Resources/guides/DeFi Taxes in the US - Complete Guide 2024

DeFi Taxes in the US - Complete Guide 2024

DeFi Taxes in the US - Complete Guide 2024
This tax guide is regularly updated: Last Update 2 months ago

What is DeFi?

Decentralized Finance, or DeFi, is a transformative sector within the blockchain space, aiming to recreate and improve upon the conventional financial system. DeFi eliminates intermediaries like banks and brokers by allowing people to conduct financial transactions directly with one another through smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain. It encompasses various activities designed to make financial transactions more accessible, efficient, and affordable.

Common DeFi Activities:

  • Staking
  • Lending
  • Borrowing
  • Providing Liquidity
  • Earning Token Rewards
  • Earning Interest
  • Bridging
  • Wrapping
  • Paying Gas Fees

Understanding DeFi

DeFi aims to create a more open and accessible financial system. Technologies like blockchain and smart contracts allow users to engage in various financial activities directly with each other without the need for intermediaries. The peer-to-peer nature of DeFi speeds up transactions and reduces costs for everyone, making financial services more inclusive.

Whether you're looking to earn interest on your crypto holdings, borrow funds, or trade assets, DeFi platforms offer various services. However, it's essential to understand the risks involved, including market volatility and smart contract vulnerabilities. As with any financial activity, due diligence and a thorough understanding of the mechanisms are crucial.

Does the IRS know about my crypto?

The belief that crypto transactions are 'untraceable' and invisible to the IRS is a myth. The blockchain is a transparent ledger, open to anyone, making it a poor choice for evading taxes. It's the opposite of a hiding spot; it's a spotlight on every transaction you've ever made.

Crypto mixers, like Tornado cash, are smart contracts that pool and scrambles cryptocurrencies from multiple sources to obscure their origin and enhance privacy. Many people mistake these as a route to avoid tax, but they're not. The IRS has its ways, dealing with complex cases of tax evasion regularly. Using mixers isn't just risky; it could lead you straight into legal hot water.

Don't forget about know your customer (KYC) requirements for crypto exchanges, either. Both domestic and international crypto exchanges collaborate with tax authorities around the world, and have data-sharing agreements which means they must report your activities to the IRS. They keep detailed records of your transactions, making it easier for the IRS to follow the money trail, even if it's been through a mixer.

In short, yes, the IRS likely knows about your crypto, or at least has the means to find out. The blockchain's transparency, combined with the IRS's growing tech-savviness and the reporting duties of exchanges, makes your crypto activities more visible than you might think. It's safer to assume the IRS is in the know and report your crypto transactions accordingly. Compliance is your best strategy when it comes to crypto tax.

How does the IRS treat DeFi activities?

Understanding how the IRS treats DeFi activities is crucial for anyone engaging in this innovative financial space. As of the latest guidance, cryptocurrencies are treated as property by the IRS, which means that general tax rules applicable to property transactions also apply to all crypto transactions. This classification has significant implications; you're likely triggering a taxable event every time you spend, sell, or exchange cryptocurrency.

Although the IRS has issued some guidance on cryptocurrencies through Notice 2014-21, Rev. Rule 2019-24, and 45 FAQs, none specifically address DeFi activities. However, the lack of direct guidance doesn't exempt users from reporting their DeFi-related taxes. The general principles outlined in existing IRS documentation provide enough foundation to infer the tax implications of various DeFi and yield farming transactions.

DeFi and yield farming typically involve a series of complex transactions. Each of these transactions may have different tax implications. In many cases, the tax guidance is neither direct nor ancillary. In such scenarios, users must decide how to report these activities based on their understanding of the rules and risk tolerance. The more aggressive your tax position — that is, interpreting the rules in a way that minimizes your taxes — the higher your potential risk for audit and penalties for underreporting. Conversely, a conservative approach means you'll likely pay taxes sooner and possibly more, but it reduces the risk of conflict with the IRS.

Choosing the right tax position is a delicate balance between minimizing your obligations and staying within the boundaries of legal compliance. Given the complexity and the evolving nature of DeFi, it's advisable to consult with a tax professional who can provide guidance tailored to your specific situation and help navigate the murky waters of DeFi taxation. As the IRS continues to develop its understanding and guidance of DeFi activities, staying informed and prepared is the best strategy for any DeFi participant.

Activity 1: Staking

Staking in the context of DeFi involves locking up a certain amount of cryptocurrency (in this case, Ethereum or ETH) to participate in maintaining the operations of a blockchain system. It's akin to depositing money in a bank to earn interest; here, you're depositing crypto to earn rewards, often in the form of additional tokens.

Example of Staking Activity: Imagine you bought 5 ETH earlier this year for $10,000, and now they're worth $15,000. You decide to stake these 5 ETH in a DeFi protocol. This move is strategic to earn staking rewards, enhance the security and efficiency of the blockchain network, or both.

