Tag Archives: FBAR

Why Treasury Should Exempt U.S. Citizens Resident Outside The United States From FBAR Filing

OMB Control No: 1506-0009 / ICR Reference No: 202403-1506-001 / Federal Register: 2024-06697
Reports of Foreign Financial Accounts Regulations and FinCEN Form 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR)

An earlier post alerted people to the opportunity to submit comments (due April 29, 2024) about whether the FBAR rules should be applied to the local accounts of Americans abroad. What follows is my comment …

Outline:

Treasury should explain precisely what it is about the status of U.S. citizenship (regardless of residence or connection to the United States) that creates a presumption of tax evasion, terrorism and money laundering.

The time has come for Treasury to recognize the obvious injustice and stop requiring an FBAR to report the “local” bank accounts of Americans abroad to the Financial Crimes Division of U.S. Treasury!!

Part I – Introduction and Context- Understanding The April 29, 2024 Deadline For FBAR Commentary Submissions
Part II – Comment: Statement Of Purpose
Part III – Looking For Mr. FBAR – Where are the rules found?
Part IV – Understanding FBAR: “U.S. Persons” are required to file an FBAR. Who is a “U.S. Person”?
Part V – FBAR and U.S. Citizens: The World of Mr. FBAR in 1970 is NOT The World Of Mr. FBAR 2024
Part VI – Non-application of the FBAR rules to U.S. citizens who reside in U.S. territories
Part VII – The application of FBAR to non-citizens who do NOT live in U.S. territories
Part VIII – Conclusion: If ALL U.S. citizens (regardless of connection to the United States) are to be subject to the FBAR requirement …

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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

Update April 16, 2024 – Understanding the context of the comment request

I just received the following note from a reader of this post – “Someone out there”:

The Paperwork Reduction Act mandates that agencies engaging in information collection must seek approval every 3rd year from the Office of Management and Budget to extend the collection for an additional 3 years. The agency must demonstrate that the information collection is necessary, has utility and that the burden is minimal. Here’s an overview of the process: https://pra.digital.gov/clearance-process/

The first comment period (step 2 in the renewal process) was initiated in October of last year and Treasury received 40+ comments). Now the process is at step 4. Treasury has read the comments from October and has summarized them into their supporting statement which has now been submitted to OBM. The current supporting statement as well as the October public comments can be found here: https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/PRAViewDocument?ref_nbr=202403-1506-001

Comments during the current 30 day period are sent directly to OBM for consideration. If for whatever reason OBM finds the information collection to be unnecessary, it has the authority to take a few actions: approve, disapprove, file comment, or return the ICR to the agency if it fails to meet the procedural requirements. The OBM can even instruct the agency to undergo “rulemaking” which means that Treasury would have to propose new FBAR rules which could eventually make its way into the regulations.

The statutes for this PRA approval process is found in 44 U.S. Code § 3507 and 44 U.S. Code § 3508 but the key subsection is 3507(h).

So any comments submitted during this 30 day period should be aimed at convincing the OBM that Treasury’s supporting statement is inadequate or that FBAR is unnecessary, doesn’t provide utility, is a burden and that the OBM should instruct Treasury to propose new rules that would modify the FBAR regulations.

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

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Aroeste v. United States – November 2023

Introduction – Aroeste v. United States

Who you are is different from what you must do! Filing a 1040 instead of a 1040NR will NOT convert a treaty nonresident into a U.S. resident for tax purposes!!

Warning!! Warning!! Warning!!

Green Card holders who are “long term residents” and who file as “treaty non-residents” may be deemed to have expatriated and will be subjected to the exit tax rules to determine whether they are “covered expatriates”. Do NOT ever file as a treaty nonresident without proper advice.

(This does NOT seem to have been explored in the Aroeste case.)
______________________________________________________________________
The summary of Aroeste is found in the conclusion …

IV. CONCLUSION

Based on the foregoing, the Court DENIES the Government’s motion for summary judgment and GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Aroeste’s motion for summary judgment.

