Opening an offshore bank account is a matter which should be discussed in detail with a financial advisor such as Estate Street Partners and possibly a lawyer, depending on your individual circumstances and reasons for wanting the account. There has been negative press involving owners of offshore accounts who abuse the bank services to launder money or commit other forms of fraud (tax evasion, hiding money for divorce purposes, etc).
CONS OR DISADVANTAGES OF OFFSHORE BANKS
Offshore banks also require large sums of money as deposit, and there can be substantial annual membership and maintenance fees if you don’t understand all the terms of the agreement. A knowledgeable advisor will help minimize your risk by informing you of any changes to domestic and foreign banking laws. When choosing an offshore bank you have a number of banks to choose from, although the most common and sought after accounts are in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands due to their size and reputation.
If you feel that an offshore account is right for your situation, there are several questions you should discuss with your advisor when selecting a bank:
1. What services does this bank offer?
2. How will you access your money? (check book, debit card, etc)
3. Are there fees associated with withdrawing money from the account?
4. How easy is it to transfer funds, and is your money secure if the bank goes under?
ADVANTAGES OF OFFSHORE ACCOUNTS WITH GOOD INTEREST RATES
Many offshore banks offer personal services similar to those offered by domestic banks. In addition to a regular savings account, you may have the option of a debit or credit card from which to withdraw funds. Some countries will also sell you a mortgage and offer loans from your offshore account.
Since offshore banks are not regulated in the same manner as domestic banks, the interest rate on your loan will be at a much more competitive rate than here in the United States. The offshore banks are competing for business which will hopefully bring revenue to their country, and with lower overhead costs than domestic banks they are able to offer higher interest rates on deposits.
COMPANY BENEFITS IN OFFSHORE BANKING AND LOANS
Large US-based companies are also taking advantage of the benefits associated with offshore bank loans. Companies will be afforded the same rights of privacy as an individual account holder, and they will be allowed to finance their operations at a much more reasonable rate than if they kept strictly domestic accounts.
Since offshore banks are not government regulated to the same extent as domestic banks, they can offer a wider variety of investment options to companies and individuals looking for a higher rate of return than what is typically offered with US Mutual Funds.
HOW PATRIOT ACT, IRS, QUALIFYING INTERMEDIARY REQUIREMENTS AFFECT YOUR OFFSHORE ACCOUNT AND PRIVACY
One of the advantages of having an offshore bank account used to be the anonymity that was guaranteed with it. Unfortunately, following the terror attacks of 9/11 many offshore banks are volunteering any information requested by domestic governments if they suspect criminal activity.
The Patriot Act allows authorities to actually seize bank accounts and assets reportedly belonging to criminals. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has also initiated the Qualifying Intermediary Requirements which gives the government access to the names of all individuals receiving US-funded investment income. Offshore banks are working closer to authorities to adhere with stricter money laundering legislation, and these banks will often volunteer information to police if there is questionable activity in your account.
IS OFFSHORE BANKING TAX-FREE?
You should be aware that offshore bank accounts are not tax-free. While you may choose to withhold information from the IRS in an attempt to escape paying taxes, you are under legal obligation to report all income earned from foreign accounts with the exception of an annuity.
You may not be forced to pay taxes to the offshore bank for interest earned on your deposit, and they may choose not to disclose financial information to the US government. However, if it is discovered you committed perjury on your taxes the consequences will far outweigh the immediate benefits of evading taxes. With stricter laws being enforced due to threats of terrorist attacks, and the rise in money laundering for drug rings, it will become increasingly more difficult to hide funds in offshore accounts.
Consulting with a financial advisor may help you avoid legal problems associated with a poorly planned offshore bank account. Ideally, your account should offer competitive rates of return for your investments, competitive interest rates on loans, security, and confidentiality.
author bio - Rocco Beatrice, CPA, MST, MBA
award-winning estate planning, trust expert
MS - Taxation, Master of Science Taxation
MBA - Management / Taxation
BSBA - Management / Accounting
CPA - Certified Public Accountant
Irrevocable Trust Asset Protection, Estate Planning
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