Category Archives: FBAR

Start with “The Little Red FBAR Book”
https://citizenshipsolutions.ca/ina-349/little-red-fbar-book/

https://twitter.com/ExpatriationLaw/status/1738738842763411716

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General Commentary

The FinCEN 114 AKA FBAR requirement is NOT part of the Internal Revenue Code. Rather it is found in 31 U.S. Code § 5314. Interestingly the statute authorizes the Treasury Secretary to create the rules and reporting thresholds. The relevant Treasury regulation is 1010.350 and is found here.

The history and law of FBAR is found in the article from the American Expat Financial News Journal which features a video of John Richardson and Virginia Law Torre Jeker discussing Mr. FBAR.

A number of blog posts discussing FBAR is available here.

If you wish advice on your specific situation, feel free to book a consultation with me:

https://calendly.com/renounceuscitizenship

Americans Abroad Have Until April 29, 2024 To Tell FinCEN Why They Should Be Exempt From FBAR

Outline

To learn more about Mr. FBAR, I invite you to watch the following discussion with U.S. tax lawyer Virginia La Torre Jeker.

Part 1 – Introducing Mr. FBAR – Looking For Mr. FBAR
Part 2 – 2011 – Financial Crimes, FBAR and Americans Abroad – Perspective From The Isaac Brock Society
Part 3 – 2020 – Financial Crimes, FBAR and Americans Abroad – Comments From Americans Abroad And Treasury’s Answer
Part 4 – 2024 – Financial Crimes, FBAR and Americans Abroad – Americans abroad need to keep commenting
Part 5 – What should you include in your comment?
Appendix – Treasury’s 2021 response to the comments of Americans abroad

To cut to the chase:

Pursuant to 31 U.S. Code § 5314 the Treasury Secretary has the clear statutory authority to exempt Americans abroad from the FinCEN 114 AKA FBAR reporting requirements. The statutory language is:

(b)The Secretary may prescribe—
(1)a reasonable classification of persons subject to or exempt from a requirement under this section or a regulation under this section;

Therefore, it is important to make your views known to Treasury!

Treasury has provided another opportunity (the last one was in 2020) for Americans abroad to comment directly on the FinCEN 114 AKA FBAR requirement. I strongly recommend that Americans abroad take this opportunity to comment on the appropriateness of FBAR being required for the local bank comments of Americans abroad.

The site requesting comments is here..

A direct link to the place where you comment is here:

https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/PRA/icrPublicCommentRequest?ref_nbr=202403-1506-001&fbclid=IwAR3onw_sIYUYJUPs7FE2peIqHvstLp6GWznHz_ES3wC3a3V9HS7YFcZJB94_aem_AZ4juvxyHvLGAFVzYZYrCQ13We1R4LDFI_ajzrZ1EVldNPEGw2Z8jNAb397dlqBeaGzAxjXeEySvXWDbPMjth6tv

Those who are interested in learning more, read on … Otherwise please go directly to the comment page.

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US Citizens Abroad – Discussion: Sunday January 21, 2024 – 13:00 – Prague Czech Republic (and London, UK – Jan. 17 – 18:30)

U.S. Citizens and Green Card Holders Abroad!!

Update – … London, UK too

I will be in London on Wednesday January 17, 2024. Since I am already there, I am happy to connect with London residents who wish to discuss all things related to surviving as a U.S. citizen living outside the USA. The session is:

When: Wednesday January 17, 2024 – 18:00 – 20:00

Where: Pret A Manger 18:00 – The Sutton Arms – first floor wine room – 6 Carthusian Street, London – EC1M 6EB

Registration for the London session: Please send me an email to: citizenshipsolutions@protonmail.com

Just tell me me your name and indicate that you wish to attend.

Read on to learn what these events/discussions are about.

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Prague – Sunday January 21, 2024 – Livestream or attend live in Prague

Read on …

An appropriate New Year message …

Are you …

frustrated with the U.S. policy of citizenship taxation?

disappointed with the progress in achieving a change in the law?

fed up with being asked for your vote with no candidates representing your interests?

– finding it difficult to understand what it means to be in compliance?

– finding you cannot afford U.S. tax compliance?

forced to plead GILTI for running a small business?

experiencing further FATCA related problems?

wondering if/when the USA will join the rest of the world by adopting residence taxation?

– concerned that this may impact your non-citizen spouse and family?

– worried about how to plan for retirement?

– worried about estate planning?

– considering renunciation of U.S. citizenship?

