Token farms are growing rapidly across the US, as the digital economy continues to take off.
They are essentially “token” companies – that is, they are not owned by a company but rather are owned by their owners.
They offer consumers low-cost access to online services, such as email and mobile payments, that could otherwise be out of reach.
They can also help companies develop, manage and monetise their digital assets, with a view to making them a profit.
But the US taxman is now taking a different approach.
According to the Department of Revenue, the government is considering an exemption for token farms.
The exemption is being floated by US Senator Sherrod Brown, who is also a co-sponsor of the Digital Economy Tax Relief Act.
“The question is, how can we make sure that when the money flows to these companies, that the taxpayers are not paying a tax?”
Brown told Al Jazeera.
Taxation ‘unreasonable’ The Department of the Treasury says that the exemption for the token farms is not reasonable because the companies don’t pay taxes on the tokens that they receive, as they are distributed through an exchange.
“This exemption is not a legitimate way to tax this digital currency,” said a spokesperson.
“There is a reason that we have the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to collect taxes on currency and the IRS has a clear and reasonable process for determining whether a tax is owed on virtual currency.”
However, the spokesperson said that the government would consider the exemption “whenever appropriate”.
In a statement, the IRS told AlJazeera that the tax agency is “considering and reviewing” the proposal, and that the department “has a long-standing policy that the Internal Security Tax is a tax on currency that is not properly recorded or recorded with tax returns”.
The IRS did not respond to a request for comment from AlJezebel, but in 2016 the agency told the New York Times that “the IRS is examining whether there is a legitimate need to exempt token farms from tax”.
In its statement, however, the agency said that it “continues to look at the tax treatment of virtual currencies in all circumstances”.
What the Treasury does say About the tax exemption The Treasury does not want to be viewed as taking an easy way out of the tax code, however.
In a recent speech, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that token farms have been “put on notice” by the tax department.
“We’ve had token farms on notice since the start of the crypto economy,” Mnuchin told the Senate.
“I don’t think it’s unreasonable that we look at this differently.”
The Treasury’s statement also says that it will continue to “examine the tax-compliance challenges that token networks and exchanges face”.
In other words, token farms are not necessarily tax-free, but they do not pay taxes either.
“It’s very clear that if we are going to do anything, we need to get tax rates down, we have to get the money flowing back into our economy,” said Chris Whelan, a US tax expert and professor at the University of Washington.
“If we are taxing the money that is being generated by these token farms, that is a revenue problem.”
Taxing digital currency has become a hot topic in recent months, with many politicians, regulators and academics questioning whether the tax authorities are taking too long to address the issue.
In February, the US Senate passed the Digital Currency Fairness Act, which aims to make it easier for people to get online and pay their taxes.
“While we’re focused on the tax bill for the current Congress, we also need to think about how we can apply the tax law in a way that helps the digital currency ecosystem and is transparent to consumers,” Senator Brown told the Associated Press.
The US tax department has also been cracking down on other businesses and individuals who use cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and litecoin, arguing that the digital currencies are illegal and therefore are not subject to the tax laws.
“Tax evasion is a federal crime and if we can’t track that tax evasion we don’t have to pay taxes,” said Eric Pahon, a tax attorney and tax policy analyst at the Tax Foundation.
“But we don.
We’re doing that through our tax code.”
How tokens work It is not clear exactly how the US government intends to tax digital currency tokens.
But according to the Tax Policy Center, the tax system currently treats token farms and other digital assets as assets that are taxed at a “fixed” rate.
The Tax Policy Institute argues that the fixed rate is a “useful tool for the government to understand the revenue it’s receiving from digital currencies”.
If a digital asset is held for a certain period of time, the Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) is generated and then used to verify ownership of the asset.
In other cases, tokens are created to provide users with access to certain services, but the TIN is not required to be a valid document. “Tokens