Since 2019, Forms 1040 series, Individual Income Tax Return, includes the following checkbox question:
At any time during the year, did you receive, sell, send, exchange or otherwise acquire any financial interest in any virtual currency? ◊ Yes ◊ No
For the 2023 tax year, that wording has changed slightly and has been added to Form 1041, U.S. Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts; Form 1065, U.S. Return of Partnership Income; Form 1120, U.S. Corporation Income Tax Return; and Form 1120-S, U.S. Income Tax Return for an S Corporation.
Depending on the form, the digital assets question asks this basic question, with appropriate variations tailored for corporate, partnership or estate and trust taxpayers:
At any time during 2023, did you: (a) receive (as a reward, award or payment for property or services); or (b) sell, exchange, or otherwise dispose of a digital asset (or a financial interest in a digital asset)? ◊ Yes ◊ No
With more businesses willing to accept and transact in cryptocurrencies, the absence of specific rules related to the reporting of business income from cryptocurrency transactions has created a “tax gap” that the IRS intends to close.
What is a digital asset?
A digital asset is a digital representation of value that is recorded on a cryptographically secured, distributed ledger or any similar technology. Common digital assets include:
- Convertible virtual currency and cryptocurrency.
- Non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
Everyone must answer the question
Everyone who files Forms 1040, 1040-SR, 1040-NR, 1041, 1065, 1120, 1120 and 1120S must check one box answering either “Yes” or “No” to the digital asset question. The question must be answered by all taxpayers, not just by those who engaged in a transaction involving digital assets in 2023.
When to check “Yes”
Normally, a taxpayer must check the “Yes” box if they:
- Received digital assets as payment for property or services provided;
- Received digital assets resulting from a reward or award;
- Received new digital assets resulting from mining, staking and similar activities;
- Received digital assets resulting from a hard fork (a branching of a cryptocurrency’s blockchain that splits a single cryptocurrency into two);
- Disposed of digital assets in exchange for property or services;
- Disposed of a digital asset in exchange or trade for another digital asset;
- Sold a digital asset; or
- Otherwise disposed of any other financial interest in a digital asset.
How to report digital asset income
In addition to checking the “Yes” box, taxpayers must report all income related to their digital asset transactions. For example, an investor who held a digital asset as a capital asset and sold, exchanged or transferred it during 2023 must use Form 8949, Sales and other Dispositions of Capital Assets, to figure their capital gain or loss on the transaction and then report it on Schedule D (Form 1040), Capital Gains and Losses. A taxpayer who disposed of any digital asset by gift may be required to file Form 709, United States Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return.
If an employee was paid with digital assets, they must report the value of assets received as wages. Similarly, if they worked as an independent contractor and were paid with digital assets, they must report that income on Schedule C (Form 1040), Profit or Loss from Business (Sole Proprietorship). Schedule C is also used by anyone who sold, exchanged or transferred digital assets to customers in connection with a trade or business.
When to check “No”
Normally, a taxpayer who merely owned digital assets during 2023 can check the “No” box as long as they did not engage in any transactions involving digital assets during the year. They can also check the “No” box if their activities were limited to one or more of the following:
- Holding digital assets in a wallet or account;
- Transferring digital assets from one wallet or account they own or control to another wallet or account they own or control; or
- Purchasing digital assets using U.S. or other real currency, including through electronic platforms.
Taxpayers who answer “no” and for who the IRS later determines should have answered “yes” could face civil or criminal penalties and it could affect their success in having penalties abated for reasonable cause.
How The IRS Finds Noncompliant Taxpayers
The IRS and other federal agencies have access to extensive troves of data in the worldwide web of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Chainalysis is a company that created a cryptocurrency-tracing software dubbed “Reactor” which is being used by at least 10 federal agencies including the IRS. The IRS Cyber Crimes Unit (CCU), a division of its larger Criminal Investigation (CI) wing and the leader in the IRS’ cryptocurrency crimes investigations, uses this software as a tool to help identify taxpayers who could be non-compliant in the tax laws or involved in criminal activity.
