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The IRS recently obtained a “John Doe” summons on Circle. Circle uses blockchain technology to help internet businesses accept payments and send payments globally on their platform. Circle developed and launched the USD Coin (USDC), which is a stablecoin that people can use to transmit value between parties. USDC is redeemable on a 1:1 basis for US dollars and is backed by fully reserved assets.

According to the press release, the IRS is seeking information about US taxpayers who conducted at least $20,000 in transactions with or through Circle between 2016 and 2020. This summons is a step towards the IRS uncovering taxpayers who may be remiss in their tax reporting of cryptocurrency transactions.


This John Doe summons signals that the IRS is continuing to work to ensure that taxpayers are compliant in their tax obligations as they relate to cryptocurrency, and should serve as a reminder to anyone who buys, sells, transfers, or transacts in cryptocurrencies that they need to comply with their tax obligations. As a reminder, anyone filing a tax return this year on Form 1040 must answer whether they received, sold, sent, exchanged, or otherwise acquired any financial interest in any virtual currency (but if the only transactions were buying cryptocurrency for cash, the answer to that question is no).

Interestingly, if a US taxpayer acquires a true stablecoin using US dollars and subsequently disposes of the stablecoin for US dollars, then there should be no gain or loss recognized for US tax purposes. This is because the taxpayer’s cost basis in the stablecoins should be equivalent to the amount realized on the disposition.

However, if the taxpayer uses other cryptos to acquire the stablecoin, such as USDC, then the taxpayer would have a taxable event. When using stablecoins to acquire a crypto, then the US dollar value of the stablecoins will become the taxpayer’s tax basis in the newly acquired crypto.

Note that this is not tax advice—you need to consult your own tax adviser on this matter.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm or its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.


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Brett Cotler | Associate

Brett Cotler is an associate in Seward & Kissel’s Taxation Group and Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Group. Brett structures and advises clients on investments in digital assets, offerings of digital assets, and crypto-businesses. Brett specializes in U.S. federal and state tax and regulatory matters. He also:

  • Tokenized various assets;

  • Solves complex tax issues for companies, their principals, and their investors;

  • Structured an upstart token exchange; and

  • Advises on New York State Virtual Currency License applications.

“Under current U.S. law, any time a person uses cryptocurrencies for payments, it’s a taxable event, and a lot of casual PayPal users could end up being completely surprised by tax liabilities that could result from buying and selling bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies via PayPal.”
Brett’s thoughts on PayPal’s new crypto services, as published in PaymentsSource article “Why PayPal’s crypto plan may not be fully mainstream.”