The AICPA recently asked the IRS to permit cryptocurrency traders, eligible for trader tax status (TTS), to use a Section 475 MTM election on securities and commodities providing for ordinary gain or loss treatment.
In my March 2018 blog post Cryptocurrencies: Trader Tax Status Benefits And Section 475 Issues, I suggested crypto TTS traders consider filing a protective 2018 Section 475 election on securities and commodities, due by April 17, 2018, in case the IRS allowed it. Many crypto traders had significant losses in early 2018 with the market correction, and with a 475 election, they might avoid the $3,000 capital loss limitation using ordinary loss treatment. I said it hinged on whether the IRS changed its designation of crypto from intangible property to a security or a commodity.
The AICPA letter* implied that the IRS could keep its current classification of crypto as intangible property, yet still permit the use of Section 475. However, it does raise other questions: The AICPA letter did not distinguish between securities and commodities, whereas, Section 475 does. TTS traders may elect Section 475 on securities only, commodities only, or both, and that has other tax implications.
If the IRS considers crypto a security, then Section 1091 wash-sale loss rules for securities would apply. Wash-sale loss adjustments are a headache and can be costly. (If you buy back a losing trade 30 days before or after, you must defer the wash-sale loss to the replacement position’s cost basis.) As intangible property, crypto is not currently subject to wash-sale losses. A Section 475 election on securities exempts TTS traders from making wash-sale loss adjustments.
If the IRS considers crypto a commodity, then a TTS trader should be able to elect Section 475 on commodities. However, that election has other tax consequences: If you trade Section 1256 contracts, including futures, you will surrender the lower 60/40 capital gains rates on 1256 contracts. For that reason, most traders elect Section 475 on securities only.
AICPA letter excerpt
8. Traders and Dealers of Virtual Currency
“Overview: Taxpayers considered dealers and traders who engage in buying and selling securities in the ordinary course of business to customers may make a ‘mark-to-market’ election under section 475. This election recognizes ordinary gains or losses on the deemed sales involved in the mark-to-market process. The securities holdings on the last day of the year are deemed as sold for their fair market value resulting in both ordinary income and ordinary expenses the same as for any other trade or business. Taxpayers who trade virtual currencies perform this activity on virtual currency exchanges that contain all the robust trading features available on trading platforms for securities and commodities, including the same level of liquidity. In this context, virtual currencies are akin to securities and commodities. This particular issue is also under consideration by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.