After much buildup and preparation, the Ethereum Merge went smoothly this month. The next test will come during tax season. Cryptocurrency forks, such as Bitcoin Cash, have created headaches for investors and accountants alike in the past.
While there has been progress, the United States Internal Revenue Service rules still weren’t ready for something like the Ethereum network upgrade. Nonetheless, there seems to be an interpretation of IRS rules that tax professionals and taxpayers can adopt to achieve simplicity and avoid unexpected tax bills.
How Bitcoin Cash broke 2017 tax returns
Because of a disagreement over block size, Bitcoin forked in 2017. Everyone who held Bitcoin received an equal amount of the new forked currency, Bitcoin Cash (BCH). But when they received it caused some issues.
Bitcoin Cash was first issued in the fall but didn’t hit Coinbase or other major exchanges until December. By that time, it had gone up significantly in value. For tax purposes, receiving free coins is income. Suddenly, many investors had a lot of income to claim that they hadn’t anticipated.
Many crypto-savvy accountants advised clients to claim the value of Bitcoin Cash when it was issued, not when it finally arrived in their exchange accounts. No IRS guideline explicitly said this was OK — in fact, it runs contrary to the accounting principle of dominion and control — but it seemed like the only reasonable way to handle the issue.
Airdropped proof-of-work ETH is another gray area
As a result of the problems with reporting income from Bitcoin Cash, the IRS issued Revenue Ruling 2019-24 to address the treatment of blockchain forks. According to the ruling, forks that result in the airdrop of a new currency to an existing holder are taxable accessions to wealth. While not the usage of “airdrop” most investors are used to, the IRS uses the term to describe when the holder of an existing cryptocurrency receives a new currency from a fork.