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US Tax Guide for Cryptocurrencies

Greetings, cryptax! Tax season is upon us, and in the next couple of months, taxpayers across the US will be filing their 2017 tax returns. As a tax professional, an Enrolled Agent, and a cryptocurrency investor and enthusiast, I wanted to write up a brief guide on how your investments in cryptocurrencies are taxed in the US.
1. Are cryptocurrency realized gains taxable?
Yes. The IRS treats virtual currency (such as cryptocurrency) as property. That means if you sell BTC, ETH, or any other cryptocurrency that has appreciated in value, you have realized a capital gain and must pay taxes on this income. If you held the position for one year or less, it is a short-term capital gain which is taxed at your ordinary income tax rate. If you held the position for more than one year, it is a long-term capital gain which is taxed at your long-term capital gains tax rate. In most cases, this is 15%, but could also be 0% or 20% depending on your specific ordinary income tax bracket.
2. If I sell my BTC for USD on Coinbase but do not transfer the USD from Coinbase to my bank account, am I still taxed?
Yes. The only thing that matters is that you sold the BTC, which creates a taxable transaction. Whether you transfer the USD to your bank account or not does not matter.
3. If I use my BTC to buy another cryptocurrency (XMR for example), is this a taxable transaction?
Most likely yes. See #4 below for a more detailed explanation. If assuming crypto to crypto trades are not able to be like-kind exchanged, then continue on to the next paragraph here.
This is actually two different transactions. The first transaction is selling your BTC for USD. The second transaction is buying the XMR with your USD. You must manually calculate these amounts (or use a website such as bitcoin.tax or software to calculate it for you). For example, I buy 1 BTC for $8,000 on Coinbase. Later on, the price of 1 BTC rises to $9,000. I transfer that 1 BTC to Bittrex and use it to buy 38 XMR. I have to report a capital gain of $1,000 because of this transaction. My total cost basis for the 38 XMR I purchased is $9,000.
4. If I use my BTC to buy another cryptocurrency, could that be considered a tax-free like-kind exchange?
Probably not. The new tax law says that like-kind exchanges only pertain to real estate transactions. This was done with Section 13303, which replaced “property” with “real property” for all of Section 1031 (page 72 near the bottom). My personal interpretation:
In 2018 and going forward, cryptocurrencies can definitely not be like-kind exchanged.
In 2017 and before, it is a very gray area. I personally am not taking the position that they can be like-kind exchanged, because if the IRS went after a taxpayer who did this, the IRS would probably win and the taxpayer would owe taxes, interest, and probably penalties on every single little gain made from trading one cryptocurrency for another.
Here is a great interpretation of why trading cryptocurrency for cryptocurrency is probably not a like-kind transaction.
In my opinion, the biggest factor is that like-kind exchanges must be reported on Form 8824 and not just ignored. Therefore, if a taxpayer is claiming like-kind exchanges on crypto to crypto exchanges, he or she would have to fill out a Form 8824 for each individual transaction of crypto to crypto, which would be absolutely cumbersome if there are hundreds or thousands of such trades.
Another is that there has to be a Qualified Intermediary that facilitates a like-kind exchange. So, it's a more involved process, and that's why I think cryptocurrency cannot be like-kind exchanged.
Here is another article about like-kind exchanges.
Here is the American Institute of CPAs' letter to the IRS, dated June 10, 2016, asking them to release guidance on whether crypto to crypto can be like-kind exchanged or not. The IRS has not responded to the letter.
5. How do I calculate the realized capital gain or loss on the sale of my cryptocurrency?
The realized gain or loss is your total proceeds from the sale minus what you purchased those positions for (your cost basis). For example, you bought 1 BTC for $3,000 in June of 2017. In December of 2017, you sold that 1 BTC for $18,000. Your realized gain would be $18,000 - $3,000 = $15,000. Since you held it for one year or less, the $15,000 would be a short-term capital gain taxed at your ordinary income tax rate.
6. Which BTC's cost basis do I use if I have multiple purchases?
The cost basis reporting method is up to you. For example, I buy my first BTC at $3,000, a second BTC at $5,300, and a third BTC at $4,000. Later on, I sell one BTC for $8,000. I can use:
FIFO (first in first out) - cost basis would the first BTC, $3,000, which would result in a gain of $5,000.
