Trading and Investing

How to Avoid a Crypto Tax Audit

April 8, 2021
Written By


    The IRS (Internal Revenue Service) has been slower to audit tax returns in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are signs that it’s stepping up its enforcement actions related to cryptocurrencies. In addition to a new question at the top of Form 1040, the agency has issued several warning letters and sought to hire crypto experts to track down crypto tax evaders via crypto tax audits.  

    Let’s take a look at some of the most common IRS crypto tax audit triggers—including those that relate to cryptocurrency tax—and how to accurately report crypto transactions on your tax returns.

    The Most Common IRS Tax Audit Triggers To Look Out For

    The IRS has audited about 0.6% of personal returns and 0.97% of all corporate returns between 2010 and 2018. Last year, the agency audited 771,095 tax returns that resulted in nearly $17.3 billion in recommended additional tax. The absolute numbers may be low, but there are a number of factors that can dramatically increase your relative risk.

    IRS Crypto Tax Audit

    IRS Compliance Activity in 2019 – Source: IRS

    The relative risk of a tax audit can increase for several reasons:

    • High levels of income. Most audited tax returns are for taxpayers that earn $500,000 or more each year, whereas income between $25,000 and $200,000 was generally safe. High-earning crypto traders and investors could be more likely to experience a crypto tax audit.
    • Unreported income. Crypto exchanges typically send 1099-B or 1099-K forms to clients that exceed certain transaction thresholds. Since the IRS receives copies of these, a failure to report income triggers the IRS’ Automated Under reporter Program.
    • Itemized deductions. The IRS assumes that most people live within their means. If you only make $50,000 per year and start claiming a mortgage interest deduction on a $1 million mortgage, the IRS could start to ask some questions.
    • International assets. Foreign assets valued at more than $50,000 must be reported to the IRS along with all accounts with balances over $10,000. If you hold crypto assets in these amounts overseas, you could face greater IRS scrutiny.
    • Suspicious Deductions. The IRS scrutinizes taxpayers that take-home office or business vehicle deductions to ensure that they aren’t really for personal use. If you trade crypto and make these deductions, it could increase the relative risk of a crypto tax audit.
    • Hobbies as a business. There are a lot of tax rules designed to separate hobbies from businesses. Crypto investors looking to diversify into other assets, such as farms, may not be able to claim those assets as businesses without added scrutiny.
    • Mathematical mistakes. The IRS automatically checks tax returns for accuracy, so it’s important to avoid any basic mathematical mistakes. If you have a lot of crypto transactions, you should ensure the math is correct when aggregating them.
    • Large spending or deposits. The IRS requires businesses to notify them when large cash transactions of more than $10,000 take place. If you make a $10,000 cash transaction with crypto proceeds, you could invite more IRS scrutiny. 

    The IRS identifies potential issues using its Discriminant Information Function (DIF) program that detects anomalies in tax returns. Every tax return is checked for duplicate information, deductions, and credits that don’t apply, and returns are compared to other taxpayers that earn approximately the same income to find outliers.

    Crypto Taxes: Ensure Crypto Tax Accuracy Without Overpaying

    Cryptocurrency traders and investors must walk a fine line between ensuring accurate calculations and avoiding the tendency to overpay taxes. For example, Coinbase sent out a 1099-K form in the past that omitted cost basis information and led some users to overpay and many others failed to deduct fees and other costs from their gains.

    Download our Checklist of Strategies to Reduce Crypto Taxes to avoid overpaying your taxes and keep more money in your pocket.

    The best way to ensure tax accuracy is to automate the calculations using crypto tax software. ZenLedger Crypto Tax Software automatically aggregates transactions across your wallets and exchanges, calculates the cost basis and net gain/loss and auto-fills popular IRS forms. If you use TurboTax, you can leverage a built-in integration to handle all of the taxes for you with a few clicks. Sign up and get started for free!

    ZenLedger crypto tax audit
    ZenLedger’s Interface – Source: ZenLedger

    If you don’t use crypto tax software, there are a few things to keep in mind:

    • Don’t forget to calculate cost basis. Form 1099-K tells you the total value of crypto assets received during the year whereas Form 1099-B provides a list of transactions with the cost basis (where applicable). In both cases, you should ensure that you include an accurate cost basis for transactions to avoid overpaying taxes.
    • Don’t forget to look across wallets and exchanges. Most exchanges provide cost basis information for transactions on their exchange, but if you use multiple wallets or exchanges, the cost basis may depend on assets held in those accounts. Using all of your wallets and exchanges can also help facilitate long-term capital gains tax rates.
    • Don’t forget to account for fees. Trading fees are fully deductible from the sale price of a crypto asset. While there are a few different ways to handle transfer fees, the simplest way is to reduce your holdings by the transfer fee amount and keep the value the same, but it’s best to ask an accountant for a professional opinion. 

    In addition to using crypto tax software, it’s a good idea to work with a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and financial advisors with crypto experience and knowledge of tax law. These professionals can help optimize your overall portfolio to reduce your tax burden, as well as ensure that you’re maximizing any valid deductions related to your crypto activities.

    Crypto Tax Audit: Always Be Prepared for an Audit

    Taxpayers should be prepared to provide the IRS with everything they need in the event of an audit in order to avoid potential fines and penalties.

    Don’t forget to download our Checklist of Strategies to Reduce Crypto Taxes to avoid overpaying your taxes and keep more money in your pocket.

    The most common preliminary requests include:

    • All wallet IDs and blockchain addresses that you own or control.
    • All digital currency exchanges and peer-to-peer facilitators that you use.

    You should also be prepared to provide the following information about every transaction:

    • The date and time of virtual currency purchases.
    • The cost basis and fair market value at the time of acquisition.
    • The date and time that virtual currency was sold, exchanged, or otherwise disposed of.
    • The fair market value at the time of sale, exchange, or disposition and the amount of money or the fair market value of property received.
    • An explanation of the method used to compute cost basis.

    If the IRS finds any irregularities, you may also be asked for all correspondence with all counterparties to virtual currency transactions and other information.

    These records should be maintained for a minimum of five years since the IRS can audit tax returns in the past; however, it’s generally a good idea to keep them indefinitely in virtual form since the IRS is allowed to look back further than five years in some cases.

    The Bottom Line

    The IRS may have been slow to audit returns over the past couple of years, but the agency has stepped up its enforcement of cryptocurrencies. By keeping audit risks in mind and accurately recording your transactions, you can minimize your IRS audit risks. ZenLedger makes it easy to ensure accuracy and minimize your tax burden. Try it today!

    More resources to explore:


    1. Can you get audited for Cryptocurrency?

    Yes, you can get audited for cryptocurrency. All exchanges supply user records to the IRS which enables them to cross-check reports. In other words, if you haven't reported cryptocurrency on your tax return, or if your report does not match the IRS's records, the IRS could run a crypto audit on you.

    2. What triggers a crypto audit?

    Unreported income is one of the most common reasons for the IRS to conduct a crypto audit. Most crypto exchanges send 1099-B or 1099-K forms to clients that exceed certain transaction thresholds, the copies of which are then sent to the IRS. This allows the IRS to keep a close watch on unreported income triggers followed by a crypto audit in the for of IRS' Automated Underreporter Program.

    3. Can the IRS seize Bitcoins?

    Yes, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service could seize crypto assets including Bitcoins in order to settle unpaid taxes. The IRS has also contracted with crypto tax service provider traders to facilitate the purpose.
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