Archive for the ‘International’ Category

Five Sentenced for Tax Fraud; Justice Department Gets ITINs Wrong

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

A Justice Department press release caught my eye. Five individuals, all Mexican nationals residing in the US, were sentenced to ClubFed for terms between 33 months and 121 months. The five individuals had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and they had indeed done so:

Beginning in 2014 and under the direction of Natividad Medina, the defendants conspired to steal money from the U.S. Treasury and U.S. taxpayers by exploiting the ITIN system. The Medina sisters began by collecting Mexican identification documents from unknown people in Mexico and used those to fraudulently obtain ITINs. The Medina sisters then used those ITINs to submit false and fraudulent income tax returns to the Internal Revenue Service Center in Austin. They requested that the IRS mail refund checks to residences or to one of more than 200 post office boxes in and around the Houston area which Lopez had rented and maintained on behalf of the Medina sisters.

Kudos to the DOJ and IRS Criminal Investigation for stopping these individuals.

Unfortunately, either the Department of Justice or the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas needs to learn more about Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs). Here’s what they say about ITINs:

According to court records, in 1996, the Internal Revenue Service began issuing Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, or “ITINs”. By obtaining an ITIN, an individual who is already disregarding federal law by living in the United States illegally is given the opportunity to comply with federal law by filing taxes. If the applicant can furnish sufficient proof (i.e. foreign birth certificate, national identification card, passport, etc.) that he or she is living in the United States illegally, the IRS will issue that person an ITIN.

While that’s true, there are other purposes ITINs are used for. If a US citizen is married to a non-American, an ITIN can be issued for the spouse. An ITIN can also be issued for a dependent of a US citizen. A non-citizen who has a US tax filing responsibility (and who is not in the US illegally) will also be issued an ITIN. One would think that the DOJ or US Attorney’s Office might look at an IRS web page (like this one) to see the legitimate reasons why one would obtain an ITIN.

While I was on vacation came the news that ITINs will now expire, with ITINs with middle digits of “78” and “79” expiring this year. While a renewal application (Form W-7) will be available by October 1st, and you won’t need to file a tax return to renew the ITIN, I’ve had lots of problems with the ITIN office (lost applications, lost paperwork, problems even when the Taxpayer Advocate Office handed the paperwork in) that I’m glad it appears none of my clients are in the first group of renewals. If you get the idea that I’m expecting problems, you’re right. But I digress….

In any case, I do say well done to the DOJ for putting these scofflaws behind bars. However, next time read up on why some people who are either visiting the US quite legally or are related to a US citizen really need an ITIN in order for them (or a US citizen) to comply with their US tax filing responsibilities.

Can a Non-Tax Treaty Country Resident Obtain a Refund of Gambling Withholding from the IRS?

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

Every year during the World Series of Poker (WSOP) I receive several inquiries like the following:

I’m a resident of Brazil and I cashed in an event at the WSOP and won $100,000 (net). The Rio withheld 30% of that for your Internal [Revenue] Service. Can I get any of that back?

The good news is that a tax benefit is available. However, it’s not what you might think. Let’s look at the four methods of obtaining a tax benefit:

1. Tax Treaty. The US and Brazil don’t have a Tax Treaty, so there’s no way of getting the money back by claiming a Tax Treaty benefit.

2. Conducting a Business in the US. An individual conducting a business in the US must file a US tax return, and will owe tax based on the net income of the business. A poker player conducting a business in the US who has $100,000 of winnings and $100,000 of losses will have an income of $0 and not owe tax. Thus, that individual would be able to obtain a refund.

There’s a problem here, though: Is this individual conducting a business in the US? To be conducting a business in the US requires regularity: A business isn’t playing in one poker tournament or one event in one poker tournament. So is it possible for a non-American to be conducting a business in the US? Absolutely.

Consider a professional golfer from (say) Brazil playing on the PGA tour. That individual would almost certainly be conducting a business in the US, and be able to deduct losses and business expenses. (Indeed, that individual might even be considered a resident of the United States based on days in the US and have to file a Form 1040 rather than a Form 1040NR.)

Let’s go back to our Brazilian poker player. The IRS would almost certainly reject such a return at audit unless the person could demonstrate the regularity of a business. Playing in one tournament or one tournament series does not mean you’re conducting a business in the US. This means that for most non-Americans the conducting a business in the US method is not available.

3. Claim Gambling Losses on Form 1040NR. There’s a problem here: Only residents of Canada can claim gambling losses on a Form 1040NR. The IRS used to have a problem with this. However, the IRS redesigned Form 1040NR and put on the form that gambling losses can be taken only by residents of Canada and no longer issues incorrect refunds. This method will not work.

