Interview: Tax Strategies for Crypto Traders

Crypto taxes

With cryptocurrencies going mainstream, more and more people are asking how trading and holding of it should be reported to the tax authorities in their respective countries. And not only are people wondering, even the tax authorities themselves sometimes seem to have a hard time figuring out how they should deal with it.

Although guidelines in many countries remain unclear, we do know that the authorities have stepped up their efforts in uncovering unreported crypto fortunes with new measures. One recent example is from California where a judge last year ordered Coinbase to turn over personal details on all accounts worth over $20,000 between the years 2013 and 2015, to the US Internal Revenue Service.

According to current regulations in the US, the IRS considers cryptocurrency as “property” for tax purposes, meaning each and every transaction is in fact reportable and taxable. This includes trading from fiat to crypto as well as from one crypto to another crypto.

For active traders and day traders, manually reporting this on forms to the IRS obviously involves a lot of work, something many people have complained loudly about in online discussion forums:

crypto taxes

The early days – “see no evil, hear no evil”

In the early days of bitcoin and crypto trading, the number of people involved, and the amount of money it represented, was so small that the tax authorities didn’t bother looking much after it. Although everyone was, of course, technically required to report their holdings and profits, very few did.

The tax authorities didn’t know anything about bitcoin, and the risk of getting caught was small.

This first started to change after the dark web marketplace Silk Road was shut down, most recently in 2014. That’s when the IRS in particular first started to become aware of bitcoin, and became interested in figuring out ways to trace bitcoin payments that were used for illegal activities and tax evasion.

Then came the extreme bull market of 2017, a lot more people got involved with crypto, and a lot of money was made in the market. And as always when someone is making a lot of money, the government wants its share of it.

The tax situation today

Today, taxes are again a hot topic of discussion among cryptocurrency investors, with many feeling anxious about previously unreported gains made in the crypto market.

Andrew Henderson, founder of Nomad Capitalist, told that there is indeed a lot of confusion among crypto traders these days, in particular with regards to the new Trump tax reform in the US.

“The number one issue people come to me with is obviously taxation. The new Trump tax reform in the US really screwed a lot of people, and now even intra-crypto trades are taxable,” Andrew explained.

“The second problem I typically hear about from people in the crypto community is that they cannot participate in ICOs because they are living in the US.”

“Many of these people say they are missing out on a lot of good investment opportunities because of that, and they want to find out what they can do to no longer be considered US Persons,” he added.

Andrew, who has been advising people on offshore tax strategies since 2013, explains that the solution for most of these people is to go out and set up a base of operations somewhere outside of their home country.

Unfortunately, he said, the old strategy of leaving one’s home country only to “become a resident of nowhere” is increasingly not working. In other words, people who want to invest in certain ICOs or lower their crypto tax bill therefore need to find a new country that is accepting of crypto and have low or zero capital gains tax.

Is not reporting an option?

When asked if crypto traders should even bother reporting all of their transactions and profits to the tax authorities, Andrew is pretty clear that at least people from Western countries, and the US in particular, should respect the taxman.

He explains that the IRS in the US is “really aggressive,” and that there is a real risk they will bust anyone who tries to evade taxes. In addition, Andrew said, “you’re probably going to want to spend the money some day. If your crypto holdings by this time has grown into a lot of dollars, you’ll have a problem explaining where all that money came from if the tax man asks.”

Going offshore

Given the fact that US citizens are liable to pay taxes on their worldwide income, Andrew’s advise to big crypto traders is clear:

“I think if you’re a US citizen, you might just want to consider not being one anymore.”

Although this measure may sound extreme to a lot of people, the suggestion appears to be backed up by statistics. Each quarter, the IRS publishes a list of Americans who have renounced their citizenship in the quarter. According to the statistic, there has been a steady increase in the number of people who have renounced over the past decade, with 2017 being the first year to show a slight decline from the previous year since 2013.

The United States is one of very few countries in the world that taxes its non-resident citizens on their global income.

Unfortunately for many of the readers, non-US citizens will therefore have an easier time implementing some of the strategies for lowering their crypto tax bill.

Residents of other high-tax countries such as the EU countries or Australia can in most cases simply declare themselves a tax non-resident in their home country by moving overseas and making sure they spend no more than a specified number of days each year in their home country.

While some countries require their citizens to continue to file and pay taxes for a number of years after they moved out, other countries will consider those who have moved a non-resident for tax purposes right away.

Because of all this, it’s important to distinguish between US citizens and citizens of other high-tax countries when it comes to regulations and taxes related to crypto.

If you’re a US citizen, what it all comes down to is basically how big of a problem it is for you not to be able to participate in a lot of the ICOs that are coming out. If this means a significant monetary loss to you, it may well be worth it exploring options for relocating yourself. For citizens of other countries, moving abroad for a period of time can be an effective way to slash your crypto tax bill without having to completely cut ties with your home country and give up your passport.

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Fredrik Vold is an entrepreneur, financial writer, and technical analysis enthusiast. He has been working and traveling in Asia for several years, and is currently based out of Beijing, China. He closely follows stocks, forex and cryptocurrencies, and is always looking for the next great alternative investment opportunity.