One of the least time consuming and most profitable tasks one can assume during December as it pertains to their investment portfolio is to attempt to offset realized capital gains with capital losses in your portfolio. Given the level of volatility the stock market has dealt investors thus far during 2007, no doubt many of us have securities that have declined in market value relative to their purchase price. Assuming that the shares of the depreciated security are held in a non-qualified taxable account (not an IRA or pension plan), one might sell these shares and claim the loss on Schedule D of Federal Filing Form 1040.
Please note the following important IRS regulation that pertains to Capital Gains and Losses. If when comparing your realized (those securities sold or where the company has been purchased for cash by another company) gain with your realized loss, the net result is a loss, only up to $3,000 can be deducted from ordinary income. The balance can be carried forward, indefinitely.
An additional component to consider prior to realizing a capital gain or loss in your portfolio is whether the transaction would trigger a long-term versus short-term capital gain/loss. Long-term transactions are defined as those in which the underlying security has been held for one year or longer and are taxed at either five percent for taxpayers in the ten or fifteen percent bracket or at fifteen percent for taxpayers in any higher bracket. Short-term transactions, those which the security has been held for less than one year are taxed as ordinary income and subject to the same tax rate as your wages or dividend income. For most taxpayers, the rate is twenty-eight percent for the Federal Government. In both instances, for taxpayers in New York State, long-term and short-term capital gains are taxed as ordinary income.
One final consideration prior to executing a stock or bond trade for tax purposes would be to determine if, by executing this trade, a wash sale would result. A wash sale exists when the transaction results in a loss and a “substantially identical security” is purchased within thirty days. If this should occur, the tax loss created by the sale would not be deductible. Please note that should the wash sale result in a gain, the gain is taxable.
As an aside, never forget that it is always prudent to consider the impact of selling a stock upon your portfolio. Simply put, it is seldom wise to make a transaction solely for the purpose of saving money on your tax return!
Year-end tax planning also applies to your mutual fund investments. First and foremost, place a call to the service center of your mutual fund and ask them if they have declared or are planning to declare any year-end capital gain distributions.Keep in mind that capital gains declared by mutual funds are taxable regardless of whether you receive them in cash or reinvest in additional shares. Furthermore, there is no economic benefit to the distribution. It is the same as getting four taxable quarters in return for your non-taxable one dollar bill. Upon calling, should you learn that your mutual fund is intending to declare a capital gain, find out how much it will be on a per share basis and on what date it will be declared. This information will help you determine what steps, if any, need to be taken in order to minimize the impact of this declared gain.
Consider swapping the mutual fund in which you have a taxable loss for a similar fund. Please note that your adjusted tax basis consists of your initial contribution to the fund plus any subsequent out-of-pocket contributions as well as any reinvested dividends or capital gains declared during prior calendar years less any withdrawals. Regardless of what others might say to the contrary, given the fact that there are over eight thousand mutual funds to choose from, there is always an appropriate alternative to your current fund. Do not think that your fund is “the best” or “one of a kind.”
A sale or sales of appreciating and/or depreciated securities represent only one tactic an investor can deploy when tax planning at year end. Furthermore, please note that this decision must be made in conjunction with and in full knowledge of the resulting impact on your other investments, such as mutual funds. Be certain to check with your tax advisor prior to making any year-end portfolio transactions!