4. Claim a Foreign Tax Credit on a Brazil Tax Return. Almost every country has the ability on their tax returns to claim a foreign tax credit to avoid double taxation. It is likely that this method is available for a Brazilian poker player. It won’t be a refund from the IRS, but it will give you a tax benefit such that you will pay the higher of the two countries’ marginal tax rates. This is the only method that is available for most in this situation.

Yesterday I happen to be at the Rio and overheard someone saying that anyone can apply for a refund of the withholding. That is simply incorrect. The reality is that most individuals subject to withholding on their gambling winnings will not be able to obtain a refund of their withholding.

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.”

Answering Some FBAR-Related Questions

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

The FBAR–the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (Form 114)–is due on June 30th. If you have $10,000 aggregate in one or more foreign financial accounts you must file the FBAR. There are no extensions available. Here are three of the many questions regarding the FBAR in the mailbag:

1. “I live in Denmark; my wife is a Danish citizen (I am a US citizen). We have elected to file a joint US tax return. Does my wife need to file the FBAR?”

No. The FBAR is required of US citizens and permanent residents, but not for non-US citizen/permanent resident spouses of US citizens residing outside of the US. However, if you have a Form 8938 filing requirement your wife’s accounts would need to be included on that form (since you have elected to file a joint tax return).

2. “I became a permanent resident in November [2015]. My one foreign account, a bank account in Mexico, has not had $10,000 (equivalent) in it since I became a permanent resident. Do I need to file an FBAR?”

Maybe. The requirement is based on the calendar year, not the two months you were a permanent resident. So if your Mexican bank account had $10,000 in it at any time during 2015, file the FBAR.

3. “Why do we have to file both the FBAR and Form 8938? It’s the same information!”

Because we live in the bureaucratic world, and our Congress gave us duplicative laws. The FBAR is not a tax law; it’s part of the Bank Secrecy Act (Title 31 of the US Code). Form 8938 is a tax law (Title 26 of the US Code) and comes from FATCA. Until Congress changes the law we’re stuck complying with it.

Lionel Messi On Trial For Tax Evasion

Monday, May 30th, 2016

Football–well, soccer for us colonials–is a big business. Lionel Messi is one of the world’s best players. The Spanish tax agency, Agencia Tributaria, accuses Mr. Messi (and his father) of evading €4.16 million of tax on his image rights. Mr. Messi says he just did what his father, Jorge Messi, said to do.

The trial of the two begins tomorrow in Barcelona; Lionel Messi is on trial even though prosecutors asked that the case against him be dismissed (the judge refused). The court will have to decide whether the Messis used a web of interlocking phony companies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid paying tax in Spain. Lionel Messi has made a protective payment of the tax.

The trial is expected to conclude this week. Both defendants face up to 22 1/2 months in prison and fines of up to €4.16 million.

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.

Can a Resident of a Non-Tax Treaty Country (With Respect to Gambling) Get His Withheld Funds Back?

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

Today, I received an inquiry from a citizen of New Zealand (he is not a US citizen or permanent resident). He had done well in a poker tournament here in the United States–well enough to have had 30% of his net winnings withheld. Non-US citizens who are not from a country with a Tax Treaty with the US where gambling income is exempted are subject to 30% withholding on gambling winnings. The gentleman had gambling losses in the US that exceeded his win. He wanted to know if I could file a Form 1040NR for him so he could get his withheld funds returned to him.

The problem is that except for Canadians and residents from tax treaty countries, there is no way to get that withholding back. Canadians are allowed to file a Form 1040NR and claim gambling losses up to the amount of wins, and get a refund. New Zealanders are not.

But he produced an email he had sent to another accounting firm along with their response. He asked the same question he asked me, with the same facts, and was told by that firm he could get a refund. He also referred me to an Internet article where someone said it was possible.

Well, the IRS was wrongly giving refunds a few years ago but they figured out there was a problem. The IRS redesigned Form 1040NR a couple of years ago; line 11 of Schedule NEC now states,

Gambling Winnings—Residents of countries other than Canada. Note: Losses not allowed.

I know the law in this area, and my correspondent is out of luck. He cannot legally get back his withheld funds. (If he is a professional gambler and has to pay tax to New Zealand on his winnings, he likely can get a tax credit on his New Zealand tax return to prevent double taxation.)

