The IRS requires banks to report cash transactions over $10,000. This includes personal checks, cashier’s checks, and money orders. So if you deposit or cash a check for more than $10,000, it will likely trigger a currency transaction report to the IRS.
What is a currency transaction report (CTR)?
A currency transaction report (CTR) is an IRS form that banks and other financial institutions must fill out when a customer conducts a cash transaction over $10,000. Some key things to know about CTRs:
- They are filed electronically through the BSA E-Filing System.
- They must be filed within 15 days of the transaction.
- They require detailed information about the transaction and customer.
- The business submits the report – the customer does not.
- CTRs are not proof of any illegal activity. They simply report the transaction.
The purpose of CTRs is to help identify potential money laundering or tax evasion. Financial institutions are required to file them under the Bank Secrecy Act.
When is a CTR required for checks?
Banks must file a CTR any time a customer conducts a transaction in cash or cash equivalents over $10,000. This includes:
- Withdrawing over $10,000 in cash
- Exchanging smaller bills for larger bills totaling over $10,000 (and vice versa)
- Purchasing cashier’s checks, money orders, or traveler’s checks worth over $10,000
- Depositing or cashing a personal check, business check, or any other check worth over $10,000
So if you deposit a personal check, cashier’s check, or any other check that is made out for more than $10,000, it will likely trigger a CTR.
What information must be reported on a CTR?
CTRs require the financial institution to gather and report detailed information about the transaction and customer, including:
- Date and time of transaction
- Amount of transaction
- Type of transaction (deposit, withdrawal, exchange, etc.)
- Customer name and contact information
- Customer date of birth
- Customer occupation and business
- Customer identification (Social Security number or EIN)
- Account number and account owner (if transaction is account-based)
This information is entered electronically into the IRS BSA E-Filing System. The CTR must be signed by both the customer and an authorized representative of the bank.
Are all checks over $10,000 reported?
In most cases, yes – personal checks, cashier’s checks, business checks, and other checks in amounts greater than $10,000 should trigger the filing of a CTR. However, there are some exceptions:
- Checks between established customers – Banks have some discretion and may not report checks between customers with established business relationships and accounts in good standing.
- Government checks – Checks issued by federal, state, or local governments do not require CTRs.
- Rollovers from retirement accounts – CTRs are not required when rolling over $10,000+ from one IRA or qualified account to another.
But aside from some specific exceptions, the $10,000 cash transaction threshold applies broadly to personal checks, business checks, cashier’s checks, traveler’s checks, and money orders.
Are structured checks illegal?
“Structured” transactions – spreading funds over multiple smaller checks purposely to avoid triggering reporting requirements – are illegal. Examples of unlawful structuring with checks include:
- Receiving a $25,000 payment as five separate $5,000 checks
- Cashing multiple smaller checks from the same payer on the same day totaling over $10,000
- Depositing $40,000 into four separate accounts as $10,000 checks
Intentionally “structuring” transactions to avoid CTRs violates federal anti-money laundering laws. Penalties can include:
- Up to 5 years in prison
- Fines up to $250,000 for individuals or $500,000 for corporations
- Criminal forfeiture of funds involved in transactions
Are CTRs confidential?
Yes, CTRs are confidential and not accessible through public records requests. The bank is prohibited from informing customers when a CTR is filed on a transaction. Some key confidentiality rules include:
- Banks cannot disclose CTR filing to the customer
- CTRs are exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests
- Unauthorized CTR disclosure by banks can result in 5 years imprisonment
- Information is safeguarded by IRS and Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN)
So if your check deposit triggers a CTR, you likely will not know it was filed. The report remains confidential between the financial institution and IRS/FinCEN.
Are CTRs routine occurrences?
Yes, CTRs are very common occurrences for banks and other financial institutions. In 2021 alone, over 600,000 CTRs were filed related to cash transactions exceeding $10,000. Some key statistics on CTR volume:
- Over 1.2 million CTRs filed in 2019
- Over 2.1 million CTRs filed in 2020
- 605,665 CTRs filed in the first half of 2021
- Roughly 95% of CTRs are filed by banks
So while CTRs must be filed for checks over $10,000, they are routine reports for the bank. Large check deposits do not necessarily indicate suspicions of wrongdoing.
How are CTRs used by the IRS?
The IRS and FinCEN use CTR data to identify potential tax evasion, money laundering, and other financial crimes. Their investigators can analyze CTR filing patterns to uncover suspicious activity.
