January 3, 2023

What happens if I don't report cryptocurrency on my taxes?

Justin Searway

Does crypto complicate your taxes? Cut through the fog and learn to file correctly.

DISCLAIMER: This article is for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as tax or legal advice.  Please consult your tax advisor before filing.

As the sun set on another calendar year, the assurance of tax season's arrival – punctual as ever – has begun to rise on the opposite horizon.

Crypto adoption is growing worldwide. A recent study showed that millions of new people joined the space, 45% of them purchasing digital currencies for the first time in 2021. That means many US citizens will be setting out on their maiden voyage in the coming months, reporting crypto on their tax returns for the first time in the 2022 tax year. 

Let us give you a hand with that. 

1. So you've acquired cryptocurrency... now what?

Cryptocurrency is a digital asset designed with many different uses. One of them is to work as a medium of exchange that employs cryptography to secure its transactions, to control the creation of additional units, and verify the transfer of assets. Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, ether, and litecoin are decentralized currencies, meaning they are not subject to government or financial institution control – but that doesn't mean the IRS doesn't care about them!

Learn more about what crypto is here: What is Bitcoin, and why do people use it?

People often opt to use crypto because it offers a level of security and anonymity that traditional fiat currencies (USD, EUR, etc.) cannot match, as transactions are much more difficult to track (or attach to an identity). 

The most common way people acquire cryptocurrency is by buying it on an exchange such as Coinbase or Binance. You can also receive cryptocurrency as payment for goods or services, or by "mining," which is when you solve complex mathematical problems (through a computer) to confirm blockchain transactions, and are rewarded with trace amounts of crypto.

Regardless of your tax bracket or how you have acquired your crypto, you have it now, and you may be wondering how you should go about reporting it on your taxes. The IRS requires you to report capital gains/losses from investments on your annual tax return. So if you made (or lost) money trading cryptocurrencies this year, chances are you'll need to pay taxes on those gains come April!

2. Cryptocurrency is currency, so it must be taxed like currency, right? 

No, actually. Cryptocurrency is often compared to other types of investments, like stocks or real estate. When it is liquidated through a sale, a taxable event has occurred, and the gain or loss must be reported. Crypto gains are taxed at the same rate as capital gains for stocks and bonds. So, for tax purposes, cryptocurrency is treated as property that has either appreciated or depreciated in your custody.

3. How do I even begin to report my cryptocurrency on my taxes?

So, we've established that crypto is viewed as property by the IRS.  That being said, the IRS's tax code may apply differently to you depending on how you acquired your crypto.

Identify the way you acquired your crypto

If you acquired your cryptocurrency through a mining pool; you will be taxed as if you had earned income from your work in the form of cryptocurrency. 

If you purchased your cryptocurrency with fiat currency (like US dollars), then you will be treated as if you had made a capital gain or loss on the sale of an investment asset. This is likely the most common scenario of crypto acquisition. Capital gains are subject to different rates depending on how long you held the asset before selling – short-term capital gains are taxed at your ordinary income tax rate while long-term capital gains are eligible for lower rates. If you sold your crypto for less than what you paid for it, then you can deduct the resulting capital loss on your taxes. Note that losses can only offset other capital gains – they cannot offset ordinary income from wages or business activity.

You should also keep track of any fees or commissions paid when buying or selling cryptocurrency, as these can impact your taxable gain or loss calculation.

Once you've identified how you acquired your crypto, we can turn our attention to reporting and filing.


Calculate your "Cost Basis"

Next, calculate your "cost basis" for each coin that you traded during the year. This will be used later to determine whether you had a capital gain or loss on each trade. Your cost basis includes the price at which you purchased the coin as well as any commissions or fees paid. Once you have calculated your cost basis information for each trade, you must pull together all your 1099 forms. If you traded cryptocurrencies on an exchange, they should provide a 1099-B form detailing all of your trades for the year (be sure to maintain good records throughout the year, so you have every trade documented).

Fill out Schedule D (Form 1040)

Now it's time for the fun part: filling out Schedule D (Form 1040) according to the crypto tax guidelines set forth by the IRS!

There are numerous online resources available to crypto traders which can make this process much less daunting, but we will cover the basics here:

  • Part I: Short-term Gain/Loss from sales or exchanges of property held one year or less; long-term gain/loss from sales or exchanges 
  • Part II: Long-term Gain/Loss from sales or exchanges 
  • Part III: Combined Short and Long-Term Gains and Losses

The number of forms and schedules will vary depending on how active you were in your trading activities. Crypto activity is reported upon completion of a sale. You do not need to report the crypto you have purchased until you sell it, generating a net capital gain and, thus, taxable income.

Here's a little example, all hypothetical: Let's say Bob bought 1 Bitcoin in 2022 at $4,000 and sold it later that year at $9,000.

  • His cost basis, in this case, would be $4,000 (1 x $4,000), and his profit would be $5,000.
  • If Bob held the BTC for less than one year, "Part I" applies to him.
  • If Bob had bought his BTC in 2021 or earlier, and sold it in 2022, then "Part II" applies to him.
  • If Bob had bought 1 BTC in 2021 and another BTC in 2022, and sold both BTCs in 2022, then "Part III" applies to him.

4. Not reporting your cryptocurrency on your taxes is a bad idea

The IRS has made it clear that they expect people to report their cryptocurrency holdings on their taxes along with all capital assets. Failing to do so could result in a number of penalties, including fines and even jail time.

There are two main reasons why you should not try to hide your cryptocurrency from the IRS:

  1. The IRS is well aware of the existence of cryptocurrency and is taking steps to crack down on tax evasion involving digital assets. 

In July 2017, the IRS issued a John Doe Summons to the popular exchange Coinbase, seeking information on all customers who had bought or sold Bitcoin between 2013 and 2015. As a result of that summons, Coinbase was required to hand over data from more than 14,000 customers to the agency. 

In 2019, the IRS sent letters to over 10,000 taxpayers who may have failed to report their cryptocurrency transactions and holdings on their taxes. Don't be one of those guys.

  1. Failing to report your cryptocurrency holdings on your taxes can result in a number of penalties, including fines and even jail time. The maximum penalty for tax evasion is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine (or twice the amount of taxes evaded, whichever is greater).

So, while it’s possible that you may avoid detection if you don’t report your crypto transactions on your taxes, it’s not worth the risk. With the IRS increasing its focus on tax enforcement involving digital assets, it’s only a matter of time before more people are caught and penalized for failing to disclose their cryptocurrency activity on their taxes. 

Whether you added crypto to your financial portfolio for the first time this year or you're a long-time HODLer, failing to report your cryptocurrency gains or losses is not a good idea. So said, I hope this blog proves that reporting crypto on your taxes is not abstract and complicated but relatively simple and straightforward.