Lately, we have been frequently asked the question: “I file US tax returns and pay taxes here. Are my cryptocurrency transactions taxable or reportable in the US?”

The answer for US persons and US taxpayers most likely is “yes.” US persons are generally taxable on income earned worldwide, regardless of the manner in which that income is paid (e.g. currency (foreign or domestic) or property (tangible, intangible or virtual)). Thus, if you have bought, sold or exchanged cryptocurrency, those transactions could be subject to federal tax. If your cryptocurrency is held offshore, a number of offshore reporting obligations could also apply to these holdings.

Now is the right time to come forward and resolve any US compliance issues related to your cryptocurrency holdings. As we have seen in recent cases like the Coinbase summons enforcement proceeding (which we reported upon in several previous posts), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has stepped up its enforcement efforts regarding undisclosed interests in cryptocurrency worldwide.

How should you come forward? Following an IRS-attended conference earlier this year, comments began circulating that the IRS was considering the creation of a formal voluntary disclosure program for cryptocurrency transactions, similar to the now-ended Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program. (We reported on that program numerous times, here.) Unfortunately, the IRS has now squashed this rumor, stating that “IRS is not contemplating a separate program related to offshore [virtual] currencies.” A domestic program was not even mentioned.

Despite this news, a number of disclosure options remain available for bringing your US and foreign cryptocurrency into compliance. The IRS’s longstanding voluntary disclosure policy remains in full force and effect. This policy acts to reduce or eliminate the risk of criminal prosecution related to nondisclosure of domestic or foreign taxable assets, and can provide avenues to reduce civil penalties as well. Further, the IRS’s Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures and Delinquent International Information Return Procedures are still active and may provide reduced (or no) penalties for US international tax non-compliance in appropriate cases.

Practice Point: Beyond the short answer of “yes, cryptocurrency is taxable,” a number of open questions regarding the taxation and reporting of cryptocurrency in the US remain. For example, determining what offshore crypto holdings are subject to FBAR and Form 8938 reporting remains complicated and unclear. Also, although tax reform has eliminated the use of Section 1031 exchanges to avoid currently being taxed for personal property like cryptocurrencies, the IRS’s position on exchanges that occurred prior to 2018 is still unknown. There are also open valuation questions, particularly for crypto accounts subject to access limitations like lock-up periods. The tax treatment of so-called hard and soft “forks” is also unclear. Finally, crypto exchanges are navigating a number of open reporting and compliance issues. If you have significant holdings in cryptocurrency, consult with a federal tax advisor who understands the tax aspects of this unique asset to ensure your tax reporting is correct and complete.

Christopher Saddock, a secondee in the Firm’s Dallas office, also contributed to this article.

Following up on our prior posts here and here, the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have proposed to remove 298 regulations and amend 79 regulations. The Treasury’s and the IRS’s action is in response to Executive Order 13789 (April 21, 2017), which called on the Treasury and the IRS to identify and reduce tax regulatory burdens that impose undue financial burdens on US taxpayers or otherwise add undue complexity to federal tax laws.

The 298 regulations are proposed to be removed because they have no current or future applicability and, therefore, no longer provide useful guidance. However, the proposed removal is not intended to alter any non-regulatory guidance that cites or relies on these regulations. The regulations proposed to be removed fall into one of three categories:

  • Regulations interpreting provisions of the Internal Revenue Code (Code) that have been repealed;
  • Regulations interpreting Code provision that, while not repealed, have been significantly revised, and the existing regulations do not account for these statutory changes (note that to fall within this category, the statutory changes must have rendered the entire regulation inapplicable); and
  • Regulations that, by the terms of the relevant Code provisions or the regulations themselves, are no longer applicable (g., expired temporary regulations, certain transition rules)

The 79 regulations proposed to be amended are regulations that make reference to the 298 regulations proposed to be removed.

Before the proposed regulations removing and withdrawing regulations are adopted as final regulations, the Treasury and the IRS will give consideration to any written comments provided by the public. Comments must be received by May 14, 2018. A public hearing may be scheduled if requested in writing by any person that timely submits written comments.

Practice Point: Taxpayers and practitioners may want to review the list of regulations proposed to be removed to determine whether the regulations continue to serve a useful purpose and should be retained.

The tax bar is abuzz with the talk of tax reform. Clients are in modeling purgatory, trying to calculate its effects and plan for the future. Public accounting firms are suggesting how to accelerate deductions in 2017 to take advantage of the massive tax rate decline in 2018. Now more than ever, there are substantial economic incentives to accelerate deductions in 2017 and defer income until 2018. Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and the end to what bodes to be a historic year for federal tax!

Not to be a Grinch, but consider the following as you prepare for year end. If you attempt to accelerate any deductions, make sure to have a complete, “audit-ready” file if the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) decides to test your position. Consider how you will protect against the assertion of any penalties; typically, your ticket to get of out penalty “prison” is to maintain proper substantiation and to establish a reasonable cause defense. An opinion of counsel is one method to meet your burden of establishing that defense. It is always better to be proactive and anticipate an IRS audit than to be reactive and try to compile the proper documentation after-the-fact.

Wrapping Up November – and Looking Forward to December

Please view all of the topics we discussed over the last month, and take a look at the upcoming tax controversy events where our lawyers will be speaking in December.

Upcoming Tax Controversy Activities in December:

December 14, 2017: Catherine Battin, Britt Haxton, Kristen Hazel, Mary Kay Martire, Jane May, Sandra McGill and Judith Wethall will be hosting the Tax in the City® – A Year in Review event, which will focus on the state and local impact, as well as the federal and international aspects of tax reform.

December 14, 2017: Thomas Jones will be presenting the webinar, “Understand how the new Tax Reform bill will affect the status of captive insurers and hear the latest 2017 tax developments” for the Vermont Captive Insurance Association.