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Cryptocurrency Personal Property Exchanges Pre-TCJA

September 14, 2019

We’ve been discussing virtual currency, cryptocurrencies, and digital currency quite a bit lately here. That’s by design. They’ve all been in the media a lot lately. That’s largely due to the increased tax collection efforts by the IRS. Many bitcoin holders started out with the impression that they were “outside the system”. Despite those impressions, though, the IRS has made it abundantly clear that this isn’t the case.

Now, the IRS is looking at cryptocurrency investors and their cryptocurrency transactions with focused attention. The IRS is just like any other person or entity. That is, it doesn’t want to waste its time and energy. And this means that it wisely directs its attention to those who have the most resources. Many bitcoin holders have massive tax liabilities to the IRS. The media is focusing on them. The IRS doesn’t want to lose its slice of the pie. Accordingly, we’re now we’re seeing it exert increased efforts to use the tax law to move in that direction.

Personal Property Classification

The IRS’ classification of cryptocurrency as “personal property” for a tax year has some interesting implications. One implication is that cryptocurrencies may have been eligible in “personal property” 1031 exchanges prior to the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (TCJA). This issue is moot now, though, because the TCJA eliminated all personal property exchanges. But we may also see reviews of exchanges which occurred before the TCJA was implemented. In this post, we will go over the basics of personal property exchanges and then discuss some of the issues which may come up when pre-tax reform crypto exchanges are examined by the IRS in an audit. We’ll look at issues like potential short term capital gains taxes.

Personal Property Exchanges Pre-TCJA

Prior to the TCJA, taxpayers were able to exchange personal property held for business or investment purposes under Section 1031 in like kind exchanges. Many intermediaries specialized in personal property exchanges, and those intermediaries went out of business the moment that the TCJA took effect. Common exchange items, pre-TCJA, were for assets like business jets, cars owned by rental agencies, precious metals and antique cars. The rules for exchanging personal property were a bit different than the rules for real estate. The like-kind requirement, for instance, was interpreted more narrowly, as personal property had to be matched, according to “asset class.” This meant that a business jet couldn’t be exchanged for gold, for instance.

Before the TCJA, many crypto holders asked the question: does Section 1031 apply to bitcoin and other cryptocurrency? Is Form 8824 a required attachment to a Form 1040 personal income tax return? ? In light of the IRS position in Notice 2014-21, the logical response appears to be “yes.” If bitcoin and other cryptocurrency is taxable, then they should also be eligible for tax deferral. But, in light of the novelty of cryptocurrency, it’s likely that crypto exchange gains or losses occurring pre-TCJA will be reviewed by the IRS.

Review of Pre-TCJA Crypto Exchanges

If the IRS does review crypto exchanges occurring in the pre-TCJA era, what will be the outcome? These exchanges would seem to touch on key legal requirements, such as the like-kind requirement. If a person exchanges bitcoin for another cryptocurrency, such as Ethereum, does that satisfy the like-kind requirement? The answer seems to be yes, as they are both “cryptocurrency” and have similar features. But, what if there is a bitcoin exchange for another currency altogether, such as Japanese Yen or Mexican Pesos? If cryptocurrency is classed as property, then a logical argument can be made that it should also be in the same asset class as other currency. This could even mean that cryptocurrency exchanged for U.S. dollars could qualify for tax deferral. We won’t know the answer until we know the asset class which cryptocurrency falls into. That, in turn, will require an IRS ruling.

As we know, exchanges are documented at the time of their occurrence, in order to be valid. Accordingly, crypto holders cannot retroactively go back and try to claim that a particular transaction was an “exchange” after the fact. If someone sells their rental property and then later tries to use that property in an exchange, they will fail. That’s because that property became ineligible the moment it was sold without a contract with an intermediary. But clearly we can see that many issues come up when we discuss cryptocurrency in the context of Section 1031. If personal property exchanges return, and there’s a chance that they might, we’ll undoubtedly see cryptocurrency figure prominently in the debate.

Contact MC&C to Learn More Today

So there you have it. We may see a few crypto exchanges scrutinized by the IRS to see if those exchanges qualified under the old rules. If this does happen, the outcome will be interesting. There’s a chance that personal property exchanges may again be recognized in the future; so crypto exchanges may return. Who knows, we may even see this issue lobbied for by cryptocurrency enthusiasts during the next tax law change.

At Mackay, Caswell & Callahan, P.C., we try hard to stay on the cutting-edge of tax law. We do this by keeping up with current issues and reviewing current cases. We’ll continue to keep a focus on the evolving cryptocurrency tax treatment. That’s because we know that this is a key topic, both in the media, and the tax world, today. In addition to helping clients who have crypto tax debt, we handle cases involving New York income tax debt, sales tax debt, OICs, installments, and other tax matters. If you have a tax case and need assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Contact us and one of our top New York City tax attorneys will review your issue right away.

Image credit: BTC Keychain

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