Taxes and Virtual Currencies: What You Need to Know

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Mar 01, 2018

By Todd Helle, EA Partner and Tax Director at Terry Lockridge & Dunn

Virtual currencies are all the rage. Here are some tax consequences you must know if you decide to dip your toe in that world.

The IRS is paying close attention. The first thing to know is that the IRS is scrutinizing virtual currency transactions, so if you live in the U.S. you will have to report your transactions in Bitcoins and the like to the IRS. Despite some early misconceptions, virtual currency transactions can be traced back to their owners by governments and other cyber sleuths.

In fact, the IRS won a case late in 2017 against the prominent virtual currency storage company Coinbase, allowing the agency to access records of more than 14,000 customers and assess back taxes on those who had not properly reported their transactions.

If you decide to use or hold virtual currencies, carefully report and pay tax on your transactions. Act as if you are going to be audited, because if you do not, you just might be!

It is property, not money. Note that the IRS does not consider Bitcoin or other virtual currencies as money, because they are not legal tender. Instead, they are considered property. That means that if you are paid in Bitcoin, you will have to report it as income based on its fair market value on the date you received it.

And, if you sell Bitcoin, you pay tax on your gain using the cost (basis) of when you received it. The IRS has said that if Bitcoin is held as a capital asset, like a stock or a bond, then you would pay capital gains tax. Otherwise, if it is not held as a capital asset (for example if it is treated as inventory that you intend to sell to customers), it would be taxed as ordinary income.

Example: Craig Crypto bought a single Bitcoin on Dec. 29, 2016 for $967. After holding it as an investment (capital asset) for a year, Craig sold his Bitcoin for $14,492. He reports and pays 15 percent tax as a capital gain on his profit of $13,525.

Be aware of the risk. In addition to the increased oversight by the IRS, virtual currencies are at risk of virtual theft with no recourse to a government agency like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which insures U.S. bank balances. Do your research on storage and security before you invest. If you need help with any tax questions related to virtual currency, please reach out to me at

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