Hope For Active Crypto Traders With Massive Losses

June 16, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

The AICPA recently asked the IRS to permit cryptocurrency traders, eligible for trader tax status (TTS), to use a Section 475 MTM election on securities and commodities providing for ordinary gain or loss treatment.

In my March 2018 blog post Cryptocurrencies: Trader Tax Status Benefits And Section 475 Issues, I suggested crypto TTS traders consider filing a protective 2018 Section 475 election on securities and commodities, due by April 17, 2018, in case the IRS allowed it. Many crypto traders had significant losses in early 2018 with the market correction, and with a 475 election, they might avoid the $3,000 capital loss limitation using ordinary loss treatment. I said it hinged on whether the IRS changed its designation of crypto from intangible property to a security or a commodity.

The AICPA letter* implied that the IRS could keep its current classification of crypto as intangible property, yet still permit the use of Section 475.  However, it does raise other questions: The AICPA letter did not distinguish between securities and commodities, whereas, Section 475 does. TTS traders may elect Section 475 on securities only, commodities only, or both, and that has other tax implications.

If the IRS considers crypto a security, then Section 1091 wash-sale loss rules for securities would apply. Wash-sale loss adjustments are a headache and can be costly. (If you buy back a losing trade 30 days before or after, you must defer the wash-sale loss to the replacement position’s cost basis.) As intangible property, crypto is not currently subject to wash-sale losses. A Section 475 election on securities exempts TTS traders from making wash-sale loss adjustments.

If the IRS considers crypto a commodity, then a TTS trader should be able to elect Section 475 on commodities. However, that election has other tax consequences: If you trade Section 1256 contracts, including futures, you will surrender the lower 60/40 capital gains rates on 1256 contracts. For that reason, most traders elect Section 475 on securities only.

AICPA letter excerpt
8. Traders and Dealers of Virtual Currency

“Overview: Taxpayers considered dealers and traders who engage in buying and selling securities in the ordinary course of business to customers may make a ‘mark-to-market’ election under section 475. This election recognizes ordinary gains or losses on the deemed sales involved in the mark-to-market process. The securities holdings on the last day of the year are deemed as sold for their fair market value resulting in both ordinary income and ordinary expenses the same as for any other trade or business. Taxpayers who trade virtual currencies perform this activity on virtual currency exchanges that contain all the robust trading features available on trading platforms for securities and commodities, including the same level of liquidity. In this context, virtual currencies are akin to securities and commodities. This particular issue is also under consideration by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Suggested FAQ
Q-22: May taxpayers who trade virtual currency elect the mark-to-market rules under section 475 if they otherwise qualify as a dealer or trader?

A-22: Yes. The nature of virtual currency trading is akin to dealers and traders of securities and commodities and a taxpayer may elect mark-to-market treatment. The taxpayer must otherwise qualify as a dealer or trader in order to make the election.

* The IRS has made no indication that they intend to adopt all, or any, of the many excellent recommendations from the AICPA.

SEC update
On June 14, CNBC reported, “The SEC’s point man on cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings (ICOs) says that bitcoin and ether are not securities but that many, but not all, ICOs are securities and will come under the regulatory control of the SEC and relevant securities laws.”

The official explained what constitutes a security in the eyes of the SEC. An initial coin offering is likely a security because a third-party company, which is not decentralized ownership, sells an investment product to the public. The sponsor uses the money raised for its internal use. The buyer/investor expects a profit — a return on the investment. Conversely, bitcoin and ether are likely not securities because there was no ICO, ownership is decentralized, and they were not sold as investments.



Spending Crypto For Personal Use Can Be A Tax Mistake

June 4, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

If a taxpayer purchases virtual currency (cryptocurrency) and spends it on personal use, the IRS requires him to calculate a capital gain or loss on each transaction. Capital gains on personal-use property are reportable and subject to tax, whereas, the IRS disallows capital losses.

The AICPA recently asked the IRS for some equitable relief by adopting a “de minimus election,” which provides a $200 threshold for excluding capital gains income on personal transactions. (See the AICPA letter and an excerpt of the de minimus rule proposal below.)

If a taxpayer acquires virtual currency as an investment, though, then all capital gains and capital losses are reportable, and the de minims rule should not apply.

The AICPA suggests the IRS apply a similar de minimus rule used for foreign currency transactions in Section 988(e)(2) (see below). The code section refers to personal purchases, not Section 162 business or Section 212 investment property. For example, if a taxpayer acquired Euros for a European vacation, the de minimus rule applies, and the taxpayer can exclude capital gains on the Euros spent if the capital gain is under $200 per transaction.

The IRS does not permit taxpayers to deduct capital losses on personal-use property, including foreign currency or virtual currency held for personal use. Taxpayers may not deduct capital losses on the sale of a private auto or a primary residence.

Examples of using crypto for personal use vs. investment property

1.    Joe purchased one Bitcoin in early 2017 for personal-use spending, and his Bitcoin rose in price substantially during the year. Joe planned on many vendors adopting Bitcoin as a means of payment. Joe’s original intention was for personal use, so a de minimus exemption should apply to him if the IRS approves that AICPA recommendation*. If Joe bought Bitcoin in 2018, he might have a capital loss, which would be non-deductible on personal-use property.

2.    Nancy invested in 10 Bitcoins in early 2017, and her intention was capital appreciation and diversification into a new asset class. She spent Bitcoin frequently during the year on personal transactions, buying goods and services wherever Bitcoin was accepted. She hoped it would be tax-free, but it’s not.

The intention of the taxpayer is critical in determining tax treatment. If the aim is for personal use, then the de minimus rule should apply to capital gains under $200, and capital losses are not deductible. If the intention is for investment, then it’s capital gains and losses. If the purpose is for business, ordinary gain or loss treatment applies.

With tax treatment hinging on category (personal use, investment, and business), it’s wise to segregate cryptocurrency into these buckets carefully. If the IRS agrees with the AICPA proposal on the de minimus exemption, declare a crypto wallet for personal use, and the rest as an investment to protect capital loss treatment on the bulk of your crypto that you don’t plan to spend.

Excerpt from the AICPA letter
4. Need for a De Minimis Election

“Overview: Some taxpayers may only have a minimal amount of virtual currency that is designated for making small purchases (such as buying coffee). Tracking the basis and FMV of the virtual currency for each of these small purchases is time consuming, burdensome, and will yield a de minimis amount of gain or loss. A binding election applicable for a specified amount of virtual currency is beneficial to taxpayers.

Currently, section 988(e)(2) allows for an exclusion of up to $200 per transaction for foreign currency exchange rate gain, if derived from personal purchase. The same exclusion should apply to virtual currencies even though they are considered property rather than foreign currency.

Suggested FAQ

Q-9: May individuals use a de minimis rule for virtual currency similar to the section 988(e)(2) exclusion of up to $200 per transaction for foreign currency exchange rate gain?

A-9: Yes. Individuals may use a de minimis rule, similar to section the 988(e)(2) exclusion, for virtual currency transactions to alleviate the burden or recordkeeping for individuals who use virtual currency as a medium of exchange. This de minimis rule allows taxpayers to exclude transactions resulting in $200 or less of gain.”

