With the stock market fluctuating up and down (but especially down), some investors may decide to cash out investments that they initially planned to hold.  They may have taxable gains or losses they did not expect to realize.  Other investors may look to diversifying their portfolios further, moving a more significant portion into Treasury bills, CDs and other “cash-like” instruments, or even into gold and other precious metals. Here are reminders about some of the tax issues involved in these decisions.

Capital Assets and Dividends

Capital assets. Most items of property are capital assets, unless they are inventory or are used in a trade or business. Stock and securities are capital assets. Gains and losses from a capital asset are short-term if the property is held for one year or less, with gains taxed at ordinary income rates and deductible losses (short- or long-term) limited to $3,000 annually. Long-term gains (from property held more than one year) are generally taxed at a 15 percent rate.

Stock and securities. For stock and securities traded on an established market, the holding period begins the day after the trade (purchase) date and ends on the trade (sale) date. The settlement date, which is a few days later, is not relevant to the holding period determination.

Precious metals. The maximum capital gains rate on collectibles is 28 percent, rather than 15 percent. Collectibles include gems, coins, and precious metals, such as gold, silver or platinum bullion. If the taxpayer’s regular tax rate is lower than the maximum capital gain rate, the regular tax rate applies. Collectibles gain includes gain from the sale of an interest in a partnership, S corp or trust from unrealized collectibles’ appreciation, but does not include investments in a non-passthrough entity like holding shares in a mining company operating as a C corporation. Since gold is considered investment property in whatever form held, however, capital loss from a sale of gold (if a loss can be imagined) would be deductible.

Dividends. If a dividend is declared before the stock is sold but paid after the sale, the payee or owner of record when the dividend was declared is taxable on the dividend. Dividends are qualified (and taxed at the lower 15 percent rate) if the stock is held for at least 61 days during the 121-day period that begins 60 days before the “ex-dividend” date (the first date on which the buyer is not entitled to the next dividend payment). Again, the holding period includes the day the stock is disposed of but does not include the purchase date.

Wash sale rules. Taxpayers cannot deduct losses from a wash sale. A wash sale is a sale of stock or securities preceded or followed by a purchase of identical stock or securities within 30 days of the sale. A purchase includes a purchase by the taxpayer’s IRA. Thus, taxpayers cannot cash in a loss while, in effect, retaining the investment. The holding period for a wash sale begins when the old stock or securities were acquired. The loss that is disallowed is added to the basis of the stock or securities purchased.

Interest Income

Treasury securities. T-bills are sold at a discount for terms up to one year. The difference between the discounted price and the face value received at maturity is interest. Most U.S. Treasury bonds or notes pay interest every six months. The interest is taxable when paid. Certain issues of U.S. Treasury bonds can be exchanged tax-free for other Treasury bonds.

Corporate bonds. If a taxpayer sells a corporate bond between payment dates, part of the price represents accrued interest and must be reported as interest. 

Certificates of deposit.  For short-term CDs (one year or less), interest may be payable in one payment at maturity. Interest is generally taxable when paid or when not subject to a substantial penalty. If interest can only be withdrawn by paying a penalty, the interest may not be taxable as it accrues. A taxpayer that decides to cash out the CD must report the full amount of interest paid, but the penalty is separately deductible and can be deducted in full even if it exceeds the interest.

Savings bonds. A cash-basis taxpayer does not report the interest (or the increase in redemption price) until the proceeds are received, the bond is disposed of, or the bond matures. However, a cash-basis taxpayer can elect to report the increase in redemption price each year as current income.

Switching investments.  An exchange of mutual funds within the same family is still taxable — a sale of one fund and a purchase of another. However, investments held in a tax-free account, such as a 401(k) plans or an IRA, can be switched tax-free, unless the owner takes a distribution.

Please contact our office if you have any questions about the tax ramifications of current investment strategies aimed toward responding to changing market trends.

If and only to the extent that this publication contains contributions from tax professionals who are subject to the rules of professional conduct set forth in Circular 230, as promulgated by the United States Department of the Treasury, the publisher, on behalf of those contributors, hereby states that any U.S. federal tax advice that is contained in such contributions was not intended or written to be used by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer by the Internal Revenue Service, and it cannot be used by any taxpayer for such purpose.