Capital Gains and Losses (Tax Topic)

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Almost everything you own and use for personal or investment purposes is a capital asset. Examples are your home, household furnishings, and stocks or bonds held in your personal account. When you sell a capital asset, the difference between the amount you sell it for and your basis, which is usually what you paid for it, is a capital gain or a capital loss. If you received the asset as a gift or inheritance, refer to Basis of Assets for information about your basis. You have a capital gain if you sell the asset for more than your basis. You have a capital loss if you sell the asset for less than your basis. Losses from the sale of personal-use property, such as your home or car, are not deductible.

Capital gains and losses are classified as long-term or short-term. If you hold the asset for more than one year before you dispose of it, your capital gain or loss is long term. If you hold it one year or less, your capital gain or loss is short term.

You may have to report capital gains and losses on Schedule D of Form 1040 (PDF). If you have a net capital gain, that gain may be taxed at a lower tax rate. The term "net capital gain" means the amount by which your net long-term capital gain for the year is more than your net short-term capital loss. The highest tax rate on a net capital gain is generally 15% (or 5%, if it would otherwise be taxed at 15% or less). There are 3 exceptions:
  1. The taxable part of a gain from qualified small business stock is taxed at a maximum 28% rate.
  2. Net capital gain from selling collectibles such as coins or art is taxed at a maximum 28% rate.
  3. The part of any net capital gain from selling Section 1250 real property that is due to depreciation is taxed at a maximum 25% rate.

If you have a taxable capital gain, you may be required to make estimated tax payments. Refer to Estimated Tax, or to Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax for additional information.

If your capital losses exceed your capital gains, the amount of the excess loss that can be claimed is limited to $3,000, or $1,500 if you are married filing separately. If your net capital loss is more than this limit, you can carry the loss forward to later years. Use the Capital Loss Carryover Worksheet in Schedule Publication 550, to figure the amount carried forward.

Additional information on capital gains and losses is available in Publication 550, Investment Income and Expenses, and Publication 544, Sales and Other Dispositions of Assets. If you sell your main home, refer to Topics Sale of Your Home and Basis of Assets, or to Publication 523, Selling Your Home.


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