Section 988(e)(2) Exclusion for certain personal transactions
“If—

(A) nonfunctional currency is disposed of by an individual in any transaction, and

(B) such transaction is a personal transaction,

no gain shall be recognized for purposes of this subtitle by reason of changes in exchange rates after such currency was acquired by such individual and before such disposition. The preceding sentence shall not apply if the gain which would otherwise be recognized on the transaction exceeds $200.

(3) Personal transactions. For purposes of this subsection, the term “personal transaction” means any transaction entered into by an individual, except that such term shall not include any transaction to the extent that expenses properly allocable to such transaction meet the requirements of—

(A) section 162 (other than traveling expenses described in subsection (a)(2) thereof), or

(B) section 212 (other than that part of section 212 dealing with expenses incurred in connection with taxes).”

(Note: Section 162 is for business, and Section 212 is for investments.)

* The IRS has made no indication that they intend to adopt all, or any, of the many excellent recommendations from the AICPA. 


ETNs Have Different Structures With Varying Tax Treatment

May 17, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

Exchange-traded notes (ETNs) are structured either as debt securities or prepaid executory contracts, and that makes a critical difference in tax treatment.

“The tax treatment of ETNs is often complicated to determine,” said New York City tax attorney Roger D. Lorence. “You have to review the tax section of each prospectus. In many cases, the offering is an undivided interest in the underlying positions, such as futures, so that the ETN is not an interest in an entity nor itself a security. However, other ETNs are structured as a debt instrument, usually with leverage concerning some index (such as natural gas futures).

ETNs structured as debt securities are taxed similarly to other securities with the realization method for capital gain or loss. (Realization is when you sell the security.) They are subject to Section 1091 wash-sale loss adjustments, which can raise tax liabilities. (Scroll to the end of the blog for more on wash-sale loss adjustments.) Section 475 ordinary gain or loss treatment should apply to these debt securities, too, if the trader qualifies for trader tax status (TTS) and makes the election on time.

ETNs organized as prepaid executory contracts (also referred to as prepaid forward contracts) are not securities. They calculate a rate of return or interest rate based on the movement of an underlying financial instrument, futures index, or equities index. The ETN holder does not own the underlying instrument or index. This can have a significant impact on tax liabilities, as it likely means that Sections 1091 wash sales and 475 MTM should not apply to them. ETN prospectuses say they don’t address Sections 1091 and 475.

Report the sale or exchange of ETNs organized as prepaid executory contracts when realized as short-term and long-term capital gains and losses, except currency ETNs which are ordinary gain or loss treatment.

The problem
Here’s the problem when it comes time to preparing tax returns: Most brokers categorize all types of ETNs as securities on 1099-Bs and make wash-sale loss adjustments. Those adjustments might defer tax losses to the subsequent year, thereby raising tax liabilities. When it comes to ETN prepaid executory contracts, consider deviating from the 1099-B to reverse out wash-sale loss adjustments on these ETNs. Explain why in a tax return footnote. If this presents a significant change in tax liability, consider obtaining a “substantial authority” letter from a tax attorney to support the tax filing. The broker carries over these wash sale loss adjustments as an increase in cost basis in the subsequent year, so don’t forget to reverse that, too. Deviating from 1099-Bs raises complications, so consult a tax advisor.

Options on ETNs: There is a similar problem with CBOE-listed options on volatility ETNs and ETFs. Many broker 1099-Bs classify these options as securities, but there is substantial authority to treat them as non-equity options, which are Section 1256 contracts. As Section 1256 contracts, they are not subject to wash-sale loss adjustments and qualify for lower 60/40 capital gains tax rates. (See How To Apply Lower Tax Rates To Volatility Options, Tax Treatment For Exchange Traded Notes.)

ETN debt securities prospectus
See the Credit Suisse Velocity Shares prospectus applicable to ETN symbol XIV and five related volatility ETNs. Here are excerpts from pages 75-76:

“Debt Securities U.S. Holder Payments or Accruals of Interest Payments or accruals of ‘qualified stated interest’ (as defined below) on a debt security will be taxable to you as ordinary interest income at the time that you receive or accrue such amounts (in accordance with your regular method of tax accounting).

Purchase, Sale and Retirement of Debt Securities: When you sell or exchange a debt security, or if a debt security that you hold is retired, you generally will recognize gain or loss equal to the difference between the amount you realize on the transaction (less any accrued qualified stated interest, which will be subject to tax in the manner described above under Payments or Accruals of Interest) and your tax basis in the debt security.”

ETN prepaid executory contracts prospectus
Among the most-popular traded ETN symbols are VXX, VXZ, XVZ, all prepaid executory contracts issued by iPath. According to IPathETN.com U.S. Federal Income Tax Considerations, “For U.S. federal income tax purposes, Barclays Bank PLC and investors agree to treat all iPath ETNs, except certain currency ETNs, as prepaid executory contracts with respect to the relevant index. If such iPath ETNs are so treated, investors should recognize gain or loss upon the sale, redemption or maturity of their iPath ETNs in an amount equal to the difference between the amount they receive at such time and their tax basis in the securities. Investors generally agree to treat such gain or loss as capital gain or loss, except with respect to those iPath ETNs for which investors agree to treat such gain or loss as ordinary, as detailed in the chart below.”

The UBS Velocity Shares prospectus applicable to EVIX and EXIV states: “In the opinion of our counsel, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, the Securities should be treated as a pre-paid forward contract…”

Volatility ETN products
In order of volume http://etfdb.com/etfdb-category/volatility/

- iPath S&P 500 VIX ST Futures ETN (VXX) – Prepaid*
- iPath Series B S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN (VXXB) – Prepaid
- iPath S&P 500 VIX Mid-Term Futures ETN (VXZ) – Prepaid
- iPath S&P 500 Dynamic VIX ETN (XVZ) – Prepaid
- iPath Series B S&P 500® VIX Mid-Term Futures ETN (VXZB) – Prepaid
- Credit Suisse VelocityShares Daily Long VIX Short-Term ETN (VIIX) – Debt**
- UBS VelocityShares VIX Short Volatility Hedged ETN (XIVH) – Debt
- UBS VelocityShares 1X Daily Inverse VSTOXX Futures ETN (EXIV) – Prepaid
- UBS VelocityShares VIX Variable Long/Short ETN (LSVX) – Debt
- UBS VelocityShares VIX Tail Risk ETN (BSWN) – Debt
- UBS VelocityShares 1X Long VSTOXX Futures ETN (EVIX) – Prepaid
Listed on securities exchanges: NYSE, Nasdaq, or Bats.

*Prepaid: The iPath volatility ETNs are prepaid executory contracts
**Debt: a debt security

Tax attorney weighs in
Lorence takes a look at the prospectus for the UGAZ ETN by Credit Suisse, which states that the offerings are short-term debt obligations, longer-term debt obligations, and warrants.

“The debt obligations are clearly described by tax counsel as producing interest income and similar interest-type income (e.g., market discount),” Lorence said. “Debt obligations are classified as securities for Section 1091; although there are issues about whether some commodities offerings, such as futures, are also securities, the UGAZ debt obligations would be securities for Section 1091. Wash sale rules for debt securities limit the substantially identicality of debt obligations by requiring that they be essentially the same bond for market value purposes (e.g., same issuer, same or virtually the same coupon and maturity). In all cases dealing with ETNs and ETFs, I have found these just to be marketing labels, and the tax consequences have to be found in the tax disclosure in the prospectus.”

