The world saw its first bona fide cryptocurrency in 2009 with the advent of Bitcoin. Since then, cryptos have taken the realm of fintech by storm. Its rise in popularity billowed so rapidly, in fact, that nations are unsure how to regulate it. The truth is, cryptocurrency is such a novel technology that we still don’t quite know how to handle it.

Should we consider cryptocurrencies commodities or actual currencies? The answer to this question is not so simple. In fact, tax regulations around the world differ on the interpretation.

Our current understanding of cryptocurrencies is that they can basically be either, depending on how they’re used.

Crypto as Currency

As the name itself implies, cryptocurrency can function much like fiat money. By that token, one may use them for the purchase of goods and services (in some countries, anyway). They may also be exchanged into other currencies, making them functionally the same.

So that settles it, right? After all, cryptos do everything money does, for the most part. Well, not quite. While they may operate like currency, and intuitively it makes sense, some traits make cryptos difficult to classify as currency.

For one, it is a decentralized currency. In other words, it is not tied to any third party authority (country, bank, etc.); there’s the sender and the receiver, nothing more. This stands in stark contrast to how traditional money has worked up until now.

Secondly, cryptos cannot be produced arbitrarily according to a country’s current economic state. It instead requires “mining,” and only a fixed amount of them exists. This makes cryptos more of an asset, like gold.

Crypto as Commodity

From a certain perspective, cryptos can also be considered a commodity. Granted, the line between currency and commodity is quite fine. The key difference between the two is that the former acts as a clear-cut facilitator for exchange which quantifies the value of an item or service.

That being said, a cryptocurrency does possess fungibility, i.e. the ability to be interchangeable with other commodities on the market. Beyond that, commodities can afford to be volatile, whereas currencies don’t have that luxury. Having in mind Bitcoin’s value history, it certainly fits the profile of a commodity.

This view certainly isn’t without legal precedent. In early 2019, Indonesia greenlit legislation that treats Bitcoin as a commodity for trade. Meanwhile, the Australian Tax Office (ATO) suggested the same ruling on the matter for other cryptos as well, rendering them subject to the Goods & Services Tax. Australia ultimately dubbed Bitcoin as money.

The main idea that stops cryptocurrencies from being pure commodities, however, is the idea of value. Commodities have intrinsic value, like crops, for example. Cryptos, on the other hand, hold only the value that current market expectations give them. It’s only worth what it can buy, and nothing else.

In the Eye of the Beholder…

As things currently stand, crypto seems to dip its toes in both ponds, performing as both commodity and currency. And until we reach a deeper understanding of crypto, regulation cannot consistently come to the same decision on the matter. Thus, for now, it’s up to each individual country to make up its mind about this conundrum. Until then, take a look at this insightful infographic below:

How Crypto Is Disrupting the Financial Ecosystem