Hidden Offshore Bank Accounts: IRS Offers A Second Chance To Come ForwardThe Internal Revenue Service announced on February 8, 2011 a special voluntary disclosure initiative designed to bring offshore money back into the U.S. tax system and help people with undisclosed income from hidden offshore accounts get current with their taxes.  Here are some of the basic provisions of this program.

1. Deadline To Come Forward: August 31, 2011

This second new voluntary disclosure initiative will be available to taxpayers through Aug. 31, 2011.

2. 2011 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative Makes Raises Penalty Charges and Makes Other Changes to the 2009 OVDP

The new IRS program is called the 2011 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (OVDI). It includes several changes from the 2009 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP). The overall penalty structure for 2011 is higher, meaning that people who did not come in through the 2009 voluntary disclosure program will not be rewarded for waiting.

3. New Penalty Framework

For the 2011 initiative, there is a new penalty framework that requires individuals to pay a penalty of 25 percent of the amount in the foreign bank accounts in the year with the highest aggregate account balance covering the 2003 to 2010 time period. Some taxpayers will be eligible for 12.5 or 5 percent penalties instead of the 25% penalty. Please see the discussion below for such exceptions.

4. Back Taxes Must Be Paid

Participants also must pay back-taxes and interest for up to eight years.

5. Additional and Usual Penalties Imposed

Taxpayers must pay accuracy-related penalties. No reasonable cause arguments can be made to avoid the such penalties. The IRS will also assert failure to file and failure to pay penalties.

6. Returns To Be Filed By August 31 Deadline

Taxpayers participating in the new initiative must file all original and amended tax returns and include payment for taxes, interest and accuracy-related penalties by the Aug. 31 deadline.

7. Special 12.5% Category Instead of 25% Penalty

The IRS also created a new penalty category of 12.5 percent for treating smaller offshore accounts. People whose offshore accounts or assets did not surpass $75,000 in any calendar year covered by the 2011 initiative will qualify for this lower rate.

8. Special 5% Category Instead of the 25% Penalty

If a taxpayer meets all four of the following conditions, then the offshore penalty is reduced to 5%:

 (A) did not open or cause the account to be opened (unless the bank required that a new account be opened, rather than allowing a change in ownership of an existing account, upon the death of the owner of the account);

(B) has exercised minimal, infrequent contact with the account, for example, to request the account balance, or update accountholder information such as a change in address, contact person, or email address;

(C) has, except for a withdrawal closing the account and transferring the funds to an account in the United States, not withdrawn more than $1,000 from the account in any year covered by the voluntary disclosure; and

(D) can establish that all applicable U.S. taxes have been paid on funds deposited to the account (only account earnings have escaped U.S. taxation).

9. Special 5% Category for Foreign Resident

If a taxpayer is a foreign resident who was unaware that he or she was a U.S. citizen, then the offshore penalty is reduced to 5%.

10. Benefits of 2011 Initiative: Avoid Higher Penalties and Possible Criminal Prosecution

The 2011 initiative offers clear benefits to encourage taxpayers to come in now rather than risk IRS detection. Taxpayers hiding assets offshore who do not come forward will face far higher penalty scenarios as well as the possibility of criminal prosecution.

Steven J. Fromm is an attorney, with an LL.M. in taxation from the NYU Law School, who limits his practice to tax and tax planning, wills, trusts, probate and estate administration. He is recognized by Martindale Hubbell with its highest rating of "AV PREEMINENT" for legal ability and ethical standards. Please visit his firm's website at www.sjfpc.com for more details on his practice areas and client recommendations. You can also visit his blog at http://frommtaxes.wordpress.com for other tax articles of interest and his Avvo profile for his legal guides and questions answered by him to help the public on various tax and estate matters.