This has just been posted on the Moodys Tax Advisors blog.
This week the IRS released statistics on the number of returns it received in 2010 from US citizens with foreign trusts. The results are startling (you may find the report by clicking here). In all of Canada only 324 returns were filed that report ownership in a non-US trust, which likely means hundreds of thousands of US citizens residing in Canada had not filed the appropriate returns. This is important for two reasons: first, the penalties for not filing are draconian (but waivable); and second, last week the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report that encouraged IRS to pursue those taxpayers who file late returns using a technique known as “quiet disclosure.”
The US State Department knows of more than 687,000 US citizens residing in Canada but most experts agree that the actual number is several times that number. Many common Canadian retirement and savings vehicles are considered foreign trusts under US law. These vehicles include registered education savings plans (RESPs), tax free savings accounts (TFSAs), registered disability savings plans (RDSPs) and the like. Of course, typical Canadian trusts used for income splitting and succession are also considered foreign trusts and carry the same reporting obligations. Any US citizen who owns, contributes to, or receives a distribution from any of these trusts must report that interest on the appropriate form at the appropriate time or face severe penalties.
Penalties for Failure to File
Contributions to or distributions from any of these trusts triggers the obligation to file US tax form 3520 on or before the due date of the US income tax return (form 1040). The failure to file penalty for the form 3520 is a minimum of $10,000. In addition, an ownership interest in any of these vehicles triggers the obligation to file the US form 3520-A on or before March 15. The failure to file this form triggers a minimum $10,000 penalty. Both of these penalties can be waived if the taxpayer has “reasonable cause” for not having filed.