International Tax Issues
On January 9, 2012, the Internal Revenue Service reopened the offshore voluntary disclosure program to help people hiding offshore accounts get current with their taxes and announced the collection of more than $4.4 billion so far from the two previous international programs.
The IRS reopened the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) following continued strong interest from taxpayers and tax practitioners after the closure of the 2011 and 2009 programs. The third offshore program comes as the IRS continues working on a wide range of international tax issues and follows ongoing efforts with the Justice Department to pursue criminal prosecution of international tax evasion.
Under IR-2015, the IRS stated “Our focus on offshore tax evasion continues to produce strong, substantial results for the nation’s taxpayers… we have billions of dollars in hand from our previous efforts, and we have more people wanting to come in and get right with the government. This new program makes good sense for taxpayers still hiding assets overseas and for the nation’s tax system.”
The program is similar to the 2011 program in many ways, but with a few key differences. Unlike last year, there is no set deadline for people to apply. However, the terms of the program could change at any time going forward. For example, the IRS may increase penalties in the program for all or some taxpayers or defined classes of taxpayers – or decide to end the program entirely at any point.
The overall penalty structure for the new program is the same for 2011, except for taxpayers in the highest penalty category.
For the new program, the penalty framework requires individuals to pay a penalty of 27.5 percent of the highest aggregate balance in foreign bank accounts/entities or value of foreign assets during the eight full tax years prior to the disclosure. That is up from 25 percent in the 2011 program. Some taxpayers will be eligible for 5 or 12.5 percent penalties; these remain the same in the new program as in 2011.
Taxpayer participants must file all original and amended tax returns and include payment for back-taxes and interest for up to eight years as well as paying accuracy-related and/or delinquency penalties.
Participants face a 27.5 percent penalty, but taxpayers in limited situations can qualify for a 5 percent penalty. Smaller offshore accounts will face a 12.5 percent penalty. People whose offshore accounts or assets did not surpass $75,000 in any calendar year covered by the new OVDP will qualify for this lower rate. As under the prior programs, taxpayers who feel that the penalty is disproportionate may opt instead to be examined.
The IRS recognizes that its success in offshore enforcement and in the disclosure programs has raised awareness related to tax filing obligations. This includes awareness by dual citizens and others who may be delinquent in filing, but owe no U.S. tax.