Tax Treatment Depositing your ETH for staking could be considered a disposal event, thereby triggering Capital Gains Tax (CGT). The capital gain would be the difference between the cost basis ($10,000) and the fair market value at the time of staking ($15,000), resulting in a $5,000 taxable gain. This approach assumes that by staking your ETH, you've effectively disposed of them and should thus report the transaction as a sale.

Taxation of Staking Rewards: Once your staked ETH begins generating returns (be it token rewards, interest, or other incentives), the IRS will likely treat these earnings as income comparable to earning interest in a traditional savings account.

You must report this income based on the market value of the tokens at the time they were received. If the value of these rewards decreases over time, you may be able to claim a capital loss, but only up to $3,000 against ordinary income per year.

If you're not careful, this situation can lead to a scenario where the tax owed is greater than the current value of the rewards if their value has dropped significantly from when you claimed them to when you sold them.

Staying on top of your taxes throughout the year is critical in ensuring you don't get caught in this tax trap.

Activity 2: Liquidity Pools

Liquidity pools are a foundational component of many DeFi protocols, allowing users to pool their resources to facilitate trading, lending, and other activities. Users deposit their crypto assets into a shared pool, which is then used to execute trades or loans on the platform. In return, they often receive fees or rewards based on their contribution.

Example of Liquidity Pool Activity: Consider you've spent $2,000 to acquire 3 ETH and some stablecoins. Over time, the value of these assets increases to $2,500. You decide to contribute them to a liquidity pool on a DeFi platform to earn trading fees or other rewards.

Tax Treatment The IRS will likely treat the deposit of your assets into a liquidity pool as a taxable event. Here, you'd calculate your capital gain based on the difference between the cost basis ($2,000) and the market value at the time of the deposit ($2,500). This results in a capital gain of $500, which would be subject to taxes. This view assumes that by depositing your assets into the pool, you've effectively sold or disposed of them.

In a case where you receive LP tokens in exchange for your deposit, it would be difficult to adopt an alternate view as it is clear that the IRS treats crypto-to-crypto trades as taxable events.

Additional Considerations for Liquidity Pools: When you withdraw your assets from the liquidity pool, the disposal of any LP or receipt tokens could trigger another capital gain or loss event. For instance, if the value of the withdrawn assets is less than the value at the time of depositing (say you receive assets worth $2,300 back from an initial $2,500), you would incur a capital loss of $200.

Furthermore, any additional token rewards or interest earned from the liquidity pool are viewed as income at the market value at the time of receipt. This income must be reported and will be taxable. Later, when you sell these reward tokens, you'll also need to account for any capital gain or loss from the sale.

Using the example, if you earned $100 worth of tokens and later sold them for $150, you'd report $100 of income and a capital gain of $50.

Activity 3: Lending and Borrowing

DeFi allows you to lend and borrow crypto assets in a matter of seconds from anyone, anywhere in the world, in an entirely peer-to-peer and trustless manner. Trustless lending and borrowing is one of DeFi's major financial breakthroughs; however, if you engage in these activities, you must beware of the potential tax consequences.

Event 1: Lending You lock 1 ETH you purchased a few years ago for $20 into a DeFi lending protocol. At the time of deposit, 1 ETH is worth $100. In return, you receive 5 'receiptETH', a protocol token representing your contribution.

Tax Treatment: From a conservative standpoint, exchanging ETH for receiptETH could be considered a taxable event. This view is based on the idea that crypto-to-crypto trades are taxable, as per IRS guidance. Since you exchanged ETH (cost basis $20, market value $100) for receiptETH, you would recognize a capital gain of $80. The argument is that by locking up ETH and receiving receiptETH, you have effectively disposed of your ETH and acquired a new asset, triggering a capital gains tax event.

Event 2: Borrowing: Suppose you collateralize your lending position, borrowing against it. The act of borrowing, in general, is not considered a taxable event. The funds (or tokens) received from a loan aren't income; they're a debt obligation you will eventually need to repay. Therefore, receiving tokens as part of a borrowing agreement would not be taxable under usual circumstances.

Navigating Lending and Borrowing in DeFi: The tax treatment of lending and borrowing in the DeFi space is nuanced and can vary widely based on the user's activities and the IRS's interpretation of these activities. Both conservative and aggressive tax positions have their rationale and associated risks. Users must carefully consider their situation, keep detailed records, and consult with a tax professional to navigate the complexities of DeFi taxation effectively.

Activity 4: Yield Farming

Yield farming is an advanced DeFi strategy where users stake or lend their crypto assets to earn rewards. It often involves navigating multiple liquidity pools and protocols to maximize returns.