LIFO (last in first out) - cost basis would be the third BTC, $4,000, which would result in a gain of $4,000.
Average cost - cost basis would be the average of the three BTC, $4,100, which would result in a gain of $3,900.
Specific identification - I can choose which coin's cost basis to use. For example, I can choose the second BTC's cost basis, $5,300, which would result in the lowest capital gains possible of $2,700.
The IRS has not given any guidance on cost basis accounting methods for cryptocurrency, but I am taking the position that any method can be used, and that you can change your method at any time as you please (e.g. FIFO for one year, LIFO for another. Or, FIFO for the sale of a specific lot, then LIFO for the sale of another lot on the same day).
7. If I end up with a net capital loss, can I claim this on my tax return?
Capital gains and capital losses are netted on your tax return. If the net result of this is a capital loss, you may offset it against ordinary income on your tax return, but only at a maximum of $3,000 per year. The remaining losses are carried forward until you use them up.
8. What is the tax rate on my capital gains?
If long-term, the tax rate is 0%, 15%, or 20%, depending on your ordinary income tax bracket. If short-term, the tax bracket you’ll be in will depend on your total income and deductions. The ordinary income tax brackets are 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, 35%, and 39.6% in 2017 and 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35%, and 37% in 2018 and going forward.
Here are the 2017 and 2018 ordinary income tax brackets.
Here are the 2017 and 2018 long-term capital gains tax brackets.
Here is a detailed article on how the calculation of long-term capital gains tax work and how you can take advantage of the 0% long-term capital gains rate, if applicable.
9. If I mine BTC or any other cryptocurrency, is this taxable?
Yes. IRS Notice 2014-21 states that mining cryptocurrency is taxable. For example, if you mined $8,000 worth of BTC in 2017, you must report $8,000 of ordinary income on your 2017 tax return. For many taxpayers, this will be reported on your Schedule C, and you will most likely owe self-employment taxes on this income as well. The $8,000 becomes the cost basis in your BTC position.
10. How do I calculate income for the cryptocurrency I mined?
This is the approach I would take. Say I mined 0.01 BTC on December 31, 2017. I would look up the daily historical prices for BTC and average the high and low prices for BTC on December 31, 2017, which is ($14,377.40 + $12,755.60) / 2 = $13,566.50. I would report $13,566.50 * 0.01 = $135.67 of income on my tax return. This would also be the cost basis of the 0.01 BTC I mined.
11. Can I deduct mining expenses on my tax return?
If you are reporting the income from mining on Schedule C, then you can deduct expenses on Schedule C as well. You can deduct the portion of your electricity costs allocated to mining, and then you depreciate the cost of your mining rig over time (probably over five years). Section 179 also allows for the full deduction of the cost of certain equipment in year 1, so you could choose to do that if you wanted to instead.
12. If I receive BTC or other cryptocurrency as a payment for my business, is this taxable?
Yes. Similar to mining, your income would be what the value of the coins you received was. This would also be your cost basis in the coins.
13. If I received Bitcoin Cash as a result of the hard fork on August 1, 2017, is this taxable?
Most likely yes. For example, if you owned 1 Bitcoin and received 1 Bitcoin Cash on August 1, 2017 as a result of the hard fork, your income would be the value of 1 Bitcoin Cash on that date. Bitcoin.tax uses a value of $277. This value would also be your cost basis in the position. Any other hard forks would probably be treated similarly. Airdrops may be treated similarly as well, in the IRS' view.
Here are a couple more good articles about reporting the Bitcoin Cash fork as taxable ordinary income. The second one goes into depth and cites a US Supreme Court decision as precedent: one, two
14. If I use BTC or other cryptocurrency to purchase goods or services, is this a taxable transaction?
Yes. It would be treated as selling your cryptocurrency for USD, and then using that USD to purchase those goods or services. This is because the IRS treats cryptocurrency as property and not currency.
