Archive for the ‘FINCEN’ Category

Do You Need a License to Sell Bitcoins?

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Let’s say I own some Bitcoins. I want to sell them to a friend. Do I need a license to do that? This question came up after I was informed that a Missouri man pleaded guilty to operating an illegal money transmitting business.

First, a disclaimer: I am not an attorney. For legal advice, go speak to an attorney specializing in money transmittal law. I am not that person.

If you are in the business of exchanging currency for currency, you need a money transmittal license. Let’s say you open a check cashing store; you may need that license. These licenses are generally on the state level and possibly also from FINCEN (the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network). So clearly Bitcoins, which are property for tax purposes, aren’t a currency, right?

Not so fast. Bitcoins are property in the world of the IRS, but in the view of FINCEN they’re a currency. Bitcoin advocates consider Bitcoins to be a digital currency (or a cyrptocurrency). So two different units of the same government agency (the IRS and FINCEN both fall under the Department of the Treasury) treat the same thing quite differently.

So let’s say I have lots of Bitcoins, and I trade them with a US Bitcoin exchange such as Coinbase. Do I need a money transmittal license? My thinking is no: Coinbase is a licensed money transmittal business, so my selling to them is part of their business.

Let’s say my Aunt Rose gave me five Bitcoins and I sell them to my friend Scott. It’s the only transaction I have in Bitcoins. It’s hard to see how I’m in the business of selling Bitcoins.

On the other hand, suppose I’m a poker player who does quite well on a poker site such as Ignition, and every month I receive some Bitcoins. Rather than selling them to an Exchange I decide to start selling them to others and make more money. That sounds like a business to me, and it might to the US government, too. In that case you should consider speaking with an attorney immediately to determine if what you’re thinking of doing complies with federal, state, and local laws.

Back in the days when Neteller was serving US poker players one of my clients considered going into business facilitating other poker players being able to move money from poker site to poker site. He had a lot of money on Neteller so he was able to deposit money onto (say) Absolute Poker and, in exchange, take money from PokerStars. When he spoke with me I mentioned to him that this might run afoul of the money transmittal laws and strongly suggested he speak with an attorney. The attorney he consulted advised him that my instincts were accurate. I suspect if someone were facilitating such Bitcoin transfers today this, too, would also run afoul of the money transmittal laws.

Getting back to my original question: Do I need a license to sell Bitcoins to a friend? The answer is likely no. But if I go into the business of selling Bitcoins the answer appears to be yes.

FINCEN Announces Due Dates for 2016 FBARs

Monday, December 19th, 2016

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN) announced the due dates for 2016 Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR, Form 114). The FBAR will now be due on the same day as tax returns with an automatic extension for six months. There is no need to file a separate extension with FINCEN for the FBAR. Basically, this means the FBAR is now effectively due on October 15th.

The new rule was required per an act passed by Congress last year. Kudos to FINCEN in implementing this in the simplest, easiest-to-comply version that was possible.

FBAR Deadline Approaches

Monday, June 20th, 2016

Ten days from today is June 30th. That’s the deadline for filing Form 114, the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (the “FBAR”). There are no extensions available.

The FBAR is a report. There is no tax to pay. It’s simply a listing of the accounts and maximum balances. However, the penalties for not reporting the FBAR are egregious. Willful non-reporting has a minimum penalty of $100,000 or half the balance in the account, whichever is greater. So file the FBAR.

I’m getting asked lots of questions from non-clients, and I can’t answer them. The best advice I can give is when in doubt, file the FBAR. You can file it yourself using the BSA efile system.

The IRS has a chart showing many of the accounts that are required to be reported on an FBAR. However, the list is not complete. For example, online gambling accounts must be reported (I maintain a list of addresses of those accounts). (Note: Accounts with the legal/regulated sites in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware are US-based accounts and are not reported.)

One question I will answer: The FBAR must be filed by June 30th; it does not have to be accepted by then. That used to be the case, but FINCEN goes by the time (in your local time zone) when you transmit the return to them. (If you are sending it via tax software, it’s the time of transmittal to the tax software company.)

Next year, the deadline for FBARs will advance to mid-April (hopefully matching the tax deadline), with an extension available for six months. It’s unclear how this will impact expatriates (who have a June tax deadline) or if a separate extension will be required. But that’s an issue where I can honestly say, “Wait ’til next year.”

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

Wednesday, 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.

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

Friday, 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.

Does a Nonresident Alien Spouse that Has Elected to be Treated as a US Person Need to File an FBAR?

Monday, June 29th, 2015

With the FBAR deadline upon us, an interesting question arose: Does a spouse covered by the §1.6013-6 regulation allowing a nonresident alien individual to be treated as a resident need to file an FBAR? Logic says no; the FBAR comes out of the Bank Secrecy Act, not the Tax Code. And the IRS agrees with logic: “If the wife is non us person for FBAR therefore she does not have a filing requirement.” (That quote comes from a question I submitted to the FBAR group at the IRS.)

But beware, if the taxpayers have a Form 8938 filing requirement the wife’s accounts will need to be reported on that form. That’s a tax form, so the accounts would need to be included.

