Are you making profits from DeFi in Australia? The chances are some of your gains are going to be subject to tax, whether that be Capital Gains or Income tax. Here we delve deep into Australia DeFi transactions and how to decipher which type of tax you should be paying to ATO.
What is DeFi?
We’ve got an in-depth general DeFi guide that covers everything you need to know about DeFi on a more macro level. But for our purposes in this Australian guide: DeFi is an all-encompassing term for a variety of financial apps built on blockchain technology.
The term DeFi itself is short for decentralised finance. In essence, DeFi hopes to provide all the services traditional centralised financial institutions — like banks or even cryptocurrency exchanges — do, but without any limitations like regulations, borders and policies.
To understand this better, let’s look at an example. You want to take a loan out from the bank. To do this, you need to go to the bank, provide personal information like your name, address, proof of your income, your credit score, your citizenship and more. The bank has all the power in this situation — they set the terms of the agreement, the repayment schedule and the rate of interest. They decide whether or not they’ll approve you for the loan based on your personal data and circumstances — and they can refuse you.
With DeFi, there is no bank or any other intermediary party. Funds are created from liquidity pools. Liquidity pools are crowdsourced pools of cryptocurrencies or tokens locked in a smart contract that is used to facilitate trades between the assets on a decentralised exchange (DEX). Instead of traditional markets of buyers and sellers, many decentralised finance (DeFi) platforms use automated market makers (AMMs), which allow digital assets to be traded in an automatic and permissionless manner through the use of liquidity pools.
What can DeFi do?
What can't DeFi do might be a better question. DeFi apps are constantly evolving and adding new functionalities. What this means is there is an ever-growing list of transactions that investors can make with DeFi apps. Currently this includes:
- Send money to anyone, anywhere.
- Buy, sell and trade cryptocurrencies.
- Invest in stable currencies.
- Loan or borrow crypto.
- Earn interest and rewards through staking, yield farming and liquidity mining.
- Advanced trading like derivatives, margin and leveraged trading.
- Crowdfund and invest in new DeFi projects.
- Insure your crypto investments.
- Manage and grow your crypto investments automatically.
- Gamble and bet crypto.
With all these different transactions comes different taxation.
Most popular DeFi protocols
The DeFi market is undergoing constant growth. Where it once started by imitating the services provided by typical centralised crypto exchanges, the financial services offered now are far more vast in DEX. Let’s look at some examples of popular DeFi protocols.
- Buy, sell and trade crypto on decentralised exchanges (Dexes) like Curve and Uniswap.
- Borrow and loan crypto through decentralised lending protocols like Aave and Compound.
- Open a savings account through DeFi protocols like Anchor.
- Buy, sell and trade NFTs through decentralised NFT marketplaces like Open Sea.
- Insure crypto, NFTs and other digital assets through DeFi insurance protocols like Armor and Unslashed.
- Make margin trades, trade derivatives, options and other CFDs through DeFi protocols like Opyn and Lyra.
- Diversify and balance your crypto portfolio through DeFi indexes like Set Protocol and Index Coop.
- Play DeFi games like Axie Infinity, Decentraland and Sandbox.
- Use specific decentralised apps (Dapps) like PoolTogether.
- Gamble crypto and bet crypto through DeFi gambling protocols like Wink.
How do you make money with DeFi?
As you can see from the above — investors can use DeFi protocols to do a huge number of things and this list is always growing as more projects launch. But how do you use DeFi to make money or earn crypto?
Well, there’s a number of ways. You can use dexes to make money the same way you would from centralised exchanges like Binance and Coinbase — by selling, swapping and buying different crypto tokens.
Many of the cryptocurrencies used in DeFi use proof-of-stake blockchain networks. For example, the Binance Smart Chain that hosts PancakeSwap or Polygon. In the Binance Smart Chain example, investors can stake BNB to become a delegator and are rewarded with transaction fees on the blockchain in return for validating transactions.
One of the key ways investors make money is by providing liquidity to various DeFi liquidity pools. DeFi protocols need these liquidity pools to function, otherwise investors using them wouldn’t be able to easily trade, sell, buy or borrow crypto assets. As mentioned before, when you provide liquidity to a given DeFi protocol — you’re rewarded with a share of the transaction fees related to the pool you’ve invested in. This might be in the form of the crypto you provide, but more often than not it’s now provided in the form of liquidity pool tokens, a specific kind of governance or reward token you can sell or invest elsewhere. This is known as liquidity mining. Popular examples of liquidity mining include:
- Earning CRV tokens by providing liquidity for Curve.