Wash sale loss adjustments
Congress doesn’t want taxpayers to realize “tax losses” that are not “economic losses.” If you close a securities transaction and re-open it right away, you haven’t closed your financial position in that security. At year-end, many taxpayers do “tax loss selling” of securities in December, and the IRS wash sale rules defer the loss if the taxpayer re-purchases a substantially identical position within 30 days before or after, which means into January of the subsequent year. Thirty days is an eternity for day and swing traders. (Learn more about wash sales.)

See my earlier blog posts: How To Apply Lower Tax Rates To Volatility OptionsTax Treatment For Exchange Traded Notes and Tax Treatment For Volatility Products Including ETNs.

Darren Neuschwander CPA contributed to this blog post.

 

 

 

 

 


Accounting Method Impacts Crypto Income Taxes

April 10, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

Many crypto traders face massive tax bills for 2017. Which accounting method they apply could change their tax bills by tens of thousands of dollars.

Specific identification vs. FIFO
The IRS wants the “specific identification” (SI) accounting method used on property transactions, which applies to crypto. SI requires “adequate identification” of units sold, but most crypto traders cannot comply with these formal IRS regulations.

Many crypto traders and accountants use the alternative “first in first out” (FIFO) accounting method. FIFO is reliable and practical. A side benefit of FIFO is longer holding periods with potential qualification for long-term capital gains tax at 0%, 15%, and 20% graduated rates.

But FIFO likely raised tax bills for many crypto traders in 2017, because coin prices rose dramatically during the year. Selling coins purchased at lower prices (cost basis), increased 2017 capital gains. Many traders held significant amounts of crypto at year-end, embedded with higher cost-basis. If these traders complied with SI adequate identification rules, they might have reduced capital gains income by choosing higher-cost lots for sale.

Special IRS rule for securities
Thomson Reuters tax publishers explains the FIFO rule as follows:

“Except for stock for which the average basis method is available (i.e., mutual fund shares), if a taxpayer sells or transfers corporate stock that the taxpayer purchased or acquired on different dates or at different prices, and the taxpayer doesn’t adequately identify the lot from which the stock is sold or transferred, the stock sold or transferred is charged against the earliest lot purchased or acquired to determine the basis and holding period of the stock.

“An adequate identification is made if the taxpayer, ‘at the time of the sale or transfer,’ specifies what particular shares are to be sold or transferred and, within a reasonable time after that, the broker or other agent confirms the specification in a written document. In this event, the taxpayer’s instruction prevails even though delivery was actually made from a different lot. Stock identified under this rule is considered to be the stock sold or transferred by the taxpayer, even if stock certificates from a different lot are actually delivered to the taxpayer’s transferee. For this purpose, an adequate identification of stock is made at the time of sale, transfer, delivery or distribution if the identification is made no later than the earlier of the settlement date or the time for settlement required by Rule 15c6-1 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. A standing order or instruction for the specific identification of stock is treated as an adequate identification made at the time of sale, transfer, delivery or distribution.”

The tax court and IRS relaxed SI rules in some cases, but more stringent IRS regulations remain the law. In Concord Instruments Corp, (1994) TC Memo 1994-248, per Thomson Reuters,

“Taxpayer had maintained cost records of each lot of stock that was purchased, the date of purchase, and the price per share. T’s accountant used these records to prepare T’s income tax returns. To compute the gain from T’s stock sales, the specific identification method was used and the highest cost shares were treated as sold first. The court concluded that Taxpayer had sufficiently identified the stock sold to avoid the FIFO method of reporting the gains.”

The tax court allowed oral communication by the trader to the broker and the court relaxed the broker rules for providing contemporaneously written confirmation.

With high-speed trading on coin exchanges, it seems nearly impossible to comply with adequate identification rules for the SI accounting method. Crypto traders don’t use brokers; they trade online over coin exchanges without any communication between trader and exchange. Would the IRS consider this situation to be compliant with SI adequate identification rules? Maybe not.

New York tax attorney Roger D. Lorence says: “Given how longstanding this regulation is, I would describe it as having in effect the force of law.  The legal effect is to create a rebuttable presumption of its correctness; the presumption is overcome only upon the showing of strong proof.  Unless the cryptocurrency trader has contemporaneous records showing specific identification, if they are in the US Tax Court, they would be held to FIFO.”

AICPA weighs in
In June 2016, the AICPA asked the IRS if crypto traders could use FIFO as an alternative accounting method. (See Comments on Notice 2014-21: Virtual Currency Guidance.)

“Allow an alternative treatment under section 1012 (e.g., first in first out (FIFO)). The treatment of convertible virtual currency as noncash property means that any time virtual currency is used to acquire goods or services, a barter transaction takes place, and the parties need to know the fair market value (FMV) of the currency on that day. The party exchanging the virtual currency for the goods or services will need to also track the basis of all of his or her currency to determine if a gain or loss has occurred and whether it is a short-term or long-term transaction. This determination involves a significant amount of recordkeeping, even if the transaction is valued at under $10.

“Currently, there are no alternative tracking methods provided for such transactions (other than for securities under Treas. Reg. § 1.1012-1(c)). Therefore, taxpayers are required to specifically identify which virtual currency lot was used for each transaction in order to properly determine the gain or loss for that particular transaction. In many cases, it is impossible for a taxpayer to track which specific virtual currency was used for a particular transaction.”

Example of specific identification
A crypto trader bought 20 Bitcoins before 2017 at low prices. He bought 30 more Bitcoins between January and June 2017 at materially higher rates. In July 2017, he transferred the 30 Bitcoins purchased in 2017 to a coin exchange. He kept the original 20 in his wallet off-exchange. He adequately identified the 30 newer units for the trading. He used and complied with SI, and it saved him thousands of dollars in capital gains taxes compared to using FIFO.

Cherry picking
Choosing an option in a trade accounting program to cherry pick the highest cost basis for lowering capital gains after the fact is likely not acceptable to the IRS. “Last in first out” (LIFO) is also expected not acceptable.

File an extension
I suggest crypto traders file extensions for 2017 by April 17, 2018, to avoid late-filing penalties of 5% per month (up to a maximum of 25%). Hopefully, the IRS will issue new guidance addressing permissible accounting methods and their application in the real world of crypto trading.

Consult with a cryptocurrency trade accounting expert.

Darren Neuschwander CPA contributed to this blog post.

 


Cryptocurrencies: Trader Tax Status Benefits And Section 475 Issues

March 14, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

Active cryptocurrency (coin) traders can qualify for trader tax status (TTS) to deduct trading business expenses and home-office deductions. TTS is essential in 2018: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act suspended investment expenses, and the IRS does not permit employee benefit plan deductions on investment income. A TTS trader can write off health insurance premiums and retirement plan contributions by trading in an S-Corp with officer compensation.

