On February 8, the IRS announced that it is starting a new program designed to bring money held in foreign accounts back into the U.S. tax system and to help taxpayers with income from offshore accounts to comply with federal tax law. Under the program, taxpayers that disclose previously undisclosed foreign accounts and comply with the terms of the program can avoid otherwise applicable civil penalties and criminal prosecution.
The new 2011 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative will run through August 31, 2011. It is modeled on the IRS’ first offshore voluntary disclosure program, which ran in 2009. The first program resulted in voluntary disclosure by some 15,000 taxpayers. The IRS reports that another 3,000 have come forward since the end of that program.
The 2011 program handles penalties differently than the first program did, and it requires participants to report and pay taxes for eight years instead of the six years required in the first program. Under the 2011 program, taxpayers will pay a penalty of 25% of the highest aggregate account balance in the taxpayer’s foreign bank accounts during the years 2003 to 2010. This penalty is in lieu of all other penalties that might apply, except for the failure to file, failure to pay, and accuracy-related penalties.
Individuals with offshore accounts or assets of less than $75,000 in any calendar year covered by the 2011 initiative will qualify for a 12.5% penalty rate. Some taxpayers will qualify for a 5% rate, but only in narrow circumstances, including the case of foreign residents who are unaware that they are U.S. citizens.
Participants in the program must pay back taxes and interest for up to eight years as well as pay accuracy-related and/or delinquency penalties. They must file all original and amended tax returns for the affected years and include payment for taxes, interest and accuracy-related penalties by the August 31 deadline.
The IRS has also issued 52 questions and answers that give extensive details about the 2011 program and about the civil and criminal penalties that may apply to taxpayers that do not come forward voluntarily.