Some ways CTRs assist the IRS and FinCEN include:
- Identifying unreported income – CTRs can identify large cash transactions that may represent unreported income.
- Verifying business income/expenses – Information on routine CTRs can be compared to reported business income and expenses.
- Monitoring suspicious activity – CTRs help identify potentially illegal structuring or money laundering.
- Obtaining audit leads – CTR data can provide leads for possible IRS audits of individuals or businesses.
However, CTR filings alone do not prove any criminal activity or wrongdoing. The IRS still must carry out detailed investigations and audits to establish evidence of financial crimes.
Do CTRs correspond to IRS Form 8300?
IRS Form 8300 is a separate report related to cash payments received by a business over $10,000. This is distinct from CTR reporting by financial institutions. Some key differences:
- CTR – Filed by bank for customer’s cash transaction over $10,000
- Form 8300 – Filed by business for cash payment received over $10,000
- CTRs report checks cashed or deposited. Form 8300 reports cash received as income.
- Financial institutions file CTRs. Businesses file Form 8300 reports.
So CTRs and Form 8300s both report on transactions exceeding $10,000. But they involve different parties and purposes.
Do CTRs indicate illegal activity?
No, the filing of a CTR does not necessarily indicate illegal activity. In fact, the vast majority of CTRs relate to lawful transactions that simply meet the reporting threshold. Some reasons an innocent CTR may be filed:
- Cashing a legitimate insurance claim check
- Selling property and depositing the proceeds
- Receiving an inheritance or gift over $10,000
- Settling a business contract exceeding $10,000
- Withdrawing large savings for a major purchase
While CTRs can help identify potential criminal activity, most relate to common lawful transactions like these. The CTR simply reports the details to the IRS and FinCEN as required.
How can I avoid triggering unnecessary CTRs?
You can reduce the likelihood of triggering unnecessary CTR filings in a few ways:
- Keep individual transactions under $10,000 when possible
- Spread out large deposits/withdrawals over several days
- Alert your bank of any upcoming large transactions
- Use wire transfers instead of cash for amounts over $10,000
- Establish a relationship with bank personnel
That said, it is perfectly legal to deposit checks over $10,000 that trigger CTRs. The reports help government agencies perform due diligence.
Do I have to answer questions for a CTR?
Yes, if your transaction requires a CTR, you need to provide the personal and transactional information requested by the bank. Failure to answer CTR questions means the bank will likely refuse the transaction. Banks could also file a Suspicious Activity Report for failure to cooperate.
Is a CTR the same as a SAR?
No, a CTR and SAR are two different filings:
- CTR – Currency Transaction Report for cash transactions > $10,000
- SAR – Suspicious Activity Report for potentially illegal transactions
SARs are filed by banks regarding any suspicious transaction – regardless of the amount. For example, a series of $9,000 checks could trigger a SAR, even though each is under the $10,000 CTR threshold.
Do I have to notify the IRS directly?
No, you do not have to directly notify the IRS when depositing or cashing checks over $10,000. It is the bank’s responsibility to file CTRs on qualifying transactions.
The only time you must send direct notice to the IRS is if you receive over $10,000 in cash payments as taxable income for your business. In this case you must file Form 8300 reporting the cash income payments to the IRS.
Is a CTR required for non-cash transactions?
Yes, CTR requirements apply to cash and cash equivalents, including:
- Cashier’s checks
- Money orders
- Traveler’s checks
- Personal checks
- Business checks
Any transaction exceeding $10,000 with these instruments requires the bank to file a CTR. This includes deposits, withdrawals, currency exchanges, and check cashing.
Do CTR requirements violate privacy?
CTR reporting has faced some criticism for privacy concerns. However, the Bank Secrecy Act requires banks to file CTRs to help counter money laundering and tax evasion. And personal information in CTRs remains confidential between the bank and IRS/FinCEN.
The American Bar Association has argued that CTRs cast “…entirely innocent citizens as ‘suspects’ simply because they have engaged in a large currency transaction.” But most agree CTR laws strike an appropriate balance between privacy and law enforcement needs.
Checks over $10,000 commonly trigger currency transaction reports to the IRS. This applies to personal checks, business checks, cashier’s checks, and money orders over the $10,000 amount. CTR regulations help identify potential tax evasion or financial crimes. But the vast majority of CTRs relate to completely legal transactions. Banks are required to file them and keep the reports confidential.