The benefits of Section 475
There’s an additional critical tax benefit with TTS: Electing Section 475 mark-to-market accounting (MTM) on securities and/or commodities. Section 475 turns capital gains and losses into ordinary gains and losses thereby avoiding the $3,000 capital-loss limitation and wash-sale loss adjustments on securities (this is what I like to call “tax-loss insurance”). Many coin traders incurred substantial trading losses in Q1 2018, and they would prefer ordinary loss treatment to offset wage and other income. Unfortunately, most coin traders will be stuck with significant capital-loss carryforwards and higher tax liabilities.

There are benefits to 475 income, too. The new tax law ushered in a 20% pass-through deduction on qualified business income (Section 199A), which likely includes Section 475 ordinary income, but excludes capital gains. Trading is a specified service activity, requiring the owner to have taxable income under a threshold of $315,000 (married) or $157,500 (other taxpayers). There is a phase-out range above the limit of $100,000 (married) and $50,000 (other taxpayers).

The IRS says cryptocurrency is intangible property
In March 2014, the IRS issued long-awaited guidance declaring coin “intangible property,” before regulators thoroughly assessed coin. Section 475 is for securities and commodities and does not mention intangible property. An AICPA task force on virtual currency asked the IRS for further guidance (AICPA letter), including if coin traders could use Section 475. The IRS has not yet replied. When an investor holds cryptocurrencies as a capital asset, they should report short-term vs. long-term capital gains and losses on Form 8949. (See Cryptocurrency Traders Owe Massive Taxes For 2017.)

SEC and CFTC weigh in
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently stated Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) might be securities offerings, which most likely need to register with the SEC. It further said coins or tokens might be securities, even if the ICO calls them something else. According to an SEC statement, “If a platform offers trading of digital assets that are securities and operates as an “exchange,” as defined by the federal securities laws, then the platform must register with the SEC as a national securities exchange or be exempt from registration.” (See SEC ICO information.)

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) defined cryptocurrencies as commodities in 2015. During a March 7, 2018, CNBC interview, Commissioner Brian Quintenz said the CFTC has enforcement authority, but not oversight authority, over cryptocurrencies traded in the spot market on coin exchanges. The CFTC has enforcement and oversight authority for derivatives traded on commodities exchanges, like Bitcoin futures.

Also on March 7, 2018, a U.S. district judge in New York ruled in favor of the CFTC, stating “virtual currencies can be regulated by CFTC as a commodity.” (See Cryptos Are Commodities, Rules US Judge In CFTC Case.)

Will the IRS change its mind?
There is a long-shot possibility the IRS could change its tune to treat cryptocurrency as a security and or a commodity as a result of recent actions from the SEC and CFTC, including the statements mentioned above. Then coin might fit into the definition of securities and/or commodities in Section 475. Until and unless the IRS updates its guidance, coin is intangible property, which is not listed in Section 475.

If you incurred substantial trading losses in cryptocurrencies in Q1 2018, and you qualify for TTS, you might want to consider making a protective 2018 Section 475 election on securities and commodities by April 17, 2018 (or by March 15 for partnerships and S-Corps). The IRS has a significant workload drafting regulations for the new tax law, and with limited resources, I don’t expect it to update coin guidance shortly.

There is a side effect of making a 475 election on commodities: If you also trade Section 1256 contracts, you surrender the lower 60/40 capital gains rates. Perhaps, you only trade coin and don’t care about Section 1256 contracts. If coin is deemed a commodity for tax purposes, it’s still likely not a Section 1256 contract unless it lists on a CFTC-registered qualified board or exchange (QBE). Coin exchanges or marketplaces are currently not QBE.

Section 475 provides for the proper segregation of investment positions on a contemporaneous basis, which means when you buy the position. If you have a substantial loss in coin that you’ve held onto for months before the sale, the IRS will likely consider it a capital loss on an investment position.

Bitcoin futures
Bitcoin futures trade on the CME and CBOE exchanges. The product appears to be a regulated futures contract (RFC) trading on a U.S. commodities exchange, meeting the tax definition of a Section 1256 contract. That means it also fits the description of a commodity in Section 475.

Section 1256 contracts have lower 60/40 capital gains tax rates, meaning 60% (including day trades) are taxed at the lower long-term capital gains rate, and 40% are taxed at the short-term rate, which is the ordinary tax rate. Section 1256 is mark-to-market accounting, reporting unrealized gains and losses at year-end.

TTS traders usually elect 475 on securities only to retain these lower rates on Section 1256 contracts. A Section 1256 loss carryback election applies the loss against Section 1256 gains in the three prior tax years, and unused amounts are carried forward.

If a TTS trader has a substantial loss in Bitcoin futures, he or she should consider making a 2018 Section 475 election on commodities for ordinary loss treatment. (See Consider 475 Election By Tax Deadline To Save Thousands.)

Cryptocurrency investment trusts
According to Grayscale’s website, the company is “the sponsor of Bitcoin Investment Trust, Bitcoin Cash Investment Trust, Ethereum Investment Trust, Ethereum Classic Investment Trust, Litecoin Investment Trust, XRP Investment Trust and Zcash Investment Trust. The trusts are private investment vehicles, are NOT registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.” The Grayscale cryptocurrency investment trusts list on OTC markets.

According to its prospectus, Bitcoin Investment Trust is a Grantor Trust, a publicly traded trust (PTT). “Treatment of an interest in a grantor trust holding crypto assets means that you have to look through the trust envelope to the underlying positions,” says New York tax attorney Roger Lorence JD.

It’s similar to other PTTs; like the SPDR Gold Shares (NYSEArca: GLD) with long-term capital gains using the collectibles tax rate applicable to precious metals. With the look-through rule, the cryptocurrency investment trusts are subject to taxation as intangible property.

Excess business losses
The new tax law limits current year business losses to $500,000 (married) and $250,000 (other taxpayers) starting in 2018. The excess business loss carries forward as a net operating loss (NOL). In 2017, there wasn’t a limit, and taxpayers could carryback NOLs two tax years and/or forward 20 years. Section 475 losses often generated immediate tax refunds from NOL carryback returns. At least NOL carryforwards are better than capital loss carryovers.

Several coin traders face a tax trap
They had massive capital gains in 2017 and had not yet paid the IRS and state their 2017 taxes owed. Meanwhile, in Q1 2018, their coin portfolios significantly declined in value, and they incurred substantial trading losses. They now face a significant tax problem: They need to sell cryptocurrencies to raise cash to pay their 2017 tax liabilities due by April 17, 2018. That would leave many of them with little coin left to continue trading. They may choose to file their automatic extensions without tax payment or a small payment and incur a late-payment penalty of 0.5% per month by the extension due date of Oct. 15, 2018. They are banking on coin prices increasing and thereby generating trading gains by Oct. 15. It reminds me of trading on margin; only the bank (in this case, tax authorities) cannot force a sale now. (See Tax Extensions: 12 Tips To Save You Money.)

A Section 475 election is not a savior in this situation: Section 475 turns 2018 capital losses into ordinary losses on TTS positions, but the IRS no longer allows NOL carryback refunds. In prior years, a trader with this problem could hold the IRS at bay, promising to file an NOL carryback refund claim to offset taxes owed for 2017.

