What FINCEN Should Do Regarding FBAR Filing Dates and 25 or More Accounts

April 27th, 2016

On March 1st, FINCEN issued a press release noting that they requested comment regarding a proposal such that individuals with 25 or more foreign financial accounts would have to report the details on those accounts rather than just noting they have 25 accounts. Buried in the actual Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was the fact that this rulemaking would include complying with the new law that for 2016 FBARs filed in 2017 the due date would be April 15th with a six-month extension available upon request.

This latter issue (the due date) is key. I can easily see bureaucrats reading the law and saying, “Well, now the deadline is April 15th regardless of whether or not that falls upon a weekend or holiday in the District of Columbia” rather than taking the common sense approach of aligning the FBAR due date to the tax return due date. It’s pretty clear to me that Congress intended the dates to be aligned. I felt it important to submit a comment on the record to note this.

My comments are available here. If you wish to respond to the proposed rulemaking, the deadline is May 9th.

The 2016 Tax Season

April 25th, 2016

It actually went fairly smooth this year. Some thoughts (in no particular order):

1. The IRS help lines for tax professionals were well staffed. Hold times were way, way down from prior years (especially last year). The average hold time for me was about ten minutes. In the 2015 tax season, hold times were above one hour.

2. Deadlines matter. We set a fairly early deadline this year (March 16th). While we did get to returns received after that (we got to returns through March 30th), some clients were not happy with the deadline. That’s reality: There are only so many hours in the day. We told you back in January what our deadline was.

3. K-1s are coming later and later. Many of my clients had to extend this year because a K-1 from a partnership is missing. I’m definitely seeing more business entities filing extensions, and that leads to more individuals filing extensions.

4. While tax software may be somewhat flawed, it’s essential for any tax professional. A tax return still must always pass the smell test, but it would be impossible for most tax professionals to complete complex returns without it.

5. Next year could be very interesting for my practice because of the FBAR deadline. For 2015 FBARs filed in 2016, the deadline is June 30th. The law will change next year and the deadline will be April 15th. Will this deadline be literally April 15th no matter what day of the week that falls on or will it match tax deadlines? Will FINCEN accept the federal tax extension or will it require its own extension to be filed? I’ll have more on this issue in a post that’s coming tomorrow.

6. Federal refunds appear to be fairly smooth this year. None of my clients have noted any issues with those. The same cannot be said for state tax refunds, though. Many states are drastically slowing refunds and/or requiring additional information prior to the refund being issued.

I cannot complain overall, though. Of course, now that Tax Season is over comes my paperwork season: shredding and invoicing. And more than six hours of sleep each night.

Bozo Tax Tip #1a: They Shoot Jaywalkers, Don’t They? (Or Ignoring the FBAR!)

April 15th, 2016

I have, unfortunately, become quite competent in the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts. That form is better known as the FBAR. It used to have the form number TD F 90-22.1 (yes, it really did) but now goes by Form 114. The form must be filed online through the bsaefiling center of FINCEN, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.

You must file an FBAR if you have $10,000 aggregate at any time during the year. The report for 2015 is due June 30, 2016; there are no extensions.

The form is fairly simple and straightforward: Note every foreign financial account you have with name, address, account number, and maximum balance at any time during the past year. Let’s say you have one foreign account, a bank account at the Royal Bank of Canada. You would take your maximum balance and convert it to US dollars from Canadian dollars (you should use the year-end Treasury Department conversion rates no matter when the high balance was). The form must be electronically filed and is filed separately from your tax return.

The penalties for not filing it are quite high. Willful non-filing has a minimum penalty of $100,000 or half the balance in the account–and that’s per account! There’s also possible jail time.

So what must be reported:
– Foreign Bank accounts;
– Bank accounts outside the US of a US financial institution;
– Foreign financial accounts where all you have is signature authority;
– Foreign securities accounts;
– Foreign mutual funds;
– Foreign life insurance with a cash or annuity value; and
– Online gambling accounts if outside the US.

There are probably others, too.

The IRS does have a chart that lists most things that need reporting on the FBAR and Form 8938. Form 8938 is the “cousin” of the FBAR; this form needs to be filed if you have larger balances in foreign accounts.

Millions of FBARs are filed each year. When I started in tax, filing an FBAR was a huge audit red flag; that’s no longer the case. There are just too many FBARs filed. Do note that if you have an FBAR filing requirement you must note that in question 7 at the bottom of Schedule B.

To end this with some humor, one of my pet peeves in dealing with taxes is that there are three different sets of abbreviations for foreign counties used in tax. The FBAR has one set; question 7 at the bottom of Schedule B has another set, and Form 8938 has a third set. Some countries are noted identically while others are not. On one of of the abbreviations Curacao is “CU” while that means Cuba in another.

