CRA Guide to Cryptocurrency
Cryptocurrency is a relatively new innovation that requires guidelines on taxation so that Canadians are aware of how to meet their tax obligations. The Senate reviewed the issue of taxation on cryptocurrency in 2014 and recommended action to help Canadians understand how to comply with their taxes, which the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is doing by presenting this guide.
Tax treatment of cryptocurrency for income tax purposes
Cryptocurrency is a digital representation of value that is not legal tender. It is a digital asset, sometimes also referred to as a crypto asset or altcoin that works as a medium of exchange for goods and services between the parties who agree to use it. Strong encryption techniques are used to control how units of cryptocurrency are created and to verify transactions. Cryptocurrencies generally operate independently of a central bank, central authority or government.
The following information outlines the income tax implications of common transactions involving cryptocurrency. When we refer to cryptocurrency in this publication, we are talking about Bitcoin or other similar virtual currencies.
The CRA generally treats cryptocurrency like a commodity for purposes of the Income Tax Act. Any income from transactions involving cryptocurrency is generally treated as business income or as a capital gain, depending on the circumstances. Similarly, if earnings qualify as business income or as a capital gain then any losses are treated as business losses or capital losses. Taxpayers have to establish if a cryptocurrency activity results in income or capital because this affects the way the revenue is treated for income tax purposes. Not all taxpayers who buy and sell cryptocurrency are carrying on business activity.
When you use cryptocurrency to pay for goods or services, the CRA treats it as a barter transaction for income tax purposes. A barter transaction occurs when two parties exchange goods or services and carry out that exchange without using legal currency.
To figure out the value of a cryptocurrency transaction where a direct value cannot be determined, you must use a reasonable method. Keep records to show how you figured out the value. Generally, the CRA’s position is that the fair market value is the highest price, expressed in dollars that a willing buyer and a willing seller who are both knowledgeable, informed and prudent, and who are acting independently of each other, would agree to in an open and unrestricted market. For example, you could choose an exchange rate taken from the same exchange broker you are using or an average of midday values across a number of high-volume exchange brokers. Whichever method you choose, use it consistently.
If you hold more than one type of cryptocurrency in a digital wallet, each type of cryptocurrency is considered to be a separate digital asset and must be valued separately. For example, a Bitcoin is valued separately from a Litecoin.
Reporting business income or capital gains from the disposition of cryptocurrency
What is a disposition?
This refers to the way you get rid of something, such as by giving, selling or transferring it. In general, possessing or holding a cryptocurrency is not taxable. But there could be tax consequences when you do any of the following:
sell or make a gift of cryptocurrency
trade or exchange cryptocurrency, including disposing of one cryptocurrency to get another cryptocurrency
convert cryptocurrency to government-issued currency, such as Canadian dollars
use cryptocurrency to buy goods or services
Is it business income or capital gain?
The income you get from disposing of cryptocurrency may be considered business income or a capital gain. In order to report it correctly, you must first establish what kind of income it is.
The following are common signs that you may be carrying on a business:
you carry on activity for commercial reasons and in a commercially viable way
you undertake activities in a businesslike manner, which might include preparing a business plan and acquiring capital assets or inventory
you promote a product or service
you show that you intend to make a profit, even if you are unlikely to do so in the short term
Business activities normally involve some regularity or a repetitive process over time. Each situation has to be looked at separately.
In some cases, a single transaction can be considered a business, for example when it is an adventure or concern in the nature of trade. Whether you are carrying on a business or not must be determined on a case by case basis.
Another factor in deciding if there is a business activity is the date when the business begins. If you are still setting up or preparing to go into business, you might not be considered to have started the business. You usually have to undertake significant activity that is part of your income-earning process. Any funds or property you receive before your business begins are not generally considered to be business income. Similarly, you cannot claim deductions for income tax purposes before the business begins.
Some examples of cryptocurrency businesses are:
cryptocurrency exchanges, including ATMs
Reporting as either income or capital gain
Generally, if disposing of cryptocurrency is part of a business, the profits you make on the disposition or sale are considered business income and not a capital gain. Buying a cryptocurrency with the intention of selling it for a profit may be treated as business income, even if it’s an isolated incident, because it could be considered an adventure or concern in the nature of trade.
If the sale of a cryptocurrency does not constitute carrying on a business, and the amount it sells for is more than the original purchase price or its adjusted cost base, then the taxpayer has realized a capital gain.
Capital gains from the sale of cryptocurrency are generally included in income for the year, but only half of the capital gain is subject to tax. This is called the taxable capital gain. Any capital losses resulting from the sale can only be offset against capital gains; you cannot use them to reduce income from other sources, such as employment income. You can carry forward your capital losses if you do not have any capital gains against which to offset those losses for the year or any of the preceding three years. Trading cryptocurrency for another type of cryptocurrency
Generally, when you dispose of one type of cryptocurrency to acquire another cryptocurrency, the barter transaction rules apply. You have to convert the value of the cryptocurrency you received into Canadian dollars. This transaction is considered a disposition and you have to report it on your income tax return. Report the resulting gain or loss as either business income (or loss) or a capital gain (or loss).