Mining inventory vs. capital assets
When a miner receives coin, it’s revenue. The net income after mining expenses is ordinary income and self-employment income. If the miner converts that coin from mining inventory to a capital asset, subsequent sales or exchanges of that coin are capital gains and losses, not ordinary income or loss. Most coin accounting programs assume a conversion to capital asset treatment takes place. However, a miner may not intend to convert coin to a capital asset, and instead leave the coin in inventory. A subsequent sale or exchange would then be an ordinary gain or loss as part of the mining business.

How to qualify for trader tax status
Are you unsure if you are eligible for TTS? Here are the GreenTraderTax golden rules for qualification based on an analysis of trader tax court cases and years of tax compliance experience.

- Volume: three to four trades per day. Don’t count when the coin exchange breaks down an order into multiple executions.
- Frequency: trade executions on 75% of available trading days. If you trade five days per week, you should have trade orders executed on close to four days per week.
- Holding period: The Endicott court required an average holding period of fewer than 31 days.
- Hours: at least four hours per day, including on research and administration.
- Taxable account size: material to net worth, and at least $15,000 during the year.
-Intention to make a primary or supplemental living. You can have another job or business, too.
- Operations: one or more trading computers with multiple monitors and a dedicated home office.
- Automation: You can count the volume and frequency of a self-created automated trading system, algorithms or bots. If you license the automation from another party, it doesn’t count.
- A trade copying service, using outside investment managers and retirement plan accounts don’t count for TTS.

If you qualify for TTS, claim it by using business expense treatment rather than investment expenses. TTS does not require an election, but 475 does.

In 1997, Congress recognized the growth of online trading when it expanded Section 475 from dealers to traders in securities and commodities. It was when I created GreenTraderTax, urging clients and followers in chat rooms to elect 475 for free tax-loss insurance. When the tech bubble burst in 2000, those that followed my advice were happy to get significant tax refunds on their ordinary business losses with NOL carrybacks. I wish Section 475 were openly available to all TTS coin traders now.

Darren Neuschwander CPA contributed to this blog post.

 


Tax Extensions: 12 Tips To Save You Money

March 5, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

Individual tax returns for 2017 are due April 17, 2018, however, most active traders aren’t ready to file on time. Some brokers issue corrected 1099Bs right up to the deadline, or even beyond. Many partnerships and S-Corps file extensions by March 15, 2018, and don’t issue Schedule K-1s to investors until after April 17. Many securities traders struggle with accounting for wash sale loss adjustments.

The good news is traders don’t have to rush completion of their tax returns by April 17. They should take advantage of a simple one-page automatic extension along with payment of taxes owed to the IRS and state. Most active traders file extensions, and it’s helpful to them on many fronts.

Tip 1: Get a six-month extension of time
Request an automatic six-month extension of time to file individual federal and state income tax returns by Oct. 15, 2018. Form 4868 instructions point out how easy it is to get this automatic extension — no reason is required. It’s an extension of time to file a complete tax return, not an extension of time to pay taxes owed. Estimate and report what you think you owe for 2017 based on your tax information received.

Tip 2: Avoid penalties from the IRS and state for being late
Learn how IRS and state late-filing and late-payment penalties apply so you can avoid or reduce them to your satisfaction. 2017 Form 4868 (Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return) page two states:

“Late Payment Penalty. The late payment penalty is usually ½ of 1% of any tax (other than estimated tax) not paid by April 17, 2018. It is charged for each month or part of a month the tax is unpaid. The maximum penalty is 25%. The late payment penalty won’t be charged if you can show reasonable cause for not paying on time. Attach a statement to your return fully explaining the reason. Don’t attach the statement to Form 4868. You’re considered to have reasonable cause for the period covered by this automatic extension if both of the following requirements have been met. 1. At least 90% of the total tax on your 2017 return is paid on or before the regular due date of your return through withholding, estimated tax payments, or payments made with Form 4868. 2. The remaining balance is paid with your return.

Late Filing Penalty. A late filing penalty is usually charged if your return is filed after the due date (including extensions). The penalty is usually 5% of the amount due for each month or part of a month your return is late. The maximum penalty is 25%. If your return is more than 60 days late, the minimum penalty is $210 (adjusted for inflation) or the balance of the tax due on your return, whichever is smaller. You might not owe the penalty if you have a reasonable explanation for filing late. Attach a statement to your return fully explaining your reason for filing late. Don’t attach the statement to Form 4868.”

Tip 3: File an automatic extension even if you cannot pay
Even if you can’t pay what you estimate you owe, make sure to file the automatic extension form on time by April 17, 2018. It should help avoid the late-filing penalty, which is ten times more than the late-payment penalty. So if you can’t pay in full, you should file your tax return or extension and pay as much as you can.

An example of late-payment and late-filing penalties: Assume your 2017 tax liability estimate is $50,000. Suppose you file an extension by April 17, 2018, but cannot pay any of your tax balance due. You file your actual tax return on the extended due date of Oct. 15, 2018, with full payment. A late-payment penalty applies because you did not pay 90% of your tax liability on April 17, 2018. The late-payment penalty is $1,500 (six months late x 0.5% per month x $50,000). Some traders view a late-payment penalty like a 6% margin loan.

By simply filing the extension on time in the above example, you avoided a late-filing penalty of $11,250 (six months late x 5% per month [25% maximum], less late-payment penalty factor of 2.5% = 22.5%; 22.5% x $50,000 = $11,250). Interest is also charged on taxes paid after April 17, 2018.

Tip 4: Add a payment cushion for Q1 2018 estimated taxes due
Traders with 2018 year-to-date trading gains and significant tax liability in the past year should consider making quarterly estimated tax payments this year to avoid underestimated tax penalties.

I recommend the following strategy for traders and business owners: Overpay your 2017 tax extension on April 17, 2018, and plan to apply an overpayment credit toward Q1 2018 estimated taxes. Most traders don’t make estimated tax payments until Q3 and or Q4 when they have more precise trading results. Why pay estimated taxes for Q1 and Q2 if you incur substantial trading losses later in the year?

It’s a better idea to pay an extra amount for the extension to set yourself up for three good choices: A cushion on 2017 if you underestimated your taxes, an overpayment credit toward 2018 taxes, or a tax refund for 2017 if no 2018 estimated taxes are due.

Tip 5: Consider a 2018 Section 475 MTM election
Traders eligible for trader tax status should consider attaching a 2018 Section 475 election statement to their 2017 tax return or extension. These are due by April 17, 2018, for individuals and corporations and March 15 for partnerships and S-Corps. Section 475 turns capital gains and losses into ordinary gains and losses, thereby avoiding the capital-loss limitation and wash-sale loss adjustments on securities (i.e., tax-loss insurance). Furthermore, the 20% pass-through deduction on qualified business income subject to taxable income limitations applies to Section 475 income. (Read Consider 475 Election By Tax Deadline To Save Thousands and How To Become Eligible For Trader Tax Status Benefits.)

Tip 6: File when it’s more convenient for you
Sophisticated and wealthy taxpayers know the “real” tax deadline is Oct. 15, 2018, for individuals and Sept. 17, 2018, for pass-through entities, including partnership and S-Corp tax returns. Pass-through entities file tax extensions by March 15, 2018. (See March 15 Is Tax Deadline For S-Corp And Partnership Extensions And Elections.)

