Uncle Sam Wants You and Your Foreign Bank Accounts

The United States taxes its citizens and residents on a worldwide basis. So any U.S. citizen or resident (person or company) must pay taxes on its worldwide income. Furthermore, such people and companies have for a longtime been required to disclose foreign bank accounts when filing their annual tax returns. However, until recently, many people simply never thought to disclose these accounts. Penalties were low and not criminal, and the non-disclosure failures seemed not to have had high priority with the Internal Revenue Service (I.R.S.).

Several highly publicized stories changed the situation. In June 2008 a banker at UBS Switzerland pled guilty to conspiring to defraud the IRS by helping U.S. taxpayers avoid IRS reporting requirements. The banker claimed that UBS was managing approximately $20 billion in offshore accounts for U.S. taxpayers. This resulted in UBS being forced into a settlement requiring its disclosure of 4,450 bank accounts to the I.R.S.

A month later, the U.S. Government accused LGT Bank of Liechtenstein of promoting tax evasion through the use of fake trusts and shell companies. This affair was especially embarrassing to the Lichtenstein royal family who own LGT. Reports have surfaced of an expanded inquiry by the IRS into Credit Suisse and HSBC. A similar interest may also exist with the IRS as to Israeli accounts held by US citizens, which would not be surprising given the fact that many Israeli banks have been providing services to U.S. residents.

Seeking to put their hands on money held in foreign banks, the I.R.S., armed with serious criminal and civil penalties, strengthened the foreign bank account reporting requirements (“FBAR”), hired another 400 revenue agents and aggressively went after the holders of non-disclosed foreign assets, bank accounts and the foreign banks assisting them.

FBAR regulations require any United States person who has a financial interest in or signature authority over any financial account in a foreign country, to disclose it if the aggregate value of such account exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year. To clarify, a U.S. person is a citizen or resident of the United States, and any form of entity established in the U.S. FBAR regulations also govern foreign persons or entities doing business in the United States. Thus, FBAR includes U.S. citizens living in Israel, and Israeli companies doing business in the United States. Accountants and tax preparers may face liabilities as well, both from the US government and from their own clients, should they have failed to use reasonable care in preparing their tax returns.

A Financial Interest includes cash, securities, interests in real property or precious metals such as gold or silver. FBAR applies to any account in which a U.S. person has an interest or over which such person has signatory authority. FBAR applies even to cases where a U.S. Person has a power of attorney over the accounts of his/her elderly parents, even though no such power is ever exercised. Whether FBAR applies to all the accounts of an Israeli company doing business in the U.S., or just to some, is open to interpretation.

The penalties for non-compliance border on draconian. Anyone with a foreign account who does not report can be subject to criminal penalties and civil penalties. The criminal penalties are a maximum of $250,000, or five years in prison, or both. Even if no criminal tax penalties are imposed the civil tax penalties are stunningly expensive and are the greater of $100,000, or 50 percent of the entire balance in the account.

What to do? Seeking to allow taxpayers to come forward voluntarily, the IRS established an Amnesty program. Under it, a taxpayer could avoid criminal prosecution and civil fraud penalties by voluntarily disclosing true and complete information, and making payment, by October 15, 2009. Did it make sense to file for Amnesty? You decide. In the case of a tax payer with has a foreign bank account of $1,000,000 that has earned $50,000 in interest since 2003, under the Amnesty, the tax due would be $386,000 plus interest. That person, by failing to apply for Amnesty, could incur taxes, penalties and interest of well in excess of $2.3 million. If the IRS determined that the non-reporting was due to fraud, the amount would be much higher. This is in addition to potential criminal liability.

Now that the deadline for Amnesty has passed, is it too late to come forward? No. The IRS recently reported that 14,700 individuals voluntarily came forward before the Amnesty deadline, but that many of the disclosures were not complete. In a recent informal meeting between the I.R.S. and U.S. tax professionals a senior official with the IRS Criminal Investigations division indicated that taxpayers could still disclose and avoid criminal prosecution if there were no real intent to evade tax. Thus taxpayers (whether living in Israel or the U.S.) may still be able to enjoy the Amnesty if the funds held in Israeli (or other foreign) bank accounts have there source in gift or inheritance or passive Israel-source income. In such cases, it is easier to claim that there was no actual intent to evade tax. However, if the source of the funds is undeclared U.S.-sourced earned income, the situation is more complex.

As the U.S. Government has limited resources to pursue these cases, the IRS revealed new details about the terms of the U.S.-UBS settlement and where the IRS priorities are in dealing with offshore accounts. The IRS is particularly looking for large account balances or evidence of concealment. In a secret annex to the US-Swiss agreement, UBS is required to disclose U.S. person accounts holding $1,000,000, or as low as $250,000 where there is evidence of “tax fraud or the like.” For example, if the taxpayer established the account in the name of an offshore trust or corporation, UBS would be required to disclose the account. The IRS views the use of such entities as evidence of intent to conceal an account, and is putting a priority on pursuing such tax payers.

