Crypto Introduction: A Secret Message On A BlockchainA covert message can be found inscribed into the first block of the bitcoin blockchain, “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks,” referring to the London newspaper’s lead story of the day. This edition of the newspaper is now one of the most valuable crypto collectibles to date with asking prices over a million dollars! And since those early days in 2009, crypto has steadily increased in prominence, adoption, and mainstream conversation despite naysayers predicting its demise. Accounting firms in the US have increasingly entered the space launching their crypto tax, accounting, and blockchain practices. The AICPA released a practice aid covering both the accounting and auditing of digital assets. The OCC announced in July 2020 that national banks in the USA now have the authority to provide cryptocurrency custody services. Crypto is simply an area that tax professionals can no longer ignore. In fact, there's tremendous opportunity for accounting service providers to grow their business by offering tax services to cryptocurrency users and crypto investment holders.
How to become a Crypto Tax Savvy ProfessionalCrypto-savvy tax professionals are now needed more than ever given the significant confusion around crypto tax compliance. It also provides tremendous thought leadership and business development opportunity. Back in March of 2014, the IRS issued Notice 2014-21, stating that virtual currencies are to be treated as property, rather than currency (that could generate foreign currency gains or losses) for US federal income tax purposes. Thus general tax principles applicable to property transactions apply to transactions using cryptocurrency. The 2014 IRS notice left much to be desired and a litany of open questions lingered, given the unique make-up of this novel and emerging financial assets class. Fast forward to now and the updated guidance received from the IRS in October of 2019 in the form of a Revenue Ruling 2019-24 and updated FAQs, sought to provide more clarity. The updated guidance, however, still left many questions unanswered and created confusion around more nuanced and complex areas (such as air drop and chain forks) that we'll get into later. The AICPA issued another comment letter (a “must-read” if you’re a tax professional) to the IRS in February 2020 to submit their recommendations relating to the updated guidance dealing with the following five areas:
- Revenue Ruling 2019-24
- New Question on the 2019 Form 1040, Schedule 1
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Form of Guidance
- Prior AICPA Recommendations Not Included in New IRS Guidance
Asking the right questions: What’s Holding Tax Pros Back?In speaking with numerous leaders across the accounting, legal and tech community there still seems to be very few crypto tax professionals that understand how crypto works, the complexities, and the related potential tax implications. Primary reasons that were given for this shortage in crypto-savvy tax professionals included regulatory ambiguity, lack of client demand, and uncertainty whether this is an area worth pursuing in the long run. In this crypto tax series, we’ll explore some of the most common crypto taxable events that every tax professional ought to know and how tools, like Ledgible Tax, can empower professionals to provide a premium crypto tax service to their clients. In Part 2 we’ll learn about the significant priority the IRS has placed on crypto and kick off with our first taxable event.
Crypto Tax Academy Lesson 1: The Sale
Crypto Is Booming (Again)Payments company Square, Inc. first allowed Cash App users to purchase and sell bitcoin during the rampant crypto boom of 2017. Since then it has continued to invest in its bitcoin offering, a move that seems to have yielded profitable results!
According to Square’s 2020 Q2 SEC filing, for the six months ended June 30, 2020 and 2019, bitcoin revenue amounted to $1.2 billion and $191 million respectively. The financials indicated that the primary driver behind the soaring 520% increase “was due to growth in the number of active bitcoin customers, as well as growth in customer demand”.
Of course Square is just one of the myriad options available for users to trade crypto today. Coinbase for example, one of the largest and most popular crypto exchanges in the U.S. boasts over 35 million users and over $7 billion in custody.
Yes, Crypto Tax Is A Priority For The IRS
The majority of crypto users are uninformed when it comes to the potential tax consequences surrounding crypto. Some think that the IRS will not be able to track or trace their trades back to their identity (ouch!).
During 2019 we saw the IRS sending out over 10,000 warning letters to cryptocurrency users to file amended returns if appropriate and pay back taxes. The IRS recently also released the 2020, 1040 draft form, where we can see the virtual currency question has moved from Schedule 1 to near the top of the main form, right under the name and address, asking, “At any time during 2020, did you receive, sell, exchange, or otherwise acquire any financial interest in any virtual currency?”. “Virtual currency” was also included in the 2019–2020 IRS Priority Guidance Plan. These are all unmistakable signals that the IRS is prioritizing crypto.
