The Internal Revenue Service said Tuesday that it plans to help U.S. citizens who reside in foreign countries catch up with their tax-filing obligations and offer assistance to those with foreign retirement plans.

The IRS will provide a new option to help some U.S. citizens and others residing abroad who have not been filing tax returns and provide them a chance to catch up with their tax filing obligations if they owe little or no back taxes. The new procedure will take effect on Sept. 1, 2012.

"Today we are announcing a series of common-sense steps to help U.S. citizens abroad get current with their tax obligations and resolve pension issues," said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman in a statement.

The IRS said it is aware that some U.S. taxpayers living abroad have failed to timely file U.S. federal income tax returns or Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, also known as FBARs.  Some of these taxpayers have recently become aware of their filing requirements and want to comply with the law.

To help these taxpayers, the IRS offered the new procedures that will allow taxpayers who are low compliance risks to get current with their tax requirements without facing penalties or additional enforcement action. These people generally will have simple tax returns and owe $1,500 or less in tax for any of the covered years.

The IRS also announced that the new procedures will allow resolution of certain issues related to certain foreign retirement plans (such as Canadian Registered Retirement Savings Plans).  In some circumstances, tax treaties allow for income deferral under U.S. tax law, but only if an election is made on a timely basis.  The streamlined procedures will be made available to resolve low compliance risk situations even though this election was not made on a timely basis.

Taxpayers using the new procedures announced Tuesday will be required to file delinquent tax returns along with appropriate related information returns for the past three years, and to file delinquent FBARs for the past six years. Submissions from taxpayers that present higher compliance risk will be subject to a more thorough review and potentially subject to an audit, which could cover more than three tax years.

The IRS also announced Tuesday that its offshore voluntary disclosure programs have exceeded the $5 billion mark, released new details regarding the voluntary disclosure program announced in January and closed a loophole used by some U.S. citizens (see IRS Closes Offshore Tax Loophole). 

Under existing law, if a taxpayer challenges in a foreign court the disclosure of tax information by that government, the taxpayer is required to notify the U.S. Justice Department of the appeal. The IRS said that if the taxpayer fails to comply with this law and does not notify the U.S. Justice Department of the foreign appeal, the taxpayer will no longer be eligible for the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program. The IRS also put taxpayers on notice that their eligibility for the program could be terminated once the U.S. government has taken action in connection with their specific financial institution.

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