The Internal Revenue Service released details of its plan to show some leniency on the penalties for failure to file tax returns and Foreign Bank Account Reports for the American citizens living abroad.
Following the comments made last week by the U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson, the Internal Revenue Service posted on its website Information for U.S. Citizens or Dual Citizens Residing Outside the U.S. The fact sheet largely confirms that no penalties will be imposed on late returns where no tax is due and failure to file required bank account information will also be forgiven for “reasonable cause.”
It should be noted that the IRS does not grant a blank forgiveness of the penalties, but discusses what may constitute “reasonable cause”.
With respect to a failure to file or failure to pay, reasonable cause is based on a consideration of all the facts and circumstances. Reasonable cause relief is generally granted by the IRS when you demonstrate that you exercised ordinary business care and prudence in meeting your tax obligations but nevertheless failed to meet them. In determining whether you exercised ordinary business care and prudence, the IRS will consider all available information, including:
- The reasons given for not meeting your tax obligations;
- Your compliance history;
- The length of time between your failure to meet your tax obligations and your subsequent compliance; and
- Circumstances beyond your control.
Reasonable cause may be established if you show that you were not aware of specific obligations to file returns or pay taxes, depending on the facts and circumstances. Among the facts and circumstances that will be considered are:
- Your education;
- Whether you have previously been subject to the tax;
- Whether you have been penalized before;
- Whether there were recent changes in the tax forms or law that you could not reasonably be expected to know; and
- The level of complexity of a tax or compliance issue.
You may have reasonable cause for noncompliance due to ignorance of the law if a reasonable and good faith effort was made to comply with the law or you were unaware of the requirement and could not reasonably be expected to know of the requirement.
If you fail to file an FBAR, in the absence of reasonable cause, you may be subject to either a willful or non-willful civil penalty. Generally, the civil penalty for willfully failing to file an FBAR can be up to the greater of $100,000 or 50 percent of the total balance of the foreign account at the time of the violation. See 31 U.S.C. § 5321(a)(5). Note that this penalty is applicable only in cases in which there is willful intent to avoid filing. Non-willful violations that the IRS determines are not due to reasonable cause are subject to a penalty of up to $10,000 per violation. There is no penalty in the case of a violation that IRS determines was due to reasonable cause.
Factors that might weigh in favor of a determination that an FBAR violation was due to reasonable cause include reliance upon the advice of a professional tax advisor who was informed of the existence of the foreign financial account, that the unreported account was established for a legitimate purpose and there were no indications of efforts taken to intentionally conceal the reporting of income or assets, and that there was no tax deficiency (or there was a tax deficiency but the amount was de minimis) related to the unreported foreign account. There may be factors in addition to those listed that weigh in favor of a determination that a violation was due to reasonable cause. No single factor is determinative.
Factors that might weigh against a determination that an FBAR violation was due to reasonable cause include whether the taxpayer’s background and education indicate that he should have known of the FBAR reporting requirements, whether there was a tax deficiency related to the unreported foreign account, and whether the taxpayer failed to disclose the existence of the account to the person preparing his tax return. As with factors that might weigh in favor of a determination that an FBAR violation was due to reasonable cause, there may be other factors that weigh against a determination that a violation was due to reasonable cause. No single factor is determinative.
Current IRS procedures state that an examiner may determine that the facts and circumstances of a particular case do not justify asserting a penalty and that instead an examiner should issue a warning letter. See IRM 4.26.16, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR). The IRS has established penalty mitigation guidelines, but examiners may determine that a penalty is not appropriate or that a lesser (or greater) penalty amount than the guidelines would otherwise provide is appropriate. Examiners are instructed to consider whether compliance objectives would be achieved by issuance of a warning letter; whether the person who committed the violation had been previously issued a warning letter or has been assessed the FBAR penalty; the nature of the violation and the amounts involved; and the cooperation of the taxpayer during the examination.