It has been 15 years since Bitcoin was created and for some people cryptocurrencies, non-fungible tokens and blockchain technology still remain a mystery with digital dollars considered by some as the dark arts.
But don’t think virtual currency is for computer geeks or dodgy types dealing on the Dark Web.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) recently revealed that cryptocurrency is the second most popular investment in this country after listed shares. It’s estimated there are now close to 10,000 cryptocurrencies in circulation.
While Australia has longstanding laws governing share transactions and how they are taxed, the Australian Tax Office (ATO) is playing catchup and is still updating the guidance to make sure crypto investors (and tax advisers) understand the tax treatment and obligations which apply to them.
As a country we are not alone in lacking clear, comprehensive laws on crypto. The current Australian Government has flagged implementing “token mapping” which would provide greater visibility on trading and whether new laws need to be created.
I think greater clarity is needed when it comes to digital assets. The ATO might have made it clear that crypto assets are not a form of money, but if you’re holding crypto there are some things you need to remember when you lodge your tax return.
Bitcoin, Ethereum and “stablecoins” such as USDC may not yet be treated as currency by the ATO but they are considered an asset and subject to taxation. When trading crypto, the conversion value in Australian currency needs to be calculated to show your profit or loss.
It’s not just when crypto is converted into cash – when you are changing from one crypto to another, say from Bitcoin to Ethereum, and there’s a gain in value that could also trigger a tax issue.
It is also common for cryptocurrency providers to “gift” some free tokens into accounts. It sounds like easy money, but if they have value you’ll need to pay tax on them.
Don’t get me wrong despite the struggles, the ATO is catching up on crypto and it’s only a matter of time before it finds ways to pour more into the federal coffers.
We shouldn’t forget the Tax Office has sophisticated information gathering powers. It can look at different digital asset exchanges and put together the pieces of what’s happened during the year.
The clear message is know what’s happening within your holding and what that means from a tax perspective and it will pay to speak to a qualified tax adviser with a solid grasp of digitised currency.
But clarity for all of us could come from Australia developing specific laws providing a clear approach to crypto and how it will be regulated including from a tax perspective.
As a country we aren’t alone, when it comes to how to approach digital assets. Singapore is one of the few to have clear legislation, the US and European Union have taken steps to try and stop money laundering using crypto or provide investor protection.
It’s not easy but it’s time for all of us to stop dragging the blockchain and get with the programmers.