Crypto-currency, such as the Bitcoin, has been increasing in popularity. Crypto-currency may be used to pay for goods or services, or held for investment. This crypto-currency is a digital representation of value that functions as a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and/or a store of value. In some environments, it operates like “real” currency, but it does not have legal tender status in any jurisdiction.

For federal tax purposes, crypto-currency is treated as property. As such, it can be classified as business property, investment property, or personal property. General tax principals applicable to property transactions apply to transactions using crypto-currency.

Basis in crypto-currency is the Fair Market Value (or FMV) of the currency on the date the currency is received. If received as payment for services, it is considered taxable income and will be subject to both income and social security taxes.

Using the crypto-currency to obtain cash or purchase goods is a recognizable transaction. If the FMV of property received for the crypto-currency exceeds your adjusted basis in the currency, you have a taxable gain. A loss will occur if the FMV is less than your basis. The character of the gain or loss depends on whether the crypto-currency is a capital asset for you specifically.

Example: Use of crypto-currency in business

Abigail, a sole proprietor, accepts 10 Bitcoins from Fred in payment for services. At the time the services were performed, Bitcoins were worth $400 each. Therefore, Abigail recognizes $4,000 ($400 × 10) of business income. A month later when Bitcoins are worth $425 each, she uses 2 Bitcoins to purchase supplies for her business. At that time, she will recognize $850 in business expense ($425 × 2) and $50 of gain on the Bitcoins [($425 − $400) × 2]. Since Abigail in not in the trade or business of selling Bitcoins, the $50 gain is capital.

Variation 1: The Bitcoins are worth $380 each at the time the supplies are purchased. Abigail will now have $760 in business expense ($380 × 2) and $40 of loss on the Bitcoins [($380 − $400) × 2]. The loss is a business capital loss.

Variation 2: Abigail uses the 2 Bitcoins worth $380 each to purchase a new TV for her personal use. Since the Bitcoins were not used in her trade or business and were not held for investment purposes, the loss is considered a personal capital loss and is not eligible for deduction.

Observation: If Fred was using Abigail’s services in his trade or business, he is subject to the Form 1099-MISC reporting requirements since the value of the Bitcoins is $600 or more.

Note: The market values in these examples may not reflect current prices.

Example: Use of crypto-currency for investments

Arnold believes the Bitcoin will increase in value. He purchases 15 Bitcoins on March 15, 2017, for $400 each and 20 Bitcoins on May 19, 2017, for $460 each. On April 3, 2018, he sells 10 Bitcoins for $425 each. Since Arnold held the Bitcoins for investment purposes, any gain or loss will be capital in nature. If he sells 10 Bitcoins from his March 15 batch, he will recognize a $250 [($425 − $400) × 10] long-term capital gain. If he sells 10 Bitcoins from the May 19 batch, he will recognize a $350 [($425 − $460) × 10] short-term capital loss. Since the Bitcoins were held for investment purposes, the short-term capital loss may be included on Arnold’s Form 8949 for 2018.

Observation: When Bitcoins are purchased, they are placed in the taxpayer’s virtual “wallet.” For purposes of tracking basis and identifying which Bitcoins were sold, it is best that wallets be kept separately and not combined.

A 2016 report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration recommends the IRS do more to ensure that taxpayers are not using crypto-currency to avoid taxes. Soon after, the IRS sought a court order to obtain customer records from a California crypto-currency exchanger in order to crack down on possible tax evasion. Bitcoin transactions can be difficult to trace because the entire network of users, including their identities, is encrypted with no central authority keeping track of users. The IRS fears that taxpayers may use Bitcoins and other forms of virtual currency to hide income.

If you are currently using crypto-currency for your business or making investments with it, please contact our office. We would love to talk about the best way to tax strategize for this coming up tax season. Contact us: 949-364-0334 or info@capatacpa.com .