Cryptocurrency tax in Australia has come a long way since Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies rallied in late 2017. In 2021, the Australian Tax Office (ATO) offers a significant amount of guidance on how to treat the buying and selling of cryptocurrencies from a tax standpoint.

 In most cases, the basic tax rules that apply to your other asset’s holdings, such as shares, also apply to your cryptocurrency holdings. You are still required to record gains and losses when you sell cryptocurrency.

Cryptocurrency Tax In Australia Treatment

 Cryptocurrency tax in Australia, in basic terms, whenever you make a profit when you sell cryptocurrency you have previously acquired, you are required to pay tax on that gain. And if you make a loss, you must record this as well. The most common way that people acquire cryptocurrencies is by buying them. Other ways to acquire cryptocurrencies include via airdrop and other novel distribution methods.

 What Is Cryptocurrency for Tax Purposes in Australia?

 According to the ATO’s tax treatment for cryptocurrencies, the term cryptocurrency not only describes bitcoin but also other cryptocurrencies that share similar characteristics with bitcoin.

 Although an individual could argue that a cryptocurrency you hold is fundamentally different to bitcoin, the ATO will still likely deem that you are holding a taxable asset. That is to say, you are likely holding an asset that you must pay tax on if disposed of for a profit that is, income you have generated from holding the asset.

 This is exactly the same tax treatment that applies when you sell shares on a stock exchange, for example.

 Cryptocurrency Capital Gains Tax

 The term ‘capital gain’ simply means the profit you make on a taxable capital asset. Taxable capital assets commonly held by individuals include shares, investment properties, collectables and, in more recent times, cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum’s ether. Simply, you can think of a taxable capital asset as something of value that you have purchased as in investment.

 Capital Gains Tax (CGT)

Capital gains tax (CGT) is the tax you are required to pay on any capital gain made upon sale of the asset.

 For example, if you purchase one bitcoin for A$60,000. You hold it for six months. The price of bitcoin goes up to $15,000. You decide to sell that one bitcoin.

 To figure out your capital gain or capital loss you take the cost price and deduct it from the sale price. This equals a capital gain price.

 To encourage long-term investing, Australians are able to halve their capital gains tax rate when they sell a taxable capital asset at least 12 months after acquisition. This is called the ‘capital gains tax discount’ or ‘CGT discount’.

 Reporting Capital Gains & Losses In Australia

You are only required to report capital gains and losses once a year via the ATO. This reporting is completed in your tax return at income item (label) 18. By far the most common CGT event happens as a result of your selling of a taxable capital asset. Other ways that CGT events can be triggered include giving away a taxable capital asset.

 It is essential to be aware that if you are investing simply as a hobby rather than operating as a business any losses you make cannot offset your other income (for example; salary). Instead, if you make a capital loss for the year, you’re able to carry it forward and use it to offset any future capital gains.

 Trading One Cryptocurrency for Another

 Cryptocurrency tax in Australia, cryptocurrency traders and investors will often sell one cryptocurrency in exchange for another cryptocurrency. For example, you might sell 1 bitcoin in exchange for 45 ether.

 Whenever you make this sort of transaction, you must retrieve the Australian dollar ($A) equivalent values of the cryptocurrencies involved in the swap.

  • What was the $A value of the 1 bitcoin when you acquired it?
  • What was the $A value of the 1 bitcoin when you traded it for the 45 ether?

You’ll then be able to calculate your capital gain on the sale of 1 bitcoin in Australian dollars.

The $A value of the sale of your 1 bitcoin will then form the cost base of your 45 ether. This cost base will be used in the future should you sell your ether.

Tax On Cryptocurrency Airdrops

Where you acquire “free” cryptocurrency through events such as airdrops and gas distributions, the cost base for tax purposes will be zero.

If you sell this “free” cryptocurrency for $10, your gain will be $10 as there is no cost base to offset this.

 What Is The Tax Rate On Cryptocurrency Gains?

 To answer this question it will depend on the corporate structure that you operate in that is, as a company, trust or individual. In Australia, the corporate tax rate for most companies is 27.5%.

 For people living in Australia, your tax rate depends on which tax bracket you fall into and takes all of your taxable income into consideration. The more income you earn, the higher tax rate you must pay.

 The 2020 tax brackets for Australian individuals are: 

  • When taxable income is $0–$18,200, tax paid is zero.
  • When taxable income is $18,201–$37,000, tax paid is 19 cents per dollar over $18,200.
  • When taxable income is $37,001–$90,000, tax paid is $3,752 plus 32.5 cents per dollar over $37,000.
  • When taxable income is $90,001–$180,000, tax paid is $20,797 plus 37 cents per dollar over $90,000.
  • When taxable income is $180,001 and higher, tax paid is $54,097 plus 45 cents per dollar over $180,000.

Distinguish Between Crypto Business & Individual Investor or Trader

 It is important to ask yourself what capacity are you buying and selling cryptocurrency. Are you selling or buying as a business? As an individual investor? As an individual trader?  Knowing the answer to this question is very important as there are different implications surrounding tax treatment and reporting requirements.

There isn’t any single factor that determines if you are “in the business of buying and selling cryptocurrency.” That said, some key characteristics of running a business are listed below.

  • Operating under a registered business name or Australian Business Number (ABN).
  • Your intention of the operation is to make a profit.
  • You repeat similar types of activities.
  • Your activity is planned, organised and carried out in a business-like manner (e.g. record keeping, business-specific bank account).

If you fail to satisfy many of the above criteria, your buying and selling of cryptocurrency is likely classified as an individual investor or trader rather than part of the operations of a business.

A business will have greater reporting requirements to the ATO as well as different tax treatments of their cryptocurrency buying and selling.

One major difference is that cryptocurrency held by a business is not treated as a capital item. This means that any cryptocurrency sales do not attract any CGT and are not eligible as far as any the CGT discount goes.

Cryptocurrency Transaction Recording Keeping

To make things easier come tax time, the ATO and tax professionals strongly recommend that you keep the following records for all of your cryptocurrency transactions:

  • Transaction date
  • Transaction value in $A
  • Description of the transaction
  • Receipt of the purchase or sale transaction

All of the above information will ensure you keep adequate records for the ATO.

It is important to realise that the ATO has extremely sophisticated and ever-improving data-matching technologies. This means ATO staff can likely access and track your exchange records to determine your trading history.

If you fail to report all of your transactions to the ATO, it is highly likely that it will find out. It may not find out immediately after you lodge your tax return, but rather several years down the track. This can result in significant fines and penalties.