2022 is a marquee year for anyone who took got involved in cryptocurrency during the 2021 market boom. The start of the new year means the start of tax preparation season and many individuals and companies are working to understand the tax treatment and implications of digital asset investments. In 2021, the IRS and the Department of Treasury announced increased efforts to track cryptocurrency transactions and enforce the perceived underpayment of tax in the crypto world. However, the government’s guidance has been limited. There are many uncertainties and questions in this evolving area of law. Read on for a summary of the key issues:
Cryptocurrencies Are Taxed As Property Subject to the Capital Gains Tax.
In the ever-changing world of crypto, one thing has stayed the same (since at least 2014): Cryptocurrency is property subject to the capital gains tax. In its FAQ guidelines, the IRS addresses a number of situations (such a hard forks and airdrops) to explain its position on basis and gain/loss calculation. If you received, sold, exchanged, or otherwise disposed of “any financial interest in any virtual currency,” the IRS requires you to disclose this on the first page of the 1040. If you check “yes,” expect to file a 1040 Schedule D (“Capital Gains and Losses”) and an 8949 supplement.
What does this mean in practice?
- If you bought cryptocurrency in 2021 for cash and are holding it (or HODLING), there is no transaction subject to capital gains and nothing to report.
- If you sold cryptocurrency for cash, traded crypto for another crypto, used crypto to buy an NFT, or paid someone for goods or services using crypto, you have a reportable capital gains transaction. The “gain” is the difference between the initial value (basis) and the sale value. If the period between acquisition and sale is less than a year, the short-term rate applies, which treats the gain as ordinary income. If the period is more than a year, the long-term rate applies and is either 0%, 15%, or 20% depending on your annual income level.
- Exchanging crypto for other crypto (for example, you exchange BTC for ETH) is also subject to capital gains tax. The IRS treats the exchange as if you sold BTC for cash and used that cash to buy ETH. That means that any “gain” you realize on the sale of BTC is reportable and taxable, even if you use 100% of your proceeds to buy another cryptocurrency.
- If you use crypto to buy an NFT or pay for some other goods or services, the IRS treats the transaction as if you sold the crypto for cash (incurring a capital gain) and then used the cash to buy the NFT or pay for the other goods/services.
- IMPORTANT: Stablecoins are cryptocurrency and are also subject to capital gains tax and reporting requirements, even if in practice the capital gain on a stablecoin transaction is zero or even negative.
- What if my corporation or LLCs bought, sold, or exchanged virtual currency or digital assets? There is no guidance to suggest that business entities are treated any different. Record and report crypto and other digital asset transactions like you would physical property or assets.
- Best practice remains to record all of your cryptocurrency transactions in a spreadsheet or accounting software, including the type of asset, the basis price, the date, and any gain/loss (as well as transaction fees). Alternatively, bigger exchanges like Coinbase make reports available to their customers and integrate with several popular crypto tax reporting platforms.
The IRS Has Not Issued Guidance on Taxing NFTs, Utility Tokens, Security Tokens, or Any Other Types of Digital Assets.
What about NFTs? Or utility tokens that you may have bought and sold as part of a play-to-earn game? Or security tokens (STOs) that becoming a corporate financing alternative for high-tech startups? The IRS has not issued guidance or taken a position on any of these particular instruments. In its FAQ, the IRS defines “virtual currency” as follows:
Although this definition gives some guidance on the IRS’s position, it is still not clear whether NFTs and non-cryptocurrency tokens are “virtual currency.” For instance, NFTs (non-fungible tokens), represent a wide range of things. They can be art or basketball trading cards, but also can be virtual metaverse real estate or video game magical items. Some commentators have suggested that NFTs will be taxed at the 28% “collectibles” tax rate – but that hypothesis presupposes that all NFTs are “collectibles,” which is simply not true for all NFTs. At the same time, the IRS’s definition of “virtual currency” appears to require the asset to be used as a “medium of exchange,” which is also not true of all NFTs. At this time, the NFT tax analysis is best done on a case-by-case basis, with a careful evaluation of what the NFT represents and how the real-world equivalent would be taxed.
Utility tokens are digital tokens that have non-investment uses (or utility) and fall outside of the federal definition of “security.” Play-to-earn video games (like Axie Infinity and its imitators) use native digital tokens for in-game currency and rewards, but the tokens can also be bought and sold on a secondary market. These tokens are more in line with the IRS’s “virtual currency” definition – and while the IRS has not expressly opined that utility tokens are property subject to capital gains tax, they most likely are. In other words, keep records and be prepared to report your sales and exchanges at tax time.
Security tokens (security token offerings are called STOs) are the digital equivalent of traditional corporate financing instruments like SAFE notes or seed round equity. However, the IRS does not consider STOs (or any other tokens) as stock or securities, even if the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) does. In other words, you sell or buy a security token, you must do so either as a registered security or one that meets an exemption (for example under Regulation A+, D, or S). However, neither the investor nor the selling company gets to claim any sort of tax benefit from the “security” token – because the IRS likely treats it as property and not securities. This means that when you invest in a security token (even one that is registered with the IRS), the tax breaks or advantages that apply to the purchase and sale of stock do not apply.
The Wash Sale Rule Still Does Not Apply to Cryptocurrency, But Might Apply Next Year.
There is a silver lining to the fact that cryptocurrency (or other tokens) are not considered “securities” for the purposes of tax law. The wash sale rule does not apply to crypto and allows for loss harvesting to offset capital gains (and even up to $3,000 of ordinary income.) For example, right now crypto markets are down from their highs and many investors may be showing a loss. If you sell at a loss and buy the asset back immediately, you can claim the “loss” on the sale on your taxes. The wash sale rule – which is applicable to securities – requires a 30 days period before repurchasing the same or substantially the same security.
Congress is aware of and is working on closing this so-called “loophole,” but right now the wash sale rule likely does not apply. It is unclear whether you will be able to claim a loss on 2022 returns if you sell at a loss in 2022, but as of the date of this article, crypto investors can still take advantage of loss harvesting opportunities.
The 2021 Infrastructure Bill Has Not Killed Cryptocurrency.
In the summer and fall of 2021, there was a lot of concern in the cryptocurrency community over certain reporting requirements that Congress wanted to impose on cryptocurrency market participants. Although much of the “hype” was overblown, the main issues were with the new reporting requirements, the definition of “broker,” and how the reporting requirements would affect miners and other participants who are not in the direct sales business.
President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on November 15, 2021, and needless to say, the U.S. cryptocurrency markets are very much alive and functioning. The Act extended the $10,000 cash reporting requirements to “digital assets” transactions, meaning that businesses that receive more than $10,000 in cryptocurrency have to file a Form 8300 with the IRS. The form requires the disclosure of the payor and payee’s name, address, Tax ID, and other information.
The new reporting requirement will not take effect until 2024. By then, expect the IRS and the Treasury Department to develop regulations and provide guidance to market participants, so stay tuned for future developments in this area. It is likely that the scope of the regulations will be limited, as $10,000+ crypto and NFT transactions are much more common than cash transactions, and (unlike cash) also may take place without the parties ever even seeing each other or meeting.
Additional regulation of digital assets in the U.S. is to be expected given their popularity and increasingly prominent role in the economy. However, the U.S. is not about to “outlaw” cryptocurrency, NFTs, token, or any other digital assets. The blockchain tech market is alive and well, but with better defined taxation and regulation may even become more mainstream.
The bottom line is that cryptocurrency markets and derivative digital assets are here to stay. Regulation is constantly evolving and there are many uncertainties for investors and companies working in this emerging market in 2022. Professional legal guidance is always a good idea.
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