IRS Chief Counsel recently examined the tax treatment of crowdfunding activities in a new information letter (Information Letter 2016-36). Crowdfunding is a relatively recent phenomenon, used by an individual or entity to raise funds through small individual contributions from a large number of people. The guidance notes that the income tax consequences to a taxpayer of a crowdfunding effort depend on all the facts and circumstances surrounding that effort.
In general, Chief Counsel determined, crowdfunding revenues are included in the recipient’s gross income. Code Sec. 61(a) generally provides that gross income includes all income from whatever source derived. However, there are some benefits that a taxpayer receives that are excluded from income because they do not meet the definition of gross income or because a specific exclusion exists.
Chief Counsel observed that money received without an offsetting liability, such as a repayment obligation, that is neither a capital contribution to an entity in exchange for a capital interest in the entity, nor a gift, is included in income. The facts and circumstance surrounding the receipt of crowdfunding revenue must be considered to determine it is income.
Chief Counsel concluded that crowdfunding revenues generally are included in income if they are not (1) loans that must be repaid; (2) capital contributed to an entity in exchange for an equity interest in the entity; or (3) gifts made out of detached generosity and without any “quid pro quo.” Crowdfunding revenues also must generally be included in income to the extent they are received for services rendered or are gains from the sale of property.
Chief Counsel also examined constructive receipt rules in relation to crowdfunding. Income, although not actually reduced to a taxpayer’s possession, is constructively received in the tax year during which it is credited to the taxpayer’s account, set apart for the taxpayer, or otherwise made available. Further, although income is not constructively received if the taxpayer’s control of the income is subject to substantial limitations or restrictions, a self-imposed restriction on the availability of income does not legally defer recognition of that income, Chief Counsel noted.
These are only the specific issues that Chief Counsel addressed in Information Letter 2016-36. As the crowdfunding space develops, more guidance is likely to follow.