- Earning CAKE tokens by providing liquidity for PancakeSwap.
- Earning aTokens by providing liquidity for Aave.
These are just a few examples. The reality is all DeFi protocols and projects need investment to remove the need for an intermediary party — not just dexes or lending protocols like the above. You can invest in the vast majority of DeFi protocols regardless of the service they’re providing.
As well as this, yield farming has become a popular way to make money from DeFi protocols. This comes down to the way various DeFi protocols ‘stack’. This allows investors to earn compound interest. For example, let’s say you provide liquidity to Curve and you earn CRV tokens as a reward. You can then invest these CRV tokens into Convex Finance to earn rewards on your CRV tokens as well. This is just one example of many. Other popular yield farming protocols include:
- Yearn Finance
We mentioned DeFi games above. One of the reasons DeFi games have become so incredibly popular is the play-to-earn model (P2E). P2E examples include:
- Axie Infinity: Farm SLP tokens, earn AXS tokens by playing, breed and sell Axies and rent or sell Lunacia land.
- Decentraland and Sandbox: earn within the metaverse.
- DeFi Land: a multi-chain agricultural simulation, gamifying yield farming.
How does ATO tax DeFi?
This all comes down to whether your crypto is viewed as income or a capital. This means it all comes up to how your specific DeFi protocol works.
DeFi Capital Gains
ATO taxes cryptocurrency as both capital assets and regular income. This all depends on how you earned it.
If your crypto is seen as income, you’ll pay Income Tax on it. Meanwhile, if your crypto is seen as a capital asset, you’ll pay Capital Gains Tax. Let’s break the current guidance down on both.
If your crypto is seen as a capital asset, whenever you dispose of your capital asset, you’ll pay Capital Gains Tax on any profit. Disposals of a capital asset include:
- Selling crypto for AUD or other fiat currencies.
- Trading crypto for another crypto - including liquidity pool tokens.
- Spending crypto on goods or services (unless the personal use asset rule applies).
- Gifting crypto.
Remember, most countries have a capital gains allowance, whereby you are only taxed for capital gains on amounts over this allowance. For example, in the UK the allowance is £12,300. Australia offers no such allowance, instead Australian gains held longer than 1 year receive a 50% Capital Gains Tax discount. In other words, HODLing is a good idea.
See our full Australian crypto tax guide for more info.
Meanwhile, if your crypto is seen as income, you’ll pay Income Tax on the fair market value of your crypto in $AUS from when you bought it. Examples of crypto income include:
- Getting paid in crypto.
- Mining crypto (unless your mining is at a ‘hobby level’).
- Staking crypto.
- Hard forks.
Anytime you're seen to be 'earning' from DeFi— whether that's new coins or tokens — it's likely that the ATO will view this as additional income and you'll pay Income Tax based on the fair market value of the asset in AUD on the day you received it.
Please note, this is not tax advice. You should consult a qualified accountant for bespoke advice on your DeFi investments and reporting it to the ATO.
All this said, let's take a look at the most common DeFi transactions and how they might be taxed under the current ATO guidance.
Buying, selling and trading on dexes tax
Buying crypto with fiat currency is tax free, while selling crypto for fiat currency is always subject to Capital Gains Tax - although you'll get a 50% discount if you've held for more than a year. It doesn't matter whether you're using centralised or decentralised exchanges, nor the tokens you're using.
Trading on dexes
Trading tokens on dexes? Whether you're into ERC-20 tokens, BEP-20 tokens or even NFTs, it's all the same from a tax perspective. Trading one crypto for another is a disposal and profits are subject to capital gains tax.
CAPITAL GAINS TAX
Liquidity pools tax
Adding/removing liquidity from pools
As you're not disposing of an asset, you might think of adding and removing liquidity from various DeFi protocols as more akin to a transfer, but it's not quite the case because in almost all instances - you'll receive a token in return representing your stake in the pool, known as liquidity pool tokens. Similarly, when you want your asset back, you'll swap your LP tokens back for your original asset and sometimes the rewards you've earned.
What this means is that under the current ATO guidance - this is more akin to a crypto to crypto trade. So you'll likely need to pay Capital Gains Tax on any profits as a result of liquidity pool transfers.
CAPITAL GAINS TAX
Rewards from pools and earning interest from DeFi
The way you're taxed on rewards from staking, lending or liquidity pools all depends on how that specific DeFi protocol works and how your rewards are paid out. There's two main ways these protocols work.