Virtual currency is an ongoing focus area for IRS Criminal Investigation.
In 2018 the IRS announced a Virtual Currency Compliance Campaign to address tax noncompliance related to the use of virtual currency through outreach and examinations of taxpayers. The IRS will remain actively engaged in addressing non-compliance related to virtual currency transactions through a variety of efforts, ranging from taxpayer education to audits to criminal investigations.
IRS Access To Cryptocurrency Transactions.
IRS will also issue Summonses to institutions involved in cryptocurrency to secure information on their accountholders. One of the first John Doe Summons in cryptocurrency area issued by IRS was ruled enforceable by U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley in November 2017 (United States v. Coinbase, Inc., United States District Court, Northern District Of California, Case No.17-cv-01431). Coinbase located in San Francisco is the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the United States. Under the order, Coinbase was required to turn over the names, addresses and tax identification numbers on 14,355 account holders. The Court has ordered Coinbase to produce the following customer information: (1) taxpayer ID number, (2) name, (3) birth date, (4) address, (5) records of account activity, including transaction logs or other records identifying the date, amount, and type of transaction (purchase/sale/exchange), the post transaction balance, and the names of counterparties to the transaction, and (6) all periodic statements of account or invoices (or the equivalent). On March 16, 2018 Coinbase complied with this Summons and turned over data of 14,355 accountholders to the IRS.
Penalties For Filing A False Income Tax Return Or Under-reporting Income
Failure to report all the money you make is a main reason folks end up facing an IRS auditor. Carelessness on your tax return might get you whacked with a 20% penalty. But that’s nothing compared to the 75% civil penalty for willful tax fraud and possibly facing criminal charges of tax evasion that if convicted could land you in jail.
Criminal Fraud – The law defines that any person who willfully attempts in any manner to evade or defeat any tax under the Internal Revenue Code or the payment thereof is, in addition to other penalties provided by law, guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, can be fined not more than $100,000 ($500,000 in the case of a corporation), or imprisoned not more than five years, or both, together with the costs of prosecution (Code Sec. 7201).
The term “willfully” has been interpreted to require a specific intent to violate the law (U.S. v. Pomponio, 429 U.S. 10 (1976)). The term “willfulness” is defined as the voluntary, intentional violation of a known legal duty (Cheek v. U.S., 498 U.S. 192 (1991)).
And even if the IRS is not looking to put you in jail, they will be looking to hit you with a big tax bill with hefty penalties.
Civil Fraud – Normally the IRS will impose a negligence penalty of 20% of the underpayment of tax (Code Sec. 6662(b)(1) and 6662(b)(2)) but violations of the Internal Revenue Code with the intent to evade income taxes may result in a civil fraud penalty. In lieu of the 20% negligence penalty, the civil fraud penalty is 75% of the underpayment of tax (Code Sec. 6663). The imposition of the Civil Fraud Penalty essentially doubles your liability to the IRS!
Voluntary Disclosure – The Way To Avoid Criminal Fines & Punishment
The IRS has not yet announced a specific tax amnesty for people who failed to report their gains and income from Bitcoin and other virtual currencies but under the existing Voluntary Disclosure Program, non-compliant taxpayers can come forward to avoid criminal prosecution and negotiate lower penalties.
What Should You Do?
The IRS suspects that there are still crypto users that have been evading taxes by not reporting crypto transactions on their tax returns. With IRS’ continued focus in this area and commitment of more resources for enforcement, now is the ideal time to be proactive and come forward with voluntary disclosure to eliminate your risk for criminal prosecution, and minimize your civil penalties. Don’t delay because once the IRS has targeted you for investigation – even it’s is a routine random audit – it will be too late voluntarily come forward.
Take control of this risk and engage a bitcoin tax attorney at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), the Bay Area (San Francisco, San Jose and Walnut Creek) and other California locations. We can come up with solutions and strategies to these risks and protect you and your business to mitigate criminal prosecution, seek abatement of penalties, and minimize your tax liability. Also, if you are involved in cannabis, check out what our cannabis tax attorney can do for you.