Specifically, the Court finds Aroeste is a United States person, but ceased to be treated as a lawful permanent resident of the United States because he commenced to be treated as a resident of Mexico under the Treaty, did not waive the benefits of such Treaty, and notified the Secretary of the commencement of such treatment. Thus, Aroeste is not subject to FBAR penalties. The Government must discharge Aroeste’s liability for penalties still outstanding for the non-filing of a FBAR for the years 2012 and 2013 pursuant to 31 U.S.C. § 5321, totaling $21,851.76, and must refund Aroeste’s payment of $3,004.

The Court further finds Aroeste untimely notified the Secretary of the commencement of treatment as a resident of Mexico, and thus is subject to penalties pursuant to I.R.C. § 6712(a) equal to $1,000 per failure to timely report his Treaty position, totaling $2,000 for 2012 and 2013. The Government may proceed accordingly in this later regard.

The Court ORDERS the Clerk of Court to CLOSE THIS CASE.

The purpose of this post is to compile both the Aroeste decision and the relevant provisions of the statutes, regulations and treaty in one place for easier reference.

In January of 2024 the U.S. Government announced that it would appeal the decision in Aroeste.

At present (subject to appeal) the Aroeste case stands for these principles:

1. A Green Card holder who is treated as a nonresident of a tax treaty who gives “notice to the Secretary” is NOT a “U.S. Person” for the purposes of the FBAR regulation 1010.350 and is NOT required to file an FBAR.

2. Notice can be given to the government retrospectively. In 2016 Mr. Aroeste notified the government that he was a treaty nonresident pursuant to 7701(b)(6) and the provisions of the U.S. Mexico Tax Treaty.

3. Filing the wrong kind of tax return. (1040 instead of 1040NR) does NOT waive the treaty benefits!

4. Notice 2009-85 may not be valid because of a failure to meet the APA requirements for notice and comment.

Al link to the Aroeste decision is here …

Aroeste-v-United-States-Order-Nov-2023

Part A – The FBAR Statute – 31 U.S.C. 5314

31 U.S. Code § 5314 – Records and reports on foreign financial agency transactions
(a) Considering the need to avoid impeding or controlling the export or import of monetary instruments and the need to avoid burdening unreasonably a person making a transaction with a foreign financial agency, the Secretary of the Treasury shall require a resident or citizen of the United States or a person in, and doing business in, the United States, to keep records, file reports, or keep records and file reports, when the resident, citizen, or person makes a transaction or maintains a relation for any person with a foreign financial agency. The records and reports shall contain the following information in the way and to the extent the Secretary prescribes:

(1) the identity and address of participants in a transaction or relationship.
(2) the legal capacity in which a participant is acting.
(3) the identity of real parties in interest.
(4) a description of the transaction.

(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;
(2) a foreign country to which a requirement or a regulation under this section applies if the Secretary decides applying the requirement or regulation to all foreign countries is unnecessary or undesirable;
(3) the magnitude of transactions subject to a requirement or a regulation under this section;
(4) the kind of transaction subject to or exempt from a requirement or a regulation under this section; and
(5) other matters the Secretary considers necessary to carry out this section or a regulation under this section.

(c) A person shall be required to disclose a record required to be kept under this section or under a regulation under this section only as required by law.

(Pub. L. 97–258, Sept. 13, 1982, 96 Stat. 997.)

Regulations under 1010.350 – Who is a U.S. person?

https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/31/1010.350

Part B – The FBAR Regulation

Regulations under 1010.350 – Who is a U.S. person?

https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/31/1010.350

31 CFR § 1010.350 – Reports of foreign financial accounts

§ 1010.350 Reports of foreign financial accounts.

(a) In general. Each United States person having a financial interest in, or signature or other authority over, a bank, securities, or other financial account in a foreign country shall report such relationship to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue for each year in which such relationship exists and shall provide such information as shall be specified in a reporting form prescribed under 31 U.S.C. 5314 to be filed by such persons. The form prescribed under section 5314 is the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (TD–F 90–22.1), or any successor form. See paragraphs (g)(1) and (g)(2) of this section for a special rule for persons with a financial interest in 25 or more accounts, or signature or other authority over 25 or more accounts.
(b) United States person. For purposes of this section, the term “United States person” means—
(1) A citizen of the United States;
(2) A resident of the United States. A resident of the United States is an individual who is a resident alien under 26 U.S.C. 7701(b) and the regulations thereunder but using the definition of “United States” provided in 31 CFR 1010.100(hhh) rather than the definition of “United States” in 26 CFR 301.7701(b)–1(c)(2)(ii); and

