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IRS still pushing hard on offshore account enforcement

For the length of nearly two full presidential terms, the IRS has been pushing hard on enforcement of foreign account disclosure requirements.

Tens of thousands of taxpayers have chosen to enter voluntary disclosure programs, seeking to minimize their liability exposure. These programs have brought in a staggering amount in back taxes, penalties and interest. The total collected is already in the neighborhood of $10 billion.

Given these numbers, has the IRS largely achieved its goals of forcing greater compliance in offshore reporting?

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen indicated last month that stringent enforcement of offshore reporting requirements will continue.

To be sure, it remains to be seen the new presidential administration's priorities may be for offshore enforcement. But it isn't only the IRS's enforcement priorities that have changed the offshore compliance game.

Passage by Congress of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act in 2010 has led to a worldwide network of information-sharing that has forced financial institutions to share more and more information about their account holders with the U.S. government.

FATCA was widely criticized when it was passed as an American power grab. But the U.S. Treasury has worked out agreements with more than 100 other countries to comply with the law.

The new emphasis on transparency and disclosure represented by FATCA is also reflected in the worldwide initiative to create Common Reporting Standards for sharing account information in order to prevent tax evasion. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is facilitating that initiative.

In short, the compliance burden for taxpayers with interests in offshore accounts is heavier than ever and the scrutiny from regulatory systems on those accounts is unprecedented.

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