Introduction – Looking For Mr. FBAR
I haven’t written a post about Mr. FBAR for quite some time. But, a post about the recent Boyd case at Tax Connections, by Darlene Hart got me thinking about FBAR again. For those interested – where the IRS successfully argued that it was appropriate to impose penalties on each individual account – here is the case:
And for a hint at the commentary:
Those who know little about Mr. FBAR might find this introduction to FBAR – although written in 2012 – helpful. Incidentally, it’s pretty obvious that Russia’s Foreign Bank account reporting laws were based on an admiration of Treasury’s success with the FBAR rules.
The purpose of this post
The purpose of this post is to explain:
1. The Congressional FBAR statute – Title 31 Section 5314 – which delegates to Treasury the responsibility of determining ALL aspects of FBAR administration including:
– who is subject to FBAR reporting
– the financial thresholds that trigger reporting
2. It is NOT the Congressional FBAR statute that defines the absurdly low $10,000 threshold for reporting. Rather it is Treasury. Although FBAR penalties are now indexed to inflation, the FBAR reporting threshold remains at $10,000. To put it simply: through inflation, Treasury has found a way to increase both the number of FBAR violations and the penalties associated with those violations. (There is a reason it’s called “The FBAR Fundraiser”).
3. It is not Congress that imposes the FBAR requirement on Americans abroad. It is Treasury. In fact, Treasury has recognized that they it has the right to exempt Americans abroad from the FBAR requirements, but has refused to do so. To be specific, Treasury’s 20111 statement found on page 10327 (middle column) was without explanation:
With respect to the comments raised by United States persons living abroad, FinCEN does not believe that an exemption is appropriate simply because a United States person chooses to live outside of the United States.
Treasury offered no reason for this decision.
Commentary on this decision at the Isaac Brock Society may be read here.
4. Treasury has by regulation “tinkered” with the meaning of “resident” over the years. I note that in 2012 (as explained by Phil Hodgen and others) the meaning of “resident” was not defined by statute. Rather, it is through Treasury regulations, that the word “resident” is given meaning. By 2017 Treasury had adopted the statutory meaning of resident used in the Internal Revenue Code (Section 7701(b)). (By expanding the definition of “United States” to include possessions and territories, it appears that Treasury has expanded the penalty base to include U.S. “Nationals”.) The FBAR statute is found in Title 31. The Internal Revenue Code is Title 26. There is neither a requirement nor a reason why Treasury should have used the definition of “resident” in Title 26 as the the meaning of “resident” in Section 5314 of Title 31. There are many different ways of defining “resident”. For example, for U.S. Estate and Gift Tax purposes, “residency” is defined in terms of domicile …
My point is this
Individuals and groups attempting to achieve justice for Americans abroad, Accidental Americans, Green Card Holders and all “U.S. Persons” would be advised to focus their efforts on U.S. Treasury. Yes, the lobbying of Congress should continue. But, meaningful change can be achieved without Congress even being aware of it. U.S. Treasury has the authority and ability to fix the FBAR related penalty and reporting injustices imposed on Americans abroad. But, FBAR is just the beginning. Almost all of the problems of Americans abroad can be fixed by Treasury.
This is the first of a series of posts in which I will explain how Treasury can solve almost all of the problems inflicted by the U.S. Government on Americans abroad.
John Richardson – Follow me on Twitter @Expatriationlaw
Appendix – For those who want to better understand the technicalities: Let me explain you …