These topics and more …

Don’t miss this opportunity to engage in discussion with people who live with the constant of anxiety of being a U.S. citizen living outside the United States. (Green Card holders are welcome too …)

Speaker: John RichardsonToronto based expatriation lawyer, co-founder of SEAT, blogger at CitizenshipSolutions.ca, Commentator on X.com/ExpatriationLaw

When: Sunday January 21, 2024 – 13:00

Where: Brix bar & Hostel, Rohacova 132/15, Prague 3 Žižkov

Cost: 200CZK – includes lunch

Registration:

In order to register please email:

g.smith@brixhostel.com

We look forward to a great (nonpartisan) discussion!

Interviews with @MyLatinLIfe: Digital Nomad Issues (including taxation for US citizens)

Between March and May of 2023 I had three discussion/podcasts with “Vance” of MyLatinLife.com.

I have put them all in one post. They will be of interest to “Digital Nomads” and “Remote Workers” generally.

Interview 1:

Interview 2:

Interview 3:

John Richardson – Follow me on Twitter @Expatriationlaw

#FBAR Decision: Bittner Wins! Non-willful Civil Penalty Restricted Based On The One Form And Not On Each Account

On November 2, 2022 the Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments in the Bittner FBAR case. I have previously written about this case here and here. An audio of the oral argument at the Supreme Court (along with commentary) is here. On February 28, 2023 the Court issued it’s ruling.

The issue was whether:

In assessing non-willful civil FBAR penalties the government is restricted to imposing one penalty for failing to file an accurate FBAR form or may the government impose a separate penalty for each mistake related to each account. In other words, is the penalty based on the failure to file a correct form or is a separate penalty allowed for each mistake in relation to the form?

Interestingly and notably the Gorsuch majority decision specifically notes that the period in which the FBAR penalties were assessed were for years that Mr. Bittner was living in Romania. There is no acknowledgment of this in the Barrett dissent!! In addition, Ms. Boyd (of 9th Circuit fame) was also assessed penalties for the years she was living in the UK! To be clear: this decision is very relevant for Americans abroad!!

The court’s decision
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U.S. FBAR And Form 8938 Penalties May Be A Bigger Problem For U.S. Residents Than Canada’s Underused Housing Tax

Introduction

Canada’s Underused Property Tax came into force effective January 1, 2022. The return for the 2022 year is due on April 30, 2023. Generally, a tax of 1% of the value of the property will be imposed on the owners of property that are not occupied in an acceptable manner (principal residence or rented out) for at least six months of the year. The rules are drafted in a way that would appear to exclude short term rentals (think AirBNB) from meeting the test for “occupancy”. In addition, individuals who are are neither Canadian Citizens nor Permanent Resident are (1) required to file a return and (2) may (depending on whether the property meets the test for occupancy) be subject to the 1% tax. To put it simply: U.S. Citizens and Residents May Be Subject to “Canada’s Underused Property Tax”. New York Congressman Brian Higgins is been very active in drawing attention to the unfairness of “Canada’s Underused Property Tax” being applied to U.S. citizens. He has launched a public and visible campaign to pressure the Government of Canada to offer an exemption to U.S. citizens.

The basic structure of Canada’s “Underused Housing Tax”

In contrast to the Municipal (Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver) “Vacant Home Taxes“, Canada’s Underused Property Tax is complicated. It is likely that those required to file the return will need assistance.

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Part 7: US Supreme Court Denies Toth Cert Petition. Justice Gorsuch Invites Lower Courts To Consider Constitutionality of FBAR Penalties

Prologue – Before The Supreme Court – The Background To The Toth FBAR Case

This Is Post 7 in a series of posts describing the statutory and regulatory history of Mr. FBAR.

These posts are organized on the page “The Little Red FBAR Book“.*

Historically the strength of America has been found in its moral authority. As President Clinton once said:

“People are more impressed by the power of our example rather than the example of our power…”

The FBAR penalty imposed on Ms. Toth is an example of the legal power to impose penalty and NOT an example of the restraint on power and the application of law in a just way. I have heard it said that when a person (and by extension country) loses its character it has lost everything.

The Story Of Monica Toth – Three Perspectives

Perspective 1: The story of Ms. Toth’s encounter with Mr. FBAR as described by Justice Gorsuch in his dissent:

In the 1930s, Monica Toth’s father fled his home in Germany to escape the swell of violent antisemitism. Eventually, he found his way to South America, where he made a new life with his young family and went on to enjoy a successful business career in Buenos Aires. But perhaps owing to his early formative experiences, Ms. Toth’s father always kept a reserve of funds in a Swiss bank account. Shortly before his death, he gave Ms. Toth several million dollars, also in a Swiss bank account. He encouraged his daughter to keep the money there—just in case.

