Archive for the ‘Individual’ category

Are Quiet Disclosures of Offshore Accounts Becoming Even Riskier?

October 18, 2013

By Phil Karter

Is the IRS getting closer to ferreting out “quiet disclosures” by taxpayers who chose that route to address the problem of previously unreported offshore accounts rather than by participating in the Service’s offshore voluntary disclosure program (OVDP)?  That’s the conclusion of an increasing number of tax professionals and if taxpayers in this predicament weren’t already worried, they should be.

A quiet disclosure involves the filing of new or amended tax returns that report offshore income, and FBARs (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts) that provide other account information regarding the taxpayer’s interest in foreign accounts.  It is a discreet disclosure intended to make a taxpayer compliant with his or her tax reporting responsibilities while avoiding penalties imposed under the IRS’s official voluntary disclosure program.

The IRS has made no secret of its distain for those who choose the quite disclosure route over participation in its voluntary disclosure program.  In its frequently asked questions and answers applicable to the most recent iteration of the OVDP, the Service has cautioned taxpayers that those who have already made quiet disclosures should “be aware of the risk of being examined and potentially criminally prosecuted for all applicable years.”  The IRS has encouraged such taxpayers to “take advantage” of the program before discovery.  The FAQs also note that detection of a quit disclosure also eliminates the possibility of reduced penalty exposure offered under the OVDP. (See FAQs 15 & 16.)

To some, the calculus about whether to participate in the OVDP, follow the quiet disclosure path, or do nothing has been viewed as another form of the audit lottery, albeit one with very high stakes in terms of potential monetary penalties and possibly criminal prosecution.  As virtually everyone should know at this point, offshore account holders can no longer rely on bank secrecy to protect them, so the issue of detecting unreported accounts has become more a question of when, not if. Although a quiet disclosure addresses the unreported account problem, either currently or retroactively, that is not necessarily the end of the story . . . or the risk.

Earlier this year, the Government Accounting Office issued a report in which it noted a dramatic increase in the number of taxpayers reporting offshore accounts, concluding that the trend may reflect attempts to minimize or circumvent taxes, penalties and interest that would be owed if not corrected before detection or even upon participation in the OVDP.  Among other things, the GAO recommended that the IRS explore methodologies to detect and pursue quiet disclosures.  Apparently, the IRS has taken the GAO’s recommendation to heart by working on new ways to identify them.  The effort, according to former Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, was to include “analysis of Forms 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets, to identify specific characteristics of the filing population and to assess filing behaviors indicating potential compliance issues.”

In predicting the effectiveness of this undertaking, it is worth noting that the IRS has a wealth of experience in implementing computer algorithms on a much larger scale to ferret out trends warranting closer scrutiny.  One need look no further than the Services’ Discriminant Function System (DIF), which is used to flag tax returns for possible audit, among the hundreds of millions filed, to appreciate that improved detection of quiet disclosures is well within the IRS’s capabilities.  Therefore, taxpayers who rely on a limited IRS resources justification to ignore the directional trend regarding quiet disclosures are likely to wish they had examined the issue relative to their own personal circumstances a lot more closely. At the very least, given the prevailing wind on this issue, it would be prudent for those who have made quiet disclosures or are contemplating one to revisit the issue with their tax adviser.

To Minimize Taxes For Years To Come, Consider Incorporating Your Business In 2013

April 22, 2013

By Dustin Covello

Choice of entity is one of the first and most important tax-planning decisions that any entrepreneur must make. Conventional wisdom holds that most entrepreneurs should organize their businesses as “pass-through” entities – primarily limited liability companies, partnerships, subchapter S corporations, or sole proprietorships. Pass-through entities are not themselves taxable. Rather, all of their income is “passed through” and taxable to their owners. By contrast, operating a business in the other main form – a corporation – subjects the business’s income to the dreaded “double tax” because the corporation itself is subject to tax, and then the shareholder is subject to tax when he receives dividends from the corporation or sells its stock at a gain.

