Copyright 2006 Ronald Hudkins
Having an offshore banking account, corporation or trust are common themes in legal thrillers, spy novels and eastern European politics. There is a reason to be concerned about the legality of such accounts, for although many people would like to include them in their estate planning, a legal misstep regarding the use of any of these asset management tools could result in thousands of dollars lost in back tax payments and legal problems with none other than the IRS in addition to the possibility of spending time in prison. With that in mind, it is not surprising that many Americans shy away from offshore banking altogether.
As any good tax attorney will be able to explain to you there is a difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion. Tax avoidance is the use of legally employable strategies to reduce the amount of tax one has to pay. Tax evasion, on the other hand, is the use of illegal means to do the same thing. So the goal of any transaction that you would like to undertake offshore is to make certain that you are a tax avoider and not a tax evader. A lawyer will never be a willing party to tax evasion, if that lawyer is behaving within the cannon of professional ethics as well as the accepted norms of safeguarding their clients best interest.
To begin with it is illegal to have a secret bank account in another country that you dont tell the IRS about. It is also illegal to move unreported cash even if it is your money. The penalty for either of these offenses makes bank robbery look like a more attractive option.
However, with our own country continuing to advance the goal of globalization, of course it is legal to invest in, and to interact with, foreign markets and there are some tremendous incentives to do so. The key to taking advantage of these opportunities is to start modestly and remember that if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is too good to be true. Secondly, it is your duty as an American citizen to report your financial activities to the IRS. So divest yourself of notions of secrecy in the absolute and think in terms of tax savings rather than not paying taxes. If someone tells you that they can help you avoid paying any tax whatsoever, they are offering to help you engage in a criminal enterprise. And if you already are a criminal of some sort then perhaps you should look into the matter, but for the vast majority of those reading this article, dont endanger a life spent being a law abiding citizen by buying into an outrageous scheme.
As I said before, U.S. citizens and permanent residents are required to disclose their banking accounts abroad, where they are located and what the account numbers are, on a form called a TDF 90-22.1. However, there are exceptions to having to file this report and taxpayers are confused about the definition of these exceptions as well as the meaning of key terms within the document. One excellent way to begin to understand what must be reported, and when, is to look to the Jacobs Report. The Jacobs report which can be found at http://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/jacobsreport/ and it is an extensive document filled with the applicable law and IRS instructions as well as the accumulated wisdom of many web sites and foreign bank reports.
Remember, the cardinal rule when beginning your inquiry into offshore banking is to find out about these matters in detail. You need to check into things yourself and keep in mind that if a deal sounds too good to be true then it is. In addition, keep in mind the fact that you want to be a tax avoider not a tax evader. Consult your estate planner and a tax specialist because the laws in many of the nations that provide tax havens have changed somewhat since the beginning of the War with Afghanistan and Iraq, because the U.S. is looking for hidden terrorist cash reserves and that has changed the way discretion is handled in many tax haven nations that are friendly with our government.
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* Deontology is an ethical theory that uses rules to discern the moral course of action. This video is part of Ethics Defined, an animated library of more than 50 ethics terms and concepts from Ethics Unwrapped, available at https://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/glossary
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Ethics Defined: Deontology