What Are The Tax Implications Of Buying, Selling, And Using Bitcoin?

What Are The Tax Implications Of Buying, Selling, And Using Bitcoin

As cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin rise in popularity globally, governments continue clarifying tax policies for holders and investors. Unfortunately, many crypto buyers often overlook tax obligations which can lead to penalties down the road.  So what exactly are the key tax rules around buying, selling, and spending Bitcoin that holders should keep in mind?

Why is Cryptocurrency Taxed?

First, it’s essential to understand why Bitcoin and other decentralized digital assets face taxes at all. Despite operating independently from centralized financial systems, cryptocurrencies are treated as property or investment assets under current regulations in the United States and many other developed economies.

Just like stocks or real estate, the IRS categorizes crypto holdings as capital assets. This means you incur capital gains taxes when selling at a profit based on value appreciation. Additionally, spending cryptocurrency gets treated as a sale of property triggering taxes as well. Any crypto transactions from buying to spending thus create a potential tax liability.

Tax Treatment for Buying Bitcoin

Tax Treatment for Buying Bitcoin

When initially purchasing Bitcoin or receiving it through mining or other methods, this does not immediately trigger a tax. Cryptocurrency only incurs taxes when sold not while held. However, documenting acquisition value, date, and method still matters for future capital gains calculations down the road.

Third-party services exist to track tax lots of Bitcoin stored in your personal Bitcoin wallet across multiple transactions. Otherwise, manual record-keeping proves essential to preserve data on how much someone originally paid for their overall Bitcoin stash. Failing to establish a clear cost basis for Bitcoin holdings complicates future tax preparation.

Selling Bitcoin Taxes

The most topical tax event for most crypto investors involves selling Bitcoin for a fiat currency like USD or trading it for other cryptocurrencies. In the eyes of the IRS, this qualifies as realizing a taxable capital gain if the sale price exceeds the original purchase value. The capital gain equals the sale value less cost basis and qualifies as taxable income.

If someone sells Bitcoin at a lower price than their purchase value, however, this constitutes a capital loss. Taxpayers can use investment capital losses to offset taxes owed on capital gains from other assets. Specific Crypto sale losses cannot reduce standard taxable income limits. However, capital loss carryovers can apply to future years’ tax returns in some cases.

Tax Rates on Capital Gains

The rate at which capital gains from selling Bitcoin get taxed depends on a taxpayer’s total annual income. Short-term gains for assets held less than a year fall under standard annual income rates up to 37% federally. Long-term gains tax rates ranging from 0-20% apply for assets held over a year depending on specific income level and filing status. A level of tax-exempt income also exists per filer. State taxes add further complexity in certain jurisdictions.

Spending Bitcoin Tax Implications

Spending Bitcoin Tax Implications

Using Bitcoin as an actual currency to purchase goods and services also represents a taxable event per IRS policy. Paying someone in Bitcoin requires the spender to calculate gains or losses based on the asset’s fair market value at the time and adjust taxable income accordingly.

In practice, this creates accounting headaches for frequent Bitcoin transactors relative to fiat currencies. Various software tools exist to automatically track spending gains and losses. However, taxpayers still need to record that data and store documentation backing up historical coin value during each purchase for audit protection.

Tax Reduction Opportunities

Thankfully, certain scenarios can help legally reduce or defer the tax impact from Bitcoin transactions through careful planning and advantage of mechanisms like:

Charitable Donations – Donating appreciated Bitcoin directly to tax-exempt charities eliminates the capital gains tax that would apply if first selling the coins. This allows the full market value to benefit the recipient charity.

Tax-Advantaged Retirement Accounts – Certain IRA vehicles allow the inclusion of cryptos like Bitcoin to defer taxes until funds get withdrawn later in retirement. These create smart options for long-term holders.

Inheritance Planning – Bequeathing Bitcoin to heirs via one’s estate enables them to inherit the asset at its current value for tax purposes. This resets tax obligations and eliminates prior unrealized gains.

Losses Harvesting – Strategically realizing losses on portions of Bitcoin holdings has the aforementioned effect of offsetting gains recognized elsewhere for a given tax year.


The advent of decentralized digital money introduces unprecedented considerations for governments taxing novel forms of transactional activity. Unfamiliarity breeds oversight risk. But simple recordkeeping around purchase dates and cost basis and selecting advantageous accounting methods helps optimize and legitimize Bitcoin ownership from a tax perspective through vehicles like Bitcoin wallets. With some prudent planning, both crypto holders and tax authorities can feel at ease with the taxation of our increasingly digital economy.