FBAR Filing Follies

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Joe Kristan reported last week that you cannot use Adobe Acrobat to file the FBAR; you must use Adobe Reader. In fact, if you have Adobe Acrobat installed on your computer and use Adobe Reader it won’t work either. Well, I have some mild good news about this.

It appears that if you’re using an older version of Adobe Acrobat (Acrobat 9 or earlier), you will get a warning from FINCEN that the program isn’t right but the filing will go fine. However, the filing will not work with Acrobat X and XI; apparently Acrobat X or XI cannot even be installed on your computer for the filing to work. I guess I’m lucky in that I use Acrobat 9. (We also file most, but not all, of our FBARs using our tax software. Our tax software, ProSeries, added that ability in April.)

I echo what Joe wrote:

Requiring taxpayers to screw around with their computer setup just to meet their FBAR requirements is outrageous. Even if FBAR filing is not merely a sadistic plot — and it sure acts like one — it seems more designed as a hook to punish violators — purposeful and accidental — than a way to gather compliance information. As usual, Congress goes after a small set of violators by firing into the crowd.

The idea that an older piece of software works just fine but the new one doesn’t is ridiculous. It’s also par for the course when dealing with the FBAR.

FBAR Deadline Is June 30th, but It’s Not a Midnight Deadline

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Almost every tax deadline is a postmark deadline. If your return is postmarked by midnight of the deadline day it’s considered timely filed. If you file it electronically, and it’s filed by midnight, it’s timely. Of course, with every rule there’s an exception. That exception is definitely the FBAR.

The FBAR–Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts–must be electronically filed. It’s due on June 30th and there are no extensions. So if I file it by midnight local time on June 30th I’m fine, right?

My software company says no. Here’s the message they sent me:

As a reminder, taxpayers that are required to report foreign bank and financial accounts must file Form 114 electronically by June 30th, and the returns must be either Accepted or Accepted with Errors by midnight, June 30th. We strongly recommend that 114 returns be filed no later than 6PM in your time zone to allow for agency processing. FinCEN does not recognize an e-postmark to timely filing, unlike the IRS. Additionally, there is no extension of time to file 114 FBAR returns.

So I took a look at an FBAR I submitted this past week:

Yes, it took over two days to accept the FBAR…and that’s what I’ve been seeing consistently. Assuming my software company is right, that means the true deadline for FBARs is Saturday…which I find hard to believe. I doubt a court would look at an FBAR filed on June 30th (during normal hours) as untimely but who knows? I’ve seen too many strange things with the FBAR this month.

My advice is simple: File the FBAR asap–it at all possible by Saturday. You’re likely fine if you file it by 6 pm in your time zone on Monday, but the penalties are ridiculous on this. As an aside, I searched the FINCEN website, their FAQs on the FBAR, and the IRS website pages on the FBAR to see if I could find any confirmation of what my software company said. I couldn’t; unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Just File the FBAR

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Several of our clients have asked, “The decision on poker accounts being ‘banks’ is nonsensical. Do I really have to file an FBAR for those accounts?”

I am in general agreement with the individuals questioning the ruling. Banks and financial institutions generally offer investments, credit cards, loans, checking accounts, securities, and similar products. An online gambling site does take client’s money–but solely so that the client can gamble.

The United States has, for various laws, lumped casinos in with banks. For example, casinos fall under the same currency transaction reporting rules as banks. If you take $20,000 into your local casino and deposit it at the casino cage, a Currency Transaction Report is supposed to be issued. Casinos have to issue Suspicious Activity Reports.

If you go back to 2009, the FBAR was required for online gambling accounts. (That was the advice given to us from the IRS FBAR group.) In 2011, when new regulations came into play, the IRS no longer said that. The new regulations appeared to make an online gambling site not a reportable foreign financial account.

However, a federal judge disagreed.

Section 5312(a)(2) lists 26 different types of entities that may qualify as a “financial institution.” Based on the breadth of the definition, our court of appeals has held that “the term ‘financial institution’ is to be given a broad definition.” United States v. Dela Espriella, 781 F.2d 1432, 1436 (9th Cir. 1986). The government claims that FirePay, PokerStars, and PartyPoker are all financial institutions because they function as “commercial bank[s].” Section 5312(a)(2)(B). The Fourth Circuit in Clines found that “[b]y holding funds for third parties and disbursing them at their direction, [the organization at issue] functioned as a bank [under Section 5314].” Clines, 958 F.2d at 582 (emphasis added).

It may be that this decision will be reversed. It’s possible another court would come to a very different conclusion. But the laws on the FBAR are draconian, including willful penalties that are a minimum $100,000 fine. My thinking is simple: I’d rather be safe than sorry. Thus, my strong advice is, “Just file the FBAR.”


We sent out a special newsletter to our clients on this issue. Here’s what we wrote:

The FBAR is due June 30th and there are no extensions. There are significant penalties (including possible imprisonment) for FBAR mistakes.

The general rule on whether you have to file an FBAR is if you have $10,000 or more aggregate in one or more foreign financial accounts at any time during the year you must file an FBAR. If your aggregate balance remained under $10,000, you will not have an FBAR filing requirement.

