Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

FBAR, Form 8938 filings increase as taxpayers become more aware of reporting requirements

Six years ago, Congress passed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which set in motion a wave of new reporting and disclosure requirements by individuals, foreign financial institutions, and others. In response, the IRS created a host of new rules and regulations; and new forms for these reporting requirements. One key FATCA form – Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets – has seen usage steadily increase since passage of FATCA, the IRS recently reported. At the same time, more individuals are filing a related form – FinCEN Form 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (known as the FBAR), which reached a record high in 2015.

Two key forms

FATCA generally requires U.S. citizens, resident aliens and certain non-resident aliens to report specified foreign financial assets on Form 8938 if the aggregate value of those assets exceeds certain thresholds. Examples of financial accounts include: savings, deposit, checking, and brokerage accounts held with a bank or broker-dealer. And, to the extent held for investment and not held in a financial account, individuals must report stock or securities issued by someone who is not a U.S. person, any other interest in a foreign entity, and any financial instrument or contract held for investment with an issuer or counterpart that is not a U.S. person. Examples of these assets that must be reported if not held in an account include (but are not limited to) stock or securities issued by a foreign corporation; a note, bond or debenture issued by a foreign person; a partnership interest in a foreign partnership; and any interest in a foreign-issued insurance contract or annuity with a cash-surrender value. Reporting thresholds vary based on whether a taxpayer files a joint income tax return or lives abroad.

Individuals with an interest in, or signature or other authority over foreign financial accounts whose aggregate value exceeded $10,000 have a separate reporting requirement. This requirement is satisfied by filing the FBAR. The FBAR is filed through the BSA E-Filing System (with Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).

Note. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has proposed revisions to the rules for filing FBARs. The revisions generally would apply to financial professionals who file FBARs due to their employment responsibilities

Increase in filings

According to the IRS, taxpayers filed more than 300,000 Forms 8938 with their returns in tax year (TY) 2014. The number of filings was approximately the same as in 2014 but up from 200,000 filing for TY 2011, which was the first year for filing Form 8938. Form 8938 is filed with the taxpayer’s annual return.

FinCEN received 1,163,229 FBARs in 2015, representing an eight percent increase compared to 2014. During the past five years, the number of FBAR filings has increased on average by 17 percent each year, the IRS reported.

IRS investigations

Since passage of FATCA, the IRS has stepped up its investigations into reports of undisclosed foreign accounts. The IRS often uses its summons authority to discover foreign accounts and the federal courts have upheld the agency’s authority when challenged by taxpayers.

In Chan, 2016-1 ustc ¶50,205, February 29, 2016, the First Circuit Court of Appeals found that foreign bank account records fell within the required records exception to the Fifth Amendment. The First Circuit joined seven other circuits in holding that the required records exception applies.

The court found that the Bank Secrecy Act requires individuals engaged in foreign banking to file reports and maintain certain records. These records must be retained for a certain time and must be available for inspection. The required records doctrine prevents individuals, who possess records the government requires to be maintained as a result of voluntary participation in certain regulated activities, from asserting their Fifth Amendment privilege.

If you have any questions about Form 8938, the FBAR, or the required records exception, please contact our office.

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