The fear among taxpayers and practitioners is that the IRS will be punitive in its application of the penalty structure. We don't know yet whether the fear will be realized.
First, I quote the 2011 OVDI FAQ 51 for the opt out (as updated 6/2/11):
If, after making a voluntary disclosure, a taxpayer disagrees with the application of the offshore penalty, what can the taxpayer do?
If the offshore penalty is unacceptable to a taxpayer, that taxpayer must indicate in writing the decision to withdraw from or opt out of the program. Once made, this election is irrevocable. An opt out is an election made by a taxpayer to have his or her case handled under the standard audit process. It should be recognized that in a given case, the opt out option may reflect a preferred approach. That is, there may be instances in which the results under the applicable voluntary disclosure program appear too severe given the facts of the case. There will be other instances where this is less clear. In the latter cases, the Service will look to ensure that the best interests of the Service and the integrity of the voluntary disclosure program remain intact. In these cases, it is expected that full scope examinations will occur if opt out is initiated. It is expected that opt out will be appropriate for a discrete minority of cases. Moreover, to the extent that issues are found upon a full scope examination that were not disclosed by the taxpayer, those issues may be the subject of review by Criminal Investigation. In either case, opting out is at the sole discretion of the taxpayer and the taxpayer should not be treated in a negative fashion merely because he or she chooses to opt out.Second, I link to the referenced Opt Out and Removal Guide for the 2009 OVDP and 2011 OVDI.
The specific procedures for opting out are set forth in a separate guide titled Opt Out and Removal Guide for the 2009 OVDP and 2011 OVDI. The guide is posted to the website.
Taxpayers are reminded, that even after opting out of the Service’s civil settlement structure, they remain within Criminal Investigation’s Voluntary Disclosure Practice. Therefore, taxpayers are still required to cooperate fully with the examiner by providing all requested information and records and must still pay or make arrangements to pay the tax, interest, and penalties they are ultimately determined to owe. If a taxpayer does not cooperate and make payment arrangements, or if after examination, issues exist that were not disclosed prior to opt out, the case may be referred back to Criminal Investigation.
Third, I quote 2011 OVDI FAQ 5 (as updated 2/14/11) which provides the range of penalties that the IRS could apply on the opt out (FAQ 5 actually deals with the penalties that could apply if the taxpayer does not get into the program, but they are the same as could apply on an opt out when the taxpayer is subject to examination).
What are some of the civil penalties that might apply if I don't come in under voluntary disclosure and the IRS examines me? How do they work?Fourth, I link to prior blog entries that have had some opt out discussions:
Depending on a taxpayer’s particular facts and circumstances, the following penalties could apply:
• A penalty for failing to file the Form TD F 90-22.1 (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, commonly known as an “FBAR”). United States citizens, residents and certain other persons must annually report their direct or indirect financial interest in, or signature authority (or other authority that is comparable to signature authority) over, a financial account that is maintained with a financial institution located in a foreign country if, for any calendar year, the aggregate value of all foreign accounts exceeded $10,000 at any time during the year. Generally, the civil penalty for willfully failing to file an FBAR can be as high as the greater of $100,000 or 50 percent of the total balance of the foreign account per violation. See 31 U.S.C. § 5321(a)(5). Non-willful violations that the IRS determines were not due to reasonable cause are subject to a $10,000 penalty per violation.
• A penalty for failing to file Form 3520, Annual Return to Report Transactions With Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts. Taxpayers must also report various transactions involving foreign trusts, including creation of a foreign trust by a United States person, transfers of property from a United States person to a foreign trust and receipt of distributions from foreign trusts under IRC § 6048.This return also reports the receipt of gifts from foreign entities under section 6039F.The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns, or for filing an incomplete return, is 35 percent of the gross reportable amount, except for returns reporting gifts, where the penalty is five percent of the gift per month, up to a maximum penalty of 25 percent of the gift.
• A penalty for failing to file Form 3520-A, Information Return of Foreign Trust With a U.S. Owner. Taxpayers must also report ownership interests in foreign trusts, by United States persons with various interests in and powers over those trusts under IRC § 6048(b).The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns or for filing an incomplete return, is five percent of the gross value of trust assets determined to be owned by the United States person.
• A penalty for failing to file Form 5471, Information Return of U.S. Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations. Certain United States persons who are officers, directors or shareholders in certain foreign corporations (including International Business Corporations) are required to report information under IRC §§ 6035, 6038 and 6046.The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns is $10,000, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency, up to a maximum of $50,000 per return.
• A penalty for failing to file Form 5472, Information Return of a 25% Foreign-Owned U.S. Corporation or a Foreign Corporation Engaged in a U.S. Trade or Business. Taxpayers may be required to report transactions between a 25 percent foreign-owned domestic corporation or a foreign corporation engaged in a trade or business in the United States and a related party as required by IRC §§ 6038A and 6038C. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns, or to keep certain records regarding reportable transactions, is $10,000, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency.
• A penalty for failing to file Form 926, Return by a U.S. Transferor of Property to a Foreign Corporation. Taxpayers are required to report transfers of property to foreign corporations and other information under IRC § 6038B. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns is ten percent of the value of the property transferred, up to a maximum of $100,000 per return, with no limit if the failure to report the transfer was intentional.
• A penalty for failing to file Form 8865, Return of U.S. Persons With Respect to Certain Foreign Partnerships. United States persons with certain interests in foreign partnerships use this form to report interests in and transactions of the foreign partnerships, transfers of property to the foreign partnerships, and acquisitions, dispositions and changes in foreign partnership interests under IRC §§ 6038, 6038B, and 6046A. Penalties include $10,000 for failure to file each return, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency, up to a maximum of $50,000 per return, and ten percent of the value of any transferred property that is not reported, subject to a $100,000 limit.
• Fraud penalties imposed under IRC §§ 6651(f) or 6663. Where an underpayment of tax, or a failure to file a tax return, is due to fraud, the taxpayer is liable for penalties that, although calculated differently, essentially amount to 75 percent of the unpaid tax.
• A penalty for failing to file a tax return imposed under IRC § 6651(a)(1). Generally, taxpayers are required to file income tax returns. If a taxpayer fails to do so, a penalty of 5 percent of the balance due, plus an additional 5 percent for each month or fraction thereof during which the failure continues may be imposed. The penalty shall not exceed 25 percent.
• A penalty for failing to pay the amount of tax shown on the return under IRC § 6651(a)(2). If a taxpayer fails to pay the amount of tax shown on the return, he or she may be liable for a penalty of .5 percent of the amount of tax shown on the return, plus an additional .5 percent for each additional month or fraction thereof that the amount remains unpaid, not exceeding 25 percent.
• An accuracy-related penalty on underpayments imposed under IRC § 6662. Depending upon which component of the accuracy-related penalty is applicable, a taxpayer may be liable for a 20 percent or 40 percent penalty.