Capital Gains And Losses On Your Tax Return

When you sell things, including stocks, bonds, real estate, collectibles, and other items, you may either gain money or lose money from the original purchase price.  This gain or loss is known as a capital gain or capital loss, and (with some exceptions) you will report these capital gains or losses on your income tax return.

Often the gains are afforded special tax rates and treatment, and the losses provide additional benefits as well.  This entire area of tax reporting can be confusing and there are special rules that you need to follow in order to make sure that you report these transactions correctly and pay the appropriate taxes.

The IRS recently published their Tax Tip 2013-28, which details Ten Facts about Capital Gains and Losses.  The actual text of the Tip is below:

Ten Facts about Capital Gains and Losses

The term “capital asset” for tax purposes applies to almost everything you own and use for personal or investment purposes.  A capital gain or loss occurs when you sell a capital asset.

Here are 10 facts from the IRS on capital gains and losses:

  1. Almost everything you own and use for personal purposes, pleasure or investment is a capital asset.  Capital assets include your home, household furnishings, and stocks and bonds that you hold as investments.
  2. A capital gain or loss is the difference between your basis of an asset and the amount you receive when you sell it.  Your basis is usually what you paid for the asset.
  3. You must include all capital gains in your income.
  4. You may deduct capital losses on the sale of investment property.  You cannot deduct losses on the sale of personal-use property.
  5. Capital gains and losses are long-term or short-term, depending on how long you hold on to the property.  If you hold the property more than one year, your capital gains or loss is long-term.  If you hold it for one year or less, the gain or loss is short-term.
  6. If your long-term gains exceed your long-term losses, the difference between the two is a net long-term capital gain.  If your net long-term capital gain is more than your net short-term capital loss, you have a ‘net capital gain’.
  7. The tax rates that apply to net capital gains are generally lower than the tax rates that apply to other types of income.  The maximum capital gains rate for most people in 2012 is 15 percent.  For lower-income individuals, the rate may be 0 percent on some or all of their net capital gains.  Rates of 25 or 28 percent can also apply to special types of net capital gains.
  8. If your capital losses are greater than your capital gains, you can deduct the difference between the two on your tax return.  The annual limit on this deduction is $3,000, or $1,500 if you are married filing separately.
  9. If your total net capital loss is more than the limit you can deduct, you can carry over the losses you are not able to deduct to next year’s tax return.  You will treat those losses as if they occurred that year.
    (jb note: In other words, your carried over loss from a prior year is subtracted from your gains or added to the losses in the current year.  If the result is a net capital loss, up to $3,000 is deducted from your ordinary income in that year, and the excess amount carried over to the next year.  If the result is a net capital gain, this net gain is reported and taxed as a long-term gain on the current return.)
  10. Form 8949, Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets, will help you calculate capital gains and losses.  You will carry over the subtotals from this form to Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses.  If you e-file your tax return, the software will do this for you.

For more information about capital gains and losses, see the Schedule D instructions or Publication 550, Investment Income and Expenses.  They are both available at or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

About the author

Jim Blankenship, CFP®, EA

Jim Blankenship is the founder and principal of Blankenship Financial Planning, Ltd., a financial planning firm providing hourly, as-needed financial planning and advice. A financial services professional for over 25 years, Jim is a CFP professional and has earned the Enrolled Agent designation, a designation that qualifies him as enrolled to practice before the IRS. Jim is also a NAPFA-registered financial advisor, which designates him as a Fee-Only Financial Advisor.

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