In summary, the I.R.S. has become more aggressive in pursing undisclosed foreign bank accounts and the failure to report the same can result in serious criminal and civil liability. While the October 15th Amnesty deadline to disclose has passed, in many cases, a U.S. Person can still effect disclosure and benefit from some of the leniency included in the Amnesty program. This is more likely available in those cases where prior failure was the result of ignorance of the law and where has been no intentional tax fraud or evasion.

Monte Silver, Esq.

What Does Your Signature Say About Your Personality?

According to graphologists, your signature is how you want to be seen by the rest of the world, it’s your public face. You will probably change your signature once or twice during your life, as your signature reflects how you evolve as a person. Many people also have variants of signatures which they use, depending whether it is for formal use (i.e. at the bank), or informal use (i.e. on a birthday card or love letter).

In most cases, signatures contain either a first name and a surname, or initials and a surname. When signing and including your first name, it is a representation of your private life, whereas your surname represents your public self, how you act socially.

If in your signature your first name is more visible, it implies that you have positive feelings about your childhood and that your ‘private’ life is usually more important than the way you are seen by the public. If on the other hand your surname is more prominent, this means that your ‘public’ identity is more important to you. If you use initials either for your first name or your surname (or both), it means that you probably wish to keep this part of your life (private or public, as mentioned above), secretive.

Size Does Matter

That’s right, size does matter. We are still talking about signatures so don’t let your mind drift away to other things. A large signature usually shows that you are a person of confidence, however if too big and bold, especially if it is much bigger than the rest of the text, could mark you out as arrogant. Just like large signatures sometimes give the wrong impression, small signatures can have the same effect. A small signature, one that is relatively smaller than the surrounding text, shows a characteristic of shyness, insecurity and low self-esteem.

Rising and Descending Signatures

Signatures sometimes have the tendency to be rising or descending. A rising signature implies optimism and a sense of ambition. When you are faced with problems you can usually tackle them with confidence. On the other hand, a descending signature can mean that you are going through a rough patch in your life, whether it be depression or pessimism. A stable horizontal signature suggests an emotionally stable and well-balanced person who is generally satisfied with how their life is progressing.

Other ‘messages’ your signature can give

• A curved and smooth signature tells that the person is gentle and charming, very outgoing and sociable.

• A signature with the middle name first, indicates that the writer gives top priority to his hobbies and is not able to make faithful friends and lasting relations.

• A signature with a long ending stroke shows extra energy and is proactive.

• A signature with first name and second name interconnected tells a richness in character with a strong parental association.

• A signature with the first letter written in small case with bigger size means that the person has high usable skills but they are beneficial for others, not for himself.

As you can see your signature does say something about you, and for someone who is observant and has some knowledge of signatures (information in this article for instance), they can receive hints on what your personality is all about. Happy signature reading!!!

3 Reasons Why You Should Regularly Reconcile Bank Statements For Your Small Business

There are several reasons an accountant will tell you to reconcile your bank statements regularly, but a lot of small businesses do not make this a priority task, and do not do a month end reconciliation once their bank statements arrive. Why? Well not everyone sees the importance of doing this, especially when cash flow is good and you don’t need to be keeping a close eye on going overdrawn.

The truth of the matter is that bank reconciliation should be prepared each month once you receive your bank statements by mail or through e-mail. The process of performing reconciliation verifies the actual amount of cash available in your bank account.

Employee Theft

It would be nice to think you can trust everyone that works for you, but even officers and partners have been known to loot the bank account, and you may not necessarily find out about this until it is too late. Lot’s of companies have signature stamps these days so not all business owners get to sign and/or see each and every check. Also bear in mind that you may have issued some company debit cards to select employees, officers, or partners, so this expenditure needs to be reconciled each month and verified through receipts.

Cash Flow Forecasting

We all know the state of the economy right now, and even in a good economy a lot of businesses struggle with tight cash flow. If you planned correctly you should have created annual cash flow forecasts for your business, so you can determine your upfront investment, as well as seasonal peaks and troughs in your sales that may require you to inject more capital during leaner periods. If you do not conduct regular monthly bank account reconciliation, you will not be able to accurately compare your projected cash flow forecasts with your actual cash on hand.

Higher Interest Bearing Accounts

Most people have a personal checking and savings account, and they usually leave enough money in their checking account to cover monthly bills and expenses. Any money in excess of normal monthly expenses, inclusive of a buffer, usually gets transferred in to a savings account so you can earn a higher rate of interest on your money. Some families’ budget a year in advance and even split their paycheck so part of it goes in to their checking account, and the other part goes directly in to their savings account. This is smart planning, and depending on how much money you are able to put away in to savings, it can result in a few hundred extra dollars per year, or even a few thousand. This of course depends on interest rates as well.

Why not do the same with your business? Many banks offer higher interest bearing accounts for your business. If you regularly reconcile your business checking account and know roughly on average how much you need in your checking account at any given time to cover your monthly costs, the rest of the excess funds can be transferred to a higher interest bearing account which will ultimately put more money towards your bottom line.

If you are someone who is not reconciling your bank accounts on a monthly basis, seriously considering doing so right away to protect and safeguard your business, and maybe even put a few extra dollars in your pocket!