Financial institutions in the United States are required to report certain cash transactions to help prevent money laundering and other financial crimes. The main reporting requirements come from the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), which was passed in 1970. Under the BSA, banks and other financial companies must file a Currency Transaction Report (CTR) for cash transactions over $10,000. However, depositing amounts below $10,000 does not necessarily mean the transactions avoid scrutiny.
When are banks required to file CTRs?
Banks must file a CTR for each deposit, withdrawal, exchange of currency or other payment that involves more than $10,000 in physical cash. Some examples:
- A customer deposits $11,000 in cash into their account
- A customer withdraws $15,000 in cash from their account
- A customer purchases $12,000 in cashier’s checks with cash
- A customer exchanges $30,000 in small bills for large bills
It does not matter if the transaction is made by an individual or on behalf of a business. Transactions conducted by the same person that exceed $10,000 in a single day must also be reported as a CTR. Banks typically use software to aggregate an individual’s transactions and flag any reportable activity.
Structuring deposits to avoid CTRs
Some people seek to avoid having CTRs filed on their cash transactions by “structuring” their deposits. This involves deliberately breaking up the total amount into smaller chunks below $10,000.
- Depositing $9,500 on Monday
- Depositing $8,700 on Wednesday
- Depositing $9,800 on Friday
Rather than deposit the full $28,000 at once and trigger a CTR, the customer split the deposits in an attempt to fly under the radar.
Structuring transactions in this manner is illegal under federal law. Financial institutions are required to report suspected incidents of structuring where people purposefully avoid the $10,000 reporting threshold.
Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs)
Banks must file a SAR for any suspicious transactions, including suspected structuring to avoid CTR requirements. The SAR lets law enforcement know that the transactions may warrant investigation for tax evasion, money laundering, or other financial crimes.
Some signs that may lead a bank to file a SAR include:
- A customer who frequently deposits cash just under $10,000
- A business with inexplicably high cash volume
- Someone who suddenly begins making large cash deposits
- Cash deposits that don’t match the customer’s income level
SARs are filed on transactions of any amount – there is no minimum threshold. In some cases, banks file SARs on deposits as little as $500 if they appear suspicious.
Penalties for Structuring
Intentionally structuring cash transactions to avoid CTR requirements carries civil and criminal penalties at both federal and state levels.
Some potential consequences include:
- Civil penalty up to the amount of funds involved in the structuring
- Criminal fine up to $250,000 for individuals
- Up to 5 years in prison
- Forfeiture of the structured funds
- Increased IRS scrutiny and tax penalties
The penalties can be severe even when no other illegal activity is involved. Simple tax evasion or trying to keep personal transactions private could result in prosecution if structuring was used.
How much can you deposit without triggering CTRs?
There is no magic number for staying under the radar. Banks monitor accounts closely for suspicious activity patterns. Criminals trying to avoid CTRs by keeping deposits under $10,000 may still face SAR reporting.
The best approach is to avoid large cash transactions when possible. Use checks, wire transfers, credit cards, etc. for major payments. When cash transactions are necessary, work with your bank and be transparent about the purpose and source of the funds. Legitimate businesses and individuals making normal deposits have no reason to structure payments.
- Banks must file CTRs on cash deposits and withdrawals over $10,000
- Structuring deposits to avoid CTRs is illegal
- SARs must be filed on suspicious transactions of any amount
- Penalties for structuring can be severe
- No magic number exists for avoiding scrutiny
- Transparency is key when large cash transactions are needed
Being aware of the reporting requirements helps consumers and businesses stay in compliance with the law. When transactions are conducted transparently and legally, there is minimal risk of triggering mandatory bank reporting.
The Bank Secrecy Act requires financial institutions to report cash transactions over $10,000 through Currency Transaction Reports. Structuring deposits to avoid triggering CTR requirements is illegal and could lead to civil or criminal charges. Banks also file Suspicious Activity Reports for transactions of any amount that appear irregular.
Rather than trying to fly under the radar, consumers and businesses should be transparent with their banks about the purpose and source of large cash deposits. Legitimate entities making legal transactions have no reason to deliberately structure payments. Understanding the reporting rules helps prevent running afoul of the law while conducting normal financial activities.