What bothers me isn’t the incorrect information on the Internet (I’ve come to expect that) but that my correspondent communicated with a supposedly respected accounting firm that should have known the right answer but either didn’t know or didn’t care to find out. I don’t know tax law well with respect to, say, the banking industry. Of course, if a bank were to approach me about doing their tax returns I’d decline the engagement and refer them to someone who does know that industry. My mother taught me that if you don’t know the answer to a question, saying “I don’t know but I’ll find out” is a great answer, and it’s one I use today. I hope that firm tries that answer out in the future. Their Errors & Omissions insurance carrier will appreciate it.

TIGTA: “IRS Can’t Track International Correspondence.” IRS: “So What.”

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

The nature of my practice is such that I have a relatively large number of clients who live outside the United States. When one of my expatriate clients gets an IRS notice, I shudder. The IRS offices that handle international issues have issues with correspondence coming from the US. I’ve had to send the same item five times to the ITIN office…where it was lost five times. (At least they were consistent.) It turns out that the IRS doesn’t know what happens to much of the mail the agency sends overseas.

It was no surprise when I read a report issued by TIGTA (the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration) today titled, “Planned Improvements Have Not Been Made to Manage and Track Correspondence With International Taxpayers.” Here’s what TIGTA found:

Even though the IRS sent approximately 855,000 notices and letters to U.S. taxpayers living in other countries during Calendar Year 2014, it cannot determine taxpayer response rates. The lack of data on response rates for international taxpayers is problematic because this information is needed to determine the effectiveness of international correspondence on increasing taxpayer compliance and to make program improvements.

IRS data systems are not designed to accommodate the different styles of international addresses, which can cause notices to be undeliverable. Other factors complicate the delivery of international mail, making its delivery less certain than domestic correspondence.

In addition, the IRS generally does not know if international taxpayers receive the tax correspondence sent to them. Without specific controls to monitor and metrics to measure international tax correspondence, the IRS cannot determine the impact of its international tax correspondence on taxpayer compliance.

TIGTA made five recommendations; the IRS disagreed with all but one of them:

While the IRS generally agreed that TIGTA’s recommendations could provide additional insight into the factors contributing to undeliverable international mail, it does not believe this information would permit the IRS to overcome budgetary, statutory, and operational constraints as needed to achieve appreciable improvement in its current processes. TIGTA does not believe that the IRS’s response is adequate because current IRS processes for addressing international mail issues are ineffective or nonexistent.

So what should you do if you’re an international taxpayer? The easiest solution is to have someone in the US designated to receive a copy of your correspondence from the IRS. You can do this by completing Form 8821 and checking box 5a (“If you want copies of tax information, notices and other written communications sent to the appointee on an ongoing basis, check this box”). The instructions for Form 8821 are here.

By the way, I completely agree with what TIGTA wrote–that the IRS’s response is inadequate. But don’t worry, the IRS’s Annual Filing Season Program is continuing….

Neymar Tax Evasion Investigation Continues; Judge Freezes $48 Million of Assets

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

Neymar is one of the world’s best soccer players. Given an injury to fellow Barcelona player Lionel Messi, there’s pressure on Neymar and his teammates to step up. Earlier this year it was disclosed that Neymar was being investigated for tax evasion. That investigation has apparently continued; a judge froze 188.8 million Reals ($47.6 million) of Neymar’s assets.

According to the news report, the judge froze assets of Neymar and his parents. The judge froze three times the value of the alleged evasion ($18 million). His parents dispute the evasion.

Not Remitting Employment Taxes Doesn’t Work in Japan Either

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

In the United States, one of the quickest ways of getting in tax trouble is by withholding employment taxes and not remitting those taxes to the IRS. The rate of investigation is as close to 100% as you can get–and it’s normally a criminal investigation. It appears the same holds true in Japan. This story has a second component: There’s something about strip clubs–err, adult entertainment facilities, that make them hotbeds for tax evasion.

From Osaka, Japan comes the story of Naoko Hayashi. The 52-year-old former manager of the Jumeirah hostess club has been indicted and charged with not remitting 57.7 million yen ($464,000) out of 83.2 million yen ($669,000) withheld from pay of the hostesses working in the club. The article in the Tokyo Reporter notes that it costs a minimum of 50,000 yen ($402) to enter the club.

Among the problems with not remitting withholding tax is that it’s a crime that’s fairly trivial to prove. The payroll records will show the withholding, and the National Tax Agency and the Osaka Regional Taxation Bureau won’t show the withholding. It’s also a crime that is guaranteed to show up: When the hostesses file their tax returns and claim the withholding the tax agency won’t see it. But it appears the Bozo tax contingent is equally active in Japan as in the United States.