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Capital Gains Tax: What Everyone Should Know

Capital gains tax…isn’t that just for rich folks, you say? Well, consider this: just about everything you own is a capital asset (investments like stocks, real estate, coins, fine art, or personal property like real estate, your car, jewelry and that big-screen TV). And if you sell a capital asset, capital gains taxes may apply to you – rich or not. So, here are some key things to know about capital gains taxes.

  1. When you sell a capital asset for more than your “basis”, the difference is a capital gain and it must be reported on your tax return using Schedule D.
  2. The rate of tax you pay on the gain depends on how long you owned it. Less than one year = short-term gain (taxed at same rate as ordinary income); more than one year = long term gain (taxed at lower rates – for 2014, 0%, 15% or 20%). So, no quick flipping!
  3. Capital gains are subject to state taxes as well. Most states tax capital gains as ordinary income, though, so you don’t get a break there.
  4. Selling some assets (those stocks that are tanking, for instance) at a loss during the first year of ownership can help off-set gains on other capital assets. (And, you can carry over losses for up to seven years.)
  5. If your losses exceed your gains, you can use the excess loss to reduce other income on your return (up to $3000).

In addition, here are two really special cases to keep in mind: 1) in most cases the profit from the sale of your primary home is exempt (if you owned it and lived in it for 2 of the last 5 years), and 2) if you plan to sell stock and donate your profit to charity – don’t! Give the appreciated stock directly to the charity, and avoid paying capital gains tax, too. A great win-win!

As always, consult a tax advisor or financial planner for the best advice, especially if you have multiple and complex capital assets.

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