, /PRNewswire-iReach/ -- Gettry Marcus CPA, P.C., a leading forensic accounting firm, shares news that the IRS will treat virtual currency as property for tax purposes.
As virtual currencies such as Bitcoin rise in prominence and use, the IRS has for the first time described how virtual currency will be treated for tax purposes. The agency concluded in a new guidance (Notice 2014–21) that Bitcoin and other virtual currencies like it are not to be treated as currency, but as property.
Definition of virtual currency
Actual (or "real") currency is commonly defined as a system of money in general use in a particular country. The U.S. dollar is an example of actual currency. A single definition of virtual currency, on the other hand, has not yet achieved widespread acceptance. Virtual currency (sometimes referred to as "cryptocurrency") is a medium of exchange that operates like actual currency under some circumstances. Currently, virtual currency does not have legal tender status in any jurisdiction.
How virtual currency works
Virtual currency that has an equivalent value in real currency, or that acts as a substitute for real currency, is referred to as "convertible" virtual currency. Currently, the most prominent example of a convertible virtual currency is Bitcoin, which can be digitally traded between users and can be purchased for, or exchanged into, U.S. dollars, Euros, and other real currencies.
A Bitcoin is created, or "mined," electronically, according to a purely mathematical process. A complex computer algorithm is applied. As more and more Bitcoins are mined, the difficulty of creating more Bitcoins will begin to increase. This process was designed to mimic the production rate of a commodity such as gold.
Companies like BitPay or Coinbase act as intermediaries in Bitcoin transactions. According to , the Director of Business Development and Sales at Coinbase, over a million customers use Coinbase as their "Bitcoin wallet," allowing Coinbase to accept Bitcoin payments on their behalf using its payment tools. This includes over 28,000 merchants.
Fees associated with virtual currency transactions are relatively small in contrast with higher fees charged to businesses accepting credit cards. Credit card companies generally charge businesses a fee per swipe of the card, plus two to four percent of the total transaction. On the other hand, businesses that use a merchant processor pay fees of one percent, or less, for Bitcoin transactions. However, virtual currencies are volatile and involve high risk. For example, the value of a Bitcoin went from pennies to in a five-year period, and then back down to around , where it rested as of .
U.S. tax treatment
The IRS acknowledged that virtual currency may be used to pay for goods or services, or held for investment. The IRS issued guidance providing answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about virtual currency, offering Bitcoin as an example. The FAQs at present provide only basic information on the tax implications of transactions in, or using, virtual currency.
Property. Notice 2014–21 states that virtual currency will be treated as property for U.S. federal tax purposes. As such, it is governed by the same general principles that apply to property transactions generally. The sale or exchange of convertible virtual currency, or its use to pay for goods or services in a real-world economy transaction, has immediate tax consequences that would not apply if it were considered pure "legal tender."
Conversion required. A taxpayer who receives virtual currency in payment for goods or services is required to include the fair market value of the virtual currency in computing gross income. This value must be measured in U.S. dollars as of the date the virtual currency was received. The basis in virtual currency is its fair market value on the date of receipt, determined by converting the virtual currency to U.S. dollars (or another real currency which can be converted into U.S. dollars) at the applicable exchange rate in a reasonable manner that is consistently applied.
Capital gain or ordinary income. 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. If the virtual currency is held as inventory, for example, for sale to customers in a trade or business, gain or loss on its disposition will be ordinary gain or loss. If the virtual currency is held as an investment, gain or loss on its disposition will be capital in nature.
It remains unclear whether Bitcoins will be treated as "coins" for purposes of the 28 percent capital gains rate on collectibles or whether they will be considered a permitted investment within individual retirement accounts or in other, similar circumstances.
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IRS Circular 230 Disclosure: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this communication (including any attachments) is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed herein.
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