The disruption of cryptocurrency taxation and reporting obligations
The latest buzzword is “disruption” and nothing has caused more disruption in the investment world than virtual currency or cryptocurrency (except perhaps cryptocurrency taxation). If you’re considering cryptocurrency as an investment option, there are a few things to know.
In a nutshell, cryptocurrency is a digital asset that can work as a medium of exchange. It uses cryptography to secure financial transactions, control the creation of additional units, and verify the transfer of assets.
The main difference between virtual currencies and traditional currencies is the decentralized control system. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, which has been around since 2009, and Ether use distributed ledger technology such as block chain as a public database for transactions.
Distributed ledgers are virtual ledgers that are decentralized across multiple locations, resulting in multiple copies of a transaction. While there is no central authority governing these transactions, the public nature of the ledger serves as a check and balance. However, having a currency that isn’t tied to any country or banking system can make regulation a challenge.
Just ask the 10,000 U.S. taxpayers who recently received letters from the Internal Revenue Service informing them that they may have improperly reported transactions involving virtual currencies. These individuals likely did not consider their obligations around cryptocurrency taxation and may owe back taxes on unreported cryptocurrency earnings.
The letters were accompanied by a stern warning from IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig, who issued a press release on the matter. He said: “Taxpayers should take these letters very seriously by reviewing their tax filings and, when appropriate, amend past returns and pay back taxes, interest and penalties. The IRS is expanding our efforts involving virtual currency, including increased use of data analytics. We are focused on enforcing the law and helping taxpayers fully understand and meet their obligations.”
The IRS treats cryptocurrency taxation much like the taxation of physical property. For example, if you receive a virtual currency as compensation from an employer, it is considered income subject to withholding and payroll taxes. And if you sell it, you could face capital gains tax. According to the IRS: “If you sold, exchanged, or disposed of virtual currency, or used it to pay for goods or services, you have engaged in a reportable transaction.”
How does the CRA approach cryptocurrency taxation?
Unfortunately, the CRA is very similar to the IRS in its approach to cryptocurrency taxation.
As far as the CRA is concerned, when cryptocurrency is used to pay for goods or services, it is subject to the rules for “barter transactions” or transactions that don’t involve legal tender. When accepted as payment for goods or services by a GST/HST registrant, the GST/HST portion must be calculated based on the fair market value at the time of the transaction.
Also, just as in the U.S. tax system, capital gains or losses could be considered taxable income because a commodity is bought or sold. Finally, cryptocurrency must be reported as income when it is received as compensation from an employer.
More information is available on the CRA website, which has a link to what you need to know about the Voluntary Disclosure Program. The CRA hasn’t issued any dire warnings yet, but its website says that failing to report cryptocurrency transactions and meet cryptocurrency taxation obligations is considered illegal. The agency is “actively pursuing cases of non-compliance in order to make sure that the tax system is fair for everyone.”
If you’re considering cryptocurrency transactions for business or investment purposes – or you’ve already ventured down that path and this is all news to you – you are wise to seek out the services of a tax expert to make sure you are compliant.