15. Are cryptocurrencies subject to the wash sale rule?
Probably not. Section 1091 only applies to stock or securities. Cryptocurrencies are not classified as stocks or securities. Therefore, you could sell your BTC at a loss, repurchase it immediately, and still realize this loss on your tax return, whereas you cannot do the same with a stock. Please see this link for more information.
16. What if I hold cryptocurrency on an exchange based outside of the US?
There are two separate foreign account reporting requirements: FBAR and FATCA.
A FBAR must be filed if you held more than $10,000 on an exchange based outside of the US at any point during the tax year.
A Form 8938 (FATCA) must be filed if you held more than $75,000 on an exchange based outside of the US at any point during the tax year, or more than $50,000 on the last day of the tax year.
The penalties are severe for not filing these two forms if you are required to. Please see the second half of this post for more information on foreign account reporting.
17. What are the tax implications of gifting cryptocurrency?
Small gifts of cryptocurrency do not have a tax implication for the gift giver or for the recipient. The recipient would retain the gift giver's old cost basis, so it could be a good idea for the gift giver to provide records of the original cost basis to the recipient as well (or else the recipient would have to assume a cost basis of $0 if the recipient ever sells the cryptocurrency).
Large gifts of cryptocurrency could start having gift and estate tax implications on the giver if the value exceeds more than $14,000 (in 2017) or $15,000 (in 2018) per year per recipient.
Here's a good article on Investopedia on this issue.
An important exception applies if the gift giver gives cryptocurrency that has a cost basis that is higher than the market value at the time of the gift. Please see the middle of this post for more information on that.
18. Where can I learn even more about cryptocurrency taxation?
Unchained Podcast: The Tax Rules That Have Crypto Users Aghast
IRS Notice 2014-21
Great reddit post from tax attorney Tyson Cross from 2014
19. Are there any websites that you recommend in helping me with all of this?
Yes - I have used bitcoin.tax and highly recommend it. You can import directly from an exchange to the website using API, and/or export a .csv/excel file from the exchange and import it into the website. The exchanges I successfully imported from were Coinbase, GDAX, Bittrex, and Binance. The result is a .csv or other file that you can import into your tax software.
I have also heard good things about cointracking.info but have not personally used it myself.
20. If I move my BTC from one exchange to another, or into a hard wallet, is this a taxable event?
No - you are not selling anything, so no gains are realized.
21. Where do I report cryptocurrency sales on my tax return?
The summary of your sales would reported on Schedule D on line 3 and/or line 10 depending on short-term or long-term. Supplemental Form 8949 must also be included with Box C or Box F checked depending on short-term or long-term. Form 8949 is where you must list each individual sale.
22. If coins become lost or inaccessible (e.g. lost or forgotten passphrase or thrown away hard drive), can I claim that as a loss? What about coins that have gotten stolen? What about losing money in investment or ICO scams (e.g. Bitconnect or Confido)?
These are really tricky questions. Unfortunately, the potential to claim such a loss against ordinary income is very low, especially with the new tax law. At the very least, capital losses can be claimed, but the deduction is capped at $3,000 per year against ordinary income with the rest carrying forward indefinitely.
The new tax law changed the casualty and theft loss to only apply to presidential disaster areas, so at least in the case of a loss passphrase, I think the answer is no for 2018 and going forward. For 2017, the answer is possibly yes. Here is an article on the subject if you are interested in reading more.
23. Taxation is theft!
Sorry, I can't help you there.
That is the summary I have for now. There have been a lot of excellent cryptocurrency tax guides on reddit, such as this one and this one, but I wanted to post my guide on cryptax which hopefully answers some of the questions you all may have about US taxation of cryptocurrencies. Please let me know if you have any more questions, and I’d be happy to answer them to the best of my ability. Thank you!
Regarding edits: I may make many edits to my post after I originally post it. Please refresh to see the latest edits to my guide. Thank you.
The information contained within this post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for obtaining tax, accounting, or financial advice from a professional.
Any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this post is not intended to be used for the purpose of avoiding penalties under U.S. federal tax law.
Presentation of the information via the Internet is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, an advisor-client relationship. Internet users are advised not to act upon this information without seeking the service of a tax professional.
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