Ms. Toth, now in her eighties and an American citizen, followed her father’s advice. For several years, however, she failed to report her foreign bank account to the federal government as the law requires. 31 U. S. C. §5314. Ms. Toth insists this was an innocent mistake. She says she did not know of the reporting obligation. And when she learned of it, she says, she completed the necessary disclosures. The Internal Revenue Service saw things differently.

Pursuant to §5321, the agency charged Ms. Toth with willfully violating §5314’s reporting requirement and assessed a civil penalty of $2.1 million—half of the balance of Ms. Toth’s account—plus another $1 million in late fees and interest.

Perspective 2: The issue in the Toth case as described in a September 20, 2022 post:

The penalty imposed on Ms.Toth was dependent on a finding of “willfulness”. “Willfulness” is a question of fact to be determined by the court. In the Toth case the District court deemed Ms. Toth to be “willful” as a court imposed sanction. There was no independent evaluation of the facts to determine whether she was “willful”. Absent an independent evaluation of the facts, can there ever be a finding of willfulness necessary to support the 50% account penalty?

Perspective 3: The August 26, 2022 PETITION FOR A WRIT OF CERTIORARI to the Supreme Court of The United States described the issue as follows:

QUESTION PRESENTED

The Bank Secrecy Act and implementing regulations require U.S. persons to file an annual report — called an FBAR — if they have foreign bank accounts containing more than ten thousand dollars. The maximum civil penalty for willfully failing to file the report is either $100,000 or half the balance in the unreported account, whichever sum is greater. 31 U.S.C. § 5321(a)(5)(C)-(D). Using this formula, the government imposed on petitioner a civil penalty of $2,173,703.00.

The question presented is whether civil penalties imposed under 31 U.S.C. § 5321(a)(5)(C)-(D) — penalties that are avowedly deterrent and noncompensatory — are subject to the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause.

Eighth Amendment Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

The indisputable facts include (but are not limited to) that, Mr. FBAR is being used to confiscate approximately two million dollars of a Swiss Bank account with a balance of approximately four million dollars. The account was owned by an 82 year old woman and was funded by money received from her father in Argentina. The account was initially funded by money that was NOT and never was subject to US taxation. The penalty was based on the penalty for failing to file an FBAR. In addition, the necessary condition of “willfulness” was based on a court sanction and NOT on an independent evaluation of the facts.

These facts resulted in Ms. Toth’s encounter with Mr. FBAR in the penalty zone!

The Supreme Court Response – January 23, 2023:

I had the opportunity to discuss the decision in a podcast with Dubai based lawyer Virgina La Torre Jeker.

On January 23, 2023 the Supreme Court of the United States (Justice Gorsuch dissenting) denied the cert petition. In other words, the court declined to consider whether Ms. Toth’s 2 million willful civil FBAR penalty, based on a 4 million Swiss bank account balance, violated the “Excessive Fines” clause of the eighth amendment. (The effect of the court’s decision to NOT hear the case means that the US government is now – through the law of FBAR – in a position to confiscate two million from Ms. Toth. But,”It’s The Law”.)

More broadly and abstractly, the refusal to grant the cert petition means that the court refused to hear the case. The court’s refusal to hear the case is NOT equivalent to a ruling that civil willful FBAR penalty is constitutional. It means only that the Supreme Court of the United States will NOT be the court (at least as of January 23, 2023) to decide the issue. In his dissent Justice Gorsuch reinforces this point (and invites lower courts to consider the issue) by writing:

For all these reasons, taking up this case would have been well worth our time. As things stand, one can only hope that other lower courts will not repeat its mistakes.

Nevertheless, the court’s refusal to hear the Toth case will likely be interpreted:

– by the IRS (and other government agencies) as a license to continue a growing penchant to impose punitive FBAR penalties in general and engage in civil forfeiture in particular

– by the public as a continuing signal that there is a clear distinction between the interpretation of law and the application of justice and never shall the twain meet

– by the legal profession that the penalties under Title 31 are a subset of civil forfeiture penalties in general

– by the international community as further confirmation that the United States is a country lacking proportionality between violations of the law and the penalties imposed

Interestingly and significantly Justice Gorsuch penned a vigorous dissent*. In this dissent he took the time to describe the facts, describe the history of penalty in the United States and to explain why the court should have agreed to hear the Toth appeal. Justice Gorsuch appeared to rely on an amicus curie brief filed by California law professor Beth A. Colgan**. Excerpts from both are included as Appendixes *A and **B to this post.