In any case, the FBAR is no laughing matter. The IRS’s mantra here is to shoot jaywalkers. Don’t become such a person: If you have an FBAR filing requirement, file it! Again, the FBAR is due June 30th this year and there are no extensions.


Now this is the real end of our Bozo Tax Tips for the 2016 Tax Season. I’ll be back no later than April 25th with new content.

Bozo Tax Tip #2: Use a Bozo Accountant!

April 14th, 2016

Here’s another Bozo Tax Tip that keeps coming around. The problem is, the Bozos don’t change their stripes. In any case, here are some signs your accountant might be a Bozo:

– He’s never met a deduction that doesn’t fit everyone. There’s no reason why a renter can’t take a mortgage interest deduction, right? And everyone’s entitled to $20,000 of employee business expenses…even if their salary is just $40,000 a year. Ask the proprietors of Western Tax Service about that.

– He believes that the income tax is voluntary. After all, we live in a democracy, so we don’t have to pay taxes, right?

– Besides preparing tax returns, he sells courses on why the Income Tax is Unconstitutional or how by filing the magical $2,295 papers he sells you will be able to avoid the income tax.

– He wants you to sign over that tax refund to him. After all, he’ll make sure you get your share of it after he takes out his 50% of the refund.

– He believes every return needs at least three dependents, no matter whether you have any children or not.

If your tax professional exhibits any of these behaviors, it’s time to get a new tax professional.

Bozo Tax Tip #3: Let Your IRS Notice Age Like Fine Wine!

April 13th, 2016

My brother is a wine connoisseur. As all my friends know, I’m anything but a wine aficionado. But I have learned one difference between fine wine and a notice from the IRS: Wine can age very well but IRS notices don’t.

Almost all IRS notices come with deadlines. You need to act to stop the IRS. If you ignore the notice, you usually will get a second notice. After that, you may receive a Notice of Deficiency. If that ages the tax is assessed.

Yet most IRS notices are wrong in whole or in part! The last study I saw showed that two-thirds of IRS notices are wrong. That’s a shockingly high percentage. An obvious question is why doesn’t the IRS change its procedures so that the bad notices aren’t issued? The answer is simple: People pay those notices. The IRS’s Automated Underreporting Unit is a huge profit center for the agency.

What does this mean for you? Put simply, if you get an IRS notice read it carefully. Let your tax professional know about it when you receive it, not on the day a response is due. It’s a lot easier (and cheaper) to act earlier in the process than later.

My brother tells me that some of the best wine he’s tasted have been old varietals. I can tell you that I’ve never seen a tax notice get better with age.

Bozo Tax Tip #4: Honey, You Don’t Exist!

April 12th, 2016

Ah, Spring is in the air. And with that come the inevitable wedding invitations. I had an invitation to a wedding on April 9th. No, I didn’t attend.

With weddings comes changes in tax status. Your marital status on December 31st determines your marital status for the year. If you are married, you file as Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separately. (In some rare cases, if you’re married you can file as Head of Household.) But you can’t file as single. Likewise, if you’re single you can’t file as married.

Perhaps it’s something in the water, but this year I have seen multiple cases of individuals who have ignored that marriage license and filed as single if married. There’s a good reason for that, of course: They save on taxes. A big issue is rental real estate: If you’re actively involved in rental real estate you get to take losses of up to $25,000. But there’s an income cap (the deduction begins to phase out at an income of $100,000 and completely phases out at $150,000). This particular deduction is neither indexed for inflation nor does it vary if you are single or married.

There’s a problem taking deductions you’re not entitled to: tax evasion. It’s a Bozo act to claim things you’re not entitled to.

Marriage has its ups and downs. Claiming you’re single on your tax return when you’re married will in the long-run cause you nothing but downs.

Bozo Tax Tip #5: Procrastinate

April 11th, 2016

You may have noticed that Bozo Tax Tip #1 appeared last week. Never fear, there’s another #1 Bozo Tax Tip that will appear on Friday. Now on with the countdown:

Today is April 11th. The tax deadline is just seven days away.

What happens if you wake up and it’s April 18, 2016, and you can’t file your tax? File an extension. Download Form 4868, make an estimate of what you owe, pay that, and mail the voucher and check to the address noted for your state. Use certified mail, return receipt, of course. And don’t forget your state income tax. Some states have automatic extensions (California does), some don’t (Pennsylvania is one of those), while others have deadlines that don’t match the federal tax deadline (Hawaii state taxes are due on April 20th, for example). Automatic extensions are of time to file, not pay, so download and mail off a payment to your state, too. If you mail your extension, make sure you mail it certified mail, return receipt requested. (You can do that from most Automated Postal Centers, too.)