Taxable Event: The Sale
So, let’s begin with the basics. Selling crypto for fiat (e.g. USD) is a taxable event. The character of the gain or loss depends on whether the crypto is a capital asset (e.g. stocks, bonds, and investment property) in the hands of the taxpayer and the length of time the position was held.
For example, “hodling” (slang in the crypto community for holding the crypto rather than selling it) crypto as a capital asset for longer than a year before selling it will generally result in a long-term capital gain or loss. If the crypto was not held as a capital asset, but rather as inventory for sale in a trade or business, the resulting gain or loss recognized will generally be ordinary in character.Tools like Ledgible Tax exist to help tax preparers segregate and correctly classify crypto gains and losses. In the world of crypto tax there are many more taxable events than simply selling their crypto for cash. Let’s take a look at some of the other most common transactions in crypto that may result in taxable events.
Crypto Tax Academy Lesson 2: The Purchase of Goods
Purchasing with CryptoOverstock.com is heralded as the first major retailer to start accepting bitcoin purchases back in January of 2014. Since then several leading e-commerce platforms have followed suit such as Expedia, Shopify, Twitch, and even telecom giant AT&T. Typically these companies will accept cryptocurrency through payment providers such as BitPay, Coinbase Commerce, and others. Amazon does not (yet) offer crypto as a payment option, however, many e-commerce sites will allow you to buy Amazon and other gift cards with crypto which can then be redeemed at your favorite retailer. Paypal has been a payment and withdrawal option for several crypto exchanges for years, but recently rumors have been circulating that the fintech giant may “allow buys and sells of crypto directly from PayPal and Venmo”. (On October 22, 2020 those rumors were confirmed.) Virtual currency such as bitcoin and ether as a means of payment is slowly gaining wider acceptance, but what are the tax ramifications of using crypto as a means of payment for goods and services?
Taxable Event: The Purchase (of goods/services)According to IRS Notice 2014-21 “A taxpayer who receives virtual currency as payment for goods or services must, in computing gross income, include the fair market value of the virtual currency, measured in U.S. dollars, as of the date that the virtual currency was received.” Since crypto is treated as property for federal tax purposes, exchanging crypto for a good or service results in a disposal of the crypto, and consequently a short or long term gain or loss would need to be calculated and reported. According to the October 9, 2019, virtual currency FAQs, First-In, First-Out (FIFO) and Specific Identification are acceptable cost basis methods. Consider this example. You purchased $100 worth of bitcoin with cash on Monday from a popular exchange such as Coinbase. A few days later (let’s say Thursday), you decide to settle your AT&T bill with said bitcoin. Yup, you would need to compute and record the gain or loss derived from the difference between the price you paid to purchase the bitcoin on Monday and the fair value of bitcoin at the time you settled your phone bill. Ouch!
Dude, It Was Just A CoffeeWait, that’s crazy? I’ll stick with cash and card, thank you very much! I mean, isn’t there some sort of microtransaction threshold exclusion? As it stands now all gains or losses regardless, of size, will need to be reported. There was an effort back in 2017 by US lawmakers to push through legislation that would essentially allow consumers to make smaller purchases below a $600 threshold, without the related burdensome reporting requirements. However, the bill did not even make it past the House Floor. In January of 2020, two members of Congress continued their efforts to make it simpler for the people to use virtual currency in their daily lives. They introduced a bill entitled the “Virtual Currency Tax Fairness Act of 2020”. The bill would provide for a de minimis exemption for personal transactions where the gains are less than or equal to $200. The AICPA also submitted their recommendation in a comment letter to the IRS, “Treasury and the IRS should offer administrative relief by allowing a de minimis exclusion for virtual currency, similar to the exclusion allowed for foreign currency transactions. Tracking small amounts of gain or loss on transactions of low value creates a situation where the administrative costs outweigh any possible tax on the immaterial transactions.” Unfortunately, there is not that much we can do to expedite the crypto tax regulatory processes. Fortunately, however, what we can do is make it easier than ever before to calculate and track crypto gains, losses, and cost basis across all your crypto wallet and exchange activity. AICPA SOC Certified Ledgible Tax solution can do the heavy lifting for you while giving tax professionals the ability to manage their clients’ virtual currency tax from a portal that integrates directly with the clients’ wallets and exchanges. Now let's move on to another taxable crypto event: The Swap.
