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!!!

4 Simple Steps to Go Signature

If so, you may be at the right point in your business growth to add what I call a “signature program” to your catalog of services. A signature program is a unique, focused group learning experience that helps your clients achieve high-value goals.

You can develop your own signature program by following these four steps:

Step 1: Cut through the “Idea Chaos”: If you’re like most coaches, consultants and others in the expertise business, your head is probably spinning with ideas. How do you cut through the “idea chaos” and decide on the best concept for your signature program? The process is quite simple, and starts with committing all of your ideas to paper.

Then, analyze each idea from the perspective of your clients. At the end of your program, what do you want your clients to know? How do you want them to feel? What do you want them to walk away with? The answers to these questions will point you to the winning idea.

Step 2: Filter, Filter, Filter: It may be tempting at this point to run with your best idea. Not so fast! I recommend asking yourself a few filtering questions to make sure the idea passes muster. If you answer “yes” to the first question, your idea passes the filter and you can move to the next one…until you reach the last question with four affirmative answers. But if at any point, your honest answer to a question is “no,” I suggest you go back to the idea bank.

The four sequential filtering questions are:

  • Does this idea fit with my mission and message?
  • Will this idea deliver an ideal client outcome that my clients will value and pay for?
  • Does the idea capture my “secret sauce” – that special something that makes my approach and philosophy unique?
  • How well does the idea align with my mission-critical priorities?

Step 3: Make Your Program POP: POP is an easy-to-remember acronym that will ensure that your signature program achieves your goals and those of your clients:

  • Purpose: The first P stands for purpose, which you should consider from two perspectives: your purpose for conducting the program and your clients’ reasons for participating.
  • Outcomes: Again, look at both your desired outcome in delivering the program and what your clients will get out of it.
  • Process: The final P is for process, which takes into account your content, your clients’ needs and your preferences. Think about the timeline and how many sessions you’ll need. Consider the delivery channel: live vs. virtual, or a combination of the two. Based on all of these factors, think about the best format for delivering your program, which could be a class, a mastermind group, a coaching session, a retreat, consulting package, workshop or a mixture.

Step 4: Test Your Program: You’ve done all the planning and you think you have a great signature program. But, there’s no way to truly know for sure until you run a beta session. I think a good approach is to conduct the program for a small group of clients and charge them a fraction of your planned price.

It’s a win-win situation. Your clients benefit from the program at a fraction of the normal price, and you’re able to see what works and what doesn’t – starting with how you market the program down to execution. Following your beta program, you can tweak the content, format, timeline, marketing and delivery channel of your program based on your pilot program.

You’ve followed the four steps, and you’re confident you have a winning signature program. It’s time to launch!