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IRS sends letters to 10,000+ cryptocurrency users urging them to pay taxes

The Internal Revenue Service has started sending letters to over 10,000 taxpayers who own virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, advising them to pay back taxes on any income they failed to report.

The IRS announced on Friday that it began sending the educational letters to taxpayers last week. More than 10,000 taxpayers are expected to receive the letters by the end of August. The IRS obtained the names of the taxpayers through various ongoing compliance efforts. For example, the IRS filed a John Doe summons with Coinbase, one of the largest Bitcoin and Ethereum exchanges in the U.S., in 2016, to obtain the names of all its users, although it later limited the probe to those who engaged in transactions of $20,000 or more (see IRS scales back Coinbase investigation).

There are three different types of letter being sent to taxpayers, but all three versions aim to help taxpayers understand their tax and filing obligations and how to correct previous errors. The letters also tell taxpayers where they can find relevant information on the IRS website, including which forms and schedules to use and where to send them.

"Taxpayers should take these letters very seriously by reviewing their tax filings and when appropriate, amend past returns and pay back taxes, interest and penalties," said IRS commissioner Chuck Rettig in a statement. "The IRS is expanding our efforts involving virtual currency, including increased use of data analytics. We are focused on enforcing the law and helping taxpayers fully understand and meet their obligations."

Last year, the IRS announced a Virtual Currency Compliance campaign to deal with tax noncompliance related to virtual currency by doing more outreach and examinations of taxpayers. The IRS intends to stay actively engaged in addressing noncompliance related to crypto transactions through various efforts, ranging from taxpayer education to audits to criminal investigations. Virtual currency is also an ongoing focus area for the IRS Criminal Investigation unit.

Accountants and tax practitioners can help any cryptocurrency-using clients who have been contacted by the IRS. “The IRS and additional government authorities continue to focus on cryptocurrency transactions, and the tax reporting by investors engaged in such transactions,” said Tim Speiss, partner-in-charge of the Personal Wealth Advisors Group at EisnerAmper in New York. “Tax professionals have also been striving to assist investors with the proper federal and state tax reporting rules. The proper tax reporting of these transactions can be very complex. Therefore, assisting investors and taxpayers so they are in compliance with reporting rules is critical in assisting them to avoid potential penalties and interest attributable to non-reporting.”

Back in 2014, the IRS issued Notice 2014-21, which said that virtual currency is property for federal tax purposes and offered guidance on how general federal tax principles apply to virtual currency transactions. Compliance efforts follow these general tax principles, but the IRS has also been looking to update the guidance, as the cryptocurrency market has grown dramatically in recent years. The IRS plans to continue to consider and solicit feedback from both taxpayers and tax practitioners on its education efforts and future guidance.

The IRS said it anticipates issuing additional legal guidance in this area in the near future. In the meantime, taxpayers who don’t properly report the income tax consequences of digital currency transactions could be liable for tax, penalties and interest, and in some cases, may even be subject to criminal prosecution.

More information on virtual currencies can be found on IRS.gov.

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