Crypto Tax Academy Lesson 3: The Swap
The (Very) Weird World Of CryptoCrypto can be swapped for other crypto. This is something the financial world has never seen before. Which brings us to our next cryptotax -able event: the swap. Imagine for a moment that you purchased some shares in Tesla. You then went and found an exchange where you could swap some of your Tesla holdings for Twitter (i.e. Tesla/Twitter trading pair). You then continued the suspension of your disbelief as you noticed the trading fee was issued in the form of Amazon shares! Well, it's a good thing you’ve been keeping track of fair values and cost basis in U.S. dollars throughout all this, right... Right?! Cryptotax requires it. And that is just the beginning of the weird and wonderful world of crypto that is unlike anything the financial world has seen before. And, no matter how wonderful for the user, it's creating a world of questions around cryptotax for professionals. Crypto exchanges can offer many compelling advantages over traditional exchanges such as the Nasdaq or New York Stock Exchange. For example, crypto exchanges are open for trading 24/7 (crypto literally never sleeps), generally offer low and simple fee structures, fractional purchasing for small retail investors, and immediate or at least same-day trade settlement. Waiting two days for stock to settle once you’ve had a taste of the blazing speed of crypto… Well, stinks. Two business days equates to roughly two weeks in Gen-Z interwebs time. It’s a hard sell. Which is one of the reasons the IRS knows it's here to stay. Of course, there are also many disadvantages when it comes to startup or early-stage crypto exchanges. Thin order books resulting in slippage, weak internal controls, no standardization in ticker symbols across exchanges, and weak reporting functionality to name a few. But don’t let the details get in the way of a great exchange! (And, at what point in the cryptotax filing process do professionals "value" the gain or loss?)
Swap, Change & SwitchSwapping one type of crypto for another has been commonplace for a long time in the crypto space. That’s why there is a litany of “crypto swap” exchange providers. ShapeShift, Changelly, and CoinSwitch are some of the most popular ones. Crypto exchanges in the U.S. in general, have come a long way since the early cowboy “it’s not regulated” days. Take Gemini, for example. According to their website, they are SOC 1 Type 1 and SOC 2 Type 1 and Type 2 compliant which was performed by Deloitte. The exchange is a fiduciary and subject to the capital reserve requirements, cybersecurity requirements, and banking compliance standards set forth by the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYSDFS). Also, they offer insurance to cover both online “hot” wallet and offline “cold” storage. Gemini made headlines back in 2018 when they announced they have partnered with Nasdaq to leverage its SMARTS Market Surveillance technology to monitor its marketplace. One may argue that these steps towards the institutionalization of crypto should (eventually) get us to better cryptotax reporting for crypto users in the U.S. So, is swapping one crypto for another considered a taxable event? Yes!
Crypto Taxable Event: The SwapNope, you don’t have to cash out to USD fiat currency to trigger a cryptotax -able event. In terms of cryptotax the exchange one cryptocurrency for another is a taxable event. Swapping one cryptocurrency for another is treated the same way as if you sold for USD and purchased the new crypto with USD. The challenge for the taxpayer or tax preparer is that many of these exchanges offer very little in the form of reporting. Generally, if you have more than $20,000 in proceeds and 200 transactions during a tax year with a crypto exchange you should receive a 1099-K form. The exchange will also have reported the same to the IRS. The problem is that a 1099-K reports on gross proceeds and not the cost basis and gains and losses derived from your transactions. You know... the actual gains and losses which the IRS requires you to report. Some crypto users received a 1099-B which unlike the 1099-K provides taxpayers with information regarding their cost basis (if available) and proceeds from the sale of capital assets. The problem is the “if available” part. It's no easy task for a crypto exchange to track cost basis and therefore will generally not provide a complete 1099-B as it simply does not track the data. So you can start to see a picture here of just a sliver of the challenges and complexities of financial reporting in the crypto space. That is where software solutions like Ledgible Tax come in. On the Ledgible Tax platform, the taxpayer or preparer can connect the various crypto exchanges the taxpayer used during the tax year or even bulk upload the transactions from the exchanges and wallets. From there, Ledgible’s powerful SOC certified cryptotax software does all the heavy lifting for you so you can have the peace of mind of filing crypto taxes accurately with a complete audit trail as a backup. Now let's move on to where we'll learn about hard forks and airdrops.