Event 1: The Deposit Imagine you have 100 ETH, initially acquired for $10,000. You decide to venture into yield farming and deposit your 100 ETH, now worth $20,000, into a smart contract on a DeFi platform.

Tax Treatment The IRS is likely to view the deposit as a disposal event. Here, you'd recognize a capital gain of $10,000 (the difference between the $20,000 value at deposit and the $10,000 original cost). This gain reflects the increased value of your ETH and is reported on your tax return, leading to an immediate liability.

Event 2: The Rewards After a month of participation, you receive 1 TOKEN as a reward, valued at $1,000 at the time of receipt.

Tax Treatment Receiving the 1 TOKEN, valued at $1,000, is generally treated as income. Conservatively, you'd report this as income immediately, taxed according to your bracket.

Event 3: Selling the Rewards At some point after claiming, you decide to sell the TOKEN. When you sell, the TOKEN is valued at $1,500.

Tax Treatment In this situation, you have a capital gain of $500, the difference between the sale price and the TOKEN's value when received. This gain is reported as capital gains and taxed accordingly.

Activity 5: Wrapping Tokens

Wrapping tokens is a process used in DeFi to make various cryptocurrencies compatible with smart contracts or decentralized applications. Wrapping is especially common when a blockchain's native token, such as Ethereum's ETH, must be wrapped into a different token standard that makes it compatible with smart contracts. For instance, ETH can be wrapped into WETH, an ERC-20 token, allowing it to interact with Ethereum's DeFi ecosystem.

Example of Wrapping Tokens: Consider that you own ETH and want to engage with a DeFi protocol on the Ethereum network. Since smart contracts on Ethereum require the ERC-20 version of ETH, you decide to use a service, such as Uniswap, to wrap your ETH into WETH.

Tax Treatment Wrapping ETH into WETH is quite likely considered a taxable event in the eyes of the IRS. This perspective treats the conversion of ETH to WETH as a disposition of the original asset (ETH) and the acquisition of a new asset (ETH). Since crypto-to-crypto trades are considered taxable events according to IRS guidance, this conversion might trigger capital gains or losses based on the difference in value between the ETH's cost basis and the market value at the time of conversion.

However, there is an alternative view that argues that there is no market price difference between wrapped tokens and that wrapping tokens is not intended to be a disposal.

Activity 6: Bridging Tokens

Bridging tokens is a process that involves transferring assets from one blockchain to another. Bridging is necessary when users want to use the functionalities of different blockchain platforms that aren't natively compatible with one another. A bridge locks the tokens on the original blockchain and creates a corresponding representation on the target blockchain.

Example of Bridging Tokens: Consider that you own Bitcoin (BTC) and want to engage with a DeFi protocol on the Ethereum network. Since BTC doesn't operate natively on Ethereum, you decide to use a service like Ren to bridge your BTC onto Ethereum by turning it into Wrapped Bitcoin (wBTC). This service essentially locks your BTC in escrow and issues wBTC, which can be used on Ethereum.

Tax Treatment A conservative approach would view bridging as a taxable event akin to a crypto-to-crypto trade. From this perspective, bridging your BTC is seen as disposing of your original BTC and acquiring a new, different asset (wBTC). This transaction could trigger a capital gains tax, calculated based on the difference between the cost basis of the LTC and its market value at the time of the bridge. This position aligns with a cautious interpretation of IRS guidelines, which generally consider exchanges between different types of cryptocurrencies as taxable events.

However, there is an alternative view that argues that there is no market price difference between wrapped tokens and that wrapping tokens is not intended to be a disposal.

Navigating Tax Implications Choosing how to approach the tax implications of bridging tokens involves balancing a clear understanding of IRS rules with one's risk tolerance. The conservative approach may result in immediate tax liabilities but offers a clearer alignment with current IRS interpretations. The aggressive approach defers tax liabilities but carries the risk of future scrutiny or disagreement from tax authorities.

Activity 7: Gas Fees

In the world of DeFi, almost every transaction you make requires the payment of a transaction fee known as a gas fee. These fees can fluctuate significantly and have seen considerable increases with the rise of activities like yield farming. Understanding how these fees impact your tax obligations is crucial.

Transaction Fees on Sales: Let's say you sell 1 ETH for $100 but incur a $5 gas fee to complete the transaction. In this scenario, the gas fee directly relates to the sale and thus reduces your total proceeds. Your net proceeds from this transaction would be $95 ($100 - $5). When calculating capital gains or losses from this sale, you'll use the net amount after the gas fee as the selling price.

Transaction Fees on Transfers: When it comes to transferring tokens, the treatment of gas fees can be a bit more complex. For example, if you purchase 1 ETH for $10 on an exchange and then transfer it to a different wallet, incurring a $2 gas fee, the IRS could view this $2 as a separate disposal of capital assets to cover a personal expense.

