As cryptocurrencies grow in popularity, so does the number of traditional finance concepts that apply to the space. Wash sale is an approach familiar to traditional assets like stocks or bonds to reduce tax burden. But how does it apply to crypto?

In this article, you’ll learn what a crypto wash sale is, how it works, and how the wash sale rule may apply to digital assets.

What Is a Wash Sale?

In traditional finance, a wash sale happens when you sell a security at a loss and then buy the same or significantly identical security within a short period.

The most important aspect of a wash sale is the timing. It typically occurs within a short period before or after the initial sale of an asset. The biggest reason why investors do this is to realize a loss on their investments, which can then be used to offset capital gains for tax purposes. 

However, some tax authorities have implemented rules to prevent the abuse of this strategy. For example, in the US, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has specific regulations regarding wash sales. If you sell a security at a loss and buy a substantially identical security within 30 days before or after the sale, the loss may be disallowed for tax purposes. This rule is designed to prevent investors from creating artificial losses for tax advantages without making significant changes to their investment positions.

How Does a Crypto Wash Sale Work?

Crypto wash sales work similarly to wash sales in traditional securities like stocks and bonds. Wash sales generally have a two-step process, which is:

Sell asset at a loss: The process begins with selling a cryptocurrency at a loss. It could be a deliberate decision to realize a loss for tax purposes or simply due to market fluctuations.

Buy back the asset: The other element of a wash sale is repurchasing the same or a substantially identical asset within a short timeframe, often within 30 days before or after the initial sale.

However, depending on the tax jurisdiction, if a wash sale is detected, the capital loss might be disallowed, meaning you can’t use it to offset other capital gains for tax purposes.

For example, let’s say you own 1 BTC valued at $30,000. Due to a market downturn, you decided to sell it at $25,000, resulting in a capital loss of $5,000. However, to re-enter the market at a lower price, you repurchased an equivalent amount of BTC within a mere 15-day window.

Unknown to you, this seemingly straightforward maneuver may have already triggered the wash sale rule. The consequence could be the disallowance of the incurred $5,000 capital loss for tax-loss harvesting purposes, which means it will be added to the cost basis of the recent BTC you purchased. 

Does the Wash Sale Rule Apply to Crypto?

As crypto is still a relatively new asset class, the rules regarding crypto wash sale are still unclear.

In the US, the IRS has specific rules that guide wash sales of stocks and other types of securities. But since not all cryptocurrencies have been definitively proven to be securities, there’s no absolute answer to guide investors in this respect. 

Also, some countries might have stringent rules, while others may not have specific guidelines for crypto transactions. Therefore, you should be aware of the tax laws in your own country and consult with tax professionals to ensure compliance and understand the implications of your transactions.

How to Avoid Crypto Wash Sale Rule Violations

Avoiding crypto wash sale rule violations requires careful adherence to tax regulations in your country. Some tips for navigating this include:

  • Understand the tax rules: The rules related to wash sales can vary, so it’s crucial to know the guidelines applicable to you.
  • Extend holding period: If you’re looking to claim a capital loss, consider waiting for at least 30 days after selling a cryptocurrency at a loss before buying the same crypto or a very similar asset. 
  • Seek professional advice: Tax regulations can be complex, especially in the crypto asset space, as there are some grey areas. Consult with a tax professional who is knowledgeable about cryptocurrency taxation. They can provide personalized advice based on your specific situation.

Though wash sales are more established in traditional securities markets, cryptocurrencies are relatively new, which means tax regulations related to wash sales in the crypto space are still evolving. Investors should know the specific tax implications and regulations based on their situation in their respective countries to ensure they adhere to crypto laws.