Even if you don’t have an FBAR filing requirement you must still disclose your foreign financial accounts on your tax return. At the bottom of Schedule B are a few questions which include, “At any time during 2013, did you have a financial interest in or signature authority over a financial account, (such as a bank account, securities account, or brokerage account) located in a foreign country?” This question must be answered yes if you have a non-US based online gambling account.

There are two choices in filing an FBAR. We can file it for you (we would need you to complete and return Form 114a; if you need us to send you this form, let either Aaron or me know) or you can file it yourself at the BSA efile system.

Here are answers to some questions relating to this issue:

1. I had $6,000 maximum in my PokerStars account. I cashed it out and moved that same $6,000 into my foreign bank account. Do I need to file an FBAR? No. You never reached $10,000 aggregate in your foreign financial accounts.

2. I already filed my FBAR for 2013 but I have online gambling accounts that must be reported. What do I do? You will need to file an amended FBAR.

3. My tax return has already been filed; I did not note any foreign financial accounts on Schedule B. Will I need to amend that return? Yes.

4. Do online gambling accounts count for Form 8938 on the tax return? (Form 8938 is similar to the FBAR and reports certain foreign financial accounts.) Yes

5. Do I need to go back for prior years and file amended FBARs and tax returns? This is unclear at the present time, but the answer is probably yes. The statute of limitations on FBARs is six years from the due date, so 2009-2013 are open (2008 will be beyond the statute of limitations on July 1, 2014). However, gambling accounts were considered foreign financial accounts for 2009, so this impacts solely 2010-2012 for FBAR purposes. For tax returns, only 2011 and 2012 are open (assuming timely filing). Note also that the first year for Form 8938 was 2012.

I and other practitioners have asked the IRS and FINCEN for more information regarding this. I do expect to obtain a response regarding this within a couple of weeks. I will be updating this issue on my tax blog (http://taxabletalk.com) when I have more information.

6. My only online gambling accounts are in Nevada and New Jersey with the regulated sites in those states. Do I need to file an FBAR? No. Those accounts are not considered foreign financial accounts.

7. My online gambling accounts are with current US-facing sites; their legality is questionable. Must I report my accounts on an FBAR? Yes, as long as you have $10,000 or more aggregate in one or more such accounts.

8. Can I access my PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker accounts while in the United States? Yes, you can. PokerStars sent us instructions on how to do this:

Your deposit, cashout, transfer and playing transaction history is now available for request directly from the PokerStars software. To request this information from the PokerStars Lobby screen, select:
‘Requests’ -> ‘Playing History Audit’
From the pop-up window that appears, you can select a date range to request the specific information required. You will also need to select a password for the file. You may choose any password you wish; however, we do not recommend using the same password as for your PokerStars account. If you wish to view your FPP/VPP information, please ensure the relevant box is checked.
Finally, you will need to select the output format. The options available are Excel (97-2003), HTML and a text file. Then click on OK to submit the request. You will be prompted to enter your PokerStars password to confirm the request. An email with further instructions will be sent to your registered email address.
If the file provided will not open, it indicates you have an older compression program that does not support the encryption used on the file. To resolve this and open the file, you will need to update your compression program or download a new compression program. We recommend using WinZip 11 (or newer) or 7-zip which will allow you to open the file. You can access these programs from the following links:
WinZip – http://www.winzip.com/prod_down.htm (Choose ‘Download’ > ‘Get WinZip Free’)
7-zip – http://www.7-zip.org/


I will be posting a list of online gambling addresses next week.

FBAR Changes for 2014

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

There have been some changes made by by FINCEN (the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) for the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) for 2014. While overall these are minor, they will impact everyone who files an FBAR.

First, Form TD F 90-22.1 is no more. The FBAR has a new form number, Form 114.

Second, as of last July the FBAR must be electronically filed. The good news is that as of last October, your tax accountant can file the form for you as long as you complete Form 114a.

Third, as of January 1st, you don’t have to register to efile an FBAR. You can now just go the BSA efile website, follow the instructions and file the form. Do note that past experience is that the BSA efile website works well in Internet Explorer but might not work in Firefox or Chrome.

And most importantly, the definition of who must file has changed slightly. The new rule effective November 23, 2013, states:

United States persons are required to file an FBAR if:

The United States person had a financial interest in or signature authority over at least one financial account located outside of the United States; and
The aggregate value of all foreign financial accounts exceeded $10,000 at any time during the calendar year to be reported. [emphasis added]

It used to be that the rule was take the maximum value of each account, sum the maximums, and compare the sum to $10,000. Now, the rule (except for dollar amounts) matches that of FATCA (except for dollar amounts) in that it looks at your value in an account on one day.

Some things haven’t changed, though. The FBAR is due on June 30th and there are no extensions. If you have a foreign financial account you must check a box at the bottom of Schedule B even if you don’t need to file the FBAR. There’s a second box you must check if you need to file an FBAR, and you have to list the countries you have foreign accounts in (if you must file an FBAR) on your tax return. Thus, if you do need to file the FBAR, get your information together as your tax professional will need it in order to file your return.