For investors whose first time investing in bitcoin was in 2018 or after late 2017, there is a high likelihood that they have incurred substantial losses for the fiscal year of 2018 if they haven’t sold yet. On December 17, 2017, bitcoin hit an all-time high at over $19,000. Thereafter, it has fallen over 80 percent and now hovers at around $4,000 at the time of writing. While losing money is never the end goal, there are certain measures investors can take in order to minimize their taxable income by utilizing their capital losses incurred from bitcoin during the current year and going forward.
Before diving into what measures can be taken, it is first necessary to address how the regulatory bodies who set these precedences view bitcoin and similar assets. Although this piece is centered on the U.S. regulatory requirements applied to bitcoin, it is worth noting that many other countries have similar regulations internationally.
Bitcoin Is Property
According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), bitcoin is considered personal property. As such, any tax laws applicable to the sale of a house or car, or more similarly, a security, will also apply to the digital currency.
Specifically, the IRS refers to taxes levied on the sale of an asset as capital gains tax, for which there are two types. Long-term capital gains tax applies to profits on assets held over a year, while short-term capital gains taxes apply to assets held for less than a year. Short-term capital gains are taxed at the same rate as an individual’s ordinary income tax rate, which in 2018 was somewhere between 10 percent and 37 percent, depending on your level of income. On the other hand, in 2018, the long-term capital gains tax rates are either 0 percent, 15 percent or 20 percent. The applicable rate used for the calculation is dependent on the level of income.
However, in this article we are discussing the opposite of gains, as there are probably very few who profited in 2018’s bear market. Capital gains tax rates are relevant to taxing profits but not losses. The good news is the IRS allows individuals to lower their taxable income by applying these losses.
If You Sold Your Bitcoin at a Loss
Plenty of people bought bitcoin during the bull run last year. Some “bought the dip” at various points on the way back down, only to see the price slide even lower. And many discouraged investors sold their BTC at a loss along the way. For those short-term investors, there is the opportunity to claim back some of those losses.
Similarly, if an investor bought bitcoin any time between late September (the last time prices were this low) and December of 2017, it is likely they have losses for 2018 that can be used to lower their taxable income if they choose to sell now. This would lower the amount of taxes they will owe from the given year, as long as the asset isn’t bought back within 30 days (i.e. wash sale).
According to the IRS, the maximum amount by which an individual can offset their taxable income for a single year is $3,000. But, if an investor lost more than $3,000, the remaining losses can be carried over to following years up to $3,000 per year.
As an example, if an investor bought 1 BTC in late December at $17,000 and sold it at $4,000 today, they would recognize a loss of $13,000. The investor, who is assumed to have regular taxable income, can reduce their 2018 taxable income by a maximum of $3,000. The remaining unused portion of the capital loss in this situation is $10,000. The IRS allows $3,000 of that leftover $10,000 to be carried over into the next year to offset any capital gains that may be recognized at the end of 2019.
The Case for Hodling
While selling bitcoin at a loss could reduce taxable income in the short term, many proponents of bitcoin would be quick to point out that the case for holding onto the digital asset is much stronger than selling for such a marginal and temporary opportunity to save a few dollars in taxes.
There are many who believe that bitcoin will eventually become a store of value, or sound money, and that the best days of bitcoin’s price are yet to come.
However, it is unpredictable when, or even if, bitcoin will accomplish this feat. Because it is impossible to predict the short-term price movement of bitcoin, it could be argued that the case for holding for a very long time (commonly referred to as HODLing) points toward a much higher future price of bitcoin that would make selling today, for a relatively small, offsettable loss, a much greater loss in years to come.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute tax advice. As always, contact a tax professional to be sure that you are acting in compliance with your local tax laws.
Michael is passionate about the rise of Bitcoin and the downfall of the largest fiscal experiment in human history. You can follow him on Twitter @taiberg.