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Hardly anyone is paying taxes on their bitcoin gains as filing deadline nears

  • Of the most recent 250,000 filers on the Credit Karma Tax platform, fewer than 100 people reported capital gains on their cryptocurrency investments, data released Friday showed.
  • "If I had to guess, there's probably a lot of underreporting," said Elizabeth Crouse, a Seattle-based partner at law firm K&L Gates. "Most of the people in the cryptocurrency world tend to have a pretty high risk tolerance."

With just a few days to the U.S. tax filing deadline, still only a tiny fraction of Americans have reported their cryptocurrency holdings, according to Credit Karma.

Of the most recent 250,000 filers on the Credit Karma Tax platform, fewer than 100 people reported capital gains on their cryptocurrency investments, data released Friday showed.

"There's a good chance that the perceived complexities of reporting cryptocurrency gains are pushing filers to wait until the very last minute," Jagjit Chawla, general manager of Credit Karma Tax, said in an emailed statement. "I want to reassure people that it's not as complex as it may seem at first glance and that Credit Karma Tax has a number of resources about how to approach bitcoin and taxes."

A customer looks at Bitcoin prices on Coinbase.
Rick Findler | PA Images | Getty Images
A customer looks at Bitcoin prices on Coinbase.

The IRS views bitcoin as property, and transactions using the cryptocurrency — whether to buy goods online or trade for another coin — are generally subject to capital gains tax. Noting all the U.S. dollar equivalents for individual buys, sells and profits for highly volatile digital assets can be cumbersome. If an investor is still holding onto cryptocurrencies bought last year, no taxes are owed.

Bitcoin multiplied more than 13 times last year, and the entire cryptocurrency market gained well over $500 billion in paper value. As a result, U.S. households likely owe $25 billion in capital gains taxes for their digital currency holdings, according to estimates from Tom Lee, head of research at Fundstrat Global Advisors.

Traders have attributed part of bitcoin's more than 40 percent drop so far this year to investors cashing out to pay capital gains taxes ahead of the April 17 tax deadline. Bitcoin suddenly rallied 17 percent Thursday morning and traded above $8,000 Friday morning.

"If I had to guess, there's probably a lot of underreporting," said Elizabeth Crouse, a Seattle-based partner at law firm K&L Gates. "Most of the people in the cryptocurrency world tend to have a pretty high risk tolerance."

That means they're likely more willing to risk the chance the IRS comes knocking.