You don’t have to wait until the last few days of the extension period like most wealthy taxpayers. Try to file your tax return in the summer months.

Tip 7: Be conservative with tax payments
I’ve always advised clients to be aggressive but legal with tax-return filings and look conservative with cash (tax money). Impress the IRS with your patience on overpayment credits and demonstrate you’re not hungry and perhaps overly aggressive to generate tax refunds. It’s a wise strategy for traders to apply overpayment credits toward estimated taxes owed on current-year trading income. You want to look like you’re going to be successful in the current tax year.

The additional time helps build tax positions like qualification for trader tax status in 2017 and 2018. It may open opportunities for new ideas on tax savings. A rushed return does not. For example, a significant trading gain or loss during the summer of 2018 could affect some decision-making about your 2017 tax return.

Tip 8: Get more time to fund qualified retirement plans
The extension also pushes back the deadline for paying money into qualified retirement plans including a Solo 401(k), SEP IRA and defined benefit plan. The deadline for 2017 IRA contributions is April 17, 2018. If you did a Roth IRA conversion in 2017, the extension adds six months of time to recharacterize (unwind) the conversion. That may come in handy if the stock market drops in Q2 and Q3 2018.

Tip 9: Respect the policies of your accountants
Your accountant can prepare extension forms quickly for a nominal additional cost related to that job. There are no fees from the IRS or state for filing extensions. Be sure to give your accountant tax information received and estimates for missing data.

Your accountant begins your tax compliance (preparation) engagement, and he or she cuts it off when seeing a solid draft to use for extension filing purposes. Your accountant will wait for final tax information to arrive after April 17, 2018. Think of the extension as a half-time break. It’s not procrastination; accountants want tax returns finished.

Please don’t overwhelm your tax preparer the last few weeks and days before April 17 with minor details in a rush to file a complete tax return. Accounting firms with high standards of quality have internal deadlines for receiving tax information for completing tax returns. It’s unwise to pressure your accountant, which could lead to mistakes or oversights in a rush to file a complete return at the last minute. That doesn’t serve anyone well.

Tip 10: Securities traders should focus on trade accounting
It doesn’t matter if your capital loss is $50,000 or $75,000 at extension time: Either way, you’ll be reporting a capital loss limitation of $3,000 against other income. In this case, don’t get bogged down with trade accounting and reconciliation with Form 1099Bs until after April 17. The capital loss carryover impacts your decision to elect Section 475 MTM for 2018 by April 17, 2018, but an estimate is sufficient.

Consider wash-sale loss rules on securities: If you know these adjustments won’t change your $3,000 capital loss limitation, you can proceed with your extension filing. But if you suspect wash-sale loss adjustments could lead to reporting capital gains rather than losses, or if you aren’t sure of your capital gains amount, focus your efforts on trade accounting before April 17. (Consider our trade accounting service.)

Section 1256 contract traders can rely on the one-page 1099B showing aggregate profit or loss. Forex traders can depend on the broker’s online tax reports. Wash sales don’t apply to Section 1256 contracts and forex. Cryptocurrency traders should use coin trade accounting programs to generate Form 8949.

Tip 11: Don’t overlook state extensions and payments
Some states don’t require an automatic extension for overpaid returns; they accept the federal extension. If you owe state taxes, you need to file a state extension with payment. States tend to be less accommodating than the IRS in abating penalties, so it’s usually wise to cover your state taxes first if you’re short on cash. Check the extension rules in your state.

Tip 12: U.S. residents abroad should learn the particular rules
U.S. citizens or aliens residing overseas are allowed an automatic two-month extension until June 15, 2018, to file their tax return and pay any amount due without requesting an extension. (See Form 4868 page 2, and the IRS website.)

Bonus Tip: FinCEN grants permanent automatic extensions for FBARs
Over a year ago, “The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced that, to implement the new due date for FinCEN Form 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR), of April 15 (April 18 for 2017), it will automatically grant all taxpayers filing the form a six-month extension every year to Oct. 15 (which will be Oct. 16, 2017, because Oct. 15 is a Sunday). FinCEN explained that this six-month extension will be automatic each year and that taxpayers do not have to request extensions,” per Journal of Accountancy.

Cryptocurrency (coin) is not currency; the IRS labels it “intangible property.” IRS flow charts for what’s reportable on FBAR and or Form 8938 (Statement of Foreign Financial Assets) indicate that intangible property is not reportable on those forms. Some tax attorneys suggest including cryptocurrency held on foreign coin exchanges on FBAR forms to play it safe. FinCEN officials said they are not expecting to see cryptocurrency (“virtual currency”) reported on FBARs for 2017. If a U.S. resident sells cryptocurrency for currency and holds that currency on a foreign coin exchange, that currency is reportable on FBAR. FinCEN recently raised its significant penalty amounts for failure to file FBAR to keep pace with inflation.

 

 

 


March 15 Is Tax Deadline For S-Corp And Partnership Extensions And Elections

March 3, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

March 15, 2018, is the deadline for filing 2017 S-Corp and partnership tax returns, or extensions, 2018 S-Corp elections, and 2018 Section 475 elections. Don’t miss any of these tax filings or elections; it could cost you.

2017 S-Corp and partnership tax extensions
Extensions are easy to prepare and e-file for S-Corps and partnerships since they pass through income and loss to the owner, usually an individual. Pass-through entities are tax-filers, but not taxpayers. 2017 individual and calendar-year C-Corp tax returns or extensions with taxes owed are due April 17, 2018.

Some states have S-Corp franchise taxes, excise taxes, or minimum taxes, and payments are usually due with the extensions by March 15.  LLCs filing as a partnership may have minimum taxes or annual reports due with the extension by March 15.

2017 S-Corp and partnership extensions give six additional months to file a tax return, by Sep. 17, 2018.

The IRS late filing penalty regime for S-Corps and partnerships is similar. The IRS assesses $200 per owner, per month, for a maximum of 12 months. Taxpayers may request penalty abatement based on reasonable cause. Ignoring the extension deadline is not reasonable cause. There is also a $260 penalty for failure to furnish a Schedule K-1 to an owner on time, and the penalty is higher if intentionally disregarded. States assess penalties and interest, often based on payments due.

2018 S-Corp elections
Traders qualifying for trader tax status and interested in employee benefit plan deductions, including health insurance and retirement plan deductions, probably need an S-Corp. They should consider a 2018 S-Corp election for an existing trading entity, due by March 15, 2018, or form a new entity and file an S-Corp election within 75 days of inception. Most states accept the federal S-Corp election, but a few states do not; they require a separate S-Corp election filing by March 15. If you overlooked filing a 2017 S-Corp election by March 15, 2017 and intended to elect S-Corp tax treatment as of that date, you may qualify for IRS relief. (See Late Election Relief.)

2018 Section 475 MTM elections for S-Corps and partnerships
Traders, eligible for trader tax status, should consider attaching a 2018 Section 475 election statement to their 2017 tax return or extension due by March 15, 2018, for partnerships and S-Corps, or by April 17, for individuals and corporations. Section 475 turns capital gains and losses into ordinary gains and losses thereby avoiding the capital loss limitation and wash sale loss adjustments (tax loss insurance). There are also benefits to 475 income: The 20% pass-through deduction on qualified business income subject to taxable income limitations. (Read Consider 475 Election By Tax Deadline To Save Thousands.)

