The IRS just issued bitcoin guidance stating that it is considered property, not a currency.
That’s good news for taxpayers with huge gains on using, investing or trading bitcoin, since it receives capital gains treatment and if they held it over one year, the lower long-term capital gains tax rate applies.
Conversely, it’s bad news for those with large losses, with the recent price of bitcoin dropping significantly. According to the IRS guidance, bitcoin does not receive Section 988 ordinary loss treatment, which is unlimited; instead, it’s capital-loss treatment is limited to $3,000 per year.
The IRS guidance stresses a point — widely overlooked by many taxpayers — that using bitcoin to purchase an item or service triggers capital gain or loss recognition reflecting appreciation or depreciation of bitcoin. Compare the market price on the date bitcoin is used to make a purchase vs. the market price on the date you acquired that bitcoin, and the difference is a capital gain or loss on property. Few people or companies have filed Form 1099s on these transactions, as may be required, and taxpayers will have to scurry around to figure their cost basis and sales proceeds on each purchase where they used bitcoin as a digital currency. See the example of buying a cup of coffee with bitcoin in the Bloomberg article Bitcoin Is Property Not Currency in Tax System, IRS Says. The WSJ articles IRS Says Bitcoin Is Property, Not Currency and Q&A: The New IRS Rules on Bitcoin are good too.
Having to report a capital gain or loss on each purchase using bitcoin will have a chilling effect on bitcoin reaching its goal to be a widely used digital currency. Who wants to spend 30 minutes or more figuring out their capital gain or loss for a simple $3 cup of coffee? And who wants to risk getting audited by the IRS over bitcoin tax reporting to boot?
See the IRS Notice 201421 which includes many good FAQs that may strike a cord with taxpayers.