Digital currencies

Digital currency is electronic money. It’s not available as bills or coins.

Cryptocurrencies are a type of digital currency created using computer algorithms. The most popular cryptocurrency is Bitcoin.

No single organization, such as a central bank, creates digital currencies. Digital currencies are based on a decentralized, peer-to-peer (P2P) network. The “peers” in this network are the people that take part in digital currency transactions, and their computers make up the network.

Using digital currencies

You can use digital currencies to buy goods and services on the Internet and in stores that accept digital currencies. You may also buy and sell digital currency on open exchanges, called digital currency or cryptocurrency exchanges. An open exchange is similar to a stock market. 

To use digital currencies, you need to create a digital currency wallet to store and transfer digital currencies. You can store your wallet yourself or have a wallet provider manage your digital currency for you.

You need a “public key” and a “private key” to use your wallet. Keys are made up of a random sequence of numbers and letters.

Public keys are used to identify your wallet.

Private keys are used to unlock your wallet and access your money. Private keys should be kept secret.

All transactions are recorded to a public ledger or “blockchain” that everyone can see.

How tax rules apply to digital currency

Tax rules apply to digital currency transactions, including those made with cryptocurrencies. Using digital currency does not exempt consumers from Canadian tax obligations.

This means digital currencies are subject to the Income Tax Act.

Buying goods or services using digital currency

Goods purchased using digital currency must be included in the seller’s income for tax purposes. GST/HST also applies on the fair market value of any goods or services you buy using digital currency.

Buying and selling digital currency like a commodity

When you file your taxes you must report any gains or losses from selling or buying digital currencies.

Digital currencies are considered a commodity and are subject to the barter rules of the Income Tax Act. Not reporting income from such transactions is illegal.

Tips for using digital currency

Here are a few tips to help you protect yourself when using digital currency.

Protect your wallet

Take steps to protect your wallet:

  • keep your wallet, and any backups, in a safe place
  • encrypt your wallet using encryption software
  • encrypt any copies you make or online backups
  • set a password to help prevent thieves from withdrawing your funds
  • use a strong password that contains letters, numbers and symbols

Know the merchant’s refund, return and dispute policies

Before you make a purchase, find out:

  • what the exchange rate will be
  • if refunds are available
  • if refunds will be processed in digital currency, Canadian dollars or store credit
  • how to contact someone if there’s a problem

Wait for multiple confirmations before completing a transaction

It can take 10 minutes or more for a digital currency transaction to be confirmed. Confirmation happens when users on the network verify the transaction. During that time, a transaction could be reversed and you could lose your funds to a dishonest user.

Understand what the actual costs will be

Find out if there are any mark-ups or other fees. Find out what will happen if the rate changes before the exchange is completed.

Think about the future

Consider what will happen if you fall ill or die and can no longer access your wallet.

If no one knows the locations and passwords of your wallets when you are gone, the funds can’t be recovered.

Consider having a backup plan for your peers and family.

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