By the way, I strongly suggest you electronically file the extension. The IRS will happily take your extension electronically; many (but not all) states will, too.

But what do you do if you wait until April 19th? (If you reside in Maine or Massachusetts, April 19th is your Tax Day this year.) Well, get your paperwork together so you can file as quickly as possible and avoid even more penalties. Penalties escalate, so unless you want 25% penalties, get everything ready and see your tax professional next week. He’ll have time for you, and you can leisurely complete your return and only pay one week of interest, one month of the Failure to Pay penalty (0.5% of the tax due), and one month of the Failure to File Penalty (5% of the tax due).

There is a silver lining in all of this. If you are owed a refund and haven’t filed, you will likely receive interest from the IRS. Yes, interest works both ways: The IRS must pay interest on late-filed returns owed refunds. Just one note about that: the interest is taxable.

Bozo Tax Tip #1: Publicize Your Tax Crimes on Social Media!

April 8th, 2016

Social media is really, really big these days. You can follow me on Twitter. I may even update my Facebook page one of these days. Of course, I’m not a tax criminal, and my posts hopefully add knowledge for others.

Of course, where you and I won’t go the Bozo contingent is quite happy to do so. Take, for instance, Rashia Wilson. Ms. Wilson posted a wonderful picture on her Facebook page:

Rashia Wilson (Image Credit: Tampa Police Department)

In the same post, she bragged:

“I’m Rashia, the queen of IRS tax fraud,” Wilson said May 22 on her Facebook page, according to investigators. “I’m a millionaire for the record. So if you think that indicting me will be easy, it won’t. I promise you. I won’t do no time, dumb b——.”

She’s doing 21 years at ClubFed. Oops…

A helpful hint to the Bozo tax community: Law enforcement does read social media. Indeed, the IRS will do a search of you on the Internet prior to a field examination (audit). So if you decide to go on the dark side of life, don’t brag about it online. A better course would be not to go on that dark side to begin with, but that rarely occurs to the Bozo community.


That’s a wrap on our Top Ten Bozo Tax Tips for the 2016 Tax Season. I’ll be back in about a week with normal content.

Bozo Tax Tip #6: The Shell

April 8th, 2016

I was talking with a friend who is an attorney in the Midwest. She told me about an individual who decided to use ten layers of shell companies to hide his income. It worked so well that the Bozo had trouble accessing his income.

He was using the usual foreign shelter countries: the Cayman Islands (in the Caribbean), the Channel Islands (in the English Channel), the Isle of Man (in the Irish Sea), and Vanuatu (in the South Pacific). There was a land-based country in there, too: Panama. In any case, somehow the ownership got so messed up that one of the shells refused to deal with another.

My friend didn’t get involved to get the money situation resolved. No, she got involved because her client ended up going through a messy divorce, and her client happened to find one of the papers dealing with one of the shell companies. My friend’s a divorce attorney, and a good one, and she was able, with some help, find a lot of the hidden money. The judge was not as amused as I was hearing about the difficulties the man was having getting his money out. And neither was the IRS because he had “forgotten” to pay tax on a lot of income.


There are lots of good strategies for businesses to use to lower their taxes. Income balancing to C corporations can be a good strategy. Maximizing Section 179 depreciation is another. So is my least favorite deduction, the Domestic Production Activities Deduction (Section 199). There are many, many others. But hiding income in foreign jurisdictions is a very bad one, and if you get caught you are likely looking at a lengthy term at ClubFed.

Bozo Tax Tip #7: Who Needs to Pay Employment Taxes?!

April 7th, 2016

This Bozo Tax Tip—and do remember, these are things you really, really, really shouldn’t try—is aimed at the business owner who is having problems. Business owners, unlike the federal government, can’t just print money. So let’s assume our hypothetical business owner has payroll tomorrow but doesn’t have the money for everything. What should he do?

Well, one strategy is to not remit the payroll taxes. Sure, they’re “trust fund” taxes but the government can print money and I can’t, so they’ll just let it slip by. And my state government won’t care either, right?


The above strategy is likely one of two quick and easy ways to get on the road to ClubFed. The IRS doesn’t like it when trust fund taxes don’t make it to the government. The penalties are substantial. The liability goes to the owners (and check signers) of the business. IRS Criminal Investigation will investigate this. Don’t do this!

One of my clients recently was interviewed about such a case. He was paid, but apparently the IRS wasn’t. It’s not hard for the IRS to find out about this: After all, every employee is going to file a tax return claiming withholding but the IRS won’t find it. That’s exactly what happened in this case. I suspect that very soon two nice looking individuals (accountants with badges and guns; now that’s a scary thought) will be knocking on a door and saying, “You have the right to remain silent….”

Business troubles aren’t fun. However, if you don’t pay the IRS your employment taxes you will find your troubles multiplying.