Thursday, November 11, 2021

The Cryptocurrency Post

I've honestly resisted writing a cryptocurrency post for a while because I just didn't think there was much to write on the tax implications. To me, they seemed pretty common sense and no different from the law as applied to other investments. I knew there were nuances, but didn't think they warranted a post.

I was wrong.

Crypto confuses the crap out of people, and the new reporting requirements only confused people more. So here is the long anticipated post...

I will use "Crypto" to refer to any of the various virtual currencies and use "Bitcoin" in my examples, though they apply to any virtual currency.

First thing to know, that will help explain almost every aspect of crypto is that it is considered by the IRS to be an investment, not a currency. If, when thinking about crypto, you replace, "one bitcoin" with "one share of Exxon stock", you will usually get to the right answer. Obviously the prices don't match, but the logic applies:

Crypto/Stock Examples:

Buy a Bitcoin/buy a share of Exxon: No tax implications or reporting requirements, EXCEPT, once you own any cryptocurrency, when you file your taxes, you have to answer yes to the question on the front of the Form 1040, "At any time during 2021, did you receive, sell, send, exchange or otherwise acquire any financial interest in any virtual currency?" This question exists because crypto sales aren't currently well reported to the IRS, so they added it to ramp up the chances people will report, and to prevent you from claiming ignorance when you fail to report it.

Sell a Bitcoin/sell a share of Exxon: This is a reportable and taxable event. The difference between what you paid for the coin/share and what you sold it for is taxable. Hold it a year and a day or more, and you pay a lower tax rate (sometimes even zero). Hold it a year or less, and you pay taxes at your highest rate based on your income. This means you need to know what you paid for the bitcoin. Most big exchanges are now tracking and reporting, but, if not, you need a ledger so that you know when you bought, how much you paid, and how many coins you bought. Then, when you sell a coin, you find the price of the oldest coin you still have unsold, and use that price (this is called First In/First Out and there are other ways to track, but this is the safest and most accepted). Track your sales in the same spreadsheet or table so you don't "sell" the same coin twice. If you didn't "buy" the coin, later examples will tell you what your "Basis" is. Basis is what your investment is. When you buy something, it is the price paid. Basis is what you use for price paid when you didn't buy the coin/stock and need to calculate the difference between price paid and price sold.

Exchanging crypto for different crypto or other investments is treated as you selling one and buying another. The sale is reportable and the purchase forms your Basis in the new currency - just the way stock works.

Get paid in Bitcoin/get paid in Exxon stock: In some cases, especially with stock in the company you work for, this can get complicated, but, 90% of the time, it works like this: The value of the coin/stock when you are paid it is income just the same if paid in dollars. You report it in the same place on your 1040 that you report other income (if it was wages - it goes where W-2 wages go, if it is for your business - it goes on the business Schedule C or other business return, if it is for rent - it goes on the rental Schedule E or other return). Now that you have it, it is treated when you sell it as if you had bought it for the amount it was worth when you were paid (the amount you reported and paid taxes on.) This is your "Basis".

Buy something with Bitcoin/buy something with Exxon stock: You just sold it. Whatever it was worth at the moment you bought something with it is the price you "sold" it for. See the section on sales.

Inherit Bitcoin/Inherit Exxon stock: No current tax implications (though it is included in the Estate and can have Estate tax implications if it was a multi-million dollar estate). Your "Basis" is the value of the Bitcoin on the date of death (99% of the time) and you are considered to have held it for more than a year automatically.

Give Bitcoin to charity/give Exxon stock to charity: No taxes due even if the price has gone up by millions. Get a charitable deduction based on how long you owned it. More than a year, deduct its full value. A year or less, deduct your "Basis" or its value, whichever is lower.

Other notes or differences between stock and crypto: 

You can't "mine" Exxon stock, but you can mine Bitcoin. If you mine a coin, you have business income equal to its value and you can deduct your expenses for mining it.

It doesn't matter that your exchange doesn't report the transaction, or that the exchange is out of the country - if it would be reportable for a share of Exxon, it is reportable for crypto.

Get help before giving crypto as a gift and after receiving it as a gift before you do anything with it.

Investing Crypto in a retirement account is complicated and generally requires a self directed IRA. Get professional help.

Hard Forks that result in you receiving new crypto is treated as an exchange and is taxable. Get expert help.

Soft Forks are never taxable events.

Transferring crypto between wallets you own is not taxable as long as you remain the sole owner.

The IRS is serious about crypto and I expect them to take a hard line on non-reporters. I don't expect a lot of penalty abatement and I expect them to apply fraud penalties liberally.

This post is over-simplified and meant to apply to the majority of situations. Also, crypto law is still developing and subject to interpretation and litigation, so it might be wrong. Consult an expert before playing with crypto. See the IRS FAQ on the subject HERE.

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