The current recession is certain to define this decade in American history. It will be read about in books and reflected upon during future times of economic struggle to serve as a learning example. But what defines an American during this decade? Elizabeth Shwiff, a CPA with Shwiff, Levy & Polo, LLP, specializing in international issues, discovered an American is not defined by their country of origin.
In 2008, UBS AG, a financial services company, was hit with a multi-million dollar tax evasion case that affected 20,000 US citizens with money in UBS banks. The IRS was after Americans that purposefully went offshore to hide funds. Elizabeth’s client was a French immigrant and green card holder who received a large investment payout in the 80s, which he deposited to UBS when he was living in Switzerland at the time.
Shwiff’s client was in a panic, not having ever known he was required to fill out an FBAR form to disclose his international bank or brokerage accounts. Watching the news, he didn’t know what to expect–to be taken away in handcuffs or put into jail–and he sought Elizabeth’s assistance for peace of mind.
Although Elizabeth and her client voluntarily disclosed his international account in the timeframe provided by the IRS, the client, now considered an American, was set to suffer a 20% penalty on the highest amount held in the account since it was opened.
Shwiff, a Jewish Russian immigrant herself, feels a deep responsibility and joy in helping other immigrants after witnessing the network of help her own family received in America. She listened to her client’s story for hours, a frugal retired professor who worked his entire life, and was able to put a creative spin on the issue. She stated her client’s initial deposit was never subject to US tax law because the investment payoff was accumulated during a period of time when the client was in Switzerland.
By serving as a hardcore advocate with a creative mind, she was able to create a Win-Win Solution and save her client $50,000. “Always give back. It’s our obligation to give back,” says Shwiff. If we all lived by that motto, it’s hard to not imagine an America with fewer issues–financial or otherwise.