Alternative Finances

IRS Deems Bitcoins Taxable Property

Bitcoin collecting and use just got a lot more complicated, thanks to a March 25 IRS notice classifying bitcoins as property and not currency. As such, it imposes a huge record-keeping burden on anyone who is dealing in bitcoins.

According to the IRS, general tax principles that apply to property transactions apply to transactions using virtual currency. Among other things, the notice imposes a huge record-keeping cost on anyone dealing with bitcoins.

“Anytime you buy or sell you have an IRS record-keeping obligation,” David Evans, chairman of Global Economics Group, tells PYMNTS.com in commenting on the IRS notice. “Obviously, they are only going to enforce that selectively, but people that are heavily into this will have issues.”

The IRS decision also provides what Evans believes is a real impetus to using bitcoins only for things that are only denominated in bitcoins. If a website offers “stuff” that is only priced in bitcoins, then it would be hard to argue that there’s been appreciation, he said.

Still, the IRS created some major headaches for many bitcoin users. “It imposes huge paperwork requirements; every time you pay with an appreciated bitcoin, you face a tax liability,” he said. “And it means you have to pay your personal income tax rate of about 10 percent to 40 percent (more if state taxes apply) if you’ve held the appreciated bitcoin for a year or less.”

Most people, Evans suggested, will ignore the IRS rule, and merchants don’t have to worry about taxes if they are using a bitcoin wallet provider that pays them in real currencies. Still, this provides a strong incentive to hold on to one’s bitcoins if the belief is they will appreciate. That way, the holder is liable only for long-term capital gains instead of using them for transactions, he said.

“For people in the with paper losses, it might provide an incentive to dump them and get the tax write-off,” Evans added.

To read the full IRS notice, click here.

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