Part C – IRC 7701(b)(6)

6) Lawful permanent resident For purposes of this subsection, an individual is a lawful permanent resident of the United States at any time if—
(A) such individual has the status of having been lawfully accorded the privilege of residing permanently in the United States as an immigrant in accordance with the immigration laws, and
(B) such status has not been revoked (and has not been administratively or judicially determined to have been abandoned).
An individual shall cease to be treated as a lawful permanent resident of the United States if such individual commences to be treated as a resident of a foreign country under the provisions of a tax treaty between the United States and the foreign country, does not waive the benefits of such treaty applicable to residents of the foreign country, and notifies the Secretary of the commencement of such treatment.
https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/26/7701

Part D – IRC 7701(b)(6) Treasury Regulations

See the Appendix below.

https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/26/301.7701(b)-7

Part E – The U.S. Mexico Tax Treaty

ARTICLE 4
Residence
1. For the purposes of this Convention, the term “resident of a Contracting State” means any person
who, under the laws of that State, is liable to tax therein by reason of his domicile, residence, place of management, place of incorporation, or any other criterion of a similar nature. However, this term does not include any person who is liable to tax in that State in respect only of income from sources in that State.
2. Where by reason of the provisions of paragraph 1, an individual is a resident of both Contracting States, then his residence shall be determined as follows:
a) he shall be deemed to be a resident of the State in which he has a permanent home available to him; if he has a permanent home available to him in both Contracting States, he shall be deemed to be a resident of the State with which his personal and economic relations are closer (center of vital interests);
b) if the State in which he has his center of vital interests cannot be determined, or if he does not have a permanent home available to him in either State, he shall be deemed to be a resident of the State in which he has an habitual abode;
c) if he has an habitual abode in both States or in neither of them, he shall be deemed to
be a resident of the State of which he is a national;
d) in any other case, the competent authorities of the Contracting States shall settle the
question by mutual agreement.

https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-trty/mexico.pdf

John Richardson – Follow me on Twitter @Expatrationlaw

Appendix – 26 CFR § 301.7701(b)-7 – Coordination with income tax treaties.

§ 301.7701(b)-7 Coordination with income tax treaties.

