Bank Secrecy Act

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Bank Secrecy
Great Seal of the United States
Other short titles
  • Currency and Foreign Transactions Reporting Act
  • Reports of Currency and Foreign Transactions
  • Domestic Currency Transactions
  • Reports of Exports and Imports of Monetary Instruments
  • Foreign Transactions
Long title An Act to amend the Federal Deposit Insurance Act to require insured banks to maintain certain records, to require that certain transactions in U.S. currency be reported to the Department of the Treasury, and for other purposes.
Acronyms (colloquial) BSA
Nicknames Federal Deposit Insurance Act Amendments
Enacted by the 91st United States Congress
Effective October 26, 1970
Public law 91-508
Statutes at Large 84 Stat. 1114-2 aka 84 Stat. 1118
Titles amended
U.S.C. sections amended
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the House as H.R. 15073
  • Passed the House on May 25, 1970 (302-0)
  • Signed into law by President Richard Nixon on October 26, 1970

The Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 (or BSA, or otherwise known as the Currency and Foreign Transactions Reporting Act) requires financial institutions in the United States to assist U.S. government agencies to detect and prevent money laundering. Specifically, the act requires financial institutions to keep records of cash purchases of negotiable instruments, and file reports of cash purchases of these negotiable instruments of more than $10,000 (daily aggregate amount), and to report suspicious activity that might signify money laundering, tax evasion, or other criminal activities.


The BSA was originally passed by the Congress of the United States in 1970, and amended several times since then, including provisions in title III of the USA PATRIOT Act. (See 31 USC 5311–5330 and 31 CFR Chapter X.) The BSA is sometimes referred to as an "anti-money laundering" law ("AML") or jointly as "BSA/AML".[1]

Types of reports

The BSA regulations require all financial institutions to submit five types of reports to the government. The following is not an exhaustive list of reports to be filed. The FBAR has an individual filing requirement, as detailed below.

  1. FinCEN Form 112 (formerly Form 104) Currency Transaction Report (CTR): A CTR must be filed for each deposit, withdrawal, exchange of currency, or other payment or transfer, by, through or to a financial institution, which involves a transaction in currency of more than $10,000. Multiple currency transactions must be treated as a single transaction if the financial institution has knowledge that: (a) they are conducted by or on behalf of the same person; and, (b) they result in cash received or disbursed by the financial institution of more than $10,000.[2]
  2. FinCEN Form 105 Report of International Transportation of Currency or Monetary Instruments (CMIR): Each person (including a bank) who physically transports, mails or ships, or causes to be physically transported, mailed, shipped or received, currency, traveler's checks, and certain other monetary instruments in an aggregate amount exceeding $10,000 into or out of the United States must file a CMIR.[3]
  3. FinCEN Form 114 (formerly Treasury Department Form 90-22.1) Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR): Each person (including a bank) subject to the jurisdiction of the United States having an interest in, signature or other authority over, one or more bank, securities, or other financial accounts in a foreign country must file an FBAR if the aggregate value of such accounts at any point in a calendar year exceeds $10,000.[4] A recent District Court case in the 10th Circuit has significantly expanded the definition of "interest in" and "other Authority".
  4. Treasury Department Form 90-22.47 and OCC Form 8010-9, 8010-1 Suspicious Activity Report (SAR): Banks must file a SAR for any suspicious transaction relevant to a possible violation of law or regulation.[5]
  5. FinCEN Form 110 Designation of Exempt Person: Banks must file this form to designate an exempt customer for the purpose of CTR reporting under the BSA.[6] In addition, banks use this form biennially (every two years) to renew exemptions for eligible non-listed business and payroll customers.[7]

It also requires any business receiving one or more related cash payments totalling more than $10,000 to file IRS/FinCEN Form 8300.[8]

Affected transactions

Currency Transaction Report (CTR)

The CTR must report cash transactions in excess of $10,000 during the same business day. The amount over $10,000 can be either in one transaction or a combination of cash transactions. It is filed electronically with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network ("FinCEN"). [9]

Monetary Instrument Log (MIL)

The MIL must indicate cash purchases of monetary instruments, such as money orders, cashier's checks and traveler's checks, in value totaling $3,000 to $10,000, inclusive. This form is required to be kept on record at the financial institution, and produced at the request of examiners or audit to verify compliance. A financial institution must maintain a Monetary Instrument Log for five years.