Historically, the expense associated with the double tax has varied, depending on the prevailing tax rates, but it almost always exceeded the tax expense on pass-through income. At this unique time, however, entrepreneurs following the conventional wisdom may be missing a valuable tax-planning opportunity:  two features of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 make corporations much more attractive compared to pass-through entities. (more…)

Supreme Court’s Review of Valuation Misstatement Penalty Leaves the Door Open for Appellants

April 16, 2013

By David J. Shakow

On March 25, the Supreme Court accepted certiorari in U.S. v. Gary Woods.  (Supreme Court order) The issue presented to the Court arose from a split in the Circuits over whether a taxpayer can avoid the valuation misstatement penalties of section 6662(e) and (h) by conceding that there was no economic substance to its return position (and thus that the valuation misstatement was not the basis for its tax deficiency).  Compare, e.g., Todd v. Commissioner, 862 F.2d 540 (5th Cir. 1988) (no penalty imposed under predecessor of section 6662), with e.g., Gustashaw v. Commissioner, 110 A.F.T.R.2d 2012-6169 (11th Cir. 2012) (9/28/12) (criticizing Todd).

In accepting the case, the Supreme Court also directed the parties to address an additional matter – whether the trial court even had jurisdiction under section 6226 (dealing with TEFRA partnership-level proceedings) to consider the valuation misstatement penalty.

Taxpayers who have disputed and lost cases involving the same issue would be wise to preserve their appeal rights, if still available, so that they can potentially benefit from a favorable decision by the Supreme Court.

Squib Note: Clarifying the 2013 Capital Gains Rates

January 2, 2013

It has been universally reported that under the newly passed American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, net capital gain tax rates have risen to 20% for taxpayers with taxable income greater than $400,000 for single filers and $450,000 for joint filers.  To clarify this broad statement, under section 102 of the new law, the higher capital gains rate applies only to the gain that, when added to other taxable income, exceeds the threshold amounts.  Taxpayers below the 39.6% taxable income threshold before capital gains are taken into account will have their capital gains taxed at 15% up to the taxable income threshold and 20% on the excess.  The following two examples illustrate how the net capital gain tax rate is calculated:

In Example 1, joint taxpayers earn $400,000 of ordinary income and another $200,000 in net capital gains.  Under the new law, the first $50,000 of net capital gains is taxed at the lower rate, with the remaining $150,000 taxed at the higher rate.  The effective rate of 18.75% reflects the blending of the 15% and 20% rates.

2013 Capital Gain Rate Example 1

In Example 2, joint taxpayers now earn $200,000 of ordinary income and another $400,000 in net capital gains.  Because a greater portion of the taxpayers’ taxable income has shifted from ordinary income to net capital gain, the effective net capital gain rate is lower than the previous example because a greater portion of the taxpayer’s below-the-threshold income is taxed at the 15% rate, leaving a smaller remainder subject to the 20% tax.

2013 Capital Gain Rate Example 2

The above examples do not take into account the new 3.8 % medicare surtax on capital gains (and other net investment income) imposed by section 1411 of the Internal Revenue Code. Because the income threshold under that section is lower than the 39.6% tax rate threshold ($200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for joint filers), the surtax would apply to the entire net capital gain amounts in both examples, resulting in an effective rate of 22.55% and 20.68% respectively.

Could The New Economic Substance Statute Apply To End-Of-Year Stock Sales And Repurchases?

December 28, 2012

By Phil Karter

With the looming increase in tax rates on investment income and capital gains in particular, a large number of stock market investors have been selling long-term positions to lock in the 2012 rate, which currently tops out at 15%.  Come January 1,2013, gain on the same sale could be taxed at a rate as high as 23.8%, consisting of a long-term capital gains tax rate of 20% plus a Medicare surtax of 3.8% imposed on joint filers with AGI greater than $250,000 and single filers with AGI greater than $200,000.  (See Internal Revenue Code § 1411).

A question attracting attention as the year draws to a close and the pace of this activity has accelerated has been whether a stock sale undertaken solely to take advantage of the lower 2012 capital gains tax rates might fall within the scope of Code § 7701(o), the relatively new economic substance statute codified as part of the landmark Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (Pub. L. 111-152, 124 Stat. 1029).  Concerns about coming within the scope of this statute are that it might subject the investor to a 20% penalty enacted as part of the new law.  See Code § 6662(b)(6).  The penalty, if applicable, is a “strict liability” one, which means that taxpayers cannot avoid it on grounds of reasonable cause, such as reliance on a tax advisor. (The penalty for a transaction determined to lack economic substance is also increased to a whopping 40% if the transaction is undisclosed.  See Code § 6662(i).  However, as long as a taxpayer reports the transaction on his or her tax return, the 40% penalty should not apply.)

