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Finally the IRS Clarifies Its Position on Cryptocurrency

It took five years, but the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has finally released some guidance on the taxation of cryptocurrencies! On October 9, 2019, the IRS released Revenue Ruling 2019-24 and several “frequently asked questions” (and answers) which deal with some (but not all) of the federal income tax issues involved with cryptocurrencies.

Over the years, we have reported on the issues involved with cryptocurrencies, including the potential controversies that have ensued because of a lack of guidance.

The new guidance is welcomed by tax professionals and taxpayers. The guidance adopts traditional tax principles to deal with some of the unique aspects of cryptocurrencies. For example, the guidance addresses the tax treatment of so-called “hard forks” and whether the value of the “fork” which is “airdropped” into the taxpayer’s wallet constitutes taxable income.

Practice Point: Cryptocurrencies are a brave new world for most of us. Having thoughtful, current guidance is helpful to tax professionals and taxpayers, and will (hopefully) lead to better and more efficient administration of our tax system.

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IRS Criminal Investigation Division Continues to Face Core Mission Challenges Due to Budget Cuts

This week, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigation Division (CID) released its annual report for 2016, continuing a message sent for several years now: that IRS CID’s staffing declines are affecting its core mission tax work. Core mission tax work is distinguished from other types of IRS CID investigations—such as terrorism or health care fraud—where tax elements are not the central focus of the investigation. Over the past four years, since 2012, the division has lost 447 agents, and this loss has resulted in a decline in “core mission” prosecutions (485 fewer cases than in 2012).

Despite these challenges, IRS CID continues to possess a high success rate, with an incarceration rate at or around 80 percent for at least the last 4 years. In 2016, IRS CID initiated 3,395 investigations, down from 5,314 in 2013. Of those, 2,699 were sentenced, with an average sentence of 41 months.

Practice Point: The 2016 annual report is yet more documentation of the long-term decline in IRS CID investigations; however, practitioners and taxpayers cannot count on this trend continuing in the new administration. In his confirmation hearings, Steven Mnuchin, the new Treasury Secretary expressed concern about lowered IRS staffing levels overall, but it is unclear whether these comments will result in substantive changes to reverse this trend. In this report, IRS CID is sending a clear message that budget restrictions and staffing attrition are impacting the division’s core mission of encouraging voluntary compliance through criminal deterrence.

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