BitcoinWith the April 17 deadline for filing individual tax returns just around the corner, individuals who engaged in cryptocurrency transactions during 2017 must take care to properly report them on their tax returns. As we have previously reported, the IRS is focusing significant attention on tax compliance with respect to cryptocurrency transactions. Last year, the IRS prevailed in its long-running litigation with Coinbase seeking the names of clients who engaged in cryptocurrency transactions during 2013-2015, and Coinbase recently announced that it was disclosing transaction data to the IRS for 13,000 of its customers. In addition, the IRS-Criminal Investigation Division is ramping up its scrutiny of cryptocurrency transactions by assembling a team of specialized investigators in this area. And most recently, on March 23, the IRS issued a very public “reminder” to taxpayers about reporting cryptocurrency transactions and threating audits, penalties, and even criminal prosecution for non-compliance.

Four years ago, the IRS issued its only guidance to date regarding its view of the tax treatment of cryptocurrency transactions. Despite the explosion of interest in cryptocurrencies (currently more than 1,500 such currencies exist) and the monumental increase in Bitcoin’s value last year (an uptick of more than 1,400 percent before year’s end), the IRS has not updated its views or issued further guidance to investors, thus leaving individuals scrambling to make sure that their 2017 tax returns are properly capturing cryptocurrency transactions. This is especially critical for investors who sold Bitcoin during its rocket-like trajectory last year.

The IRS considers cryptocurrency transactions taxable just like transactions in any other property, and general tax principles that apply to property transactions apply. As a consequence, the following rules apply:

– A payment made using virtual currency is subject to information reporting to the same extent as any other payment made in property.

– Payments using virtual currency made to independent contractors and other service providers are taxable, and self-employment tax rules generally apply.  Normally, payers must issue Form 1099-MISC.

– Wages paid to employees using virtual currency are taxable to the employee, must be reported by an employer on a Form W-2 and are subject to federal income tax withholding and payroll taxes.

– Certain third parties who settle payments made in virtual currency on behalf of merchants that accept virtual currency from their customers are required to report payments to those merchants on Form 1099-K, Payment Card and Third Party Network Transactions.

– The character of gain or loss from the sale or exchange of virtual currency depends on whether the virtual currency is a capital asset in the hands of the taxpayer.

In an article published by Bloomberg today, Lily Katz and Lynnley Browning write that many investors, and even tax professionals, are struggling to properly report their cryptocurrency transactions on their 2017 tax returns, due to be filed in four days:

If you thought trading Bitcoin was wild, try figuring out how to pay taxes on it.

Cryptocurrency investors are wrestling with spotty records, tangled blockchain addresses and rudimentary guidelines issued back in the ancient days of 2014. After last year’s boom in values, many people are likely disclosing transactions for the first time, adding to confusion.

The Bloomberg article further reports that the IRS is advising individuals to look for tax guidance in analogous areas:

An IRS spokesman said that in addition to the agency’s 2014 guidance, taxpayers should look at other rules governing an exchange or transfer of property and find the “factual scenarios that most closely resemble their circumstances.”

Individuals who fail to properly report their cryptocurrency transactions can face harsh consequences, including civil audits, penalties, and even criminal prosecution, as the IRS warned in a recent press release reminding taxpayers to report such transactions:

Taxpayers who do not properly report the income tax consequences of virtual currency transactions can be audited for those transactions and, when appropriate, can be liable for penalties and interest.

In more extreme situations, taxpayers could be subject to criminal prosecution for failing to properly report the income tax consequences of virtual currency transactions. Criminal charges could include tax evasion and filing a false tax return. Anyone convicted of tax evasion is subject to a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000. Anyone convicted of filing a false return is subject to a prison term of up to three years and a fine of up to $250,000.

Despite the lack of up-to-date IRS guidance, and the uncertainly surrounding the tax consequences of recent developments in this area (such as “hard forks”), cryptocurrency investors would be well-advised to exercise caution with their income tax returns due next week.

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BitcoinWith “tax day” fast approaching, the Internal Revenue Service on Friday reminded taxpayers that income from virtual currency transactions is reportable on their income tax returns. As we have previously reported, the IRS has for some time been focusing significant attention on tax compliance with respect to virtual currency transactions. Last year, the IRS prevailed in its long-running litigation with Coinbase seeking the names of clients who engaged in virtual currency transactions during 2013-2015, and Coinbase recently announced that it would be disclosing transaction data to the IRS for 13,000 of its customers. In addition, the IRS-Criminal Investigation Division is ramping up its scrutiny of virtual currency transactions by assembling a team of specialized investigators in this area. With increased attention to virtual currency transactions, taxpayers who engaged in such transactions during 2017 must take care to ensure they are compliant with reporting obligations on their federal income tax returns.

