Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The IRS Cryptocurrency Letter

Do you Bitcoin?

The issue actually involves all cryptocurrencies, which would include Ethereum, Dash and so forth.

A couple of years ago the IRS won a case against Coinbase, one of the largest Bitcoin exchanges. The IRS wasn’t going after Coinbase per se; rather, the IRS wanted something Coinbase had: information. The IRS won, although Coinbase also scored a small victory.
·       The IRS got names, addresses, social security numbers, birthdates, and account activity.
·       Coinbase however provided this information only for customers with cryptocurrency sales totaling at least $20,000 for years 2013 to 2015.
What happens next?

You got it: the IRS started sending out letters late last month- approximately 10,000 of them. 

Why is the IRS chasing this?

The IRS considers cryptocurrencies to be property, not money. In general, when you sell property at a gain, the IRS wants its cut. Sell it at a loss and the IRS becomes more discerning. Is the property held for profit or gain or is it personal? If profit or gain, the IRS will allow a loss. If personal, then tough luck; the IRS will not allow the loss.

The IRS believes there is unreported income here.

Yep, probably is.

The tax issue is easier to understand if you bought, held and then sold the crypto like you would a stock or mutual fund. One buy, one sell. You made a profit or you didn’t.

It gets more complicated if you used the crypto as money. Say, for example, that you took your car to a garage and paid with crypto. The following weekend you drove the car to an out-of-town baseball game, paying for the tickets, hotel and dinner with crypto. Is there a tax issue?

The tax issue is that you have four possible tax events:

(1)  The garage
(2)  The tickets
(3)  The hotel
(4)  The dinner

I suspect that are many who would be surprised that the IRS sees four possible triggers there. After all, you used crypto as money ….

Yes, you did, but the IRS says crypto is not money.

And it raises another tax issue. Let’s use the tickets, hotel and dinner for our example.

Let’s say that you bought cryptos at several points in time. You used an older holding for the tickets. 

You had a gain on that trade.

You used a newer holding for the hotel and dinner.

You had losses on those trades.

Can you offset the gains and losses?

Remember: the IRS always participates in your gains, but it participates in your losses only if the transaction was for profit or gain and was not personal.

One could argue that the hotel and dinner are about as personal as you can get.

What if you get one of these letters?

I have two answers, depending on how much money we are talking about.

·       If we are talking normal-folk money, then contact your tax preparer. There will probably be an amended return. I might ask for penalty abatement on the grounds that this is a nascent area of tax law, especially if we are talking about our tickets, hotel and dinner scenario.

·       If crazy money, talk first to an attorney. Not because you are expecting jail; no, because you want the most robust confidentiality standard available. That standard is with an attorney. The attorney will hire the tax preparer, thereby extending his/her confidentiality to the preparer.

If the IRS follows the same game plan as they did with overseas bank accounts, anticipate that they are looking for strong cases involving big fish with millions of dollars left unreported.

In other words, tax fraud.

You and I are not talking fraud. We are talking about paying Starbucks with crypto and forgetting to include it on your tax return.

Just don’t blow off the letter.

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