The taxation of Cryptocurrency profits is not so virtual

Cryptocurrency investors navigating 100% price swings and exchanges with generous down-time have, this tax season, encountered another hurdle: the tax authorities. Whilst the question “should I report my bitcoin profits?” was clarified by the Inland Revenue some four years ago, the more sobering questions of “how to report bitcoin profits?” and “how much will I be taxed?” have made it to the front of the line.

Whilst bitcoin continues to stir controversy for its inherent value, how bitcoin is accounted for is a far less epistemological thought- rooted in the International Financial Reporting Standards which, unsurprisingly, have not budged.

Currency (why don’t you come on over)

Cryptocurrency is not issued or backed by any government (at least for now), and so cannot be classified as “cash”. Nor does cryptocurrency confer to the holder a contractual right to receive cash or another financial asset (excuse the formulaic definition of “financial instrument”). Of course bitcoin has no physical form, so it cannot be accounted for as “property, plant and equipment”. This narrows down its classification to either of two forms, depending on the circumstances of the investor.

Inventory

Inventories are held for sale in the ordinary course of business. If you are a private investor who actively trades in bitcoin, for example, but not restricted to, “mining” coins, HMRC will view your ownership of bitcoin to be “for sale in the ordinary course of your business”. Consequently your profits will be deemed to be “income” which, as you know, is taxed at 20%, 40% and 45% instead of 10% or 20% as with Capital Gains Tax (CGT). HMRC and the courts will apply any of nine “badges” in deciding whether an activity constitutes a trade so¬†professional advice should be sought on the optimal setup for a trader, as well as the tax and reporting implications.

Intangible assets (IAS 38)

Cryptocurrencies also meet the definition of an intangible asset: one which can be sold, exchanged or transferred individually and which has no physical form. This treatment of bitcoin as an intangible is pioneering for three reasons:

  1. This intangible asset is traded with a profit motive. Remember, intangible assets, say patents or brand names, have traditionally been assets held for use in the production process.
  2. Because of its essence in having no physical form, bitcoin carries low detection risk, compounding the profit motive above.
  3. Scale, and the sheer volume of investors who have crowded into this trade, compounding one and two above.

Taxation of bitcoin as an intangible attracts CGT at the less penile rates of 10% and 20%, depending on your tax bracket. In this case, investors would do well to seek professional advice on the correct measurement basis of gains and, for example, working out the tax when you have held different parts of your bitcoin portfolio for different periods of time.

How will they know (if I really own it)?

One theme from this tax season has been the reportability of cryptocurrency-related profits (though surprisingly, not so much losses!?). Note the following: UK-based trading platforms must provide data to HMRC on their customers. This may seem a moot point for now because the vast majority of cryptocurrency trading in the UK takes place on overseas exchanges, which may explain the low incidence of tax investigations. In this era of cross-border information sharing however, cross-border information sharing of cryptocurrency activity, and traders, may not be far away. In the US, Coinbase, the country’s most popular exchange, has already handed over identity information of 14,000 of its most frequent traders to the Inland Revenue Service. It would be fair to assume that HMRC too will tackle this traceability issue heads-on: tax payers who do not properly report their gains of virtual currency transactions may find themselves with penalties and interest.

Investment in cryptocurrencies merits investment in professional advice, whether you have made profits, or losses.
Contact Mouktaris & Co
to ensure that you report correctly, structure optimally and avoid the pitfalls, and potential repercussions, of getting it wrong.

Stay compliant, and keep hydrated.

 

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