Thankfully, the eleventh hour concerns expressed about this issue should be put to rest for stock investment gain-recognition transactions in 2012.  Even assuming the economic substance statute is conceptually broad enough to ensnare stock sale transactions undertaken to lock in lower capital gains tax rates, the penalty is only applicable to “underpayments.”  Because a long-term capital gain recognized in 2012 does not reduce a taxpayer’s taxable income but rather increases it (unless the gain is offset by otherwise unused capital losses), there is no underpayment against which to apply a penalty.

Now let’s vary the circumstances by introducing a simultaneous buyback of the stock at the time of sale to reestablish the same position.  Does that change anything vis a vis a potential penalty risk?  We still have a gain recognition transaction in 2012, so there is no tax underpayment against which a penalty could apply for this year.  As for the repurchased stock, its cost basis is at the repurchase price, which means that a subsequent sale in a future year will either produce a smaller taxable gain or larger taxable loss than would have occurred had the original share lots with their lower cost basis simply been maintained.  Some have speculated that this could produce a tax underpayment against which the strict liability economic substance penalty might apply in the year of sale.  After all, in defining a transaction that has economic substance, § 7701(o) requires (1) that the transaction change in a “meaningful way” the taxpayer’s economic position apart from federal tax benefits, and (2) that the taxpayer have a non-tax purpose for entering into the transaction.

In theory, a sale and instantaneous repurchase might fail to satisfy both of these tests.  On the other hand, a repurchase transaction that occurs sometime after the sale introduces an element of market risk from stock price fluctuation that should mitigate any penalty risk.  Similarly, a repurchase in a different type of account (e.g., in a tax-deferred account where the original sale was in a taxable account or vice versa) should also put the taxpayer on firmer ground.

So what are the real risks that the IRS might choose some unfortunate taxpayers to assert a strict liability penalty?  It has, after all, been less than forthcoming in providing guidance on what types of plain vanilla transactions, if any, may be viewed as falling within the scope of the new economic substance statute.  Perhaps the best indicator one can draw upon is the title of § 7701(o), “Clarification of Economic Substance Doctrine.”  The codified doctrine has been portrayed as merely a clarification of the economic substance law in effect for transactions entered into before March 30, 2010. Under the pre-codification doctrine, which is derived solely from the common law, there do not appear to be any reported economic substance cases involving a taxpayer’s sale and repurchase transaction that results in accelerated gain recognition. Couple this with the fact that no court has been asked to interpret the breadth of the new economic substance statute since it was passed in 2010, and it is reasonable to believe that the IRS would prefer to choose a different, and presumably more compelling battleground to make its first stand defending the application of Section 7701(o) and the strict liability penalty.

Finally, in the case of a 2012 gain-recognition stock sale and simultaneous repurchase, it cannot be entirely certain that the transaction will even produce a tax savings when all is said and done.  This is because of the difference between the tax rates for long and short term capital gains (which are taxed at ordinary income rates).  Because a new holding period is established for the repurchased stock, it remains possible that the stock, when sold, will produce a short-term capital gain subject to a larger tax burden than might have occurred if if the original long-term position was held into 2013 or beyond.  In the end, the lack of certainty about the ultimate tax effect until the second sale occurs may be taxpayers’ best argument that the sale and repurchase transaction had economic substance after all.

Detection Risk Continues To Grow As The IRS Expands Its Offshore Bank Account Investigation Into Liechtenstein

June 12, 2012

By:  Dustin Covello

Late late year, we asked what’s next for foreign bank account holders after OVDI?  Although the answer to this question continues to evolve, it is becoming increasingly clear that the risks of detection have only grown – and will continue to do so.  The latest news on this front comes from Business Week, which reported Sunday that the IRS has requested account holder information from Liechtenstein’s second largest bank, LLB.  Specifically, the IRS has asked for information pertaining to accounts holding $500,000 or more anytime since 2004.  Current and former LLB account holders who continue to hold undisclosed offshore assets now have a rapidly closing window of opportunity to come into compliance before the IRS contacts them for an investigation.  By coming forward voluntarily, an account holder reduces the chance of criminal prosecution and probably qualifies for the miscellaneous 27.5% penalty in lieu of potentially significantly higher tax and FBAR penalties.

