Caution: Corporations with NOLs and a Foreign Subsidiary Must File Federal Tax Returns with Form 5471 on Time to Avoid Penalties

January 27, 2017

Avoid this common misunderstanding. U.S. corporate leaders may assume that their U.S. Federal Form 1120 corporate income tax return does not need to be filed on time if the company has a loss for the year. If the U.S. corporation owns an interest in a foreign subsidiary corporation, this misunderstanding can cost a U.S. corporation with a net operating loss substantially in penalties.

The applicable penalties are assessed based on failure to file U.S. federal Form 5471 with the tax return on time. There is a $10,000 USD penalty per year, per foreign subsidiary corporation for failing to file the Form, which reports ownership of a foreign subsidiary corporation, on time.

U.S. federal corporate income tax penalties, such as late filing and late payment penalties are typically assessed on the unpaid tax due with the tax return. If the corporation has a net operating loss for the year and zero taxable income, then no tax is due with the tax return so certain penalties would not be assessed.

Late filing penalties are automatically assessed on any U.S. federal corporate income tax return that is filed after the due date with a Form 5471 attached. In some cases, a corporation may incur net operating losses for several years and stop filing U.S. federal corporate tax returns during that time. Resulting in a problem: how to resolve the prior year Form 5471 filing delinquencies when the corporation starts to earn a profit in subsequent years and starts filing tax returns again.

In addition to the prior year Form 5471 filing delinquencies, the U.S. corporation may have been required to file a prior year Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR) to report foreign accounts owned by the foreign subsidiary corporation. Late FBAR filings can also lead to a minimum penalty of $10,000 USD per year.

It’s vital to speak to a qualified U.S. international tax reporting professional to resolve the prior year filing delinquencies. Form 5471 reporting and FBAR preparation often involve specialized skills in the area of U.S. international tax that many general tax practitioners may not have. A qualified U.S. international tax-reporting specialist can provide guidance on how to navigate certain IRS amnesty filing procedures including Form 5471 and FBAR penalty abatement.

With proper guidance, a corporation may qualify for certain IRS amnesty procedures that will allow late filing of Forms 5471 and FBARs, without any late filing charges. It is advisable for a corporation to catch-up with its prior year filings before filing its current year tax return, Form 5471, and FBAR. This approach will improve the corporation’s chances of qualifying for relief from the penalties.

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