1. You add to a pool and you receive tokens in return. Your rewards from your capital in the pool aren't paid out in the form of new tokens, but instead your LP tokens accrue value. You'll only realise that gain when you remove your capital from the pool and trade your tokens back. This would be more akin to a crypto to crypto trade and therefore profits subject to Capital Gains Tax.
2. You add to a pool and receive tokens in return. You receive new tokens as a result of your capital in the pool. These new tokens are more likely to be considered income and as such, you'll need to pay Income Tax based on the fair market value of the new tokens in AUD on the day you received them.
In other words, earning new tokens is likely to be subject to Income Tax, while tokens that accrue value are more likely to be subject to Capital Gains Tax.
INCOME TAX/CAPITAL GAINS TAX
DeFi lending tax
The tax on DeFi loans will depend on whether you're borrowing or lending crypto.
Borrowing crypto doesn't seem like a taxable event, but it might be depending on how your specific DeFi protocol works. If you need to put up collateral in order to loan crypto and you receive tokens in return representing your collateral, this could be viewed as a crypto to crypto trade and you'll need to pay Capital Gains Tax on any profits from transactions as a result.
Your interest payments could potentially be viewed as spending crypto, which would be a disposal and subject to Capital Gains Tax. However, these may be deductible as costs depending on the purposes of your loan (what you spent it on) and the volume you're trading at.
Meanwhile, if you're lending crypto, chances are you'll similarly receive tokens in return representing your loaned crypto. This again, is likely to be seen as a crypto to crypto trade and potentially profits will be subject to Capital Gains Tax.
The tax on the interest you earn will depend on how your protocol pays out. Earning new tokens? Income Tax. Tokens that accrue value? Capital Gains Tax.
CAPITAL GAINS TAX
From a DeFi perspective, there's two types of staking - which means two potential different kinds of taxation.
Staking as part of a PoS mechanism
Many DeFi protocols are built on proof of stake blockchains - like Cardano, Avalanche and Terra. In order to function, these blockchains need validators who earn rewards in return for staking.
If you're using a non-custodial wallet to stake - for example Yoroi or Daedalus to stake ADA - you'll need to pay Income Tax on your staking rewards. You'll pay Income Tax based on the fair market value of the tokens in AUD on the day you received them.
Meanwhile, there's also what's known as DeFi staking. This is where you stake crypto assets with a given protocol in order to earn rewards. Like with most of DeFi taxation, the tax you'll pay depends on the specific DeFi protocol you're using. SushiSwap is one of the best examples of this as you could potentially pay either Income or Capital Gains Tax depending on which protocol you're using on the platform.
For example, if you have SLP or KMP tokens you want to stake - you can do so and earn SUSHI tokens as a reward. As you're earning new tokens, you'll need to pay Income Tax based on the fair market value of your SUSHI tokens (in AUD) on the day you received them.
Now you want to stake your SUSHI tokens in the Sushi Bar to compound those rewards. But when you use the Sushi Bar protocol, you'll receive XSUSHI tokens in return. You don't earn new XSUSHI tokens when you stake SUSHI, instead XSUSHI tokens accrue value. You'll only realise a gain when you unstake your SUSHI by trading your XSUSHI tokens back. This transaction would be more akin to a crypto trade and you'll pay Capital Gains Tax on any profits as a result.
CAPITAL GAINS TAX/INCOME TAX
Margin trading, derivatives and other CFDs tax
ATO doesn’t have specific guidance for tax on crypto margin trades, derivatives and other CFDs for centralised or decentralised exchanges. But there is guidance on margin trading and derivatives trading in more traditional markets which we can follow.
Provided you’re seen to be trading as an individual investor you’ll pay Capital Gains Tax on profits from margin trades, derivatives and other CFDs. So you don’t pay tax when you open a position, you’ll pay tax when you close your position and realise a capital gain.
In the instance of liquidation, for example through a margin call, this is a disposal from a tax perspective and needs to be reported to ATO.
CAPITAL GAINS TAX
ATO has no guidance on play-to-earn tax from various DeFi games. So you need to look at your specific transactions and how they fit into the current crypto tax guidance from ATO.
Play to earn income
If you’re seen to be earning new tokens — for example, earning SLP or AXS tokens through playing Axie Infinity — this is likely to be seen as income and subject to Income Tax.
