What ICO Issuers and Buyers Must Know About Taxes

Lisa Zarlenga is Co-Chair of the Tax Group and John Cobb is an affiliate on the regulation agency of Steptoe & Johnson.

The next article is an unique contribution to CoinDesk’s Crypto and Taxes 2018 sequence.

Within the final couple years, blockchain token issuances–sometimes known as preliminary coin choices or ICOs–have skyrocketed, each when it comes to quantity and measurement.

In line with CoinDesk’s ICO tracker, there have been 43 ICOs in 2016 elevating an mixture $256 million; that quantity jumped to 343 ICOs in 2017 elevating in extra of $5.four billion; so far in 2018, 92 ICOs have raised in extra of $three billion.  

A lot consideration has been paid to regulatory points in reference to token issuances, together with the potential therapy of tokens as securities topic to regulation by the Securities and Alternate Fee, therapy of tokens as commodities topic to regulation by the Commodity Futures Buying and selling Fee, and therapy of issuers as cash companies companies topic to regulation by the Treasury Division’s Monetary Crimes Enforcement Community (FinCEN).  

Much less consideration has been paid to the potential tax points that will come up for each issuers and traders. However these points are simply as actual.

The Inside Income Service (IRS) has not issued any steering in regards to the tax therapy of token issuances. Practitioners and taxpayers, subsequently, typically are left to use present tax guidelines by counting on precedents and guidelines that present imperfect analogies to token issuances.  

Many areas of uncertainty exist, together with the correct characterization of tokens for tax functions; reporting and withholding points for token issuers; and the therapy of token pre-sales via using such devices as Easy Settlement for Future Tokens (SAFT) or Easy Settlement for Future Fairness or Tokens (SAFE-T).

Token tax therapy

Basically, the details and circumstances of a selected token issuance, together with the rights related to a token, have to be analyzed to find out the suitable characterization of the tokens for tax functions.  

A token would possibly correctly be handled as debt or fairness pursuits within the issuing entity, as fairness in a de facto partnership amongst holders of the tokens if there isn’t any entity, as a prepayment for items and companies, as “convertible digital foreign money” below Discover 2014-21 (which is handled as property), or as another kind of property. The tax penalties to issuers and holders will rely on which of those buckets the token falls into.

Fairness. Tokens characterised for tax functions as fairness of an organization (as a result of, for instance, they’ve rights to distributions, rights to a share of earnings, or voting rights) typically don’t end in present tax to issuers, and, if structured correctly, traders could defer tax on any appreciated cryptocurrency used to amass the tokens till they use or eliminate the tokens.  

If the fairness curiosity is in a partnership, nonetheless, the principles can get very sophisticated, and the taxable revenue of the partnership will movement via to the traders, so they might have ongoing tax legal responsibility.

Debt. Tokens characterised as debt (as a result of, for instance, there’s a particular obligation to repay the investor with curiosity) typically don’t give rise to present tax to both the issuer or investor, however may end up in deemed curiosity funds over the lifetime of the “mortgage” and may end up in tax to the issuer if the mortgage is ever forgiven.

Pay as you go good/companies: Tokens could symbolize the power to amass items or companies offered on the platform and, as such, could also be characterised as a prepayment for such items or companies. If the issuer meets sure necessities, together with not recognizing the revenue for monetary accounting functions, it might defer recognition of the revenue from pay as you go items or companies till the next tax yr.

Property. Tokens characterised as property (whether or not convertible digital foreign money below Discover 2014-21 or in any other case) typically end in present tax to the issuer equal to the quantity of the proceeds obtained much less any foundation within the tokens.  

As well as, if the investor used appreciated cryptocurrency to amass the tokens, it would typically end in present tax to the investor on the appreciated cryptocurrency, although relying on the details, the investor might be able to argue that the alternate of cryptocurrency for tokens was a tax-deferred like-kind alternate, at the least earlier than 2018.

Lots of the tokens we have seen have a number of makes use of, together with as a medium of alternate on the platform, and possibly fall into this class.

Thus, ICOs allow token issuers to lift cash early within the life cycle of the corporate, and that cash could also be taxed up entrance if the tokens are handled as property. Nonetheless, the bills to completely develop the platform could also be incurred into the longer term, thus reversing the everyday sample of a start-up firm.

Token airdrops

Some token issuers difficulty a few of their tokens freed from cost via an “airdrop.”

Recipients typically join airdropped tokens via the issuer’s web site, they usually typically must do one thing to obtain them, akin to utilizing social media to unfold the phrase in regards to the tokens.  

The worth of tokens obtained in an airdrop is probably going taxable revenue to the recipient, however they may give rise to a deduction to the issuer if they’re thought of funds for advertising and marketing actions.

Reporting and withholding

Token issuers ought to pay attention to a wide range of reporting and withholding necessities that might apply to token issuances.  

For instance, token issuers may very well be topic to barter alternate reporting guidelines on Type 1099-B if the tokens are correctly characterised as “scrip” via which prospects of the issuer alternate property or companies.  

If a token correctly is characterised as fairness or debt, then a token issuer could have to report on funds made to U.S. holders on the suitable Type 1099 or withhold and report on funds made to international holders of tokens on Type 1042.  

If the token is correctly handled as a partnership curiosity, the issuer should file Type 1065 and Schedule Okay-1’s to companions. Lastly, token issuers ought to take into account the potential software of reporting and withholding necessities on Type 1099 or 1042 in the event that they airdrop tokens.


Token issuers typically pre-sell some tokens via a SAFT or SAFE-T.  

Below a SAFT, the holder sometimes pays a set quantity (in both fiat or cryptocurrency) for the suitable to obtain a determinable quantity of tokens upon the prevalence of a token sale to the general public.

SAFTs sometimes present that the supposed tax therapy of the SAFT is as a ahead contract. If this therapy is revered, then taxation of the acquisition quantity needs to be deferred till supply of the tokens to the SAFT holder. 

Nonetheless, the characterization of a SAFT as a ahead contract is not going to essentially be revered by the IRS; the company could search to re-characterize a SAFT as a debt instrument or to tell apart it from a standard pay as you go ahead contract and tax the proceeds upon receipt.

A SAFE-T relies on a Easy Settlement for Future Fairness (SAFE), which is meant to be handled as fairness quite than convertible debt. The tax therapy of a SAFE-T is unsure, however it incorporates components of each a SAFT and a SAFE.  

Relying on the phrases of the SAFE-T, it may very well be handled as a contingent inventory proper, a SAFT with an fairness kicker, or an funding unit consisting of an fairness ingredient and a SAFT ingredient. 


It needs to be apparent from this dialogue that there’s little steering from the IRS on how you can deal with a token providing, SAFT, or SAFE-T for tax functions.  

Figuring out how you can characterize these devices for tax functions is a fact-intensive course of. Issuers ought to seek the advice of a tax adviser for help in structuring their token choices in order to reduce the chance that the IRS will re-characterize them.

Tax form picture through Shutterstock.

The chief in blockchain information, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the best journalistic requirements and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an impartial working subsidiary of Digital Foreign money Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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