Weekly IRS Roundup May 3 – May 7, 2021

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of May 3, 2021 – May 7, 2021. Additionally, for continuing updates on the tax impact of COVID-19, please visit our resource page here.

May 3, 2021: The IRS issued a news release announcing the opening of the application period for 2022 grants under the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) program, an IRS program to assist organizations in providing pro bono representation to taxpayers who are low income or speak English as a second language (ESL) in federal tax disputes.

May 4, 2021: The IRS issued a news release as part of National Hurricane Preparedness Week and National Wildfire Awareness Month, reminding taxpayers of certain best practices to minimize the effect of natural disasters on tax compliance.

May 5, 2021: The IRS issued a news release announcing an eighth round of Economic Impact Payments consisting of more than 1.1 million payments totaling more than $2 billion, bringing the total amount of disbursements under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) to approximately 164 million payments worth approximately $386 billion.

May 5, 2021: The IRS issued a news release announcing the development of Projected Contract Award Date, a web app designed to increase efficiency in procurement by using statistical models to forecast the date on which contracts will be awarded.

May 6, 2021: The IRS issued Notice 2021-29, announcing that the reference price under section 45K(d)(2)(C) of the Code, which is relevant for certain Code sections regarding oil and gas production, is $37.07 for calendar year 2020.

May 6, 2021: The IRS issued Notice 2021-30, announcing that the applicable percentage under section 613A of the Code, which is used to determine percentage depletion for oil and gas produced from marginal properties, is 15% for calendar year 2021.

May 6, 2021: The IRS issued a news release reminding calendar-year tax-exempt organizations that annual Form 990 information returns and certain other filings are due on May 17, 2021.

May 7, 2021: The IRS released its weekly list of written determinations (e.g., Private Letter Rulings, Technical Advice Memorandums and Chief Counsel Advice).

Special thanks to Le Chen in our Washington, DC, office for this week’s roundup.




Finding John Doe, Part II: IRS Secures Another Victory to “Root Out” Virtual Currency Tax Noncompliance

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has scored another significant victory in its rapidly increasing virtual currency tax enforcement efforts. On May 5, 2021, the US District Court for the Northern District of California entered an order authorizing the IRS to serve a John Doe summons on popular cryptocurrency exchange, Payward Ventures Inc. d/b/a Kraken (Kraken). Specifically, the court’s order grants the IRS permission to serve a John Doe summons on Kraken in order to obtain information on US taxpayers who conducted the equivalent of at least $20,000 in total transactions for each year from 2016 to 2020.

If the IRS follows its playbook from the Coinbase summons, its victory here and with the Poloniex summons (upheld by a court in Massachusetts a few weeks ago), will likely result in thousands of US taxpayers receiving a letter from the IRS regarding their virtual currency transactions. As noted in its response to the court, over the past few years the IRS has learned a great deal about analyzing these transactions and is in possession of information from foreign virtual currency exchanges it’s also analyzing. This victory, coupled with the IRS’ increased knowledge of virtual currency transactions, is a big step in its efforts to, as stated in the IRS’ court filing, “root out tax noncompliance.”

As we previously noted in “Finding John Doe: IRS Steps up Enforcement Efforts to Take the Anonymity Out of Virtual Currency,” the court ordered the government to submit a response explaining its need for the information requested in its summons to Kraken. The government’s response indicates that the IRS has made significant progress in its analysis of summoned data from other cryptocurrency exchanges, such as Coinbase, and its ability to follow leads in the cryptocurrency marketplace. The court’s order approving the summons significantly reinforces the strength of the IRS’ crypto pursuit. These efforts are not solely focused on identifying tax noncompliance at a single exchange like Kraken but to identify the conduct for individuals transacting in cryptocurrency with Kraken accounts who may have additional accounts at other exchanges.