Suspicious Activity Report (SAR)

The SAR must report any cash transaction where the customer seems to be trying to avoid BSA reporting requirements by not filing CTR or MIL, for example. A SAR must also be filed if the customer's actions suggest that he is laundering money or otherwise violating federal criminal laws and committing wire transfer fraud, check fraud or mysterious disappearances. The bank should not let the customer know that a SAR is being filed. These reports are filed with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network ("FinCEN"). This requirement and its accompanying implied gag order was added by the Annunzio-Wylie Anti-Money Laundering Act § 1517(b) (part of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1992, Pub.L. 102–550, 106 Stat. 3762, 4060).


There are heavy penalties for individuals and institutions that fail to file CTRs, MILs, or SARs. There are also penalties for a bank which discloses to its client that it has filed a SAR about the client. Penalties include heavy fines and prison sentences.

IRC §6038D requires that all U.S. persons, individuals, corporations, partnerships, LLC’s and trusts, provide timely information regarding their foreign accounts, otherwise a $10,000 penalty will result for every month it is late (subject to a certain maximum penalty). [10]

How it affects American citizens

CTRs include the individual's bank account number, name, address, and social security number. SAR reports, required when transactions indicate behavior designed to elude CTRs (or many other types of suspicious activities), include somewhat more detailed information and usually include investigation efforts on the part of the financial institution to assess the validity or nature of the transactions. A single CTR filed for a client's account is usually of no concern to the authorities, while multiple CTRs from varying institutions or a SAR suggest that activity may be suspicious. A financial institution is not allowed to inform a business or consumer that a SAR is being filed, and all the reports mandated by the BSA are exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

Businesses that deal primarily in cash, such as bars and restaurants, can be exempted from having their deposits and withdrawals reported on CTRs, although this exemption is rarely granted. Instead, most banks have computer systems which retain information on CTRs and allow duplicate CTRs to be created seamlessly.

Individual filing requirement

U.S. citizens must file the FBAR if they have a financial interest in, or authority over, foreign bank accounts or "foreign financial account" that have an aggregate value of $10,000 at any point in a year.[11][12] Additionally, they must report the accounts on Schedule B of the Form 1040 tax form. The FBAR should be filed separately with the U.S. Treasury by June 30 of each year. One law professor has argued that FBAR is wasting time and money, and "perversely discouraging compliance" because it needs to be re-focussed on what "Congress intended: on likely criminal activity". [13]

Additional information

An entire industry has developed around providing software to analyze transactions in an attempt to identify transactions or patterns of transactions called structuring, which requires SAR filing. Financial institutions are subject to penalties for failing to properly file CTRs and SARs, such as heavy fines and regulatory restrictions, including charter revocation.

These software applications effectively monitor customer transactions on a daily basis, and using a customer's past transactions and account profile, provide a "whole picture" of the customer to the bank management. Transaction monitoring can include cash deposits and withdrawals, wire transfers and ACH activity. In the banking industry, these applications are known as "BSA software" or "anti-money laundering software".

Notable cases

In 1998, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Bajakajian that the government may not confiscate any money from an individual for failure to report it on a CMIR, as such punishment would be "grossly disproportional to the gravity of [the] offense" and thus unconstitutional under the Excessive Fines clause of the Eighth Amendment.

In 2011 the Observer reported that Wachovia, at one time a major US bank, was implicated in laundering money for Mexican drug lords, through its lax laundering controls, a violation of the Bank Secrecy Act. It moved money in and out of casas de cambio without proper due diligence.[14]

See also


  2. 31 CFR 1010.311 (formerly 31 CFR 103.22)
  3. 31 USCA 5316(a)
  4. 31 CFR 1010.350
  5. 31 CFR 1020.320 (formerly 31 CFR 103.21); 12 CFR 12.11
  6. 31 CFR 103.22(d)(3)(i)
  7. 31 CFR 103.22(d)(5)(i)
  8. "Publication 1544 (Rev. September 2012). Reporting Cash Payments of Over $10,000" (PDF). IRS. 2012-09-21. Retrieved 2013-06-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Link text
  11. Current FBAR Guidance (FBAR) – Filing Requirements as of 28 Aug. 2014
  12. IRS Publication 4261
  13. Christians, Allison (2014): Paperwork and Punishment: It's Time to Fix FBAR, October 13, 2014, Tax Notes International, Vol. 73, 2014 [1] Retrieved 2014-11-09
  14. Vulliamy, Ed (2011-04-02). "How a big US bank laundered billions from Mexico's murderous drug gangs". The Observer. Retrieved 2013-06-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links