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Federal Income Taxation of Currency Miners, Stakers and Delegates

Author: John Cunningham, McLane Middleton, P.A.

His practice is focused on  LLC law and tax and on advising clients on how to maximize the federal income tax deductions potentially available  to them under Internal Revenue Code section 199A.  The link to his website is www.llc199A.com.

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I. INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY  

As readers will know, miners are persons who verify data in cryptocurrency databases and other  virtual currency databases and seek to ensure the security of these databases. Many miners are  business entities; some are individuals. All of them that are subject to federal income taxation,  including both U.S. citizens and non-citizens, must pay federal income tax, and, in many cases,  Social Security Taxes, on payments they receive for their mining, since the IRS views these  payments as property. Needless to say, these payments must be in U.S. dollars.  

This Overview summarizes the federal tax rules that, according to the Internal Revenue Service,  are applicable to miners on the above payments. The federal tax rules set forth here also apply in  general to receipts and payments by virtual currency stakers and delegates. I have also written  articles for the Lukka Library on the availability special tax deduction (up to 20% of their  “qualified business income”) for miners, stakers and delegates. Section 199A of the Internal  Revenue Code grants this special deduction where its requirements are met.  

The principal sources for the federal income tax discussion below are IRS Notice 2014-2, 2014- 16 I.R.B. 938 (PDF); an IRS October 9, 2019 publication entitled “Frequently Asked Questions  on Virtual Currency Transactions”; and Rev. Rul. 2019-24, 2019-44 IRB 1004.

II. THE FEDERAL INCOME TAXATION OF PAYMENTS AND RECEIPTS OF  VIRTUAL CURRENCY AS PAYMENT FOR MINING SERVICES  

1) Basic rule: virtual currency is property. As indicated above, the IRS views the virtual  currency paid or received for mining services by miners subject to U.S. federal income tax as  property, and it applies essentially the same federal tax rules to these payments and receipts  as to payments and receipts to taxpayers of any other form of property for any other type of  service.  

Some argue that mining for virtual currency should be treated in the same manner as mining  for precious metals. In such instances, the miner is not taxed when they discover the  precious metal. Rather, they are taxed when they sell it.  

2) Tax character of receipts of virtual currency. The virtual currency received by individuals  and entities for their mining services must be reported by them as ordinary income.  

3) Virtual currency disclosure requirement in Form 1040. The first line of the current draft of  IRS Form 1040, Schedule 1 (“Additional Income and Adjustments to Income”) contains the  following question, which must be answered by checking boxes marked “yes” and “no.” 

At any time during 2019, did you receive, sell, send, exchange or otherwise acquire any  financial interest in any virtual currency?  

If a miner has in fact received such an interest during 2019 as a payment for mining services  but answers “no” to the question or fails to answer it in his or her Form 1040, this may  trigger an IRS audit, an IRS deficiency notice, interest, penalties and/or criminal sanctions.  

4) The duty to value receipts and payments of virtual currency. As with payments and receipts  by them of any other form of property for services, miners must determine the value of the  virtual currency that they pay or receive on the date of the payment or receipt, and the basis  for this valuation must be the fair market value of the virtual currency in U.S. dollars on that  date.  

In addition, by the due date of their federal tax returns, miners must determine in dollars their  net income or loss in respect of this virtual currency on the basis of an aggregation for the  relevant taxable year of the date-of-payment-or-receipt dollar valuations.  

5) How to value payments and receipts of virtual currency. Payers and recipients of virtual  currency for mining services normally must value the virtual currency in question in U.S.  dollars on the basis of an exchange rate set forth established virtual currency exchange if  such an exchange is available for the virtual currency in issue. In the absence of such an  exchange, they may use any other reasonable method of valuation.  

There are several websites that purport to offer assistance to miners and others in determining  the dollar value of virtual currency. However, in determining the fair market value of  payments and receipts of virtual currency to employees and independent contractors for  mining services, a plausible standard might be the value that the payment or receipt had been  in dollars.  

6) Federal income tax reporting of virtual currency received by miners who are sole proprietors.  Miners who provide their mining services as individuals–i.e., in federal tax terms, as sole  proprietors serving as independent contractors–must report their mining income in dollars to  the IRS annually in Schedule C of their IRS Form 1040 if their receipts total at least $400;  and they must pay federal income tax and Self-Employment Tax on their mining income for  the relevant taxable year on a quarterly basis. This assumes the mining rises to the level of a  trade or business and is not just a hobby.  

Individuals may provide mining services either as state-law sole proprietors or through single-member LLCs of which they are the members and which accept the federal tax  classification of “disregarded entities” and whose income is thus taxable to the individuals themselves. However, as noted below, single-member LLCs owned by individuals may be  able to taxable as C corporations or S corporations. 

7) Federal income tax reporting of virtual currency received by entities that provide mining  services. The federal income tax regimens applicable to mining entities other than single member LLCs owned by individuals and classified as disregarded entities may be either  Subchapter C (a double-tax regimen), Subchapter K (a highly flexible pass-through regimen)  or Subchapter S (also a pass-through regimen, but much less flexible than Subchapter K).  The federal tax regimens available to single-member LLCs whose members are individuals  are, as indicated, sole proprietorship taxation and Subchapters C and S. The federal tax  regimens available to multi-owner businesses are Subchapters C, K and S. Choosing the best  federal tax regimen for a mining enterprise on federal income tax and Social Security Tax  grounds is called “tax choice of entity.” The choice is often complex.  

8) Federal income taxation of miners taxable as C corporations, S corporations, and partnerships  and their employees.  

a) C corporations. If miners conduct their mining enterprises as entities subject to federal  income tax under IRS Subchapter C, they must report their payments for mining services  in IRS Form 1120.  

b) S corporations. If they conduct their mining enterprises as entities subject to federal  income tax under IRS Subchapter S, they must report their payments for mining services  in IRS Form 1120S.  

c) Entities taxable as partnerships. If they conduct their mining enterprise as entities taxable  as partnerships, they must report their income from mining services on IRS Form 1065.  Partnerships must withhold federal income tax or Social Security Taxes with respect to  non-partner employees who perform mining services for their clients. They need not do  so for partners who perform these services for them, but these partners must withhold and  pay to the IRS quarterly payments of federal income tax and Self-Employment Tax.  

Most multi-member LLCs are taxable as partnerships, but a few are taxable as C or S  corporations.  

9) S corporation and their employees. Individuals who provide their mining services as  employees of entities that provide these services and that are taxable as S corporations,  including shareholder-employees, must pay federal income taxes and FICA taxes on the  dollar value of salaries, bonuses and other compensation paid to them by these S corporations  in the form of virtual currency for their employment services.  

In addition, these corporations must withhold federal income tax and FICA taxes on the  salaries and other compensation paid by them to their employees in the form of virtual  currency. They must value this virtual currency at its fair market value in U.S. dollars on the  day of receipt of the compensation by their employees.  

10) C corporations and their employees. Individuals who provide their mining services as  employees of entities taxable as C corporations must pay federal income taxes on the dollar  value of salaries, bonuses and other compensation paid to them by these corporations in the  form of virtual currency for their employment services. In addition: 

a) If these individuals are shareholders of these corporations, they must pay federal income  tax on their shares of the net income of these corporations from mining services that are  distributed to them in the form of cryptocurrency to them as shareholders; and  

b) These corporations must withhold federal income tax and FICA taxes on the salaries and  other compensation paid by them to these individuals. This virtual currency must be  valued in dollars at its fair market value on the date of receipt.  

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