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The IRS Takes A Position On Bitcoin

Bitcoin used to be something like Schrodinger's currency. Without regulatory observers, it could claim to be money and property at the same time.

Now the Internal Revenue Service has opened the box, and the virtual currency's condition is established - at least for federal tax purposes.

The IRS recently issued guidance on how it will treat bitcoin, and any other stateless electronic competitor. The short answer: as property, not currency. Bitcoin, along with other virtual currencies that can be exchanged for legal tender, will now be treated in most cases as a capital asset, and in a few situations as inventory. Bitcoin holders who are not dealers will be subject to capital gains tax on increases in value. Bitcoin "miners," who unlock the currency's algorithms, will need to report their finds as income, just as other miners do when extracting more traditional resources.

Though this decision is unlikely to cause much turbulence, it is worth noting. Now that the IRS has made a call, investors and bitcoin enthusiasts can move forward with a more accurate understanding of what they are (virtually) holding. A bitcoin holder who wants to comply with the tax law, rather than evade it, now knows how to do so.

I think the IRS is correct in determining that bitcoin is not money. Bitcoin, and other virtual currencies like it, is too unstable in value for it to realistically be called a form of currency. In this era of floating exchange rates, it's true that the value of nearly all currencies changes from week to week or year to year relative to any particular benchmark, whether it's the dollar or a barrel of oil. But a key feature of money is to serve Bitcoin Ticket Tic  as a store of value. The worth of the money itself should not change drastically from day to day or hour to hour.

Bitcoin utterly fails this test. Buying a bitcoin is a speculative investment. It is not a place to park your idle, spendable cash. Further, to my knowledge, no mainstream financial institution will pay interest on bitcoin deposits in the form of more bitcoins. Any return on a bitcoin holding comes solely from a change in the bitcoin's value.