Bitcoin and other forms of virtual currency are gaining popularity. But many businesses, consumers, employees and investors are still confused about how they work and how to report transactions on their federal tax returns. And the IRS just announced that it is targeting virtual currency users in a new “educational letter” campaign.
The nuts and bolts
Unlike cash or credit cards, small businesses generally don’t accept bitcoin payments for routine transactions. However, a growing number of larger retailers — and online businesses — now accept payments. Businesses can also pay employees or independent contractors with virtual currency. The trend is expected to continue, so more small businesses may soon get on board.
Bitcoin has an equivalent value in real currency. It can be digitally traded between users. You can also purchase and exchange bitcoin with real currencies (such as U.S. dollars). The most common ways to obtain bitcoin are through virtual currency ATMs or online exchanges, which typically charge nominal transaction fees.
Once you (or your customers) obtain bitcoin, it can be used to pay for goods or services using “bitcoin wallet” software installed on your computer or mobile device. Some merchants accept bitcoin to avoid transaction fees charged by credit card companies and online payment providers (such as PayPal).
Virtual currency has triggered many tax-related questions. The IRS has issued limited guidance to address them. In a 2014 guidance, the IRS established that virtual currency should be treated as property, not currency, for federal tax purposes.
As a result, businesses that accept bitcoin payments for goods and services must report gross income based on the fair market value of the virtual currency when it was received. This is measured in equivalent U.S. dollars.
From the buyer’s perspective, purchases made using bitcoin result in a taxable gain if the fair market value of the property received exceeds the buyer’s adjusted basis in the currency exchanged. Conversely, a tax loss is incurred if the fair market value of the property received is less than its adjusted tax basis.
Wages paid using virtual currency are taxable to employees and must be reported by employers on W-2 forms. They’re subject to federal income tax withholding and payroll taxes, based on the fair market value of the virtual currency on the date of receipt.
Virtual currency payments made to independent contractors and other service providers are also taxable. In general, the rules for self-employment tax apply and payers must issue 1099-MISC forms.
The IRS announced it is sending letters to taxpayers who potentially failed to report income and pay tax on virtual currency transactions or didn’t report them properly. The letters urge taxpayers to review their tax filings and, if appropriate, amend past returns to pay back taxes, interest and penalties.
By the end of August, more than 10,000 taxpayers will receive these letters. The names of the taxpayers were obtained through compliance efforts undertaken by the IRS. The IRS Commissioner warned, “The IRS is expanding our efforts involving virtual currency, including increased use of data analytics.”
Last year, the tax agency also began an audit initiative to address virtual currency noncompliance and has stated that it’s an ongoing focus area for criminal cases.
Implications of going virtual
Contact us if you have questions about the tax considerations of accepting virtual currency or using it to make payments for your business. And if you receive a letter from the IRS about possible noncompliance, consult with us before responding.
© 2019 Covenant CPA
Over the last several years, virtual currency has become increasingly popular. Bitcoin is the most widely recognized form of virtual currency, also commonly referred to as digital, electronic or crypto currency.
While most smaller businesses aren’t yet accepting bitcoin or other virtual currency payments from their customers, more and more larger businesses are. And the trend may trickle down to smaller businesses. Businesses also can pay employees or independent contractors with virtual currency. But what are the tax consequences of these transactions?
Bitcoin has an equivalent value in real currency and can be digitally traded between users. It also can be purchased with real currencies or exchanged for real currencies. Bitcoin is most commonly obtained through virtual currency ATMs or online exchanges.
Goods or services can be paid for using “bitcoin wallet” software. When a purchase is made, the software digitally posts the transaction to a global public ledger. This prevents the same unit of virtual currency from being used multiple times.
Questions about the tax impact of virtual currency abound. And the IRS has yet to offer much guidance.
The IRS did establish in a 2014 ruling that bitcoin and other convertible virtual currency should be treated as property, not currency, for federal income tax purposes. This means that businesses accepting bitcoin payments for goods and services must report gross income based on the fair market value of the virtual currency when it was received, measured in equivalent U.S. dollars.
When a business uses virtual currency to pay wages, the wages are taxable to the employees to the extent any other wage payment would be. You must, for example, report such wages on your employees’ W-2 forms. And they’re subject to federal income tax withholding and payroll taxes, based on the fair market value of the virtual currency on the date received by the employee.
When a business uses virtual currency to pay independent contractors or other service providers, those payments are also taxable to the recipient. The self-employment tax rules generally apply, based on the fair market value of the virtual currency on the date received. Payers generally must issue 1099-MISC forms to recipients.
Finally, payments made with virtual currency are subject to information reporting to the same extent as any other payment made in property.
Deciding whether to go virtual
Accepting bitcoin can be beneficial because it may avoid transaction fees charged by credit card companies and online payment providers (such as PayPal) and attract customers who want to use virtual currency. But the IRS is targeting virtual currency transactions in an effort to raise tax revenue, and it hasn’t issued much guidance on the tax treatment or reporting requirements. So bitcoin can also be a bit risky from a tax perspective.
To learn more about tax considerations when deciding whether your business should accept bitcoin or other virtual currencies — or use them to pay employees, independent contractors or other service providers — contact Covenant Consulting at (205) 345-9898 today or go to www.covenantcpa.com for the office near you.