About Bitcoin Income Tax
The IRS in the USA views cryptocurrency transactions just as they do the buying or selling of stocks, bonds, real estate, gold, silver, and other financial assets.
Firstly, how cryptocurrency is taxed depends on what you do with it – there are taxes to be paid on any gains. Long-term capital gains for positions held longer than one year, and short-term capital gains for positions held less than one year – if the position was exited. If held and nothing was sold – zero capital gains, zero taxes due. If you used your bitcoin to purchase anything from a cup of coffee to an acre of land – that transaction is likely to be taxable. Buying goods or services means you are converting your bitcoin into dollars, then using them to make a purchase. That conversion to dollars is taxable if the underlying asset (bitcoin) was obtained at a lower rate than the day it was converted to US dollars.
Bitcoin Income Tax Red Flags
Second, your BANK or bitcoin exchange might file a Suspicious Activity Report (“SAR”). US banks and bitcoin exchanges are required to file SARs for wire transfers that are “suspicious” and larger than $5,000 ($2,000 in the case of bitcoin exchanges). The meaning of “suspicious” is very vague and highly discretionary. Out of an abundance of caution, many banks automatically treat all international transfer as “suspicious.” So, if you’ve sent or received a wire transfer of more than $5,000 to/from an international bitcoin exchange like Bitstamp, CEX or BTC-e, you can be pretty sure that your bank has already filed a SAR against you. The banks are prohibited from telling you if they did, so you’ll never know for sure. The larger and/or more frequent SAR filings are regarding you, the more likely they will become a legitimate red flag and trigger an investigation or audit. Although FinCEN is generally concerned with money laundering activities, the IRS does have access to FinCEN filings and it is common for IRS special agents to participate in FinCEN investigations.
Bitcoin Tax Rats
Third, someone can rat you out to the IRS. This happens far more often than one might think. The simple fact is that people get jealous, and if they’ve heard you made lots of tax-free money with bitcoin, they might be tempted to ensure “justice is served”. There’s also that nice reward the IRS will pay them for snitching if it results in taxes owed, penalties and interest from you.
Bitcoin Income Tax Best Practice
Fourth, you voluntarily and accurately report bitcoin gains on your tax return.
You might think I’m nuts for saying that, but there are a lot of very rich people in prison who used to think hiding their Swiss bank accounts was a good idea. The fact is penalties for failing to report income are significant and carry the possibility of criminal prosecution.
At the end of the day, we all have a decision to make. Comply with the law and pay the taxes. Or violate the law and worry about getting caught. If caught, the amount of money you’ll spend on legal counsel, and pay in penalties and interest, will drastically exceed the amount you saved. Not to mention the possibility of a felony criminal conviction and a prolonged stay at Club Fed. Personally, nothing is worth jeopardizing my peace-of-mind to the point where I cannot enjoy life over a few bucks. I will pay the taxes – as unpleasant as that might be.
Bitcoin Income Tax for Mining
IRS Notice 2014-21 clarifies the treatment for bitcoin miners. Specifically, miners must report income for each bitcoin mined during the taxable year. The amount of income is equal to the market price of Bitcoin on the day it is awarded the miner on the blockchain and is taxed as ordinary income. This also becomes the basis for the bitcoin going forward and will be used to calculate gain/loss in the event the bitcoin is sold. Mining expenses (i.e. electricity, equipment, etc.) would not be included in the tax-basis. Instead, these costs would be deductible in the taxable year as an expense. Miners must determine if their mining activity rises to the level of a trade or business, which is a highly factual determination. If your mining operation is substantial and continuous enough to be considered an actual business, then you can deduct all of your ordinary and necessary expenses. This would include the cost of electricity and depreciation on your mining rig, among others. If your mining operation is not substantial or continuous, you would deduct expenses the same as an ordinary investor.
Bitcoin Income Tax for Day Traders
Usually, the tax treatment for day traders is the same as a regular investor. There is the possibility of your day-trading activities rising to the level of an actual business (which would make your gains and losses “ordinary.”) The IRS doesn’t easily classify day-traders in this manner, so it’s unlikely you have anything to worry about here. However, you should consult with a tax advisor to be sure about your status if trading has become your business. You are permitted to deduct investment related expenses as an “itemized deduction” as an investor. However, this deduction is fairly meaningless for most investors because one must actually itemize deductions instead of taking the standard deduction, which many taxpayers do not.
Bitcoin Income Tax on Services/Goods
If you sell goods or services and accept bitcoin as payment, your basis in those bitcoins is equal to their fair market value at the time they were received and taxed as ordinary income. Generally, this is determined by reference to the average market price on that day. For example, if you wrote a software program for someone and received 1 BTC as payment on November 1st, your basis in those bitcoins is equal to the average price of 1 BTC on that day.
The choice of which exchange used is up to you (i.e. Coinbase, Bitstamp, Bitfinex, etc.), but whichever exchange you choose, you should have a reasonable explanation for your choice. You should also stick with that choice when computing your gains in the future. Arbitrarily picking exchange prices that best suit your tax interests will not be acceptable to the IRS in the event of an audit.
Income Tax on Bitcoin Gift
A gift is defined by the IRS as “any transfer to an individual, either directly or indirectly, where full consideration (measured in money or money’s worth) is not received in return.” This means the giver does nor receive anything in exchange for the gift. As the recipient of bitcoin, the day of receipt determines the “cost basis” for you. If the bitcoin is sold at any time in the future, the tax is determined based on the cost on the date received. Until the bitcoin is sold, there is no tax requirement and no reporting requirement. A gift is not income and has no effect on your taxable income or income tax. The recipient does not need to report the gift to the IRS. Gift donors should review the IRS requirements for reporting gifts given over certain amounts.
Bitcoin Income Tax Records
The IRS requires that you maintain records sufficient for determining the amount of your gain or loss, as well as the holding period of your bitcoins. This is a flexible standard and depends on the circumstances. Ideally, you should maintain a log of all your bitcoin acquisitions and dispositions, including the price, date, and related address of each transaction. Exchanges such as Coinbase make this information available as a downloadable spreadsheet – so it is recommended that you download and save these records for tax season. Remember – you are required by law to maintain records, and failing to do so will result in civil penalties if you are subsequently audited and owe additional tax.
Note: The info in this post is not meant to be taken as professional tax advice. You should consult your tax professional for advice specific to your income tax liability. This information is provided merely for the purpose of discussion and consideration.
Bitcoin Income Tax Calculator
Here is a link to a bitcoin tax calculator to help estimate capital gains for estimation purposes. Consider using a professional service such as Accointing.com to analyze all your trades and generate real time useful information such as the profit/loss of your trades, the value of your coins, balances, realized and unrealized gains, reports for tax declaration, and much more.
I have used several such premium services over the years and find Accointing.com to provide the most complete tax documentation needed for filing taxes at a reasonable price. If you do not day trade, you may be able to complete the required forms. Your transactions – including amounts and dates, can be reported on Form 8949. If you trade, you will have hundreds if not thousands of transactions and a service like Accointing automates the calculations, and completes this Form 8949 for you. If your trading is more than a hobby, you should consult a tax advisor for professional assistance in filing your taxes.