In-Depth Guide to Crypto Tax-Loss Harvesting

Written By
G. Dautovic
October 03,2023

In the ever-evolving crypto landscape, savvy investors are always on the lookout for strategies to optimize their portfolios and minimize tax liabilities, especially in times of bear markets like these we’re living through right now.

One such strategy which can help you minimize your taxes is called crypto tax-loss harvesting.

What Is Crypto Tax-Loss Harvesting?

Crypto tax-loss harvesting is a strategic financial maneuver employed to mitigate tax liabilities.

This legal strategy is particularly useful in the volatile cryptocurrency market, where investors can sell underperforming assets to realize a capital loss, after which the losses can be used to offset capital gains or even ordinary income, reducing the overall tax bill for the financial year.

How Crypto Tax Loss-Harvesting Works

To better illustrate how you can use tax-loss harvesting as a crypto investor, here’s a quick example. 

Let’s say you purchased $20,000 worth of a promising new token in January, and before the end of the tax year the value of the investment dropped to $17,000, representing a 15% unrealized loss.

You could, of course, opt to hold on to your asset and hope for a market rebound, or you can take the crypto tax-loss harvesting route in order to reduce your tax liability for the year.

If you choose this path and sell your crypto asset before the tax year ends, you will realize $3,000 in losses.

The process of tax harvesting your crypto losses should look like this:

  1. Choose a Cost Basis Method: The IRS allows you to choose between four cost basis methods, namely First In First Out, Last in First Out, Highest In First Out and Specific Identification. Each option has the potential to impact your capital gain or loss calculations. 
  2. Review Your Portfolio: You can do the review yourself or with the help of cutting-edge crypto tax calculators, or crypto portfolio tracker apps, which greatly simplify and expedite the process, and in some cases even offer tax-loss harvesting features.
  3. Identify Losses: Leverage analytics to determine which assets are trading below their acquisition cost. Don't just stop at the numbers; consider the market trends for these assets to determine whether it's a temporary dip or a long-term decline, and whether you should write off your crypto losses or opt for a tax-loss harvesting approach.
  4. Sell Assets: The next phase involves executing these sales. Transaction fees and potential slippage can significantly impact the amount of loss you can harvest, so it’s important to be aware of these things before selling.
  5. Record Losses: Once the sale is executed, it’s crucial to keep record of your losses and make sure that the documentation you have is meticulous . This information will be indispensable when filing your taxes and can even protect you in case of an IRS audit.
  6. Offset Gains: The harvested losses can be used to counterbalance any gains you've accrued in other parts of your portfolio. This is typically done when filing your taxes, using IRS Form 8949 and Schedule D.
  7. Report to IRS: All this information must be included in your annual tax filing. IRS Form 8949 and Schedule D are the standard forms used for this purpose.

Wash Sale Rule and Crypto Tax-Loss Harvesting

In traditional markets like stocks and bonds, the "wash sale" rule, as mandated by the IRS, restricts investors from engaging in a transaction where an asset is sold at a loss and repurchased within a 30-day timeframe.

Cryptocurrencies, however, are currently exempt from the wash sale rule, even though they’ve been categorized as personal property for a long time now.

This gives crypto investors a big advantage and much more leeway in how you manage your assets and approach your investments.

When to Use Crypto Tax-Loss Harvesting

Timing is of key importance in crypto tax-loss harvesting. The end of the tax year is often the best possible moment, as it provides a comprehensive view of your financial landscape for the year.

Market downturns like the crypto bear market trend of 2023 also present golden opportunities to harvest losses. Moreover, if you're contemplating a large sale of an appreciated asset, preemptive loss harvesting can significantly mitigate the ensuing capital gains tax.

How Much of My Losses Should I Harvest?

The amount to harvest is contingent on your unique financial circumstances and tax bracket. Consult a tax advisor for a tailored strategy. Generally, aim to offset all capital gains and up to $3,000 of ordinary income, as per IRS guidelines.

Advantages of Crypto Tax-Loss Harvesting

Some of the biggest pros when it comes to crypto tax-loss harvesting are:

  • Reduced Tax Liability. The most compelling advantage of crypto tax-loss harvesting is the potential for a reduced tax bill. By selling off underperforming assets, you can offset gains made elsewhere in your portfolio, which lowers your taxable income and can translate into substantial savings.
  • Portfolio Rebalancing. Another big advantage is the fact that tax-loss harvesting allows you to rebalance your portfolio, as selling off your underperforming assets and reinvesting the freed up capital into higher-performing assets allows you to better optimize your investment portfolio’s performance.
  • Strategic Re-entry. One of the unique aspects of crypto tax-loss harvesting is the absence of a wash sale rule, which typically prevents the repurchase of a sold asset within 30 days to claim a tax loss. This regulatory gap allows crypto investors to re-enter a position almost immediately at a lower cost basis.

Disadvantages of Crypto Tax-Loss Harvesting

There are also some downsides to this strategy, namely:

  • Transaction Costs. While the benefits of tax-loss harvesting are clear, it's essential to consider the associated transaction costs. The fees for selling and buying assets can add up, especially if you're trading in large volumes or using a platform with high fees. These costs can eat into the amount you save on taxes, reducing the overall effectiveness of your tax-loss harvesting strategy.
  • Market Risk. The volatile nature of the crypto market with its historically high price swings poses a significant risk. The asset you sell to harvest a loss might rebound in value shortly after the sale, causing you to miss out on potential gains.
  • Complexity and Record-Keeping. Crypto tax-loss harvesting is not for the faint-hearted; it requires a deep understanding of tax laws and meticulous record-keeping. Any discrepancies in your tax reporting can lead to complications, including potential audits by the IRS.

Bottom Line

Cryptocurrency tax-loss harvesting is an invaluable strategy for savvy investors looking to minimize their crypto tax obligations. While it comes with its complexities and risks, the potential benefits are substantial. Always consult a tax advisor for personalized guidance.


Is crypto tax-loss harvesting legal?


Crypto tax-loss harvesting is absolutely a legitimate and legal tax strategy, but also one that requires a good understanding of the mechanisms and potential downsides that can come with it.

How often can I harvest losses?


You can technically harvest losses as often as you like, but be mindful of transaction costs and the risk of unexpected market rebounds.

About author

I have always thought of myself as a writer, but I began my career as a data operator with a large fintech firm. This position proved invaluable for learning how banks and other financial institutions operate. Daily correspondence with banking experts gave me insight into the systems and policies that power the economy. When I got the chance to translate my experience into words, I gladly joined the smart, enthusiastic Fortunly team.

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