(a) Consistency requirement—(1) Application. The application of this section shall be limited to an alien individual who is a dual resident taxpayer pursuant to a provision of a treaty that provides for resolution of conflicting claims of residence by the United States and its treaty partner. A “dual resident taxpayer” is an individual who is considered a resident of the United States pursuant to the internal laws of the United States and also a resident of a treaty country pursuant to the treaty partner’s internal laws. If the alien individual determines that he or she is a resident of the foreign country for treaty purposes, and the alien individual claims a treaty benefit (as a nonresident of the United States) so as to reduce the individual’s United States income tax liability with respect to any item of income covered by an applicable tax convention during a taxable year in which the individual was considered a dual resident taxpayer, then that individual shall be treated as a nonresident alien of the United States for purposes of computing that individual’s United States income tax liability under the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code and the regulations thereunder (including the withholding provisions of section 1441 and the regulations under that section in cases in which the dual resident taxpayer is the recipient of income subject to withholding) with respect to that portion of the taxable year the individual was considered a dual resident taxpayer.
(2) Computation of tax liability. If an alien individual is a dual resident taxpayer, then the rules on residency provided in the convention shall apply for purposes of determining the individual’s residence for all purposes of that treaty.
(3) Other Code purposes. Generally, for purposes of the Internal Revenue Code other than the computation of the individual’s United States income tax liability, the individual shall be treated as a United States resident. Therefore, for example, the individual shall be treated as a United States resident for purposes of determining whether a foreign corporation is a controlled foreign corporation under section 957 or whether a foreign corporation is a foreign personal holding company under section 552. In addition, the application of paragraph (a)(2) of this section does not affect the determination of the individual’s residency time periods under § 301.7701(b)–4.
(4) Special rules for S corporations. [Reserved]
(b) Filing requirements. An alien individual described in paragraph (a) of this section who determines his or her U.S. tax liability as if he or she were a nonresident alien shall make a return on Form 1040NR on or before the date prescribed by law (including extensions) for making an income tax return as a nonresident. The individual shall prepare a return and compute his or her tax liability as a nonresident alien. The individual shall attach a statement (in the form required in paragraph (c) of this section) to the Form 1040NR. The Form 1040NR and the attached statement, shall be filed with the Internal Revenue Service Center, Philadelphia, PA 19255. The filing of a Form 1040NR by an individual described in paragraph (a) of this section may affect the determination by the Immigration and Naturalization Service as to whether the individual qualifies to maintain a residency permit.
(c) Contents of statement—(1) In general—(i) Returns due after December 15, 1997. The statement filed by an individual described in paragraph (a)(1) of this section, for a return relating to a taxable year for which the due date (without extensions) is after December 15, 1997, must be in the form of a fully completed Form 8833 (Treaty-Based Return Position Disclosure Under Section 6114 or 7701(b)) or appropriate successor form. See section 6114 and § 301.6114–1 for rules relating to other treaty-based return positions taken by the same taxpayer.
(ii) Earlier returns. For returns relating to taxable years for which the due date for filing returns (without extensions) is on or before December 15, 1997, the statement filed by the individual described in paragraph (a)(1) of this section must contain the information in accordance with paragraph (c)(1) of this section in effect prior to December 15, 1997 (see § 301.7701(b)–7(c)(1) as contained in 26 CFR part 301, revised April 1, 1997).
(2) Controlled foreign corporation shareholders. If the taxpayer who claims a treaty benefit as a nonresident of the United States is a United States shareholder in a controlled foreign corporation (CFC), as defined in section 957 or section 953(c), and there are no other United States shareholders in that CFC, then for purposes of paragraph (c)(1) of this section, the approximate amount of subpart F income (as defined in section 952) that would have been included in the taxpayer’s income may be determined based on the audited foreign financial statements of the CFC.
(3) S corporation shareholders. [Reserved]
(d) Relationship to section 6114(a) treaty-based return positions. The statement required by paragraph (b) of this section will be considered disclosure for purposes of section 6114 and § 301.6114–1(a), but only if the statement is in the form required by paragraph (c) of this section. If the taxpayer fails to file the statement required by paragraph (b) of this section on or before the date prescribed in paragraph (b) of this section, the taxpayer will be subject to the penalties imposed by section 6712. See section 6712 and § 301.6712–1.
(e) Examples. The following examples illustrate the application of this section:

Example 1.

B, an alien individual, is a resident of foreign country X, under X’s internal law. Country X is a party to an income tax convention with the United States. B is also a resident of the United States under the Internal Revenue Code. B is considered to be a resident of country X under the convention. The convention does not specifically deal with characterization of foreign corporations as controlled foreign corporations or the taxability of United States shareholders on inclusions of subpart F income, but it provides, in an “Other Income” article similar to Article 21 of the 1981 draft of the United States Model Income Tax Convention (U.S. Model), that items of income of a resident of country X that are not specifically dealt with in the convention shall be taxable only in country X. B owns 80% of the one class of stock of foreign corporation R. The remaining 20% is owned by C, a United States citizen who is unrelated to B. In 1985, corporation R’s only income is interest that is foreign personal holding company income under § 1.954A-2 of this chapter. Because the United States-X income tax convention does not deal with characterization of foreign corporations as controlled foreign corporations, United States internal income tax law applies. Therefore, B and C are United States shareholders within the meaning of § 1.951–1(g) of this chapter, corporation R is a controlled foreign corporation within the meaning of § 1.957–1 of this chapter, and corporation R’s income is included in C’s income as subpart F income under § 1.951–1 of this chapter. B may avoid current taxation on his share of the subpart F inclusion by filing as a nonresident (i.e., by following the procedure in § 301.7701(b)–7(b)).

Example 2.