In citing its need for additional information to the court, the IRS expressly stated that in its experience from processing the Coinbase summons information, it has learned that taxpayers will use aliases, false addresses, post office boxes, fictitious entity names or other means to disguise their true identity. Taxpayers who create and use false information are more likely to evade their taxes, the IRS argued. The summons approved by the court requires Kraken to produce extensive records and data regarding its accountholders. Among other things, the summons requires Kraken to produce the following for each US-based account with at least $20,000 in annual transactions:

  • Account registration records and user profile information, including name, date of birth, taxpayer ID number, physical address, email address and telephone number
  • History of any IP addresses used to access the account
  • Payment [...]

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IRS Releases Guidance on Cryptocurrency Hard Forks

On April 9, 2021, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Chief Counsel Advice memo 202114020 (Hard Fork CCA), which details the potential tax consequences for taxpayers who held Bitcoin prior to the August 1, 2017, Bitcoin hard fork. While the Hard Fork CCA concerns the taxation of a particular cryptocurrency transaction, it has additional significance because it adds to the limited guidance available regarding the proper taxation of cryptocurrency more generally.

IN DEPTH

A cryptocurrency hard fork occurs when the blockchain on which cryptocurrency transactions are recorded permanently splits. The holder of the cryptocurrency generally has no control or notice that the hard fork is about to occur. The result is two separate blockchains with two separate sets of rules for recording transactions.

Bitcoin underwent a hard fork on August 1, 2017, and resulted in two separate sets of protocols for Bitcoin, as well as a new cryptocurrency called Bitcoin Cash. The result of this hard fork was that individuals holding Bitcoin in a distributed ledger now held a unit of Bitcoin Cash for each unit of Bitcoin previously held.

The Hard Fork CCA reached two conclusions concerning the Bitcoin hard fork. First, it determined that a taxpayer who received Bitcoin Cash because of the hard fork has gross income pursuant to Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 61. Second, it determined that the date of receipt and fair market value of the income depends on when the taxpayer obtains dominion and control over the Bitcoin Cash. The Hard Fork CCA relies on the statutory language of IRC Section 61(a)(3) and the well-established case law of Commissioner v. Glenshaw Glass Company (348 U.S. 426, 431 (1955) in reaching this result. Those sources define gross income as “all income from whatever source derived,” and provide that all gains or undeniable accessions to wealth, clearly realized, over which a taxpayer has complete dominion are included in gross income. The Hard Fork CCA also concludes that an impacted taxpayer gains dominion over Bitcoin Cash when they have the ability to sell, transfer or exchange the Bitcoin Cash.

Despite the fact that the Hard Fork CCA deals specifically with the consequences of the Bitcoin hard fork, the dearth of IRS guidance on the taxation of cryptocurrencies means the Hard Fork CCA will likely have broad importance to taxpayers who invest in other cryptocurrencies and similar digital assets. Most taxpayers hold cryptocurrencies through a cryptocurrency exchange platform. Coinbase, for example, which recently underwent a highly publicized initial public offering (IPO) and IRS summons for information concerning its participants, is one of the most popular cryptocurrency exchanges. (Additional detail regarding the Coinbase summons is available on our Tax Controversy 360 blog.) After a hard fork, some exchanges immediately adopt the new cryptocurrency and permit its use on the exchange; however, others only do so after a period of evaluation, if ever. The Hard Fork CCA takes the position that a taxpayer who privately holds their Bitcoin using a private key to [...]

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Weekly IRS Roundup April 26 – April 30, 2021

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of April 26, 2021 – April 30, 2021. Additionally, for continuing updates on the tax impact of COVID-19, please visit our resource page here.

April 26, 2021: The IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2021-23, making superseding changes to earlier Revenue Procedures related to the Child Tax Credit under section 24 of the Code, the Earned Income Credit under section 32 of the Code and the Premium Tax Credit under section 36B of the Code in order to reflect statutory amendments made by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA).

April 26, 2021: The IRS issued a news release reporting the results of its March 2021 inaugural National Virtual Settlement Month, an IRS-coordinated nationwide initiative to provide pro bono legal advice to pro se US Tax Court litigants.

