Senate Infrastructure Bill Cracks Down on Crypto Tax Reporting. How It May Affect Investors

Sen. Rob Portman Sen. Kyrsten Sinema news conference
Stefani Reynolds | Bloomberg | Getty Images
  • The Senate’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill calls for increased cryptocurrency tax reporting to boost revenue.
  • The heightened enforcement may bring in an estimated $28 billion over the next decade, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.
  • These new reporting guidelines may affect investors and companies that qualify as “brokers,” experts say.

As U.S. Senators hammer out the $1 trillion bipartisan federal infrastructure bill, a provision in the measure seeks to raise funds with a crackdown on cryptocurrency tax reporting.

The rule may require cryptocurrency brokers to report traders' information — including purchase and sales prices, transfers between brokers and transactions of more than $10,000 — to the IRS. 

The proposed enforcement may bring in an estimated $28 billion over the next decade, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

"This should have been required a long time ago," said Eric Pierre, an Austin, Texas-based certified public accountant, owner of Pierre Accounting and co-host of the CPA Huddle podcast.

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Currently, investors must disclose virtual currency activity by checking a box on the first page of their tax return. However, financial experts say there's confusion about what else investors need to divulge.

"I think a lot of people want to do the right thing," Pierre said. "They don't want the IRS on their back but they just don't understand how it's supposed to be reported."

Although the IRS treats virtual currency like other assets, such as stocks or bonds, it can be difficult to calculate their profit or loss. That's because cryptocurrency brokers aren't required to provide Form 1099-B, which outlines an investor's transactions. 

While some digital currency exchanges issue Form 1099-K — typically used for someone with more than 200 transactions worth in excess of $20,000 per year — it doesn't show the purchase price, known as the so-called cost basis.

Without the asset's starting value, investors can't easily determine the profit for capital gains taxes.    

"There's no real reporting or tracking mechanism, and it's up to [tax professionals] to do a lot of subjective analysis," Pierre said.

Moreover, many investors don't realize day-to-day activity may be taxable. For example, let's say someone owns $50,000 worth of appreciated bitcoin and visits an ATM to withdraw $200. Converting that $200 from bitcoin to cash may be a taxable transaction, Pierre said. 

The new proposal may require cryptocurrency brokers to report purchase and sales prices, making it easier for the IRS to track profits, resulting in higher tax bills for some investors. 

Tax planning

While the proposed rule won't go into effect for 2021, cryptocurrency investors may limit future levies by trading in tax-deferred accounts, such as an individual retirement account, Pierre said. But it may be more difficult to tap the proceeds without a penalty.

However, those with gains in an exchange may consider working with a tax professional to try to reduce levies.

"If you have significant holdings, you should do some planning before year-end, so you're not hit with a surprise tax bill," said Pierre.

Opposition from industry groups

The proposal has received pushback from industry groups, such as the Chamber of Digital Commerce, saying the current text is "too broad and vague," with the potential to define other businesses in the digital currency sector as brokers. These groups worry the reporting rules may hurt companies without the ability to comply.

"Further clarifications are needed to ensure the digital asset ecosystem can continue to grow and flourish in the U.S.," Chamber of Digital Commerce President and founder Perianne Boring said.

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