The facts are the same as in Example 1, except that B also earns United States source dividend income. The United States-X income tax convention provides that the rate of United States tax on United States source dividends paid to residents of country X shall not exceed 15 percent of the gross amount of the dividends. B’s United States tax liability with respect to the dividends would be smaller if he were treated as a resident alien, subject to tax on a net basis (i.e., after the allowance of deductions) than if he were treated as a nonresident alien. If, however, B chooses to file as a nonresident in order to claim treaty benefits with respect to his share of R’s subpart F income, his overall United States tax liability, including the portion attributable to the dividends, must be determined as if he were a nonresident alien.

Example 3.

C, a married alien individual with three children, is a resident of foreign country Y, under Y’s internal law. Country Y is a party to an income tax convention with the United States. C is also a resident of the United States under the Internal Revenue Code. C is considered to be a resident of country Y under the convention. The convention specifically covers, among other items of income, personal services income, dividends and interest. C is sent by her country Y employer to work in the United States from January 1, 1985 until December 31, 1985. During 1985, C also earns United States source dividends and interest and incurs mortgage interest expenses on her personal residence. The United States-Y treaty provides that remuneration for personal services performed in the United States by a country Y resident is exempt from United States tax if, among other things, the individual performing such services is present in the United States for a period that is not in excess of 183 days. The treaty provides that the rate of United States tax on United States source dividends paid to residents of Y shall not exceed 15 percent of the gross amount of the dividends and it exempts residents of Y from United States tax on United States source interest. In filing her 1985 tax return, C may choose to file either as a resident alien without claiming any treaty benefits or as a nonresident alien if she desires to claim any treaty benefit. C files as a nonresident (i.e. by following the procedure described in § 301.7701(b)–7(b)). Because C does not satisfy the requirements of the United States-Y treaty with regard to exempting personal services income from United States tax, C will be taxed on her personal services income at graduated rates under section 1 of the Code pursuant to section 871(b) of the Code. She will not be entitled to deduct her mortgage interest expenses or to claim more than one personal exemption because she is taxed as a nonresident alien under the Code by virtue of her decision to claim treaty benefits, and section 873 of the Code denies nonresidents the deduction for personal residence mortgage interest expense and generally limits them to only one personal exemption. C will be subject to a tax of 15 percent of the gross amount of her dividend income under section 871(a) of the Code as modified by the treaty, and she will be exempt from tax on her interest income. C is not entitled to file a joint return with her spouse even if he is a resident alien under the Code for 1985.

Example 4.

The facts are the same as in Example 3, except that C does not choose to claim treaty benefits with respect to any items of income covered by the treaty (i.e., she files as a resident). Therefore, she is taxed as a resident under the Code and pays tax at graduated rates on her personal services income, dividends, and interest. In addition, she is entitled to deduct her mortgage interest expenses and to take personal exemptions for her spouse and three children. C will be entitled to file a joint return with her spouse if he is a resident alien for 1985 or, if he is a nonresident alien, C and her spouse may elect to file a joint return pursuant to section 6013.
[T.D. 8411, 57 FR 15251, Apr. 27, 1992; 57 FR 28612, June 26, 1992, as amended by T.D. 8733, 62 FR 53387, Oct. 14, 1997]

Americans Abroad Aren’t Denouncing Because They Want To. They Are Renouncing Because They Feel They Have To

Introduction/background:

Denunciation of U.S. Citizenship – From the perspective from a U.S. Senator

Renunciation of U.S. Citizenship – From the perspective of a U.S. journalist

It’s hard to have a discussion about why Americans abroad are renouncing U.S. citizenship. There are many different perspectives about renunciation. There is very little “shared reality”. Tax academics (who have the resources to know better), “pensioned intellectuals”, politicians and most journalists see this from a “U.S. resident perspective”. They don’t understand the reality of the lives of Americans abroad. But, Americans abroad are NOT a monolith. The ONLY thing they have in common is that they live outside the United States. Their circumstances vary widely. There is little “shared reality” among Americans abroad of what the issues are. AT the risk of oversimplification, I have attempted to divide “Americans abroad” into four categories (as defined below). The categorization will explain why different groups of “Americans abroad” experience the U.S. extra-territorial tax regime differently.

Hint: Americans abroad aren’t renouncing U.S. citizenship because they want to. They are renouncing U.S. citizenship because they feel they have to.