Essentially, you're using a portion of your asset (ETH) to pay for the cost of transferring the remainder. This means that instead of simply adding the $2 to the cost basis of the ETH, you might need to recognize a small capital gain or loss based on the value of the ETH at the time you used it to pay the gas fee.

Alternate Tax Treatments As the IRS has minimal guidance on some the above activities, you may opt to take a different stance in your own portfolio. It is highly recommended that you discuss your situation with a tax professional if you opt for an alternate tax treatment as it may put you at a higher risk of underreporting which can carry penalties.

If you opt to go for the alternate stance and want to treat any of the above scenarios differently for tax purposes on Crypto Tax Calculator, you have the ability to choose your own tax settings on the platform. You can also choose to change the treatment of individual transactions by changing the category.

Stay Compliant and Avoid Audits

Maintaining accurate records is your first line of defence against audits and tax headaches. Each DeFi transaction, no matter how minor it seems, leaves a digital trail that the IRS can follow. Neglecting this crucial aspect of your financial journey can lead to a chaotic tangle of information come tax season, making an audit more than a remote possibility. It's not just about staying compliant; it's about protecting yourself.

Traversing the DeFi landscape is no walk in the park. You're dealing with many block explorers, each presenting data in a different format. Your transaction history becomes a complex web, spanning multiple wallets and chains, with activities like staking, wrapping, and liquidity pooling. Trying to piece together this puzzle for tax purposes manually is a daunting task prone to errors and oversights.

Crypto Tax Calculator was built from the ground up to handle complex DeFi transactions automatically, so you don't need to spend hours trolling block explorers and battling with hundreds of manual spreadsheets. Seamlessly import your on-chain transactions, watch our smart tax engine automatically label your on-chain activity, and generate your CPA-approved tax report that can be filed directly with TurboTax or given to your tax preparer.

DeFi taxation is a complex and continuously evolving area. Consulting with a tax professional is always a wise decision if you need clarification on something.

Disclaimer The content of this guide is for general informational purposes only. It is not legal or tax advice. Viewing this guide, purchasing or using Crypto Tax Calculator does not create an attorney-client relationship or a tax advisor-client relationship. The information in this guide represents the opinions of experienced crypto tax professionals; however, some of the topics in this guide are still subject to debate amongst professionals, and the IRS could ultimately release guidance that conflicts with the information in this guide. The information contained in this guide is based on the authors’ interpretation of the Internal Revenue Code (“Code”). Changes to the Code may be retroactive and could significantly alter the views expressed herein. Therefore, use this information at your own risk and for information purposes only. Consult a professional regarding your individual tax or legal situation.

The information provided on this website is general in nature and is not tax, accounting or legal advice. It has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on this information, you should consider the appropriateness of the information having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs and seek professional advice. Cryptotaxcalculator disclaims all and any guarantees, undertakings and warranties, expressed or implied, and is not liable for any loss or damage whatsoever (including human or computer error, negligent or otherwise, or incidental or Consequential Loss or damage) arising out of, or in connection with, any use or reliance on the information or advice in this website. The user must accept sole responsibility associated with the use of the material on this site, irrespective of the purpose for which such use or results are applied. The information in this website is no substitute for specialist advice.

Patrick has been in the crypto industry for the last 7 years and is passionate about sharing his knowledge and experience in web3. Patrick has also covered the crypto space for Forbes Advisor, Canstar and The Chainsaw.

Frequently asked questions:

01.How is DeFi taxed?

DeFi transactions are taxed similarly to traditional cryptocurrency activities. Since the IRS treats cryptocurrencies as property, most DeFi transactions are considered taxable events. This includes trading, staking, yield farming, lending, and borrowing. For example, when you stake crypto and earn new tokens as rewards, the rewards are treated as income at their fair market value at the time of receipt. If you sell or trade these tokens later, any increase in value is subject to capital gains tax. Each DeFi activity has its nuances, so it's crucial to understand the specific tax implications of your transactions.

02.Does the IRS track DeFi?

Yes, the IRS is increasingly focusing on DeFi and other cryptocurrency activities. While the blockchain's nature offers a degree of transparency, the IRS also uses advanced software tools to analyze transactions. They collaborate with crypto exchanges, which are required to collect KYC information and report certain activities. Even methods thought to obscure transactions, like crypto mixers, are on the IRS's radar. The bottom line is that the IRS has ways to track DeFi transactions, and assuming otherwise could lead to tax compliance issues.

03.How is crypto income taxed in the USA?

Crypto income is taxed as ordinary income at its fair market value at the time you receive it. This applies to mining rewards, staking rewards, and payment for services in crypto. The rate at which this income is taxed depends on your income bracket. Additionally, if you later sell or exchange the crypto you received as income, any increase in its value from the time you received it to when you sold it is subject to capital gains tax.

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