How-to FBAR 2020/2021: Do you need one? And Most Common Mistakes
This post has been updated and republished from previous years.
A video with an example is available on my Facebook page.
IMPORTANT: Open and fill the form in Adobe Acrobat Reader, even though you may be able to open the form in other programs.
What is an "FBAR"?
As I wrote HERE, the average U.S. citizen or Green card holder has two main annual requirements to report to the U.S. government.
Report worldwide INCOME to the Internal Revenue Service (Article HERE)
Report foreign financial ASSETS to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a division of the U.S. Department of Treasury
Here I'll discuss #2: The U.S. requires that you file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) if you meet a threshold of $10,000 at any time during the calendar year.
How do you figure out if you meet this threshold?
Look at all your accounts which you own or have any financial interest OR signature authority, power of attorney, or custodianship.
bank accounts, deposits, jointly owned accounts
investments, brokerage accounts, mutual funds
savings funds like the Israeli "kupot gemmel" and "keren hishtalmut", pensions (with redeemable value)
insurance WITH a cash surrender value (you could take out the money today)
Find the highest balance during the year. For example, if you have a checking account, you should skim your monthly statements to find the highest balance. (Some people download their statements to Excel and use a function to find the highest balance, others write down the highest balance every month or quarter, so they only have 4 or 12 numbers to compare at year-end. I just skim the daily balances with my eyes.)
If you moved money between accounts, you need to include the highest balance in each account, even if this means essentially reporting the same dollar twice. Remember to include accounts closed during the year.
Convert the balances to U.S. Dollars (USD) using the YEAR-END exchange rate (regardless of when the highest balance occurred). See below. Round up to the nearest dollar.
Add up all the balances in USD. Include 100% of accounts you own jointly. If you and your spouse (if relevant) have any separate accounts (such as a pension), you should calculate the total separately for each of you. (Click a HERE to download a helpful table to organize this information.)
If the total is at least $10,000 you must file an FBAR. If spouses have individual accounts, both must file an individual FBAR reporting both their individual accounts and joint accounts.
Below are some relevant year-end exchange rates for 2020.
A full list of official U.S. Treasury Reporting Rates of Exchange for all relevant years can be found HERE.
There is no minimum age requirement for an FBAR. If your child holds $10,000 in savings, pensions, or inheritance, they will require their own FBAR. U.S. partnerships, corporations, and trusts that meet the threshold are also required to file an FBAR.
While filing an expat or nonresident tax return requires extensive knowledge and understanding of constantly changing laws, an FBAR can be filed by anyone willing to read the instructions.
CLICK to DOWNLOAD FinCEN Report 114 FBAR (If you get an error, make sure to DOWNLOAD it to your computer and open it in Adobe Reader, NOT in the browser.)
After you've followed the tips above, scroll over each entry space on the FBAR (FinCEN Report 114) and carefully read the instructions.
The FBAR is divided into five parts and has a minimum of eight pages. The BSA provides detailed instructions HERE; however, I will give you some tips to avoid the most common FBAR errors.
Page 1 is where you will name the file, and sign and submit the form when complete. The other fields are only if you are filing late (For the 2019 FBAR, late would be after October 15, 2020.)
Page 2 is your basic information. In box 1, make sure to input the year for which you are reporting. If you are preparing this in January through October 2020, you are hopefully reporting the highest balance in your accounts during calendar year 2019. Write "2019" in the box. If you are updating an FBAR from the previous year, make sure to update this box. (See important update at the beginning of this post regarding using your previous year's FBAR.)
Only one person can be the "filer" listed on page 2. Spouses may be eligible to file a "joint" FBAR for FBARs filed on time if at least one spouse has NO individual accounts, only accounts jointly owned between spouses. If either spouse has accounts owned separately, the "filer" must be the spouse with accounts owned separately. It doesn't matter who the "taxpayer" or "spouse" is on your tax return. See example below. As stated above, if both spouses have individual accounts (e.g. pensions) both must file a separate FBAR.
Part II Information on Financial Account(s) Owned Separately: This is the place to report all your accounts owned individually (e.g. personal bank account, pension accounts, Israeli "keren hishtalmut").
