Thursday, August 16, 2012

New Plan for U.S. Expats to Comply With The IRS

There is good tax news for many U.S. expats and dual citizens. Beginning September 1st, the IRS is starting a new program allowing many expats to catch-up on late tax returns and late FBARs without penalties.
This new program is different from the “Offshore Voluntary Disclosure” programs of the last few years. For one thing, this program is more geared to an average expat. Secondly, and more important to the target audience of the OVD programs, this program does not offer protection from criminal prosecution. That is likely a nonissue to an average expat who has been living and working in a foreign country for several years and has not been trying to hide income or assets from the U.S.
Under this new program, an expat will file 3 years of income tax returns and 6 years of FBARs. This is much better than the 8 years of income tax returns and 8 years of FBARs for OVD program participants.
All returns filed under this program will be reviewed by the IRS, but the IRS will divide the returns into two categories:
Low Risk – These will be simple tax returns, defined as expats living and working in foreign countries, paying foreign taxes, having a limited number of investments and owing U.S. tax of less than $1,500 for each year. Low risk taxpayers will get a pass – they will pay taxes and interest but no penalties.
NOTE: When you consider that the expat will receive a foreign tax credit for taxes paid the resident country, it is very possible that there will be NO U.S. tax.
 Higher Risk – These will be more complicated returns with higher incomes, significant economic activity in the U.S., or returns otherwise evidencing sophisticated tax planning. These returns will not qualify for the program and (likely) will be audited by the IRS. This is NOT the way to go if there is any concern about criminal prosecution. However, it MAY BE the way to go if concern over criminal prosecution is minimal. Why? The wildcard is the penalties. Under OVDP a 27.5% penalty is (virtually) automatic. Under this new program the IRS may waive penalties if one presents reasonable cause for noncompliance.
NOTE: This is one of the biggest complaints about the OVD program and its predecessors: the concept of “reasonable cause” does not apply. The IRS consequently will not mitigate OVD penalties. This may have made sense for multimillionaires at UBS, but it does not make sense for many of the expats swept-up by an outsized IRS dragnet.
The IRS has also announced that the new program will allow resolution of certain tax issues with foreign retirement plans. The IRS got itself into a trap by not recognizing certain foreign plans as the equivalent of a U.S. IRA. This created nasty tax problems, since contributions to such plans would not be deductible (under U.S. tax law) and earnings in such plans would not be tax-deferred (under U.S. tax law). You had the bizarre result of a Canadian IRA that was taxable in the U.S.
QUESTION: If your tax preparer had told you that this was the tax result of your Canadian RSSP, would you have believed him/her? Would you have questioned their competency? Sadly, they would have been right.

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