FS-2018-7, April 2018
In a global economy, many people in the United States have foreign financial accounts. The law requires owners of foreign financial accounts to report their accounts to the U.S Treasury Department, even if the accounts don’t generate any taxable income. Account owners need to report accounts by the April due date following the calendar year that they own a foreign financial account.
The U.S. government requires individuals to report foreign financial accounts because foreign financial institutions may not be subject to the same reporting requirements as domestic ones.
Who needs to report
Since 1970, the Bank Secrecy Act requires U.S. persons who own a foreign bank account, brokerage account, mutual fund, unit trust or other financial account to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) if they have:
- Financial interest in, signature authority or other authority over one or more accounts in a foreign country, and
- The aggregate value of all foreign financial accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year.
A U.S. person is a citizen or resident of the United States or any domestic legal entity such as a partnership, corporation, limited liability company, estate or trust.
A foreign country includes any area outside the United States or outside these U.S. territories and possessions:
- Northern Mariana Islands,
- District of Columbia,
- American Samoa,
- Puerto Rico,
- United States Virgin Islands,
- Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands and
- Indian lands, as defined in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
How to report
Those required to report their foreign accounts should file the FBAR electronically using the BSA E-Filing System. The FBAR is due April 15. If April 15 falls on a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday, the FBAR is due the next business day. Taxpayers don’t file the FBAR with individual, business, trust or estate tax returns.
Jointly-owned accounts. If two people jointly keep a foreign financial account or if several people each own a partial interest in an account, then each person has a financial interest in that account. Each person must report the entire value of the account on an FBAR.
Spouses. Spouses don’t need to file separate FBARs if they complete and sign Form 114a, Record of Authorization to Electronically File FBARs, and:
- All reportable financial accounts are jointly owned with the filing spouse, and
- The filing spouse reports the jointly-owned accounts on a timely-filed FBAR.
Otherwise, both spouses must file separate FBARs, and each spouse must report the entire value of the jointly-owned accounts.
The e-filing system will not allow both spouses’ signatures on the same electronic form. Spouses need to complete Form 114a to designate which one will file the FBAR. The Form 114a is not submitted with the FBAR, it should be kept with other financial and tax records.
Children. Generally, a child is responsible for filing their own FBAR. If a child can’t file their own FBAR for any reason, such as age, the child's parent or guardian must file it for them. If the child can’t sign their FBAR, a parent or guardian must sign it.
Accounts not reported on FBAR
Individuals don’t report individual retirement accounts and tax-qualified retirement plans described in Internal Revenue Code Sections 401(a), 403(a) or 403(b) on the FBAR. The FBAR instructions list other exceptions.
How to figure the greatest account value of foreign financial accounts
Those filing the FBAR need to reasonably figure and report the greatest value of currency or non-monetary assets in their accounts during the calendar year. They may rely on their periodic account statements if the statements fairly show the greatest account value during the year.
Filers figure the greatest value in the currency of the account, then they convert that value into U.S. dollars using the exchange rate on the last day of the calendar year. They may use another valid exchange rate and give the source of the rate, if there’s no Treasury Financial Management Service rate available. For example, someone would typically value an account located in Japan in yen. They would figure the greatest value of the account in yen and then convert it into U.S. dollars.
Comparison of Form 8938 and FBAR requirements
Certain U.S. taxpayers file Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets, as part of their tax return, but these accounts often need to be reported on the FBAR, too. Unlike the FBAR, taxpayers file Form 8938 with their income tax returns.
Filing Form 8938 doesn’t relieve taxpayers of the separate requirement to file the FBAR. Depending on a taxpayer’s situation, they may need to file Form 8938 or the FBAR or both forms, and they may need to report certain foreign accounts on both forms. Taxpayers can find a comparison of Form 8938 and FBAR requirements on IRS.gov.
Extended due date for filing the FBAR
Those who didn’t meet the April 15 due date must file by Oct. 15, the automatically extended due date for the FBAR. They don’t need to request the extension. If they don’t have all their information to file by the extended due date, they should file as complete a return as possible and amend the report when they have more information.
Amending an FBAR
Those who used the BSA E-Filing system to file their original FBAR but later need to change it, must complete a new FBAR and check the “Amend” box in Item 1. They’ll need to give their Prior Report BSA Identifier. Filers receive this identifier by email or secure message from the BSA E-Filing System when they file. For those who don’t know their identifier, they should enter 00000000000000 in the Prior Report BSA Identifier field.
Filing late FBARs
If a person learns that they should have filed an FBAR for a previous year, they should electronically file the late FBAR as soon as possible. The BSA E-Filing System allows them to enter the calendar year they’re reporting, including past years. It also offers them an option to explain the reason for the late filing or show if it’s part of an IRS compliance program.
Penalties for failure to file an FBAR
Individuals who don’t file an FBAR when required may be subject to civil and criminal penalties. The largest civil penalty for a willful violation of the FBAR requirements is the greater of $124,588 or 50 percent of the balance in the account at the time of the violation. Non-willful violations can result in a penalty as high as $12,459 for each violation. Criminal violations of FBAR rules can result in a fine and/or five years in prison. The government adjusts the penalty amounts annually for inflation. The penalties section of the IRS FBAR Reference Guide has more details about penalties.
The IRS will not penalize those individuals who properly report foreign financial account on a late-filed FBAR, and the IRS finds they have reasonable cause for late filing.
Generally, individuals filing an FBAR should keep records of accounts that need reporting for five years from the due date of the report. They should keep the:
- Name on each account,
- Account number or other designation,
- Name and address of the foreign bank or other person who keeps the account,
- Type of account, and
- Greatest value of each account during the reporting period.
They should also keep copies of their filed FBARs. However, officers or employees who file an FBAR to report control over an employer’s foreign financial account don’t need to personally keep records on their employer’s accounts.
For help completing the FBAR, call 866-270-0733 (toll-free inside the U.S.) or 313-234-6146 (not toll-free, for callers outside the U.S.) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Taxpayers can also email questions to FBARquestions@irs.gov.
For help with electronic filing, email questions to BSAEFilingHelp@fincen.gov or call the BSA E-Filing Help Desk at 866-346-9478. It’s open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time.
For answers to questions about BSA regulations or to discuss acceptable alternatives to electronic filing, contact FinCEN’s Regulatory Helpline at 800-949-2732. Callers from outside the United States can contact the helpline at 703-905-3975.