IRS Tweaks Offshore Account Rules to Prod Tax Cheats to Pay Up

Eases up on accidental tax evaders; stiffens penalties for willful dodgers

Stashing cash abroad? The IRS urges you to "get right with the government." Stashing cash abroad? The IRS urges you to "get right with the government."

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The days of hiding assets in accounts overseas are coming to an end, says the Internal Revenue Service.

On Wednesday, the IRS announced changes to its 5-year-old campaign to force greater tax compliance from millions of Americans with undisclosed foreign accounts.

“Our aim is to get people to disclose their accounts, pay the tax they owe and get right with the government,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a statement.

The changes to the IRS’ offshore account compliance program should help the people in the U.S. and abroad who unintentionally cheated on their taxes by having offshore accounts, while also pushing those who have been trying to hide money abroad to come forward sooner.

The first change is an expansion of the streamlined filing compliance procedures, which allow U.S. taxpayers living abroad who didn’t know they were out of compliance to catch up on their U.S. filing requirements without paying steep penalties.

“To encourage these taxpayers to come forward, we’re expanding the eligibility criteria, eliminating a cap on the amount of tax owed to qualify for the program, and doing away with a questionnaire that applicants were required to complete,” Koskinen said.

The second change will allow those that don’t qualify for the streamlined procedures because their tax evasion is considered willful to participate in this program. People who want to participate in this program will have to provide more information than in the past, submit all account statements at the time they apply for the program, and in some cases pay more in penalties than they would have done had they entered this program earlier.

“[W]e want to send a message to anyone who continues to willfully and aggressively evade our tax laws by hiding money overseas that they will pay a higher price for that noncompliance,” Koskinen said.

Since the IRS started its offshore voluntary disclosure initiatives in 2009, there have been more than 45,000 voluntary disclosures and the collection of about $6.5 billion in taxes, interest and penalties. Federal prosecutors have filed more than 100 criminal indictments since the campaign began in 2009.

“We want everyone to know that we are continuing our efforts to track down people still out there who are hiding assets overseas,” Koskinen said. “More information on these accounts is coming in every day.”

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