The text of the IRS press release follows:

Virtual currency transactions are taxable by law just like transactions in any other property. The IRS has issued guidance in IRS Notice 2014-21 for use by taxpayers and their return preparers that addresses transactions in virtual currency, also known as digital currency.

Taxpayers who do not properly report the income tax consequences of virtual currency transactions can be audited for those transactions and, when appropriate, can be liable for penalties and interest.

In more extreme situations, taxpayers could be subject to criminal prosecution for failing to properly report the income tax consequences of virtual currency transactions. Criminal charges could include tax evasion and filing a false tax return. Anyone convicted of tax evasion is subject to a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000. Anyone convicted of filing a false return is subject to a prison term of up to three years and a fine of up to $250,000.

Virtual currency, as generally defined, is a digital representation of value that functions in the same manner as a country’s traditional currency. There are currently more than 1,500 known virtual currencies. Because transactions in virtual currencies can be difficult to trace and have an inherently pseudo-anonymous aspect, some taxpayers may be tempted to hide taxable income from the IRS.

Notice 2014-21 provides that virtual currency is treated as property for U.S. federal tax purposes. General tax principles that apply to property transactions apply to transactions using virtual currency. Among other things, this means that:

– A payment made using virtual currency is subject to information reporting to the same extent as any other payment made in property.

– Payments using virtual currency made to independent contractors and other service providers are taxable, and self-employment tax rules generally apply.  Normally, payers must issue Form 1099-MISC.

– Wages paid to employees using virtual currency are taxable to the employee, must be reported by an employer on a Form W-2 and are subject to federal income tax withholding and payroll taxes.

– Certain third parties who settle payments made in virtual currency on behalf of merchants that accept virtual currency from their customers are required to report payments to those merchants on Form 1099-K, Payment Card and Third Party Network Transactions.

– The character of gain or loss from the sale or exchange of virtual currency depends on whether the virtual currency is a capital asset in the hands of the taxpayer.

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The Wall Street Journal reports today that the Securities and Exchange Commission has recently issued multiple subpoenas and requests for information in a widening investigation of cryptocurrency firms.

According to the article, the subpoenas seek information about the structure for token sales and initial coin offerings:

The SEC scrutiny is focused in part on “simple agreements for future tokens,” or SAFTs, which are used in some of the most prominent crypto-fundraisings, according to people familiar with the matter.

The agreements allow big investors and relativity well-off individuals to buy rights to tokens ahead of their sale.  The rights can be traded, or flipped for profits, even before the sale begins.

The SEC is concerned that such agreements are potentially being used to trade like securities without conforming to the strict rules that apply to securities.

The SEC’s latest actions follow its creation last fall of a dedicated Cyber Unit to focus the Enforcement Division’s cyber-related expertise on misconduct involving distributed ledger technology and initial coin offerings, the spread of false information through electronic and social media, hacking, and threats to trading platforms.  In December, the SEC’s Cyber Unit filed its first-ever charges, obtaining an emergency asset freeze to halt a “fast-moving” ICO fraud that raised up to $15 million from thousands of investors since August by falsely promising a 13-fold profit in less than a month.  Several days later, the SEC announced that a California-based company selling digital tokens to investors to raise capital for its blockchain-based food review service halted its initial coin offering (ICO) and agreed to a cease-and-desist order in which the SEC found that its conduct constituted unregistered securities offers and sales.  Then in late January, the SEC announced that it has obtained a court order halting an allegedly fraudulent ICO that targeted retail investors to fund what was claimed to be the world’s first “decentralized bank” offering its own cryptocurrency.  In addition to these enforcement actions, the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy has issued an Investor Alert warning investors about potential scams and frauds involving ICOs.

The Wall Street Journal article reports that Robert Cohen, head of the SEC’s Cyber Unit, said last week that at least one dozen companies have placed their ICOs on hold after the SEC raised questions.  The article further reports that coin offerings have already raised about $1.66 billion this year.  According to a forthcoming study of the ICO market by MIT, approximately $270 million to $317 million of the funds raised by ICOs have “likely going to fraud or scams.”

The Wall Street Journal article is available here (subscription required).

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