Taxation

Ca. Tax Lawyer 2016, VOLUME 25, NUMBER 1

Bitcoin: Property or Currency?1

By Greg Zbylut and Paul McCullum2

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

In 2009, a novel and disruptive financial instrument arrived in the digital era – Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a virtual or digital currency, sometimes called a crypto-currency.

This piece discusses some of the limitations and problems with current treatment of Bitcoin for tax purposes as property and proposes that Bitcoin and virtual currencies be treated as currencies for tax purposes. Property treatment is troublesome and incongruent for a digital mode of payment. Property treatment requires cumbersome and onerous record-keeping requirements for a technology used to pay for goods and services. This requires unduly burdensome calculation of capital gains and losses for simple transactions, and applies punitive loss limitations. Additionally, property treatment allows for taxpayer gaming, including risk of price manipulation to minimize tax burdens and the potential for wash sales.

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