Analysis of the Penalties for Willful Failure to File Reports of Foreign Bank Accounts

By Bryan C. Skarlatos & Michael Sardar
New York University 68th Institute On Federal Taxation
May 2010 

For nearly four decades, the law has required United States taxpayers to file Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts ("FBARs") disclosing the existence of foreign bank accounts holding more than a certain amount of money. 1 However, until recently, most taxpayers and many tax professionals had no idea these reporting obligation and they were rarely enforced. That has all changed with the recent investigation of UBS and the subsequent focus on offshore financial assets. The IRS has signaled that it intends to police the FBAR reporting requirements with much more vigilance.2 The evolution of the FBAR reporting requirements from a relatively obscure form that most taxpayers and tax return preparers did not know about into one of the IRS's most significant enforcement priorities in years raises questions about when it is appropriate for the IRS to penalize taxpayers who failed to file past years' FBARs. 

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