Crypto Tax Academy Lesson 4: Blockchain & Crypto Hard ForksIn response to several calls from congress for clarity around key crypto tax issues, the IRS released Revenue Ruling 2019-24 in October of 2019, which deals with two uniquely crypto events, airdrops, and hard forks.
What Is A Hard Fork?Investopedia defines a hard fork as “a radical change to a network's protocol that makes previously invalid blocks and transactions valid, or vice-versa.” Since that definition doesn’t do much for most, let’s try another version, and let’s do it in English this time? Simply put, a hard fork can be thought of as a permanent split of a blockchain caused by a modification in the rules governing the chain. There are also forks that do not result in a permanent split of the chain called soft forks. As an example, one of the most contentious hard forks occurred in 2017, when the Bitcoin blockchain forked into two chains, namely Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash. Imagine this scenario (inspired by true events)... On a Monday you held some bitcoin in your own Trezor hardware wallet. On Tuesday (after the Bitcoin permanent chain split), you check your wallet balance and find that you still own your bitcoin, but in addition, you received one bitcoin cash for each bitcoin you held!
What Are The Tax Implications?The Revenue Ruling essentially states that if you received new units of cryptocurrency as a result of a hard fork, you will need to recognize ordinary gross income based on the fair value of the new coin or token at the time of receipt. There are of course further complications such as whether your wallet supported the new chain or whether you needed to do something to claim the forked coin before you exercised “dominion and control” and had “accession to wealth”. Additionally, new coins create complexity around valuation due to uncertainty around exchange support, inefficiency, and illiquid markets to name a few. The reality is that if a popular exchange credits a new token or coin to my account (as a result of a hard fork), that I had nothing to do with, nor wanted in the first place… Do I now have to recognize the fair value of the new crypto as ordinary income? You can begin to see why this created quite a bit of hoopla in the crypto community and probably why the February 2020 AICPA comment letter submitted to the IRS recommended to “Characterize chain split coins as unsolicited property for federal income tax purposes that are taxable if and when the recipient-taxpayer manifests acceptance by exercising dominion and control.”
What Is An Airdrop?Investopedia defines an airdrop as “a marketing stunt that involves sending free coins or tokens to wallet addresses in order to promote awareness of a new virtual currency." For example, in exchange for signing up for a newsletter, tweeting about a token, or just for providing your wallet address, you get “airdropped” tokens, i.e. receive new tokens in the wallet address you provided.
What Are The Tax Implications?The Revenue Ruling states that if you received new units of cryptocurrency as a result of an airdrop, the taxpayer would recognize ordinary gross income based on the fair value of the new coin or token at the time of receipt. The reality is that the majority of these airdropped tokens as part of a marketing campaign hardly exceeds a value greater than zero.
Why Is This Revenue Ruling So Confusing?“A hard fork followed by an airdrop.” Wait, What? The Revenue ruling states that “A hard fork followed by an airdrop results in the distribution of units of the new cryptocurrency to addresses containing the legacy cryptocurrency. However, a hard fork is not always followed by an airdrop.” This seems to suggest that usually (“not always”) airdrops and hard forks happen sequentially. A point the crypto community was quick to correct! Airdrops and hard forks are two completely separate events and are not related. However it’s also fair to note as pointed out by Coin Center, these terms (i.e. hard forks and airdrops) are not straight forward, nor are they used consistently within the crypto community. The AICPA comment letter to the IRS had this to say about it. “The AICPA concurs with Coin Center, members of Congress, and other commenters that hard forks and airdrops are terms that describe distinct and unrelated events, rather than the sequentially related events illustrated in the Revenue Ruling”. With Ledible Tax, you can tag coins or tokens received as an "airdrop" or “hard fork” to identify and classify these items as ordinary income separately from your capital gains. This income will then be reported as “other income” on IRS Form 1040, separate from your IRS Form 8949 where your capital gains are reported from your cryptocurrency disposals. Who said being a tax professional is boring! In our next part of this crypto tax series, we’ll continue exploring the weird and wonderful world of crypto talking about crypto mining.
