India now accounts for about 10% of the global trade in Bitcoin. It is quite interesting to note that even though the Indian government has not granted recognition to the cryptocurrency, it has also not declared it to be illegal.
Use of Bitcoin has witnessed an upsurge in India. This can be attributed to many factors. We have a large number of people whose curiosity has prompted them to ‘try’ dealing with Bitcoins to know what the fuss is all about. Another section includes the freelancers of this generation; who are taking up projects of their interest, across continents. In this case, bitcoin acts as a uniform currency. Due to its decentralised and non-regulated nature, it is the quickest and the easiest way to make payments.
But being an Indian citizen (and a responsible one!), it becomes imperative to understand what happens to the wealth accumulated. This also becomes extremely necessary in the wake of people making profits that are more than 1000 times their investments. How vocal is the regulatory framework about accumulation of such wealth?
The Income Tax Laws in India provide for 5 basic heads for a citizen to pay their tax under. A division of such heads has been done so beautifully, that it tries to never leave a scope for anyone to take advantage of tax laws. The 5 heads are:
- Income from house property;
- Income from salary;
- Income from capital gain;
- Income from business or profession;
- Income from other sources.
The 5th head, i.e. income from other sources is the savior here. In case of any confusion about what head should a wealth be declared under, this section serves as the solution.
When it comes to bitcoins, we can imagine 4 scenarios of their origin and how they can be taxed in each of those :
Exhibit A : When you have mined Bitcoins yourself
So out of sheer curiosity you decided to employ your processors to mine bitcoin? By logic, since you mined them yourself, these should technically fall under the category of self generated capital assets. And should you choose to sell them off, you are going to amass capital gains. This would require you to define the cost of acquisition of your property, i.e. Bitcoin. But since you generated this yourself, it doesn’t fall within the purview of the law, as under Section 55 of the Income Tax Act, 1961.
What this means: Capital gains tax doesn’t arise on the mining of bitcoins.
What you can do: Till the time there is no concrete provision, you can list your Bitcoin wealth, as income from other sources (the 5th head.)
Exhibit B : When you’ve held Bitcoins as an investment
Investment in bitcoin has seemed to be the safer idea for the lot who doesn’t have direct access to buying bitcoin. With the fluctuations in the price of Bitcoin, investment in this cryptocurrency has become a very lucrative way to earn profits from the difference in prices of Bitcoin as a result of market fluctuations. It is in this case that tax on bitcoin will come under the 3rd head, i.e. “income from capital gain.”
Investments are either long term or short term. The dividing line for investments in Bitcoin is 3 years :
- If the period for which you are holding your bitcoin is more than 3 years, the investment is long term. In this case, you shall be charged 20% tax. The benefit of indexation will be applicable as per the Income Tax Act, 1961.
- If the period for which you are holding your bitcoin is less than 3 years, the investment is short term. In this case, you shall be taxed at the individual slab rate.
Exhibit C : Trading in Bitcoin
Who is a Bitcoin trader? The definition is absent in Income Tax Act, 1961. The layman’s definition of a bitcoin trader is someone who frequently trades in Bitcoin, in such a way that it almost looks like this is his business or profession.
What you can do: In case you’re a trader of bitcoin, you shall be taxed under the head “income from business or profession,” until some more clarity is provided by the Indian government with regard to their stance on taxability of Bitcoin.
Exhibit D : When Bitcoin is received as a Payment/Consideration
Let’s understand what is meant by consideration. Say, I really liked a pen in the shop. The pen costs Rs. 100. But I have only Rs. 10. I really want to buy the pen, and I want to go home and get the money and come back and take this pen. I can give Rs. 10 to the shopkeeper, as consideration, in return for a promise that he would not sell this pen to anybody else until I come back.
In some cases Bitcoin can be received as a payment or consideration. In this case, the cryptocurrency would be treated as regular currency. So the payment or consideration that you have received in return for your services, would be taxed under “income from business or profession.”
With subsequent clarity in tax laws, the ambiguity shall resolve and it will become easier to pay taxes for cryptocurrencies.