If a trader wants to revoke a prior year Section 475 election, a revocation election statement is due by March 15, 2018. (See New IRS Rules Allow Free And Easy Section 475 Revocation.)

Tax compliance services
Green, Neuschwander & Manning LLC offers tax compliance services to traders, which include tax preparation and tax planning. If you haven’t signed up yet for our entity and individual service, do so immediately, so we can prepare your extensions and consider the above elections on time. Alternatively, discuss the above matters with Robert A. Green, CPA in a consultation.

 


Consider 475 Election By Tax Deadline To Save Thousands

February 27, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

Traders, eligible for trader tax status, should consider attaching a 2018 Section 475 election statement to their 2017 tax return or extension due by April 17, 2018, for individuals, or by March 15 for partnerships and S-Corps. Section 475 turns capital gains and losses into ordinary gains and losses thereby avoiding the capital loss limitation and wash sale loss adjustments (tax loss insurance). There are benefits to 475 income, too.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act ushered in a new 20% pass-through deduction on qualified business income, which likely includes Section 475 ordinary income, but excludes capital gains. Trading is a specified service activity, requiring the owner have taxable income under a threshold of $315,000 married or $157,500 for other taxpayers. There is a phase-out range above the limit of $100,000 married and $50,000 other taxpayers. (See How Traders Can Get The 20% QBI Deduction Under New Law.)

Ordinary losses are better than capital losses
The most significant problem for investors and traders occurs when they’re unable to deduct trading losses on tax returns, significantly increasing tax bills or missing opportunities for tax refunds. Investors are stuck with this problem, but business traders with trader tax status (TTS) can avoid it by filing timely elections for business ordinary tax-loss treatment: Section 475 mark-to-market (MTM) for securities and/or commodities.

By default, securities and Section 1256 investors are stuck with capital-loss treatment, meaning they’re limited to a $3,000 net capital loss against ordinary income. The problem is that their trading losses may be much higher and not used as a tax deduction in the current tax year. Capital losses first offset capital gains in full without restriction. After the $3,000 loss limitation against other income is applied, the rest is carried over to the following tax years. Many traders wind up with little money to trade and unused capital losses. It can take a lifetime to use up their capital loss carryovers. What an unfortunate waste! Why not get a tax refund from using Section 475 MTM right away?

Business traders qualifying for TTS have the option to elect Section 475 MTM accounting with ordinary gain or loss treatment in a timely fashion. When traders have negative taxable income generated from business losses, Section 475 accounting classifies them as net operating losses (NOLs). Caution: Individual business traders who miss the Section 475 MTM election date (April 15 for the current tax year) can’t claim business ordinary-loss treatment for the current tax year and will be stuck with capital-loss carryovers.

A new entity set up after April 15 can deliver Section 475 MTM for the rest of the current tax year on trading losses generated in the entity account if it files an internal Section 475 MTM election within 75 days of inception. This election does not change the character of capital loss treatment on the individual accounts before or after its creation. The entity is meant to be a fix for going forward; it’s not a means to clean up the past problems of capital loss treatment.

Ordinary trading losses can offset all types of income (wages, portfolio income, and capital gains) on a joint filing, whereas capital losses only offset capital gains. Plus, business expenses and business ordinary trading losses comprise an NOL, which can be carried back two tax years and/or forward 20 tax years (for 2017). It doesn’t matter if you are a trader or not in a carryback or carryforward year. Business ordinary trading loss treatment is the most significant contributor to federal and state tax refunds for traders.

Starting in 2018, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act repealed the two-year NOL carryback, except for certain farming losses and casualty and disaster insurance companies. NOLs are carried forward indefinitely, and 2018 and subsequent-year NOLs are limited to 80% of taxable income.

There are many nuances and misconceptions about Section 475 MTM, and it’s essential to learn the rules. For example, you’re entitled to contemporaneously segregate investment positions that aren’t subject to Section 475 MTM treatment, meaning at year-end, you can defer unrealized gains on adequately segregated investments. You can have the best of both worlds — ordinary tax losses on business trading and deferral with lower long-term capital gains tax rates on segregated investment positions. I recommend electing Section 475 on securities only, to retain lower 60/40 capital gains rates on Section 1256 contracts. Far too many accountants and traders confuse TTS and Section 475; they are two different things, yet very connected.

Mark-to-market accounting
Section 475 MTM reports year-end unrealized gains and losses. Marked-to-market means you must impute sales for all open trading business positions at year-end using year-end prices. Many traders have no open business positions at year-end, anyway. You’re reporting realized and unrealized gains and losses, similar to Section 1256 which has MTM built in by default – but don’t confuse Section 1256 with Section 475.

It’s entirely different with Section 1256 contracts where the tax-loss insurance premium is expensive. Electing Section 475 on Section 1256 means you give up the lower Section 1256 60/40 tax rates in exchange for ordinary income rates. There are more nuances to consider as well.

Suitable for securities traders
I coined the term “tax-loss insurance” for Section 475 because if your trading house burns down, you can deduct Section 475 trading losses right away and get a huge tax break (refund or lower tax bill). It’s a free insurance premium on securities because short-term capital gains use ordinary tax rates in the same manner as Section 475 MTM. But, Section 475 losses might generate immediate tax benefits (insurance recovery) whereas capital losses do not.

Securities traders should usually elect Section 475 MTM unless they already have significant capital-loss carryovers. You can’t offset MTM ordinary trading gains with capital-loss carryovers. On the other hand, if a trader generates sizeable new trading losses before April 17, 2018, he or she might prefer to elect Section 475 MTM for 2018 by that sole proprietor election date to have business ordinary-loss treatment retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018. The trader can form a new entity afterward for a “do over” to use capital gains treatment and get back on track with using up capital loss carryovers. Alternatively, the trader can revoke the Section 475 election in the subsequent tax year.

And often not advised for 1256 contracts
Section 1256 contract traders should usually not elect Section 475 to retain the lower 60/40 tax rates. Section 475 would override Section 1256 and subject trading gains to the short-term ordinary tax rate. With Section 1256, 60% of trading gains are considered long-term capital gains — even on day trades — taxed at lower tax rates (up to 20% in 2018), and 40% are short-term capital gains taxed at ordinary tax rates (up to 37% in 2018). The maximum 60/40 blended rate for 2018 is 26.8%, a meaningful 11.2% difference with ordinary rates. There are significant savings throughout the tax brackets.

Investors and business traders may elect to carry back Form 6781 trading losses three tax years, but it’s only applied against Section 1256 contract trading gains on Form 6781, not other types of income.

If you trade Section 1256 contracts and lose a bundle before the election deadline, you may want to elect Section 475, especially if you don’t have the opportunity to carry back Section 1256 contract trading losses against gains in the prior three tax years. Why not take the chance to lock in a sizeable ordinary business loss? You can revoke Section 475 on Section 1256 contracts in the following year by the tax return due date to get back into lower 60/40 tax treatment on Section 1256 contracts.