Politicians, tax academics, “pensioned intellectuals” and many journalists deal in the world of opinions. The opinions they hold are often “myths”. They are not “facts”. They are entitled to their opinions (as misguided and ignorant as they may be). They are NOT entitled to their “facts”.

This post is to describe the facts about how the extra-territorial application of the Internal Revenue Code and the Bank Secrecy Act pressure many Americans abroad to renounce U.S. citizenship. Interestingly a large percentage of those renouncing owe ZERO taxes to the U.S. government. They renounce anyway!

First, a bit of background to the problem – what is the problem and who is affected?

They do NOT meet the test of being “nonresident aliens” under the Internal Revenue Code

As SEAT cofounder, Dr. Laura Snyder explains, in the first of her 16 “working papers” describing the problems of Americans abroad:

The people most affected by the U.S. extraterritorial tax system are not a monolithic group. Some left the United States recently, some left years or decades ago. Some left as adults (some young, some middle-aged, and some retirees), while others left as children (with their families), and some have never lived in the United States (they are U.S. citizens by virtue of the U.S. citizenship of at least one parent). Some intend to live in the United States (again) in the near or distant future, while others do not intend to ever live in the United States (again). Some identify as Americans while others do not. Many are also citizens of the country where they live (dual citizens) while others hold triple or even quadruple citizenships. In referring to this group, there is no one term that sufficiently reflects its full diversity. What unites them is that they do not meet the test of “nonresident alien” under the Internal Revenue Code. Depending upon the context, this series of papers will use terms such as “persons,” “individuals,” “affected individuals,” and “overseas Americans.” The latter term has a drawback, however: it emphasizes connections to the United States while minimizing the important connections that such persons have to the countries and communities where they live.

That said, what divides Americans abroad may be greater than what unites Americans abroad!

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“Dual citizenship affords unique opportunities for cross-border tax evasion” claims report issued by @SenateFinance

As described by AARO (“Association of American Residents Overseas”) in an April 7, 2023 blog post:

On March 29 the Senate Finance Committee Democratic staff issued a report titled “Credit Suisse’s Role in U.S. Tax Evasion Schemes of its investigation of Credit Suisse’s compliance with a 2014 plea agreement with the Department of Justice involving the bank’s participation in a conspiracy to hide offshore accounts from the IRS.

Per Committee chair Senator Ron Wyden’s (D-OR) press release, the report details Credit Suisse’s role in a “potentially criminal tax conspiracy” involving accounts of a U.S. based family that were closed 10 years ago, recycles the Clinton/Bush era tax evasion case by U.S. businessman Dan Horsky, and discusses large undeclared accounts belonging to 23 ultra-high net worth U.S. citizens.

We are surprised that such a large and well-resourced committee working for two years was unable to unearth so little misconduct at a mega-bank that has now collapsed due to mis-management. Most outrageously, the report states that “Dual citizenship affords unique opportunities for cross-border tax evasion,” which gives the impression that ordinary Americans living abroad are prone to criminal tax evasion.

AARO has a meeting scheduled with Senator Wyden’s office in May during our annual Overseas Americans Week, during which we will express our extreme dissatisfaction with this characterization. We will let you know if there are any developments.

AARO deserves thanks and credit from all Americans overseas for publicly pushing back on the report created and published by the Democrat led Senate Finance Committee. The report is outrageous, a waste of public funds and appears to be a “back handed attempt” to justify the hiring of more IRS agents and increasing/justifying the imposition of FBAR penalties. The report is NOT (contrary to media reports) really about Credit Suisse. The report uses Credit Suisse as a “prop” to remind the people of America, that there are some people in America (it all took place ten years ago), who deliberately attempt to evade the payment of U.S. tax. The modus operandi includes moving their money to financial institutions and entities outside the United States. Yes, it’s true. Of course, as an added benefit the Senate Finance Committee gets to demonize Swiss banks (in general) and Credit Suisse (in particular). But make no mistake. The Senate Finance report is NOT about Swiss banks. It’s an advertisement to justify the hiring of more IRS agents funded by the Inflation Reduction Act, to legitimize the imposition of more FBAR penalties and to suggest that Republicans are (somehow) soft on tax evasion.

Why this report is dangerous for U.S. citizens generally and for Americans abroad specifically

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#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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