One is left with the impression that:

Justice Gorsuch is an island of justice and sanity in an ocean of unfairness, injustice and insanity.

The world eagerly awaits the Supreme Court’s decision in the Bittner FBAR case!

John Richardson – Follow me on Twitter @Expatriationlaw

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11 Key Moments In The Supreme Court’s Engagement During The Bittner #FBAR Fundraiser Argument

Introduction

On November 2, 2022 the Supreme Court of the United States heard the appeal in the case of:

ALEXANDRU BITTNER, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES, Respondent

On November 2, 2022 the Supreme Court Of The United States heard the Bittner case. The issue was whether in the context of a non-willful FBAR penalty:

1) The government is restricted to imposing one penalty based on the failure to file one FBAR; or

2) The government is authorized to impose one non-willful penalty for each of the accounts that should have been reported on the single FBAR form.

For example, let’s imagine that a US citizen has ten accounts that are “foreign” and he fails to file an FBAR form. Is the penalty based on the failure to file the form itself (one form means one $10,000 penalty)? Or may the government impose a penalty based on the failure to disclose each of the accounts on the FBAR form (10 times $10,000 = $100,000)?

Mr. Bitter is/was a dual US Romanian citizen who was living in Romania during the years that the FBAR penalties were imposed. According to the closing comments of his lawyer, Mr. Bittner (while living in Romania) had filed US tax returns for years that he had a business connection to the United States (apparently investing in a relative’s business in California). In other words, there is some evidence that Mr. Bittner was not fully aware that as a US citizen, his US tax and reporting obligations applied even when he did not live in the United States. In any case, Mr. Bitter argues that he should have received one $10,000 penalty for each of the five years ($50,000). The government imposed penalties of 2.7 million dollars based on a failure to report 52 accounts.

On Wednesday November 2, 2022 the Supreme Court of the United States heard argument on the “per account vs. per form” issue.

A transcript of the arguments is here:

http://citizenshipsolutions.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/21-1195_5i36.pdf

A post describing the background and some initial discussion is here.

The briefs are available here.

Purpose of this post

The purpose of this post is to identify the questions and dialogue with counsel that suggest which areas the Justices found most important, interesting and troubling. Although one cannot predict the outcome, the dialogue suggests the following three broad themes and areas of concern:

First: Many of the Justices had difficulty agreeing (based on the plain text of 5314) with the Government’s claim that it can impose a separate FBAR penalty based on and only on a failure to report each account. Justices Jackson, Gorsuch and Thomas appeared to be the strongest advocates of this position. (Justices Kagan and Sotomayor comprised the most vocal opposition.)

JR Comment: The issue is whether the Justices will decide the case based on what the statute actually says (which favors the per account interpretation) or based on what they think Congress “might have intended” in the complete legislative scheme. The legal arguments for the “per form” penalty were compelling.

Second: A number of the Justices were clearly troubled by the their view that the “per form” penalty would mean that all non-willful FBAR penalty violators would be assessed penalties based on the “form”. Basing the penalty on and only on single form, would mean that a $10,000 penalty would be the maximum non-willful penalty regardless of the facts. Should a person who fails to report one simple checking account be assessed the same penalty as someone with millions of dollars and multiple accounts? Justices Roberts and Kagan seemed particularly focussed on this issue. (See the audio clip of Justice Roberts below.)

JR Comment: Interestingly the hearing did not discuss (in the question and answer) that non-willful violators can be assessed ZERO penalties. My impression was that the argument proceeded on the basis that the $10,000 penalty was the default penalty for the failure either file the form or report the account. The default penalty is NOT $10,000. The language of 5321(1)((5) includes: “Except as provided in subparagraph (C), the amount of any civil penalty imposed under subparagraph (A) shall not exceed $10,000. Neither the assessment of penalties NOR the $10,000 penalty is automatically assessed. My point is that the statute does allow for the calibration of penalties based on the facts of the case.

Third: The court expressed concern over whether “reasonable cause” really was a defence to a civil non-willful penalty assessment. Presumably if “reasonable cause” were a defence, it would serve the purpose of appropriately calibrating penalties. See the clips of Justices Alito, Gorsuch and Jackson below. The concern appeared to be: Does the “reasonable cause” defence work in practical application?