April 27, 2021: The IRS issued corrections to final regulations published in December 2020 regarding the elimination of the deduction for expenses associated with certain employer-provided transportation and commuting benefits under section 274 of the Code.

April 27, 2021: The IRS issued a news release, describing various electronic services it provides and urging taxpayers and tax professionals to use such services to speed up the processing of tax returns, payments and refunds.

April 28, 2021: The IRS issued a news release announcing a seventh round of Economic Impact Payments consisting of nearly two million payments totaling more than $4.3 billion, bringing the total amount of disbursements under ARPA to approximately 163 million payments worth approximately $384 billion.

April 29, 2021: The IRS issued a news release, providing information and resources to assist with tax compliance by gig economy workers and taxpayers who claimed unemployment compensation in 2020.

April 29, 2021: The IRS issued a news release, reminding taxpayers of the availability of tax-filing extensions upon request and listing certain categories of taxpayers who automatically obtain extensions without request.

April 30, 2021: The IRS issued Announcement 2021-8, listing attorneys, Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and other practitioners who have received disciplinary sanctions for violating the regulations governing practice before the IRS.

April 30, 2021: The IRS issued a news release announcing the release of updated 2021 versions of Schedules K-2 and K-3 for Forms 1065, 1120-S and 8865. The updated Schedules are intended to provide greater clarity regarding the reporting of certain international tax items with respect to pass-through entities.

April 30, 2021: The IRS issued a news release announcing that it is now accepting grant applications by eligible organizations under the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs, which provide tax assistance services to elderly taxpayers and underserved communities, respectively.

April 30, 2021: The IRS released its weekly list of written determinations (e.g., [...]

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DOJ and IRS’ Analysis of Crypto Records and Work with Private Experts and International Partners Leads to Arrest

US law enforcement continues to make no secret of their efforts to work closely with experts and overseas partners to prosecute those involved in virtual currency transactions who attempt to rely on its purported anonymity to commit financial crimes. Tuesday’s arrest of Roman Sterlingov, a dual citizen of Russia and Sweden and alleged operator of Bitcoin Fog, in Los Angeles is a clear case that these efforts are paying dividends. In a criminal complaint filed by the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, Sterlingov is accused of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of bitcoin. According to a statement of facts accompanying the complaint filed in the District of Columbia, Sterlingov was allegedly running “an illicit bitcoin money transmitting and money laundering service.” (Case 1:21-mj-00400-RMM Document 1-1 Filed 04/26/21.) Notably, investigators from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were able to obtain records of Sterlingov’s True Name accounts at several cryptocurrency exchanges. Investigators also analyzed bitcoin transactions, email records, financial records and internet service provider records. The investigation and arrest come at a time when the IRS, together with other enforcement agencies, are taking a hard look at cryptocurrency activity and have recently issued John Doe summonses to two virtual currency exchanges.

The collaboration with private experts and international partners is clear from the press release issued by the US Department of Justice (DOJ). In recognizing the many agencies that assisted in the investigation, the DOJ specifically stated that essential support was provided by Excygent, which is described on its website “as a highly specialized, professional services firm that assists organizations in both the public and private sectors with cybercrime investigative and analysis capabilities.” The DOJ also listed several US agencies that provided invaluable assistance and went on to include international partners: Europol, the Swedish Economic Crime Authority, the Swedish Prosecution Authority, the Swedish Police and the General Inspectorate of Romanian Police, Directorate for Combatting Organized Crime and the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism. This ability to collaborate successfully will most likely serve as a blueprint for future investigations.

Practice Point: As we noted in our blog post, “Finding John Doe: IRS Steps up Enforcement Efforts to Take the Anonymity Out of Virtual Currency,” the time is now for those who have engaged in a virtual currency transaction to assess any potential tax and criminal implications, and businesses in this industry should carefully review their policies and processes to ensure that they address potential tax avoidance and anti-money laundering risks associated with their operations. The IRS is working closely with its new partners (i.e., industry experts and foreign law enforcement) to address any noncompliance. As announced recently by US President Joe Biden, he plans to give them the resources to do more on enforcement.




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