In a global economy, many people in the United States have foreign financial accounts. The law requires U.S. persons with foreign financial accounts to report their accounts to the U.S. Treasury Department, even if the accounts don’t generate any taxable income. They need to report by April 15 of the following calendar year.
The U.S. government requires reporting of foreign financial accounts because foreign financial institutions may not be subject to the same reporting requirements as domestic financial institutions.
Who needs to report
Since 1970, the Bank Secrecy Act requires U.S. persons to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) if they have:
- Financial interest in, signature authority or other authority over one or more accounts, such as bank accounts, brokerage accounts and mutual funds, in a foreign country, and
- The aggregate value of all foreign financial accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year.
A U.S. person is a citizen or resident of the United States or any domestic legal entity such as a partnership, corporation, limited liability company, estate or trust.
A foreign country includes any area outside the United States, Indian lands (as defined in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) and the following U.S. territories and possessions:
- Northern Mariana Islands,
- District of Columbia,
- American Samoa,
- Puerto Rico,
- United States Virgin Islands, and
- Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands.
How to report
Those required to report their foreign accounts should file the FBAR electronically using the BSA E-Filing System. The FBAR is due April 15. If April 15 falls on a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday, the FBAR is due the next business day. Taxpayers should not file the FBAR with their federal individual, business, trust or estate tax returns.
Those unable to e-file their FBAR must call the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s Regulatory Helpline at 800-949-2732 to request an exemption from e-filing. Callers from outside the United States can contact the helpline at 703-905-3975.
Jointly-owned accounts. If two people jointly own a foreign financial account, or if several people each own a partial interest in an account, then each person has a financial interest in that account, and each person must report the entire value of the account on an FBAR.
Exception for Spouses. Spouses don’t need to file separate FBARs if they complete and sign Form 114a, Record of Authorization to Electronically File FBARs (PDF), and:
- All reportable financial accounts of the nonfiling spouse are jointly owned with the filing spouse, and
- The filing spouse reports all accounts jointly-owned with the nonfiling spouse on a timely-filed FBAR.
Otherwise, both spouses must file separate FBARs, and each spouse must report the entire value of the jointly-owned accounts.
The e-filing system will not allow both spouses’ signatures on the same electronic form – only the filing spouse signs in the system. Taxpayers don’t submit Form 114a with the FBAR; they keep it for their records.
Children. Generally, a child is responsible for filing their own FBAR. If a child can’t file their own FBAR for any reason, such as age, the child’s parent or guardian must file it for them. If the child can’t sign their FBAR, a parent or guardian must sign it.
Accounts not reported on FBAR
Individuals don’t need to report foreign financial accounts held in individual retirement accounts (described in Internal Revenue Code Sections 408 and 408A) and tax-qualified retirement plans (described in IRC Sections 401(a), 403(a) or 403(b)) on the FBAR. The FBAR instructions (PDF) list other exceptions.
How to report the value of foreign financial accounts
FBAR filers need to reasonably figure and report the greatest value of currency or non-monetary assets in their accounts during the calendar year. They may rely on their periodic account statements if the statements fairly show the greatest account value during the year.
Filers figure the greatest value in the currency of the account. If not already in U.S. dollars, they convert that value into U.S. dollars using the Treasury Bureau of the Fiscal Service exchange rate on the last day of the calendar year. If the Treasury Bureau of the Fiscal Service rate isn’t available, they may use another valid exchange rate and give the source of the rate. For example, the value of an account located in Japan may be shown on the account statements in Japanese yen. Filers would figure the greatest value of the account in yen and then convert it into U.S. dollars.
Comparison of Form 8938 and FBAR requirements
In addition to the annual Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) requirements outlined above, certain U.S. taxpayers must also file Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets. Accounts reported on Form 8938 are ones they often need to report on the FBAR, too. Unlike the FBAR, taxpayers file Form 8938 with their federal income tax returns.
Depending on a taxpayer’s situation, they may need to file Form 8938 or the FBAR or both, and may need to report certain foreign accounts on both forms. Taxpayers can find a comparison of Form 8938 and FBAR requirements on IRS.gov.
Extended due date for filing the FBAR
Those who don’t meet the April 15 due date must file by October 15, the automatically extended due date for the FBAR. They don’t need to request the extension. If they don’t have all their information to file by the extended due date, they should file as complete a report as possible by October 15 and later amend the report when they have more information.
Amending an FBAR
Those who need to correct a filed FBAR must file a new FBAR with the corrected information and mark the new FBAR as “Amended.” Fill it out completely, even fields that don’t need correction. They can e-file the amended FBAR using the BSA E-Filing System or paper-file it with an e-filing exemption from FinCEN.
If they e-file the amended FBAR, check the “Amended” box on FinCEN Form 114. The Prior Report BSA Identifier field will activate, and they’ll enter the BSA ID number from the original FBAR. If they e-filed the original FBAR, they’ll find the BSA ID number in the acknowledgement email FinCEN sent to them. If they can’t locate the BSA ID number or if they paper-filed the original FBAR, they need to enter all zeros in the Prior Report BSA Identifier field.
Filing late FBARs
If a U.S. person learns that they should have filed an FBAR for a previous year, they should electronically file the late FBAR as soon as possible. The BSA E-Filing System allows them to enter the calendar year they’re reporting, including past years. It also offers them an option to explain the reason for the late filing or show if it’s part of an IRS compliance program.
Penalties for failure to file an FBAR
Those who don’t file an FBAR when required may be subject to significant civil and criminal penalties. Criminal violations of FBAR rules can result in a fine and/or five years in prison. The U.S. government adjusts the penalty amounts annually for inflation.
The IRS will not penalize those who properly report a foreign financial account on a late-filed FBAR, and the IRS finds they have reasonable cause for late filing.
Those who must file an FBAR must keep records of accounts for generally five years from the FBAR due date, including:
- Name on each account,
- Account number or other designation,
- Name and address of the foreign bank or other person who keeps the account,
- Type of account, and
- Greatest value of each account during the reporting period.
They should also keep copies of filed FBARs.
Officers or employees who file an FBAR to report signature authority over an employer’s foreign financial account don’t need to personally keep records on their employer’s accounts.
FS-2019-7, April 2019