IRS guidance on the tax treatment of cryptocurrencies already exists. Right now, the IRS considers cryptocurrencies to be “intangible assets.” As a result, they are subject to capital asset treatment. However, recent developments complicate matters.
On Aug. 1, Bitcoin split into two separate cryptocurrencies – Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash. The currently issued guidance does not address cryptocurrency splits, also known as fork transactions.
How to Report Your Bitcoin Cash
At the split, Bitcoin Cash’s initial price was set at 9.5 percent of Bitcoin’s unit price of $2,801 – or $266. Holders of Bitcoin received one Bitcoin Cash unit for every Bitcoin they held at the time of the split, making Bitcoin Cash a separate financial instrument. As a result, this makes it taxable – so recipients of Bitcoin Cash should include the transaction on their 2017 income tax returns.
Since a cryptocurrency is not technically a security or a debt-like interest, the transaction is considered neither a dividend nor interest income. So how should you report the transaction? While there is no clear-cut guidance as of yet, the best place to report the transaction is as “Other Income” on Form 1040, since this is where you can report transactions that do not neatly fit anywhere else.
Another reporting alternative is to use Form 8949, where you report the sale of capital assets. If you use this form you would report $266 per unit and offset it with a corresponding 9.5 percent of your Bitcoin cost basis. By transferring a proportional amount of your basis from the original investment you will reduce your taxable income. This reporting method also has the advantage of allowing you to offset the capital gains with capital losses and carryovers. Beware however, that this method is less likely to be accepted by the IRS.
What to Do if You Sold Your Bitcoin Cash
Selling some or all of your Bitcoin Cash means you’ll need to treat it as a capital gain and report it via Form 8949. If you sell any Bitcoin Cash, make sure you report your receipt as “Other Income” per above, since this will then serve as your basis for offsetting your sale. Your selling price would be whatever value you sold it for, less any commissions or fees on the sale. Also, remember that for your 2017 tax return filing, your holding period would start from the split date of Aug. 1, and therefore be short-term.
Why Cryptocurrency Splits Are Not Tax-Free Exchanges
Some will argue that cryptocurrency splits such as Bitcoin Cash qualify as tax-free exchanges; however, this view is unlikely to hold up to IRS scrutiny since none of the corporate reorganization non-recognition events under Section 368 apply. Bitcoin Cash is economically different from Bitcoin, and therefore should be viewed as a new category of financial instrument.
Beware the IRS
Over the past several years, many investors sold cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin, but did not report any taxable income from the transactions, while others used Section 1031 like-kind exchange laws to postpone taxation. The IRS is none too pleased by all of this and is taking action.
The IRS estimates that hundreds of thousands of U.S. taxpayers failed to report cryptocurrency income sales over the past few years. Combined with the recent meteoric rise in prices, the IRS is hungry for the potential to collect billions in interest, penalties and back taxes.
Recently for example, the IRS summoned a large cryptocurrency exchange (Coinbase) to hand over its customer lists. Subsequently, they reached an agreement to disclose only transactions in excess of $20,000; however, it is clear from this case that the IRS is going to get aggressive on the matter.
Cryptocurrency investors need to be aware of the evolving nature of taxation in this space in order to avoid IRS problems. This is an emerging issue and one on which you can bet the IRS is not going to stand down. As always, consult a tax professional for details about your particular situation.