Report the maximum balance during the year in USD, as described above, in box 15. In box 16, you will choose the Type of Account. Pension-type funds such as "kuppat gemmel" and "keren hishtalmut" accounts are generally reported as "other," Description: "Pension" or "Providence fund."
The most common mistake I see on FBARs is only including bank accounts. It is important to include all accounts in which you have a financial interest or signature authority.
Part III Information on Financial Account(s) Owned Jointly: It is very important to report joint accounts in this section. The Principal Joint Owner is the spouse or primary owner of the account BESIDES the filer.
In box 24, write the number of joint owners NOT including yourself/the filer. For most people, Number of joint owners = 1.
If you own an account jointly with a non-U.S. person, who does not have a SSN, ITIN, or ID number write "FOREIGNUS" in box 25 and select "foreign" in box 25a.
The second most common mistake I see, is a couple filing an FBAR reporting joint accounts in Part II (above) and not Part III. If the spouse's information is not included as a joint owner, they have not met their FBAR requirement.
Joint FBAR example: Joe and Mary are U.S. Citizens with a joint checking account and a joint savings account. Mary also has a pension account. Joe has no other accounts. Mary is the "filer," and her information will be on page 2. Joe's information will appear in the "Principal Joint Owner Information" in Part III Information on Financial Account(s) Owned Jointly. In box 24, Mary will write "1" because there is only one owner besides herself. Both Mary and Joe will sign the Form 114a Record of Authorization to Electronically File FBARs signature page and retain it for their records.
Part IV Information on Financial Account(s) Where Filer has Signature or Other Authority but No financial Interest in the Account(s): This is the place to report accounts you may have power of attorney, signature, or check-writing authority over, but that aren't actually your accounts. Common examples include, account of a business you work for, account of a home owners' association (Israeli "vaad habayit"), or other accounts of which you may be a treasurer, such as classroom fund or club.
That last two pages won't be relevant for most individuals filing their own FBAR.
Before you file, I highly recommend you
Save the original electronic file in secure cloud storage so next year you can just change the date and numbers. (See update at the top of this post.)
Print a copy of your FBAR to PDF. Your accountant will probably request a copy. The printed PDF will be easier to view and less likely to be corrupted by different PDF programs.
Finally, Submit the report. Here is the link to upload an individual PDF FBAR file without registering: https://bsaefiling1.fincen.treas.gov/NoRegFilerUpload
Troubleshooting submission: Open Microsoft Internet Explorer or Microsoft Edge. Have Adobe Acrobat Reader set as your default PDF Reader. If you have problems, make sure you have the most current version of the FBAR PDF and never open it in a PDF editor, only Adobe Reader.
Rinse and repeat. You must file an FBAR every year you meet the threshold. This is NOT a one-time requirement, and this is NOT something your bank will file for you. Your bank may have you sign Form W-9. They may report your information to the US. They will NOT file your FBAR. You must do that. As long as the form doesn't change, the most efficient way to prepare each future year is to open the previous year's file and "Save as..."(Ctril+Shift+S on Windows.) Then change the year at the top of page two, add any new accounts, and update all the numbers.
If you file your own FBAR, or if your accountant uses certain software that notifies the client, do not be alarmed if you get an email from email@example.com:
"This is an important message from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) regarding the status of your FBAR (FinCEN Form 114) submission...
...Your FBAR submission has been acknowledged by FinCEN and assigned the BSA Identifier..."
It is very important to retain this for your records, both as proof of submitting an FBAR and in case you ever need to amend it in the future. "Acknowledged" is the FINcen noncommittal version of received/accepted.
Since the 2016 reporting year, the due date for FBARs coincides with the tax return due date. While the official FBAR due date is April 15, FinCEN grants filers an automatic extension to October 15 (no specific request is required). That said, if you plan to use a professional to file your FBAR, you may get better service by getting in your information before the general tax rush.
In additional, if you have any trouble, I suspect you will get much faster service from the BSA submission center earlier in the year. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-866-346-9478.
The information you need to file your FBAR is likely available online before you receive the rest of your tax documents; so, why wait?