LLB’s clients are likely not the only Liechtenstein account holders at significant risk of detection.  Although the IRS’ previous investigation primarily targeted banks, there is anecdotal evidence that the IRS has also begun to pressure Liechtenstein advisors (e.g., lawyers, accountants, trust companies, and the like) to disclose their clients’ identities.  Moreover, if Switzerland is any guide, the IRS will likely expand its Liechtenstein investigation to other banks after establishing a successful precedent with LLB’s likely forthcoming disclosure.

Given the ever-expanding scope of the IRS’ investigation (not to mention FACTA’s new financial-institution withholding and individual-reporting requirements),  any person who previously chose not to disclose his or her offshore accounts should consider reexamining whether risking detection remains prudent.  As of now, OVDI and other methods of coming into compliance — including quiet disclosures and prospective compliance — may still be reasonable choices.  However, all of these options fall off the table if the IRS contacts a taxpayer before disclosure.  Taxpayers in this position should strongly consider contacting an experienced tax advisor to discuss their options.

Form 8938 – Foreign Reporting Trap for the Unwary

April 11, 2012

By Sebastien Chain and Tamara Woods

Beginning with the 2011 tax year (i.e., for returns filed April 17, 2012 or later), individual taxpayers will be required to file Form 8938 if he or she has an interest in a “specified foreign financial asset” (“SFFA”) (click for additional information on FATCA requirements) that has a value exceeding a certain threshold.  A Taxpayer has an interest in a SFFA if any income, gains, losses, deductions, credits, gross proceeds or distributions from the asset would be required to be reported on the income tax return.

The reporting thresholds differ depending on whether the taxpayer is married or single and whether the taxpayer is living inside or outside the United States.

Form 8938 Reporting Thresholds

STATUS

LIVING IN U.S.

LIVING ABROAD*

 Unmarried

OR

Married Filing Separately

>$50,000 at year end

OR

>$75,000 any time during year

>$200,000 at year end

OR

>$300,000 any time during year

Married Filing Jointly

>$100,000 at year end

OR

>$150,000 any time during year

>$400,000 at year end

OR

>$600,000 any time during year

There are certain exceptions and limitations to reporting.  Arguably, the most important limitation (other than the thresholds listed above) is whether the taxpayer reports the same assets on a separate foreign information return such as Forms 3520, 5471, 8621, 8865 or 8891 (but not Form T.D. F 90-22.1, Report of Foreign Bank Account (“FBAR”).  If so, the taxpayer is only relieved from fully completing the Form 8938.  The taxpayer is NOT relieved from filing Form 8938.

Form 8938 requires the following information:

  • Basic identification of the account/asset;
  • Name/address of financial institution where account is held (if applicable);
  • Name/address of issuer or counterparty of stock, securities or financial instruments (if applicable);
  • Information regarding whether the account/asset was acquired (opened) or disposed of (closed) during the year, the amount of income, gain, or other tax attributes recognized during the year and schedule, form or return on which reported to IRS, currency exchange rate (and source of rate, if not from Treasury’s Financial Management Service); and
  • If the SFFA is reported on another form (3520, 5471, etc.), the report type and number of such other form.

The minimum penalty for failing to file or report an asset on Form 8938 is $10,000 per year the Form 8938 is not filed.  The penalty can be increased up to a $50,000 maximum for noncompliance 90 days after receipt of an IRS notice.  It is important to note that the IRS has no discretion to reduce this penalty unless the Taxpayer “affirmatively shows the facts that support a reasonable cause claim.” It is unclear at this time what will constitute sufficient reasonable cause.  In addition to the above penalties, accuracy related penalties are increased from 20% to 40% for underpayments involving undisclosed SFFAs.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 102 other followers

%d bloggers like this: