What Is the Capital Gains Tax?
Capital gains tax is a federal tax that is paid on profits made from the sale of certain types of assets. This includes investments in stocks or real estate. A capital gain is calculated as the total sales price less the original cost of an asset.
Even if you don't plan to sell any assets in the near future, there will come a time when you decide to sell a property or investment. Understanding what capital gains are, when, and how you pay capital gains tax can help you make sound financial decisions when deciding to sell an asset.
Definitions and examples of capital gains tax
Capital gains tax only expires when you sell your investment. For example, you are not expected to pay taxes as stocks gain value within your portfolio. However, after you sell your shares, the profit must be reported on your income tax return. As a result, you pay a tax on your earnings based on the capital gains rate.
The federal government taxes all capital gains. Short-term capital gains or losses occur when you own an asset for one year or less. Long-term capital gains or losses occur if you sell an asset after you have had it for more than a year.
Short-term capital gains have a higher tax rate than long-term capital gains. This difference is deliberate to discourage short-term negotiations. Trading stocks and other assets can often increase market volatility and risk. It also costs more in transaction fees for individual investors.
A capital loss occurs when you sell an asset for less than the original price. Some capital losses can be used to offset capital gains on your tax return, reducing the taxes you pay.
How the capital gains tax works
There are two standard capital tax rates for short-term and long-term investments:
Short-term capital gains tax rate: All short-term capital gains are taxed at their normal income tax rate. From a tax perspective, it generally makes sense to hold investments for more than one year.
Long-term capital gains tax rate: The tax rate paid on most capital gains depends on the level of income tax. Those with taxable income less than $ 80,801 (joint marriage registration) or $ 40,401 (separate marriage registration, single) generally pay little or no capital gains tax.
Alternatives to capital gains tax
Taxpayers can report capital losses on financial assets such as mutual funds, stocks, or bonds. They can also declare losses on material goods if they are not for personal use.
This includes real estate, precious metals, or collectibles. Short-term or long-term capital losses can outweigh short-term and long-term gains.
If you have long-term gains that exceed your long-term losses, you have a net capital gain. However, if you have a long-term net capital gain, but it is less than your short-term net capital loss, you can use the short-term loss to offset your long-term gain.
You can use the net losses from the capital gain to offset other income, such as wages. But that's only up to an annual limit of $ 3,000, or $ 1,500 for married couples entering separately.
What if the total net capital loss exceeds the annual capital loss deduction limit? If you cannot apply all of your losses in one tax year, you can carry over the unused portion to the next tax year.
What does this mean for the economy
A 2019 study by the Tax Policy Center found that 75% of capital gains are paid for by people who are in the top 1% income bracket. Everyone else keeps their assets in tax-deferred accounts, such as 401 (k) and IRAs. This situation creates a tax benefit for the top 1%.
Those who live on investment income never pay more than 20% in taxes unless they earn income from assets held for less than a year.
This tax applies even to hedge fund managers and others on Wall Street, who get 100% of their income from their investments. In other words, these people pay a lower income tax rate than those in the 22% range ($ 40,126 - $ 85,525 taxable income for single taxpayers).
This fiscal loophole has two outcomes:
It encourages investment in stock exchanges, real estate and other assets, which generates business growth.
This creates greater income inequality. People who live on investment income already belong to the rich category. They have had enough disposable income throughout their lives to put into investments that generate a healthy return. In other words, they didn't have to use all of their income to pay for food, shelter, and health.
The Tax Cuts and Employment Act (TCJA) has placed more people in the 20% tax bracket on long-term capital gains. They are included in this section when the IRS adjusts the income tax bands each year to compensate for inflation.
But these supports will grow more slowly than in the past.
The law moved to a chained consumer price index.6 Over time, this will move more people into higher tax bands.
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