Meanwhile, if you’re selling or trading tokens or NFTs — like selling or trading voxel NFTs on Sandbox — this is more likely to be seen as a disposal of a capital asset and subject to Capital Gains Tax.
INCOME/CAPITAL GAINS TAX
Transaction fees and transfer fees tax
DeFi comes with a lot of transaction and transfers fee - each with their own unique implications for your tax bill.
Transaction fees are tax deductible for capital gains. What we mean by this is any time you have to pay a fee to conduct a transaction to buy, sell or swap a crypto asset — you can add this to your cost basis (what it cost you to acquire the asset). This will reduce any capital gain later on by giving a more realistic view of the asset cost.
Transfer fees are more problematic from a tax perspective. It’s not clear whether transfer fees — for example moving tokens from one wallet to another — can be added to your cost basis. This could be viewed as a maintenance cost, which you cannot add to your cost basis.
The cautious approach to this is to treat transfer fees as a disposal and subject to Capital Gains Tax.
CAPITAL GAINS TAX
Wrapped tokens tax
Wrapped tokens offer interoperability between various blockchains. For example, you can’t trade Bitcoin on the Ethereum blockchain currently — but wrapped tokens like WBTC help investors get around these limits by offering an ERC-20 token of equivalent value. Wrapping a token comes with clear tax implications.
When you ‘wrap’ a token, you’re exchanging one token for another. This could be seen as a crypto to crypto trade and subject to Capital Gains Tax and profits could be subject to Capital Gains Tax.
CAPITAL GAINS TAX
Token rebases tax
Some tokens in DeFi protocols need to maintain a consistent value. To do this they have a rebasing function. This function adjusts the supply of coins according to price fluctuations. For example, if a given token is supposed to be worth $1, if the price drops below that the number of coins in circulation is reduced, while if the price rises above that, the number of coins in circulation is increased.
For some tokens — like Lido’s stETH which is tied to the value of ETH — these token rebases occur on a daily basis to keep the price consistent with the underlying asset. So you might end up with more or less tokens due to these daily rebases.
The ATO hasn't issued specific guidance on token rebases.
However, we can liken it to a stock split. A stock split happens when a company splits existing shares into further shares, increasing liquidity. Most tax offices do not view this as a taxable event. Though the investor may have more shares - the shares have the same market value as the shares prior to the stock split. With this in mind, it would be reasonable to assume token rebases could be tax free provided you realise no gain or loss as a result.
Yield farming tax
Yield farming tax isn’t straightforward because it itself can be built up of many different transactions. It’ll all depend on the specific DeFi protocols you’ve stacked or the yield farming protocols you’re using as to the specific taxation. But in short, if you’re selling, swapping or spending tokens or coins in your yield farming activities — this would be subject to Capital Gains Tax. If you’re receiving new coins or tokens as a result of your yield farming activities, this would be subject to Income Tax.
Best crypto DeFi tax calculator for Australia
Koinly is a crypto tax tool that calculates your crypto taxes for you, meaning you don’t have to go through the hassle of doing it yourself.
Not only does the software integrate with the transaction history of your exchange, but it calculates your taxes in a format that makes sense for your country’s tax office. Essentially, Koinly does all the boring tasks that would cost your hours and hours sitting at a computer.
Koinly will identify your different crypto transactions and apply the relevant taxes. Your data should be labelled automatically, but if it isn’t you can tag your DeFi transactions as a loan interest, received from pool or a reward for deposits. For withdrawals, you can tag your DeFi transactions as cost, interest payment or sent to pool.
We give you complete control over how conservative you’d like to be with your crypto tax reporting. How? In our settings, you can choose whether to realise gains on liquidity transactions, whether to treat other gains as capital gains and whether to treat transfer fees as disposals.
Once your transactions are imported, Koinly calculates your crypto taxes for you. All you need to do is head over to the tax reports page, where you’ll see a simple summary of your crypto taxes. Below this, you’ll find a variety of tax reports you can download and submit to ATO.
Once you’ve downloaded your tax report you can file it via MyTax or get your accountant to do it.
As a quick, final breakdown, here’s a short summary of what Koinly does:
- Imports all your trades including purchases, sales, swaps, and rewards.
- Converts your transactions into your country’s currency at fair market value (this in itself is a massive time saver).
- Deciphers which of your DeFi transactions are taxable and which are not.
- Allows you to submit a clean and accurate report to your tax office.
The information on this website is for general information only.
It should not be taken as constituting professional advice from Koinly.
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