If You Trade Crypto or NFTs, Here’s What You Need To Know About Tax Filing This Year

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Millions of Americans now own and use cryptocurrency, which has taken an incredible journey from the fringes of the investing world to the mainstream. NFTs are still in their infancy, but they exploded in popularity last year as well, as investors and collectors made their moves on what promises to be the next big thing in collectible investing.

More people than ever are now aware of crypto and NFTs, but far fewer know what owning and trading them means for their taxes. If you dealt with either of these exciting digital investments in 2021, here are a few things you need to know for tax season.

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Do You Owe Taxes for Crypto Transactions? That Depends

More than one in 10 Americans traded crypto in 2021, according to Coinbase, and many of them will see their taxes impacted as a result. In America, crypto is considered a digital asset, which the IRS treats the same as capital assets such as stocks and bonds. Similarly, any gains you earn from crypto will be taxed at different rates, depending on whether the IRS treats those earnings as income or capital gains.

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In Some Cases, Crypto Is Taxed as Income

When cryptocurrency transactions are treated as income, they’re taxed at the same rate as any other income you earn based on your tax bracket and filing status. Here are a few common situations where crypto is taxed as income:

  • Mining crypto: You’ll owe taxes on any crypto you mined based on the fair market value of that crypto at the time you mined it. If you mine crypto as a business, you’ll pay tax on what you earn as self-employment income.
  • Receiving payments as crypto: If an employer paid you in crypto or you received crypto as payment for contract work, or if you sold something taxable and were paid in crypto for the exchange, it will be taxed as income according to your tax bracket.
  • Specialty transactions: You’ll have to pay income taxes on any crypto you received through a hard fork, an airdrop or staking rewards or as an incentive or reward.

Other Times, Crypto Is Taxed as Capital Gains

Like most assets, crypto is taxed differently depending on whether you hold it for more or less than one year. Long-term capital gains are taxed at a rate of 0%, 15% or 20%, depending on your income. Short-term capital gains are taxed at the same rate as your income — a rate that is higher and less advantageous. Wealthy investors also pay a 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax. As with traditional investments, capital losses can be used to offset capital gains.

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In the following situations, crypto will be taxed as capital gains:

  • Selling crypto: If you owned crypto as an investment and sold it for cash, you’ll have to pay a capital gains tax.
  • Spending crypto: According to Coinbase, the IRS treats spending crypto the same way it treats selling it — as a taxable transaction. That’s because you technically have to sell the asset before it can be exchanged for goods or services.
  • Converting crypto: If you use Ether to buy Bitcoin or conduct any other crypto-to-crypto exchange, the IRS considers it a taxable event — here, too, because you technically have to sell crypto to exchange it for something else.

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Not All Crypto Events Are Taxable

Now that you know about the most common crypto transactions that are treated as taxable events, it’s important to know that some crypto transactions aren’t subject to taxation at all.

If you use money to buy crypto and hold it, it’s a non-taxable event because any gains or losses are unrealized. That all changes when you sell. Donating crypto is a non-taxable event, as is receiving crypto as a gift or giving it as a gift, up to $15,000. You also won’t be taxed for transferring crypto to yourself from one wallet or account to another.

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Taxes Are More Complex for NFTs

Just as it was for crypto, 2021 was a breakout year for NFTs, according to CNBC. The number of NFT buyers jumped from fewer than 20,000 the year before to more than a quarter-million in 2021; sales jumped from $22 million to $6 billion.

NFTs, however, are much newer than cryptocurrency and harder to categorize, which puts them in murky tax territory. Since it’s a brand-new area of tax law, there is still some debate, but CNBC says most tax professionals believe NFTs should be treated as tangible collectibles, like art.

That carries a top federal capital gains tax rate of 28% — 31.8% with the Net Investment Income Tax for wealthy investors — compared to 20% (or 23.8%) for long-term capital gains. In this case, however, you pay your regular income tax rate if that rate is below 28% — there are seven brackets with rates between 10% and 37% — and only up to 28% if your income bracket’s tax rate is higher.

For both lower and higher-income earners, NFT appreciation — presuming the IRS treats it as art — is taxed at a higher rate than crypto.

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About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.
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