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By the numbers: offshore disclosure programs rake in the revenue

Last month, we devoted a two-part post to the added pressure to disclose offshore accounts caused by the implementation of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).

The potential penalties for noncompliance with disclosure requirements have pushed many people into the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP). We discussed this in our September 29 post.

In this post, we will update you on the latest information from the IRS about taxpayer participation in OVDP and similar programs.

Last week, the IRS announced that more than 54,000 people have entered offshore disclosure programs since the IRS initiated the first such program in 2009.

That is a lot of people, to be sure. But the amount of revenue that the IRS has collected from offshore disclosure programs is even more striking. That amount is in excess of $8 billion.

The IRS's motives in announcing these figures are not difficult to understand. In essence, the goal seems to be to invite (or scare) people to come in from the cold into the OVDP fold.

In other words, if you are still not in full compliance with foreign account reporting requirements, the IRS wants you to seriously consider entering a disclosure program. Doing this can allow a taxpayer to mitigate penalties. In some cases, the penalties for nondisclosure can be 50 percent of the account balance.

If the nondisclosure is considered "willful," there is also the possibility of having to face criminal tax evasion charges. The possibility of such charges is one of the factors that can make voluntary disclosure programs appealing, because they appear to offer the prospect of at least a partial amnesty.

But taxpayers who are concerned about lack of offshore reporting compliance should proceed cautiously when considering applying for a voluntary disclosure program. The eligibility requirements are actually pretty complicated.

For example, since 2012 taxpayers seeking to come into offshore compliance have had a choice between the existing OVDP process and new streamlined procedures. And in 2014, the IRS expanded the eligibility requirements for these streamlined procedures.

In an upcoming post, we will discuss these eligibility criteria in detail. For now, our point is that taxpayers shouldn't be overawed by the IRS trumpeting the success of OVDP. Instead, it makes sense to discuss your specific situation with a knowledgeable tax attorney.

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