The IRS began an open-ended offshore voluntary disclosure program (OVDP) in January 2012 on the heels of strong interest in the 2011 and 2009 programs. The IRS may end the 2012 program at any time in the future. The IRS is offering people with undisclosed income from offshore accounts another opportunity to get current with their tax returns. The 2012 OVDP has a higher penalty rate than the previous program but offers clear benefits to encourage taxpayers to disclose foreign accounts now rather than risk detection by the IRS and possible criminal prosecution.
Taxpayers with undisclosed foreign accounts or entities should make a voluntary disclosure because it enables them to become compliant, avoid substantial civil penalties and generally eliminate the risk of criminal prosecution. Making a voluntary disclosure also provides the opportunity to calculate, with a reasonable degree of certainty, the total cost of resolving all offshore tax issues.
Taxpayers who do not submit a voluntary disclosure run the risk of detection by the IRS and the imposition of substantial penalties, including the fraud penalty and foreign information return penalties, and an increased risk of criminal prosecution.
The IRS remains actively engaged in ferreting out the identities of those with undisclosed foreign accounts. Moreover, increasingly this information is available to the IRS under tax treaties, through submissions by whistleblowers, and will become more available under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and Foreign Financial Asset Reporting.
Possible criminal charges related to tax returns include tax evasion, filing a false return and failure to file an income tax return.
Willfully failing to file an FBAR and willfully filing a false FBAR are both violations that are subject to criminal penalties.
A person convicted of tax evasion is subject to a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000. Filing a false return subjects a person to a prison term of up to three years and a fine of up to $250,000.
A person who fails to file a tax return is subject to a prison term of up to one year and a fine of up to $100,000. Failing to file an FBAR subjects a person to a prison term of up to ten years and criminal penalties of up to $500,000.