How Are Cryptocurrencies Taxed?

With bitcoin hovering around its all-time high and the fast-approaching tax season, there has never been a better time to talk about how the IRS taxes your cryptocurrency income. 

IRS Treats Cryptocurrency As Property

Cryptocurrencies are treated as property per the IRS Notice 2014-21. Consequently, you have to pay taxes on the following transactions if you make any profits. (Losses are deductible on your taxes subject to certain limitations and exceptions)

Selling Cryptocurrency Into USD (Cashing Out)

Say you purchased 1 bitcoin (BTC) for $4,000 in January 2020 and sold it for $20,000 in December 2020. Your profit from this transaction is $16,000 ($20,000 – $4,000). This $16,000 is considered short-term capital gains because you only held your coin for less than 12 months. Consequently, $16,000 will be taxed as ordinary income and subject to your income tax bracket which ranges from 10% to 37%.

Alternatively, if you were to sell the BTC after holding it for more than 12 months, the $16,000 profit will be subject to long-term capital gains which offer you more favorable tax rates (0%, 15%, or a maximum 20%).

Buying Cryptocurrency Using Another Cryptocurrency (Or A Crypto-to-crypto trade)

Say you purchased 1 BTC using 40 ether (ETH) valued at $40,000. You purchased this ETH a few years ago for $10,000. During this transaction, a profit of $30,000 ($40,000 – $10,000) will be subject to capital gain taxes. Here, the logic is that by the time you spend 40 ETH to purchase 1 BTC, your wealth has increased by $30,000. This IRS taxes this delta. Receiving cash or not is irrelevant for tax purposes (A15).

Note that buying cryptocurrency using USD is not a taxable event. 

Earning, Mining, Or Staking Cryptocurrency

Earning cryptocurrency via compensation or a revenue stream similar to interest income, mining income, and staking income are taxed as ordinary income, at the time of the receipt.  


Say you earned 1 BTC as interest (or mining or staking income for this matter). At the time of the receipt, this is worth $10,000. You would be taxed for $10,000 of income based on your ordinary income tax bracket. Say you later sold this coin for $18,000. Here, the delta of $8,000 ($18,000 – $10,000) will be taxed as capital gains. 

Cryptocurrency Airdrops & Hard Forks

Finally, based on IRS Rev. Rul. 2019-24, cryptocurrency received through airdrops and hard forks are taxed at the time of receipt, as ordinary income. Ex:- Spark and $UNI airdrop occurred in 2020. It’s quite common to see that the coin value going down after you receive the airdrop. Unfortunately, you can not get any tax relief for this unless you sell the coin to claim the loss. 

Disclaimer: This post is informational only and is not intended as tax advice. For tax advice, please consult a tax professional


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