You know you're not a money launderer. The government, however, doesn't know that. That's why federal law requires banks to report certain transactions that might be evidence of a money laundering scheme. Depositing $10,000 or more might trigger just such a report, if you bring the money in cash.
Bank Secrecy Act
The law that applies to big bank transactions is called the Currency and Foreign Transactions Reporting Act of 1970, although it's commonly known by a more ominous name, the Bank Secrecy Act. The law requires that a bank report any cash transaction of $10,000 or more be reported to the Internal Revenue Service. That includes deposits and withdrawals, as well as currency exchanges and using cash to buy such things as traveler's checks, cashier's checks or certified checks.
If you deposit $10,000 or more in cash at a bank, it's not like a guard is going to swoop in and put you in handcuffs. The bank just takes down your identification and uses it to file a form called a Currency Transaction Report, which it sends to the IRS. The bank goes ahead and puts the money in your account, same as it would any other deposit. When you'll have access to the money depends on your bank's policy more making deposited funds available. The bank doesn't have to wait for an OK from the IRS. Not surprisingly, the IRS is a bit circumspect about what happens to filed Currency Transaction Reports -- or what it takes to trigger an investigation. All it says is that the reports go into a database, where law enforcement officials have access to them.
The law also requires banks to report any cash transactions that look as if they might be designed to get around the $10,000 rule. All transactions that add up to a total of at least $10,000 in one day will get reported as if they are a single transaction. Multiple transactions that the bank believes are related also get reported. And if you're consistently depositing, say $9,900, the bank may report that as a so-called "structured" transaction -- actions intended to avoid triggering a Currency Transaction Report. Really, a bank can report any transaction it thinks is fishy.
Plenty of people have legitimate reasons for depositing large sums of cash, and banks can get exemptions for their business customers who must regularly do so. A big movie theater, for example, could easily pull in more than $10,000 in cash in a night. Rather than have to fill out a transaction report every day on the poor employee (like you, perhaps) who brings in the cash, the bank can obtain an exemption for the theater. Some businesses can't get exemptions, though, including law firms, accountants, pawnbrokers, trade unions and others who, for whatever reason, the IRS wants to keep a close eye on.
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