Crypto Tax Academy Lesson 5: CryptoMining
What is CryptoMiningBinance, one of the world’s largest crypto exchanges defines cryptocurrency mining as “the process in which transactions between users are verified and added into the blockchain public ledger… Mining is also responsible for introducing new coins into the existing circulating supply and is one of the key elements that allow cryptocurrencies to work as a peer-to-peer decentralized network, without the need for a third party central authority .” Bitcoin, the first and most established mineable cryptocurrency, states this in its founding whitepaper, “... the first transaction in a block is a special transaction that starts a new coin owned by the creator of the block.” This first transaction in a new block that has been successfully mined is known as the “coinbase” transaction. It is the transaction that rewards the miner for solving a complex mathematical problem. At the time of this writing, a miner will receive 6.25 bitcoin for a block and a block is mined and added to the bitcoin blockchain approximately every 10 minutes. The whitepaper goes on to say, “This adds an incentive for nodes to support the network and provides a way to initially distribute coins into circulation since there is no central authority to issue them. The steady addition of a constant amount of new coins is analogous to gold miners expending resources to add gold to circulation. In our case, it is CPU time and electricity that is expended.”
So, Like Mining Virtual Gold?I think most of us can relate to the analogy of gold mining referred to in the bitcoin whitepaper. Just like gold miners need to expend resources to dig for new gold which is added to the circulating supply, so bitcoin miners need to expend electricity and computational resources in solving complex mathematical problems to earn new bitcoin. Those who participate in cryptomining get rewarded in bitcoin and transaction fees. Interestingly, the bitcoin protocol only allows for a maximum of 21 million bitcoin to ever be created which is currently estimated to be reached during the year 2140. Clearly mining cryptocurrency plays a critical role in both keeping the network secure and serving as the cryptocurrency supply mechanism.
crypto mining My Own BusinessThe first block of the first-ever blockchain was mined by the pseudonymous creator of bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto on January 3, 2009. As of this writing, more than 600,000 blocks have been mined on the bitcoin blockchain. In the (very) early days, you could use your home computer to mine bitcoin. That is, if you could figure it out. As competition increased and computers became more powerful the bitcoin protocol has made provision to adjust the difficulty of the math puzzle to be solved, to produce the next block, and receive the reward. As competition increased and intensified miners had to eventually pool their computing resources and share in the spoil to remain competitive. These days it takes an incredible amount of electricity and computing resources to run a profitable bitcoin mining operation. Thus, most brave new souls wanting to enter the bitcoin mining business will typically join an existing mining pool to stand a chance of earning a sliver of the bitcoin pie.
Taxable Event: CryptoMining IncomeMining income will be treated as taxable ordinary income. According to IRS Notice 2014-21, when the taxpayer successfully mines virtual currency (bitcoin is classified as convertible virtual currency), the fair market value of the virtual currency as of the date of receipt is includible in gross income. If a taxpayer's crypto mining of virtual currency constitutes a trade or business and not undertaken as an employee, the net earnings from self-employment resulting from those activities constitute self-employment income and are subject to the self-employment tax. You can also deduct your business expenses incurred to produce mining income. With Ledgible Tax, you can tag coins or tokens received as "mining income” to identify and classify these items as ordinary income separately from your capital gains, and you can start with a free trial.
