SARS is going after taxpayers with these assets

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) has published an updated guidance note on how it will treat crypto-assets in South Africa, and taxpayers should declare them in their returns.

The note should perhaps be seen in the context of the various comments made by SARS recently on the taxation of crypto assets, the perceived non-compliance by crypto-asset holders and how serious SARS is taking non-compliance, says Thomas Lobban, legal manager: crypto asset taxation at Tax Consulting SA.

Below he outlined some of the key points of the new guidance and what taxpayers should generally know as SARS targets crypto-assets.

SARS has created a special spot for declaring you held crypto assets

A common misconception is that where you have simply held crypto assets, but have not made any trades, you do not have to make any disclosure to SARS, Lobban said.

The 2020/21 tax return requires that you must make a specific disclosure under the ‘Statement of Local Assets and Liabilities’ section, he said.

“The consequence hereof is that all individuals who have acquired and held crypto assets during the tax year must disclose these holdings to SARS in their returns, regardless of whether any taxable events took place.

“This is easy to get wrong and taxpayers should be sure to tread carefully.”

Where you do not make this disclosure, even negligently, this is now a criminal offence under the Tax Administration Act, Lobban said.

Confusion remains on Income Tax vs. Capital Gains Tax

In countries where income tax and capital gains tax are subject to the same rate, the nature of trading versus investment is not important, Lobban said.

“In South Africa, the top marginal personal income tax rate is 45% and top marginal capital gains tax rate is 18% – therefore a point of great significance.

“In SARS’ CGT Guide, it was mentioned that ‘given their extreme volatility, cryptocurrencies are likely to be held as a speculative asset of a revenue nature’. This is probably generally true, but not always the case.”

Despite this, the guidance information published earlier this week only gives examples of capital gains tax disclosures, Lobban said.

“There are no examples given of income tax disclosure, which means taxpayers may fall on the wrong side of the law by just following the guidance provided by SARS.”

Importance of compliance

There is no legitimate way for crypto asset investors to remain ‘invisible’ from a SARS perspective and, while many may still be in denial of this, SARS will keep on getting sharper, said Lobban.

“Even where you fail to disclose correctly now, the non-disclosure is permanent and will come back in a few years to catch-up with the taxpayer.

“SARS has appointed specialists to deal with crypto assets, yet the market has not seen any prosecutions in this area of tax.”

One thing is absolutely for certain, however – it is no longer enough to hide in plain sight, said Lobban.

Crypto-asset holdings (not just gains and losses) must now be declared in your returns, and we will soon start seeing the wheels of justice turn quickly for those who are slow to the uptake.

Read: Foreigners are pulling their money out of South Africa, JSE warns

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SARS is going after taxpayers with these assets