely election pursuant to Article XVIII(7) of the U.S. – Canada income tax treaty to defer U.S. income tax on income earned by the RRSP or RRIF that has not been distributed, and would now like to make an election.
Q. What are my options if my account involves passive foreign investment company (PFIC) issues?
To date, a significant number of cases submitted under the 2009 OVDP and 2011 OVDI involve PFIC investments. A lack of historical information on the cost basis and holding period of many PFIC investments makes it difficult for taxpayers to prepare statutory PFIC computations and for the Service to verify them. As a result, resolution of voluntary disclosure cases could be unduly delayed. Therefore, for purposes of this program, the Service is offering taxpayers an alternative to the statutory PFIC computation that will resolve PFIC issues on a basis that is consistent with the Mark to Market (MTM) methodology authorized in Internal Revenue Code § 1296 but will not require complete reconstruction of historical data.
The terms of this alternative resolution are:
- If elected, the alternative resolution will apply to all PFIC investments in cases that have been accepted into this program. The initial MTM computation of gain or loss under this methodology will be for the first year of the OVDP application, but could be made after that year depending on when the first PFIC investment was made. For example, for the earliest disclosures under this program, the first year of the OVDP application will be the calendar year ending December 31, 2003. This will require a determination of the basis for every PFIC investment, which should be agreed between the taxpayer and the Service based on the best available evidence.
- A tax rate of 20% will be applied to the MTM gain(s), MTM net gain(s) and gains from all PFIC dispositions during the voluntary disclosure period under the OVDP, in lieu of the rate contained in IRC § 1291(a)(1)(B) for the amount allocable to the current year and IRC §1291(c)(2) for the deferred tax amount(s) allocable to any other taxable year.
- A rate of 7% of the tax computed for PFIC investments marked to market in the first year of the OVDP application will be added to the tax for that year, in lieu of the interest charge mechanism described in IRC §§ 1291(c) and 1296(j).
- MTM losses will be limited to unreversed inclusions (generally, previously reported MTM gains less allowed MTM losses) on an investment-by-investment basis in the same manner as IRC § 1296. During the voluntary disclosure period under the OVDP, these MTM losses will be treated as ordinary losses (IRC 1296(c)(1)(B)) and the tax benefit is limited to the tax rate applicable to the MTM gains derived during the voluntary disclosure period (20%). MTM and/or disposition losses in any subsequent year on PFIC assets with basis that was adjusted upward as a result of the alternate resolution in voluntary disclosure years, will be treated as capital losses. Any unreversed inclusions at the end of the voluntary disclosure period will be reduced to zero and the MTM method will be applied to all subsequent years in accordance with IRC § 1296 as if the taxpayer had acquired the PFIC stock on the last day of the last year of the voluntary disclosure period at its MTM value and made an IRC § 1296 election for the first year beginning after the voluntary disclosure period. Thus, any subsequent year losses on disposition of PFIC stock assets in excess of unreversed inclusions arising after the end of the voluntary disclosure period will be treated as capital losses.
- Regular and Alternative Minimum Tax are both to be computed without the PFIC dispositions or MTM gains and losses. The tax from the PFIC transactions (20% plus the 7% for the first year, if applicable) is added to (or subtracted from) the applicable total tax (either regular or AMT, whichever is higher). The tax and interest (i.e., the 7% for the first year of the voluntary disclosure) computed under the OVDP alternative MTM can be added to the applicable total tax (either regular or AMT, whichever is higher) and placed on the amended return in the margin, with a supporting schedule.
- Underpayment interest and penalties on the deficiency are computed in accordance with the Internal Revenue Code and the terms of the OVDP.
- For any PFIC investment retained beyond the voluntary disclosure period, the taxpayer must continue using the MTM method, but will apply the normal statutory rules of section 1296 as well as the provisions of IRC §§ 1291-1298, as applicable.
Before electing the alternative PFIC resolution, taxpayers with PFIC investments should consult their tax advisors to ensure that the issue is material in their cases and that the alternative is in fact preferable to the statutory computation in their situation. If the taxpayer does not elect to use the alternative PFIC computation, the PFIC provisions of §§ 1291-1298 apply.
Q. Who is eligible to make a voluntary disclosure under this program?
A. Taxpayers who have undisclosed offshore accounts or assets and meet the requirements of IRM 220.127.116.11 are eligible to apply for IRS Criminal Investigation’s Voluntary Disclosure Practice and the OVDP penalty regime. But see FAQ 21 for ways in which a taxpayer may be rendered ineligible.
Q. I’m currently under examination. Can I come in under voluntary disclosure?
A. No. If the IRS has initiated a civil examination, regardless of whether it relates to undisclosed foreign accounts or undisclosed foreign entities, the taxpayer will not be eligible to come in under the OVDP. Taxpayers under criminal investigation by CI are also ineligible. The taxpayer or the taxpayer’s representative should discuss the offshore accounts with the agent
Q. What if the taxpayer has already filed amended returns reporting the additional unreported offshore income, without making a voluntary disclosure (i.e. quiet disclosure)?
A. The IRS is aware that some taxpayers have attempted so-called “quiet” disclosures by filing amended returns and paying any related tax and interest for previously unreported offshore income without otherwise notifying the IRS. Taxpayers who have already made “quiet” disclosures are eligible to take advantage of the penalty framework applicable to this program by submitting an application, along with copies of their previously filed returns (original and amended) to the IRS’s Voluntary Disclosure Coordinator (see FAQ 24).
Taxpayers are strongly encouraged to come forward under the OVDP to make timely, accurate, and complete disclosures. Those taxpayers making “quiet” disclosures should be aware of the risk of being examined and potentially criminally prosecuted for all applicable years.