Crypto Tax Academy Lesson 6: Understanding different types of transactionsIt’s been estimated that roughly 8% of adults in the U.S. hold some form of virtual currency said Michael Desmond, chief counsel to the IRS in citing industry estimates during his October 2019 speech. This should create a plethora of crypto taxable events, right? Mr. Desmond went on to explain that based on the 150 million returns the IRS processes annually, they would therefore expect roughly 12 million returns reporting virtual currency transactions. However, he indicated that it was, “nowhere near that” and a very high priority on the enforcement side for the IRS given the estimated high degree of non-compliance. And a “high priority” it’s been. Virtual currency was included in the 2019–2020 IRS Priority Guidance Plan. New guidance was released in the form of a Revenue Ruling 2019-24 and updated FAQs. But perhaps the most significant act indicative of the elevated priority the IRS has placed on virtual currency is the new question on the top of page 1 of the draft 1040 return for the 2020 tax year. This is simply an area the tax professional can no longer ignore. On the contrary, it provides a tremendous business development opportunity to provide crypto tax compliance services. Here are 8 common taxable events that tax professionals and crypto users in the U.S. should be aware of. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list dealing with potential tax implications relating to crypto activities. Rather, its meant to highlight and provide some basic crypto tax principles based on the IRS guidance published to date for educational purposes.
- SALE of Crypto for Fiat. Selling crypto for fiat (e.g. USD) will be a taxable event. The character of the gain or loss depends on whether the crypto is a capital asset (e.g. stocks, bonds, and investment property) in the hands of the taxpayer and the length of time the position was held. Learn more about this here.
- PURCHASE of Goods or Services with Crypto. If a taxpayer receives virtual currency as payment for goods or services, it should be included in gross income at fair market value on the date of receipt. Since crypto is treated as property for federal tax purposes, exchanging crypto for a good or service results in a disposal of the crypto, and consequently a short or long-term gain or loss would need to be calculated and reported. First-Out (FIFO) and Specific Identification are currently acceptable cost basis methods. Learn more about this here.
- SWAP Crypto for Another. The taxpayer does not have to cash out to U.S. dollars to trigger a taxable event. Swapping one cryptocurrency for another is treated the same way as if you sold for U.S. dollars and purchased the new crypto with U.S. dollars. Learn more about this here.
- HARD FORK of a Blockchain. Revenue Ruling 2019-24 states that if you received new units of cryptocurrency as a result of a hard fork, you will need to recognize ordinary gross income based on the fair value of the new coin or token at the time of receipt. There are of course further complications such as whether your wallet supported the new chain or whether you needed to do something to claim the forked coin before you exercised “dominion and control” and had “accession to wealth”.Learn more about hard forks and the related tax implications here.
- AIRDROP of Crypto. The Revenue Ruling states that if you received new units of cryptocurrency as a result of an airdrop, the taxpayer would recognize ordinary gross income based on the fair value of the new coin or token at the time of receipt. The reality is that the majority of these airdropped tokens as part of a marketing campaign hardly exceeds a value greater than zero. Learn more about Airdrops and why Revenue Ruling 2019-24 created so much confusion in the crypto community.
- MINING Crypto. Mining income will be treated as taxable ordinary income. According to IRS Notice 2014-21, when the taxpayer successfully mines virtual currency (bitcoin is classified as convertible virtual currency), the fair market value of the virtual currency as of the date of receipt is includible in gross income. If a taxpayer's mining of virtual currency constitutes a trade or business and not undertaken as an employee, the net earnings from self-employment resulting from those activities constitute self-employment income and are subject to the self-employment tax. You can also deduct your business expenses incurred to produce mining income. Learn more about crypto mining here.
- STAKING Crypto. “Staking rewards” is currently an area of hot debate. On July 29, 2020, Congress sent a letter to the IRS stating that it’s “important that tax policy does not indirectly dissuade U.S. taxpayers from participating in this promising new technology”. The letter went on to say taxing “staking” rewards as income may overstate taxpayers’ actual gains and result in a “reporting and compliance nightmare for taxpayers and the Service alike.” As with most regulatory compliance matters, it's usually advisable to err on the side of caution and take a conservative approach. In the case of staking rewards, it would most likely be to recognize income at fair value until further guidance is provided by the IRS. Learn more about staking and decentralized finance (DeFi) here.
- GIFTING Crypto. According to the IRS FAQ, “If you receive virtual currency as a bona fide gift, you will not recognize income until you sell, exchange, or otherwise dispose of that virtual currency.” Generally, for the donor of the crypto, the gift will be non-taxable if it's less than the annual exclusion for gift tax. Learn more about your related deduction and other key considerations when a taxpayer receives or donates crypto as a gift.
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