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The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) made a pair of announcements on July 2 that it is increasing its focus on taxpayers who avoid their tax obligations using cryptocurrency.

Background

By way of background, in April 2014, the IRS issued Notice 2014-21, which generally provided that “convertible virtual currency” is treated as property, not currency, for tax purposes and explained, in question and answer format, the application of existing general tax principles to transactions using convertible virtual currency.  The Notice defines virtual currency as “a digital representation of value that functions as a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and/or a store of value.”  It further provides that convertible virtual currency is “[v]irtual currency that has an equivalent value in real currency, or that acts as a substitute for real currency,” citing bitcoin as one example of a convertible virtual currency.

The Notice describes some of the tax consequences of receiving or exchanging virtual currency for property or services.  If a taxpayer receives virtual currency in payment for goods or services, he or she has taxable income equal to the fair market value of the virtual currency.  If the taxpayer uses virtual currency to acquire goods or services, and the fair market value of property received in exchange for virtual currency exceeds the taxpayer’s adjusted basis of the virtual currency, then the taxpayer has taxable gain.

The IRS became concerned that taxpayers were not reporting cryptocurrency transactions, and in November 2016, sought a court order to serve a John Doe summons on Coinbase, one of the world’s largest digital asset exchange companies.  The summons sought broad information on all US customers conducting transactions in cryptocurrency from 2013-2015.  Although the court ultimately narrowed the scope of information that the summons could request, it did order Coinbase to comply with the summons.  Click here to read Steptoe’s blog post about the Coinbase summons.

New IRS Announcements

On July 2, the IRS Large Business and International division (LB&I) announced a new audit campaign to address tax noncompliance related to the use of virtual currency.  LB&I campaigns direct the IRS’s audit resources to specific areas the IRS believes have the greatest risk of noncompliance.  Virtual currency is one of 40 campaigns that have been announced by the IRS since January 2017.  The IRS’s announcement means that taxpayers who failed to report virtual currency transactions face an increased risk for audit.
Continue Reading IRS Turning up the Heat on Cryptocurrency Transactions

On May 21st, Alan Cohn hosted the 217th episode of The Cyberlaw Podcast. We took a deep dive into all things blockchain and cryptocurrency discussing recent regulatory developments and the current state of play of the industry. Jack Hayes discusses the status of regulation surrounding cryptocurrencies including anti-money laundering and sanctions compliance, the Department of

After a year-long fight with the IRS on turning over customer data, Coinbase both won and lost.  It won in that the court significantly narrowed the type of information that it was ordered to turn over to the IRS.  It lost in that it was still required to turn over data on approximately 13,000 customers.  For the 13,000 customers this means that the IRS may now be contacting you to let you know that you may owe additional tax.
Continue Reading Information on 13,000 Coinbase Customers Turned Over to IRS – Was Your Information Among Them?

Background

Before 2014, the treatment of virtual currency for tax purposes was somewhat of an open question.  That is, would it be treated like a currency?  Maybe a foreign currency?  Or would it be treated like property?  Or maybe a commodity or a derivative?  The IRS took initial steps to answering that question in Notice 2014-21, where the IRS asserted that virtual currency would be treated like property.

A lot of practitioners thought that this was probably the right answer, as did many significant investors, but for ordinary folks who have been using bitcoin or other virtual currency to buy goods and services, it may have been a bit surprising.  Essentially, the IRS characterization means that if you go to Starbucks and use bitcoin to buy your coffee, while it may seem to you the same as using dollars, for tax purposes, it’s more like using gold.  And if your gold has appreciated in value since you acquired it, you may owe tax on the gain.  Same thing with virtual currency.  The problem arises because using virtual currencies to buy things seems much more like using cash than like using gold, so many virtual currency users may not have even considered that there could be potential tax consequences.  
Continue Reading Bitcoin, Ether, and Ripple, Oh My! How the IRS Taxes Digital Currency