Exchange-traded notes (ETNs) cannot use Section 475
ETNs are not securities or commodities and are therefore not covered under a Section 475 election. When the VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX ST ETN (Nasdaq: XIV) significantly dropped in value in early February 2018, during a market correction, many traders incurred substantial trading losses in this and other volatility ETNs. They are dismayed to learn a Section 475 election doesn’t apply to ETNs, and they must use capital loss treatment. ETNs are also not subject to wash sale loss rules for securities.

Cryptocurrencies might be able to use Section 475
Currently, the IRS labels cryptocurrencies (coin) intangible property — not securities or commodities — so that means it likely doesn’t qualify for Section 475 treatment. Many cryptocurrency traders had massive capital gains in 2017, and some of them suffered substantial trading losses in Q1 2018. They would like to use Section 475 ordinary loss treatment for 2018.

Due to recent SEC and CFTC statements calling coin a security and commodity, respectively, I hope the IRS changes its tune. The IRS issued its initial guidance in March 2014, well before regulators made new statements. (Stay tuned for my upcoming blog post “Cryptocurrency traders are eligible for trader tax status benefits.”)

Don’t assume you can deduct trading losses. Unless you are eligible for trader tax status, make a timely Section 475 election, and can use it on the financial products you trade, you might get no immediate tax benefits on capital losses. In 2018, there’s an excellent reason for profitable traders to elect Section 475; the 20% pass-through deduction on qualified business income, which likely includes 475 ordinary income.

This blog post is a modified excerpt from Green’s 2018 Trader Tax Guide. The guide contains information on the Section 475 election procedures, Form 3115, Section 481(a) adjustments, revocation elections, examples for decision-making, and more. There is no room for making errors with a Section 475 election.


How Traders Can Get The 20% QBI Deduction Under New Law

January 12, 2018 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA | Read it on

Like many small business owners, traders eligible for trader tax status (TTS) are considering to restructure their business for 2018 to take maximum advantage of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (Act). Two tax benefits catch their eye: The 20% deduction on pass-through qualified business income (QBI), and the C-Corp 21% flat tax rate.

The 20% QBI deduction
There are two components for obtaining a 20% deduction on QBI in a pass-through business.

1. QBI: I’ve made some excellent arguments over the past few months in my blog posts for including Section 475 ordinary income for TTS traders in QBI, but the Act did not expressly confirm that position. I am confident that Section 475 is part of QBI, so consider that election for 2018. The law only counts QBI from domestic sources, which may mean trading activity in U.S. markets, but not foreign markets and exchanges.

I’ve also suggested that TTS “business-related” capital gains should be includible in QBI since the Act excludes “investment-related” short-term and long-term capital gains. For now, I assume the IRS may reject all capital gains.

2. SSA vs. non-SSA: Assuming a TTS trader has QBI on Section 475 MTM ordinary income, the calculation depends on whether the business is a specified service activity (SSA) or not. I’ve made some arguments on why a trading business could be a non-SSA but based on the new tax law, TTS traders should assume their business is an SSA.

For example, if a TTS trader has 2018 taxable income under the SSA threshold of $157,500 single and $315,000 married, and assuming the trader has Section 475 ordinary income, then the trader would get a 20% deduction on either QBI or taxable income less net capital gains (whichever is lower). The 20% deduction is phased out above the SSA threshold by $50,000 single and $100,000 married. If taxable income is $416,000, above the phase-out range, the married couple gets no QBI deduction at all.

A QBI deduction is on page two of the Form 1040; it’s not an adjusted gross income (AGI) deduction or a business expense from gross income.

An owner of a non-SSA business, like a manufacturer, is entitled to the 20% deduction without a taxable income limitation, although there is a 50% wage limitation, or alternative 25% wage limitation with 2.5% qualified property factor, above the SSA income threshold. (See Traders Should Be Entitled To The Pass-Through Tax Deduction.)

TTS trading with Section 475 ordinary income
TTS is a hybrid concept: It gives “ordinary and necessary” business expenses (Section 162). A trader in securities and or commodities (Section 1256 contracts) eligible for TTS may elect Section 475(f) mark-to-market (MTM)) accounting, which converts capital gains and losses into ordinary gains and losses.

Steven Rosenthal, Senior Fellow, Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, weighed in for my prior blog post and again recently: “Section 475 treats the gain as ordinary income,” he says. “Section 64 provides that gain that is ordinary income shall not be treated as gain from the sale of a capital asset.” Mr. Rosenthal thinks Section 475 ordinary income is QBI under the new tax law for this reason and “because it’s not on the QBI exclusion list.” Rosenthal pointed out there is no statutory definition of “business income.”

In the new law, QBI excludes a list of investment items including short- and long-term capital gains and losses. I don’t see how an IRS agent could construe Section 475 ordinary income as capital gains.

I look forward to the Congressional analysis in the”Blue Book” for the General Explanation of the Act — hopefully, this will shed further light on my questions. Some traders may prefer to wait for IRS regulations on these Act provisions and other types of IRS guidance. Hopefully, big law firms will form a consensus opinion on this issue for their hedge fund clients, soon.

Congress may not have envisioned the pass-through deduction for hedge funds and TTS trading companies, and they may fix things through interpretation or technical correction to prevent that outcome.

Trading in a C-Corp could be costly
Don’t only focus on the federal 21% flat tax rate on the C-Corp level; there are plenty of other taxes, including capital gains taxes on qualified dividends, potential accumulated earnings tax, a possible personal holding company tax penalty, and state corporate taxes in 44 states.

If you pay qualified dividends, there will be double taxation with capital gains taxes on the individual level — capital gains rates are 0%, 15% or 20%. If you avoid paying dividends, the IRS might assess a 20% accumulated earnings tax (AET). If you have trading losses, significant passive income, interest, and dividends, it could trigger personal holding company status with a 20% tax penalty. (See my blog post How To Decide If A C-Corp Is Right For Your Trading Business.)

How to proceed
For 2018, TTS traders should consider a partnership or S-Corp for business expenses, and a Section 475 election on securities for exemption from wash sale losses and ordinary loss treatment (tax loss insurance). Consider a TTS S-Corp for employee benefit plan deductions including health insurance and a high-deductible retirement plan, since a TTS spousal partnership or TTS sole proprietor cannot achieve these deductions. Consider this the cake.It puts you in position to potentially qualify for a 20% QBI deduction on Section 475 or Section 988 ordinary income in a TTS trading pass-through entity – icing on the cake. If a TTS trader’s taxable income is under the specified service activity (SSA) threshold of $315,000 (married), and $157,500 (other taxpayers), he or she should get the 20% QBI deduction in partnerships or S-Corps. Within the phase-out range above the threshold, $100,000 (married) and $50,000 (other taxpayers), a partial deduction. QBI likely includes Section 475 and Section 988 ordinary income and excludes capital gains (Section 1256 contracts and cryptocurrencies). It might be a challenge for a TTS sole proprietor to claim the pass-through deduction because Schedule C has trading expenses only; trading gains are on other tax forms.

I suggest you consult with me about these issues soon.

Darren Neuschwander, CPA, and Roger Lorence, Esq., contributed to this post. 


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