Bitcoin is usually described as virtual currency. That’s useful shorthand, but is it really money? And should it be taxed as if it is? Or is it a capital asset? How about a commodity? Or what about a collectible? Most commentators have viewed bitcoins either as a virtual type of currency or capital asset. However, the potential still exists that the IRS could argue that bitcoins do not satisfy the main functions of money and acts more like a stamp or other collectible than a currency.
In Notice 2014-21, the IRS stated that it would tax digital money such as bitcoin like property, not currency. On March 25, 2014, the IRS issued Notice 2014-21, which for the first time set forth the IRS position on the taxation of bitcoins. According to the IRS, “Virtual currency is treated as property for U.S. federal tax purposes," the notice said. "General tax principles that apply to property transactions apply to transactions using virtual currency." By treating bitcoins as property and not currency, the IRS is providing a potential boost to investors but it is also imposing extensive record-keeping rules—and significant taxes—on its use. In a notice, the IRS said that it generally would treat bitcoin held by investors much like stock or other intangible property. If the virtual currency is held for investment, any gains would be treated as capital gains, meaning they could be subject to lower tax rates. The top long-term capital gains tax rate is 20%, while the top ordinary income-tax rate is 39.6%, although add-on taxes often make both rates somewhat higher. But as capital investments, loss deductions from bitcoin often would be limited, whereas currency losses can be easier to deduct up front.
The IRS guidance in Notice 2014-21 targets a new crop of digital currencies used by a small number of merchants, consumers and investors. Bitcoin, the best-known of the group, is created using a computer process and can be exchanged for dollars online.
Although IRS Notice 2014-21 did not address whether bitcoins would be considered an approved investment for retirement purposes, the fact that the Notice is treating bitcoins as property, like stock, and not as a collectible, it should be clear bitcoin is an approved investment for IRAs and would not violate IRC 408(m).
For many retirement investors, the investment in bitcoins via a Self-Directed IRA LLC could prove a very tax efficient manner for transacting with bicoins as use of bitcoin in a retail transaction typically would be a taxable "event" for many buyers, requiring them to figure out the gain they had made on the virtual currency—and eventually pay tax on it, whereas, the gains would likely not be subject to tax with retirement funds. However, the IRS stated in the Notice that bitcoin "miners"—including people who use computers to validate bitcoin transactions or maintain transaction ledgers—also would be subject to tax on payments received in bitcoin and that "mining" that constitutes a trade or business would be subject to self-employment taxes. Accordingly, dealers in bitcoin—much like dealers in other types of property—would be subject to different tax principles than individual investors, and their gains generally would be taxed as ordinary income.
Notice 2014-21 is important because it sets forth some clarity by the IRS about the tax treatment of virtual currencies, but it also raised new questions, such as what government body would be in charge of regulation, as well as if purchased via a Self-Directed IRA, how would the currency be held by an IRA custodian.
With IRA Financial Trust’s self-directed retirement plans, retirement account investors have the ability to make traditional as well as alternative asset investments, such as real estate and bitcoins, in a tax-deferred or tax-free basis.