It’s someone’s money and the IRS wants its cut. However, it doesn’t seem like anyone knows how virtual currencies are going to be handled by the tax authorities.
For the uninitiated, bitcoin is the most prominent of several “virtual currencies”—money that exists only online and isn’t backed by any government. Released in 2009 by an unknown person or group going by the name Satoshi Nakamoto, bitcoin is maintained by a decentralized network of computers, called “miners,” that process and verify transactions. As of Friday afternoon, the value of all bitcoins in circulation was nearly $8 billion, according to CoinDesk.
This year the price of a bitcoin has risen from about $13.50 to about $650 on some exchanges, down from a November high of about $1,200 just before concerns arose that China will crack down on the virtual currency.
Experts say, however, that there’s no agreement on a host of fundamental questions for U.S. taxpayers holding or using virtual currencies. “People who invested in bitcoin or used it to buy goods or services this year have gains or losses, but no rules for reporting them,” says Omri Marian, a professor of law at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “What should they do in April?”