Foreign Bank Account Reporting (FBAR)

FBAR was created as part of a US initiative to uncover hidden monies in offshore accounts. FBAR has been around for years. The IRS is forcing those with money in overseas bank accounts to disclose those accounts if balances exceed the threshold. Keep in mind that those filing FBAR aren’t taxed on the balance of the accounts or anything of the sort—it’s truly just a reporting requirement so the IRS knows what money lies overseas.

Any US person with a foreign account balance of $10,000 or more at any point during the tax year will need to file. The threshold is also an aggregate amount—meaning, if you have multiple accounts, it’s the total balance of all of your accounts that trigger a filing requirement. So, if you are thinking that keeping $3,500 in one account and $7,500 in another will enable you to avoid filing, you are incorrect. This also applies to those who simply have signing authority over an overseas account. That’s an important thing to remember, as the account doesn’t have to be YOUR account. To explain further, signature or authority means the authority of an individual to control the disposition of money, funds or other assets held in a financial account by direct communication to the person with whom the financial account is maintained.

Along with your bank account balances you also need to report Foreign stock or securities held in a financial account at a foreign financial institution – The account itself must be reported but the contents of the account do not need to be reported separately, Financial account held at a foreign branch of a US bank, Foreign mutual funds and Foreign-issued life insurance or annuity contract with a cash-value.

FBAR is filed separately to the Department of the Treasury. You have to submit it electronically through the BSA e-filing site. This form is also necessary if you hold joint accounts. Your spouse would sign this form to allow you to file on their behalf. Keep in mind that if your spouse has other accounts you are not on that he/she needs to file (i.e. individual accounts), they must file their FBAR separately (including the FBAR for your joint account). The filing deadline is June 30th each year and unlike your Federal Tax Return, no extensions are available.

For those whose lack of filing was non-willful (meaning you truly didn’t know about your reporting obligation), the fine can be $10,000 per violation. If it is determined that you purposely avoided filing, the fine can be $100,000 or 50% of the balance of the account at the time of the violation (whichever is greater).

The IRS has created two amnesty programs to help you get caught up. The program most helpful to expats is the Streamlined Filing Procedures. This program is available to US citizens living in both the US and abroad and all who have failed to file due to lack of knowledge are eligible. To file under this program, you will file the last 3 years of Federal Tax Returns (if you haven’t already done so) as well as the last 6 years of FBARs. The FBAR filings will be done electronically, just as they would if you filed on time. It is extremely important that you get caught up if you are behind in your filings.

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