JR Comment: Does the existence of “reasonable cause” make it easier for the Justices to rule that a “per account” penalty may be permitted? Alternatively were the Justices simply concerned by the draconian potential of the penalties?

These are the three “pieces of the puzzle” that I expect will inform the decision.

The complete audio of the hearing is available here:

And a version from C-span (that picks up the audio from some protestors) is here:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?523324-1/bittner-v-united-states-oral-argument

I have included the statutory provision as *Appendix A below.

I have included the regulations as **Appendix B below.

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November 2, 2022 Supreme Court FBAR Case: ALEXANDRU BITTNER, Petitioner v. UNITED STATES Respondent – No. 21-1195

Here is the audio recording of the November 2, 2022 Bittner FBAR hearing …

On November 2, 2022 the Supreme Court Of The United States heard the Bittner case. The issue was whether in the context of a non-willful FBAR penalty:

1) The government is restricted to imposing one penalty based on the failure to file one FBAR; or

2) The government is authorized to impose one non-willful penalty for each of the accounts that should have been reported on the single FBAR form.

For example, let’s imagine that a US citizen has ten accounts that are “foreign” and he fails to file an FBAR form. Is the penalty based on the failure to file the form itself (one form means one $10,000 penalty)? Or may the government impose a penalty based on the failure to disclose each of the accounts on the FBAR form (10 times $10,000 = $100,000)?

Mr. Bitter is/was a dual US Romanian citizen who was living in Romania during the years that the FBAR penalties were imposed. According to the closing comments of his lawyer, Mr. Bittner (while living in Romania) had filed US tax returns for years that he had a business connection to the United States (apparently investing in a relative’s business in California). In other words, there is some evidence that Mr. Bittner was not fully aware that as a US citizen, his US tax and reporting obligations applied even when he did not live in the United States. In any case, Mr. Bitter argues that he should have received one $10,000 penalty for each of the five years ($50,000). The government imposed penalties of 2.7 million dollars based on a failure to report 52 accounts.

On Wednesday November 2, 2022 the Supreme Court of the United States heard argument on the “per account vs. per form” issue.

The above podcast contains the audio file of the live arguments.

A transcript of the arguments is here:

http://citizenshipsolutions.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/21-1195_5i36.pdf

A recording from C-span is here:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?523324-1/bittner-v-united-states-oral-argument

The following twitter thread reflects my impressions while listening to the arguments …

https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1587807427327655937.html

Earlier podcasts discussing this case are included as an *Appendix to this post.

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John Richardson – Information Session – London, UK – Thursday Oct. 13/22 – 19:00 – 21:00

Attention!! Date, time and location updated!! – Thursday Oct. 13/22 – 19:30 – 21:30 – New location! See here.

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John Richardson – Information Session – London, UK – Thursday Oct. 13/22 – 19:00

What: John Richardson informal information and discussion session for those impacted by US extraterritorial overreach

When: Thursday October 13, 2022 – 19:00 – 21:00

Where: Pret A Manger – Directly Across From Russell Square Tube (careful to choose the correct Pret)
40 Bernard Street, London, WC1N 1LE
https://www.pret.co.uk/en-GB/shop-finder/l/london/40-bernard-street/284

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Podcast: In FBAR We “Trust” Part 4 – When ”Beneficial Ownership” Without Legal Title Constitutes A Financial Interest And Triggers An #FBAR Requirement

Introduction

This is the fourth of a series of four posts exploring some of the more difficult and “interesting” areas of (possible) FBAR obligations.The first post explains the FBAR filing obligations of trusts. The second post explains when individuals may have to file an FBAR because of their relationship to a trust. The third post explains how/why one may be required to file an FBAR based on control of an account rather than ownership of the account. This fourth post continues the discussion of when beneficial ownership without legal ownership triggers an FBAR obligation. The four posts are based on Podcasts with US tax lawyer Virginia La Torre Jeker.

Podcast 1: February 23, 2002FBAR Obligations Attaching To A Trust

Podcast 2: March 4, 2022FBAR Obligations Attaching To People Because Of Their Relationship To A Trust

Podcast 3: May 25, 2022Looking For Mr. FBAR – A New Sighting – ”exercised control over and had access to the account”

Podcast 4: September 29, 2022When ”Beneficial Ownership” Constitutes A Financial Interest And Triggers An FBAR Requirement

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